The area now known as the Diocese of the Riverina was first worked by travelling priests, who rode on horseback carrying a change of clothes, a few bibles, prayer books and hymn books and making visits to the settlers on their huge round.
The establishment of our Diocese was perhaps sparked by an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2nd January 1852 written by an irate settler on the Edward River who was complaining of the isolation of the settlers.
At the time, the nearest town of any size with an Anglican presence was Albury. It had a population of 1000 people, five or six stores, two doctors, a Presbyterian minister and a resident clergyman of the Church of England.
Early in the 1850’s, the first resident minister of the Anglican Church was appointed in Deniliquin. The Rev. Ralph Barker performed ceremonies at South Deniliquin, Warbreccan Head Station, and Wanganella Head Station.
By 1858 Rev. Ralph married couples at Moama, Conargo and Jerilderie. In 1859 he performed his first ceremony at Moulamein in a private home. By the time 1860 rolled around, Reverend Ralph’s Parish included Hay, Narrandera, Jerilderie, Balranald, Moama, Moulamein, Euchua and Swan Hill, plus all the adjacent stations and public houses along the tracks and townships. The strain of travelling rough tracks by horse and living away from home took it’s toll and he resigned in 1863.
By 1864 there were two church buildings in the area we now know as the Diocese of Riverina; St John’s Church in Corowa and the old church at Urana. It was During this time that our area came under the direction of Dr Mesac Thomas who had just taken up his office as first Bishop of the newly created Diocese of Goulburn. The Bishop of Bathurst Diocese also oversaw several of the smaller southern towns.
In the early 1860’s, we had 14 clergymen in our area who were obliged to travel an aggregate annual distance of 43,800 miles – a distance which saw several of them ride over 5000 miles every year! As you would expect, keeping clergy in the area became troublesome and their numbers decreased over time.
Between 1864 and 1884, 14 churches were built around the area – this could have been more but Bishop Thomas had very particular ideas about how he liked his churches.
In 1884, the Riverina Diocese was separated from the Diocese of Goulburn and the deeds handed over by the Bishop of Goulburn and the Bishop of Bathurst show that the areas were the counties of governmental administration.
It was interesting to note, that the boundaries of the parishes existing at the time were not considered in the separation. It’s believed this may have been to keep the revenue bearing areas of Albury, Wagga Wagga, and Gundagai within the Diocese of Goulburn, and coincidentally the area handed over by the Bishop of Bathurst in 1883 had no large town in it.
So the Diocese of Riverina, consisting of one third of the area of the state, was mostly land that no other diocese wished to work. the only large towns at the time were Hay and Deniliquin, both with populations of 3000.
On 25 May1882 it was proposed that Hay should be the residence of an Anglican Bishop of Riverina and the locality of a cathedral. It was believed at the time that Hay was more central than any other and that the presence of a cathedral and bishop in the town would be of benefit to the its in habitants.
Bishop Linton was installed as the first Bishop of Riverina in old St Paul’s in Hay on 18th March 1885, by the Rev. James Macarthur. He was 44 years old. He created a favourable impression from the start and made friends among all denominations.
When he came to the Riverina there were only seven clergymen in the Diocese; at Hay, Balranald, Deniliquin, Narrandera, HIllston, and Corowa. Broken Hill as a mining centre had not long been discovered, but it quickly grew in importance and soon became the most populous centre in the Diocese. By 1887, he had grown the number of clergy to 14.
During 1888 a residence was begun at South Hay, after the Bishop had been in Australia three years. By now he was used to colonial conditions and he wanted the house to be as comfortable as possible in the climate, and large enough to hold the many visitors for Synods and other functions.
Bishop Linton did not have Bishop Thomas’s horror of wooden structures as places of worship, nor was he adverse to using the church of another denomination or sharing a building. He encouraged people of all denominations to attend his services whether held in churches, hotels, court houses, shearing sheds, station homsteads, or river steamers.
Bishop Linton was essentially a pioneering bishop. In his long visitations to all corners of his Diocese he came to know the people of Riverina, their problems and the conditions under which they lived. He personally brought the word of God to many who had not seen a clergyman for years.