Constructed of native timbers pre-dating European settlement in the Canungra area, St Luke’s Anglican Church has its roots in the battlefields of World War One, springing from a family’s sorrow at the loss of a much-loved son.
The church stands as a testament to the Lahey family’s undying love for Noel Alaric Lahey, who on June 10, 1917, succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds received in action at Messines on the Western Front.
Educated at Brisbane Grammar School, Noel Lahey had been a 23-year-old working in his family’s sawmill – the largest in the southern hemisphere – when he enlisted on August 5, 1915.
Sapper Lahey left Brisbane on the HMAT Seang Bee on October 21 and arrived in Palestine at the end of February, 1916.
A month later he embarked from Alexandria on the Saxonia and arrived in Marseilles in early March.
In France, Noel Lahey served with the 9th Battalion from March until June 1916, when he received a gunshot wound to the right arm and was evacuated to hospital, firstly in Boulogne and then England.
He later transferred to the 11th Field Company Australian Engineers, part of the 3rd Divisional Engineers, to be with his brother, Romeo.
The Battle of Messines was the first time the Australian 3rd Division saw service on the Western Front, and it was there, on June 9, 1917, that Noel Lahey was seriously wounded in action at Ploegsteert Wood.
With gunshot wounds to his head, chest, left arm and right hand, he was admitted to the 9th Australian Field Ambulance, where he was visited by his brother.
The following day, Noel Lahey died of his wounds. He was buried in France in the Pont D’Achelles Military Cemetery, Nieppe,
Back in Canungra, a building fund was established in 1917, with £50 given by the Lahey family towards the construction of a memorial church in Noel’s memory, on land in Kidston Street acquired from the family for a nominal sum.
Noel Lahey (centre) photographed in London in 1916 with his sister, artist Vida Lahey, and brother Romeo. Vida had travelled from Brisbane to London to establish a base for her brothers and cousins while on leave during the war.
Some 10 years later, and with his own vision for St Luke’s, Romeo Lahey drew on the talent of notable Brisbane architect, R.C. Nowland who produced the plans for the church in 1927. Nowland’s concept was to incorporate the spirit of Australia within the European gothic style of architecture, with the timbers for the church being sourced from the area it would serve.
All of the timbers for St Luke’s cedar furniture and rosegum floor were milled at Lahey’s sawmill, symbolising another link between the family and the construction of the church.
The Laheys imported beautiful antique roof tiles from Italy to complement the church’s European influences, but these proved incompatible with the Australian climate and had to be replaced in 1951.
Loved by locals and admired by visitors, the church has become the most photographed building in Canungra and a lasting legacy for one of fallen from the Great War.