Maryborough's St Mary's Catholic Church in 1874.
Maryborough's St Mary's Catholic Church in 1874. Myles Sinnamon

LOOKING BACK: Church offers unique vision of the past

AS FAR as opening lines go, the one from L.P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between is rather good: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

Just as we get other countries wrong, I think we often conceptualise the past through our own lenses of how we think it was.

I think there might be something in this with how we perceive "heritage colours". The classic Queenslander residences in Maryborough now have a distinctive look with soft and earthy pastel colours. When many of these fine houses were constructed the custom here was for them to be painted with brown fence paint or with wood-preserving oil - the finish became known as "Maryborough brown".

The architectural charm has been maintained, but I am sure they would have looked quite different with their original finishes.

Elsewhere in the city a particularly significant historical building has quite a different look to when it was first constructed. St Mary's Catholic Church has a uniform light brown rendered finish, with lines etched in to give the appearance of sandstone blocks. But if you look closely at our earliest images of the church you will see that it had quite a different appearance.

To see another aspect of this landmark building, walking off Adelaide St, go to the right of the church until you come to the last side door. Here you can see the original red brick facade as well as the stone quoining around the doorway.

Its appearance as a red brick church would have been quite foreign to its appearance today. How the church got to its current picturesque appearance is due to its architectural history over a number of decades.

St Mary's as we see it today didn't come from the mind of one man, but actually demonstrates the fine work of three influential architects from different generations: Charles Tiffin, F.D.G. Stanley and P.O.E. Hawkes.

These three architects have each left their mark on this prominent heritage-listed building.

The foundation stone was laid on July 29, 1869, for Tiffin's design and the first stage of St Mary's opened on February 4, 1872. Tiffin was also responsible for the nearby Maryborough Post Office and Bond Store as well as many significant buildings across the state, including Parliament House and Old Government House.

Designed in Early English Gothic style of brick, with stone quoining and detailing, the building originally featured a steeply pitched gabled roof clad with shingles. Side aisles extended the length of the four-bay nave and these were lined with double lancets. The plan incorporated a small porch, chancel and two sacristies. The resident priest, Father Tissot, landscaped the grounds surrounding the church and provided the chancel screen and other timber panelling, all carved by himself.

Showing forethought, provision was made in Tiffin's design for extending the church and this occurred in the late 1870s with the addition of a domed apse, a sacristy and two chapels.

In 1884 F.D.G. Stanley prepared plans for further alterations, which included the enlargement of the nave by three bays and the erection of a large chancel. The roof was then reclad with slate and several ventilation gablets were added near the ridge. A new set of gold framed "Stations of the Cross'' from Lyons in France, described as oleographs or coloured lithographs printed with oil paints, were also part of the upgrade. These additions completely removed the 1877 additions, including the domed apse. This was the about the same time that Stanley was designing the nearby Maryborough Court House.

Substantial alterations were made in 1936 to the design by local architect P.O.E. Hawkes. Again, the length of the building was extended and north and south chancels were added, as were sacristies, confessionals and a baptistery. The interior was reoriented and a new entrance formed from Adelaide St.

It was at this time, under the guidance of Hawkes, that the appearance was completely transformed with the rendering over of the red brick and stone quoining.

Another interesting addition Hawkes made to the exterior was the placement of 12 small grotesques high up in the corners of the Adelaide St end of the building.

The interesting rooster on the gable was also added at this time and is a tribute, within the French tradition, to the church's first priest, Father Tissot.

Thanks to three creative architects we have a  unique church building which helps to document the changing architectural styles in Queensland and the growth of the Catholic congregation in Maryborough.