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Growing up as a Catholic activist

  • 13 May 2015

Most recent controversies over places of worship in Australia have involved Muslim prayer halls, cultural centres and mosques. A long running and bitter dispute over the establishment of a mosque in the Victorian regional city of Bendigo has just been in the headlines again.

Some local residents have conducted a virulent campaign to stop the building of the mosque which got local council approval in 2014. The latest round in their appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have approval for the mosque overturned was conducted in Bendigo over the last few days.

Some distance south-west of Bendigo at Crossley, a small coastal community between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, in the recent past there was another hot controversy over a place of worship. But there the focus of community rancour wasn’t a mosque but a small Catholic Church.

The feisty woman featured in this interview on Eureka Street TV was at the heart of that dispute over St Brigid’s Church at Crossley.

34 year old social activist and author, Regina Lane, led the charge against the parish priest and bishop who wanted to close and sell off this building that had been the centre of her family’s spiritual and community life for generations.

In this interview she talks about the motivation for her social activism, her efforts to save St Brigid’s Church, the acclaimed book she wrote about that struggle (this was reviewed by Andrew Hamilton for Eureka Street), and her job now as a book publisher.

Lane’s ancestors were immigrants from Ireland who came to Australia in the 1840s and 50s fleeing poverty and the potato famine in their native country, and bringing with them a rebellious spirit and devout Irish Catholicism.

They settled in this south-western region of Victoria along with other Irish migrants and established a community of tenant farmers, mainly growing potatoes as they had back in Ireland.

First at Crossley they built a Catholic school that doubled as a church. Later they raised money to erect a proper church and St Brigid’s, named after the patron saint of Ireland, was opened in 1914.

Lane is very much a product of this background, growing up in a devout Catholic family, the youngest of ten children. Mass every Sunday at St Brigid’s, the rosary said at home, a life revolving around the Church were hallmarks of her upbringing.

After completing school she gained a Bachelor of Arts in communications and media studies at University of