Queensland Places - Holy Trinity Church, Saibai

The present Holy Trinity Church on Saibai replaces a number of previous places of worship, with the first of these church buildings dating to the 1880s.  The first church building, constructed by the local community from largely local materials, was used by the early London Missionary Society missionaries.  This first building was soon replaced by a second church building, known to the community as Panetha and said to have been built by Nermia, a Samoan missionary who had arrived on the island in around 1881.  It is recorded that he was assisted in this building task by Daku from Dauar and Kabesu as well as others from the local community.  In due course, this second church building was replaced by a third, called Mari Yoewth, which acted as a temporary place of worship while the present Holy Trinity Church was being constructed.  Some of the materials from Panetha were used in the construction of Mari Yoewth, providing a tangible link with the past.

The building of the present Holy Trinity Church was a long process, requiring a great commitment by the local community and involving three generations of Saibai people.  The church’s foundation stone, made of granite, was laid in 1917 by the Archbishop of Queensland.  Some twenty years later, on the 4 December 1938, the completed church was dedicated by the Reverend Stephen Davies, the Bishop of Carpentaria.  The actual dedication ceremony was accompanied by great celebration with guests coming from near and far, including friends from neighbouring New Guinea.

Constructed of timber, cement and corrugated iron, it seems likely that anything useful from the earlier Mari Yoewth would have been saved and possibly used during the construction of the present Holy Trinity Church.  If so, then this would also provide an important and tangible link with the church’s past history on Saibai.

In confirmation of the importance of the church on Saibai, the first Torres Strait Islander Bishop, the Right Reverend Kiwami Dai came from this community and the Holy Trinity Church would, no doubt, have been very special to him.

Mission Church, Saibai Island, 1934

Mission Church, Saibai Island, 1934

This image, taken in 1934, shows the church towards the end of its long construction phase and only some four years prior to its dedication.

Don't miss our current exhibition, Islands: hidden histories of Queensland’s islands which will be on display at the State Library of Queensland in the Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery, level 4 from 30 June 2018 to 27 January 2019.

Brian Randall - Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

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