ACT News


Providence led renovator to holy site

Fresh from a holiday in Italy, serial home renovator Sharyn Saville's heart soared when she first saw the old Nelligen church that she is restoring for her home.

She had been on her way to Canberra when police stopped her on the Federal Highway, leaving her so cross she decided to return to Queensland via the coast after visiting her son.

At Nelligen, on the Kings Highway, that decision turned out to be inspirational. She discovered the old church with a ''for sale'' sign outside and heavy brass bell hanging in the spire.

''I had just come back from a holiday on the Ligurian coast, in Italy, and the area was still on my mind when I was thinking 'where am I going to go next time?' and then I thought, 'my god, I don't have to go anywhere, here it is','' Ms Saville said.

''It just looked like a piece of Tuscany on top of the hill, with the rolling hills around it. As I came up, I noticed a for sale sign. When I drove in, it was like, I couldn't believe it, my breath was taken away.'' Since then, she has built a bathroom and kitchen, allowing her interim occupancy while the place is renovated.

Internal walls which formed a craft gallery have been pulled out and a spiral stair, which she found on the internet for sale for $200, will be installed for access to a mezzanine level for her bedroom.


To support the mezzanine, additional bolts have been driven into the original bricks, built from clay dug from a nearby paddock, which at the time was a racecourse.

According to the village's history, the first Catholic church on this site, made of timber, opened in 1872 before the existing Gothic- style church opened for a growing congregation in 1896.

It has since withstood many bushfires that have swept the area. The last service was in April 1976.

Ms Saville discovered later her bargain-priced staircase did not conform to Australian building standards. Also, when the pre-cut mezzanine level was installed, the access from the staircase did not line up as planned.

Undaunted, she commissioned a specially-built staircase from London, which would take 10 weeks to arrive.

She then found a metal fabricator on the coast who could address the shortcomings of the staircase she had already purchased.

''While the church is compact, it has this dramatic height,'' she said. ''The old bricks give it a special warmth.''

Ms Saville, a former computer analyst who built a family home and renovated others including a Gold Coast apartment, said a section of the old church, most likely the vestry, had been turned into a bathroom.

She timed her renovations so the plumbing and the bathroom and kitchen with Caesarstone benchtops were completed within a month.

She has plans to add two big French doors to the eastern wall under an arch, which will open on to a patio.

''I can only minimally attack the outside because it is heritage listed. The doors have passed approval.

''A company in Queensland has replicated the fretwork shaping of the stained glass window, with gothic shapes and circles. We are putting them into a gothic arch over the two doors.''

The original altar rails and windows are in excellent condition.

Finding the bell operational in the spire, which can be seen from the Clyde River below, has sent her mind racing too.

''I'd like to have happy hour and ring the bell so the neighbours come running.''

The base of the church is made of Moruya granite, while the internal roof structure is local cedar.

Perched on a hill overlooking Nelligen, the church offers superb views of blue mountain ranges on its western side.