A Historic Dedication
“WITH hardly a breath of publicity a new headquarters building for Australia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, probably the most striking functional building ever created for an Australian religious body, will open on Saturday . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses—architects, engineers, plumbers, bricklayers—did the entire job themselves voluntarily.” So commented The Sydney Morning Herald of March 16, 1983.
Built on a sloping site, the main complex consists of three partially air-conditioned buildings linked together by passageways with attached offices. In addition there are workshops and farm buildings. The single-story entrance building contains administrative offices and a Kingdom Hall seating 200.
The two-story factory contains 5,400 square meters (58,000 sq ft) of floorspace, ample to allow for future expansion. The two- to four-story residence has living quarters for 135 persons. It also houses dining facilities, an infirmary, laundry, dental office, hairdressing salon and food-preserving facilities. All of this was built for half the normal commercial cost due to the untiring efforts of thousands of dedicated volunteers!
Expansion Caused the Need
When the Australian branch office moved from Melbourne to Sydney in 1929, there were only 11 members in the branch family and about 340 active Witnesses throughout Australia. By 1971 the number of Witnesses had grown to more than 23,000, and the decision was made to start printing the Watchtower and Awake! magazines here. To facilitate this, a large three-story printery and office were constructed on the same property in Sydney.
Barely five years later, further increase in Kingdom publishers meant that more building work needed to be done. However, plans for a four-story building on this property in Sydney were rejected by the local council. Therefore, the most suitable place to expand seemed to be on property that the branch had already owned for 40 years, a 40-hectare (100-a.) farm just 48 kilometers (30 mi) from the city center. Would a factory complex be permitted in this semirural area? A presentation was made to the local council and the answer came back: “Yes!”
The matter was confirmed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in December 1978, and design and site-preparation work got under way in a hurry. Meanwhile the call went out for volunteers to come to live on the building site for a year or longer to assist. To comprehend the decision these individuals faced, one needs to know something about Australia.
The Challenge of Distance
Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world. Its area is similar to that of the United States (minus Alaska and Hawaii). However, it has a mere 15 million inhabitants, and 90 percent of those live in coastal regions just 120 kilometers (75 mi) from the sea. The interior, vast, semiarid and sparsely populated, is called the outback. The majority of Australians live in the country’s six major cities, and there are huge distances separating them. For example, from Perth, Western Australia, to Sydney is a journey of over 4,000 kilometers (2,485 mi).
Yet hundreds of Witnesses made such journeys to come to help. Throughout the construction period some 3,000 responded to the call, most travelling at least 1,600 kilometers. They paid their own way, coming to work for weeks, months and even years. Some sold homes, closed businesses, took vacations and made other sacrifices. It was a real example of God’s people ‘offering themselves willingly.’—Psalm 110:3.
Some workers were specialized tradesmen, while others came to be used where needed. One, an experienced waiter, came for two periods to assist in the dining room, thereby freeing a younger man to work on the building site. At one time a large grader was purchased, but there was no one to drive it. It had barely arrived on the site when a grader driver rang from the island state of Tasmania to say he was available for three weeks—could he be used?
Other assistance came from teams of experienced tradesmen who travelled long distances, often more than once, when their trade was needed. Concreters from 1,000 kilometers (620 mi) away came for a series of major concrete pours; ceiling hangers came from 1,100 kilometers (680 mi) and fencers from 1,500 kilometers (930 mi). In addition, local Witnesses from within a 200-kilometer (125-mi) radius came to help on Saturdays, often boosting the regular work force of about 200 to over 300.
From some Witnesses in Northern Queensland who operate a sawmill 3,200 kilometers (1,980 mi) away came truckload after truckload of superb local timber, which, after being milled and beautifully polished on the site, became a feature of the complex that drew many appreciative comments. The rare wood included Rosewood, Calophyllum, Red Tulip Oak and Feathertop.
And from throughout Australia came wonderful support in the form of contributions to cover construction costs. A six-year-old girl wrote in her own careful handwriting, “I want you to have the money out of my school bank. I saved it for one year.” She enclosed $41.00! A cheque from Queensland came with a note explaining it was from “one of your sisters in the faith who wishes to remain anonymous. She is a widow, and just like the widow in the Bible, this is her all. Her hope is in Jehovah.” The amount enclosed was $6,283.94! Clearly, Jehovah was motivating the giving of ‘voluntary offerings with a complete heart.’—1 Chronicles 29:9.
Prepared for Future Kingdom Work
The new branch complex provides a fine base to serve the preaching activities of the 36,000 witnesses of Jehovah active in 571 congregations throughout the vast Australian continent. A large percentage of Australia’s population is made up either of persons who came from other countries or of their own children. To serve these ethnic groups literature is kept in 52 languages. Additionally, printing is done in 14 languages for many of the Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji.
The English-language-magazine production of more than 750,000 per month has been taken over by the new rotary offset press that arrived in April 1983, from the Brooklyn headquarters. To facilitate the changeover to offset printing, darkrooms furnished with a modern computerized camera and developing equipment, and a graphics department have been set up.
In the last 18 months there has been an increase of over 4,000, or 13 percent, in the number of active Witnesses. With more than 16,200 home Bible studies now being conducted, and with 72,457 having attended the 1983 Memorial of Christ’s death, there is much potential for future rapid growth in Australia.
On Saturday, March 19, 1983, a week of rainy weather was broken by a mild day, and more than 2,000 invited guests, most of whom had been active Witnesses before 1945, assembled at the new facilities for Dedication Day. As the chairman pointed out, they represented all together more than 65,000 years of faithful service. What a grand reunion it proved to be! Greetings and experiences were related by visitors from the United States, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
The Australian branch was the third one to be established by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society outside the United States. At one time it had oversight of nearly one fourth of the earth’s surface area, including almost all the islands of the South Pacific, as well as what are now Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and all of China. Now there are 13 separate branches overseeing the Kingdom-preaching work in these lands. But, for the most part, the work was initially opened up in them back in the 1930’s by pioneers from Australia. Many of these were present at the dedication and the 88 members of the Australian Bethel family were happy to open the doors of hospitality to such spiritual grandparents!
In the afternoon, Lloyd Barry, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and who was part of the Australian Bethel family during the 1940’s, officially dedicated the complex, not to any human or organization, but to Jehovah God.
The following day, Sunday, March 20, the rain again poured down. Nevertheless, 10,468 gathered at the nearby Warwick Farm racetrack to hear a program that gave encouragement to press on with the expansion of Jehovah’s work during these “last days.” Ten other locations were directly tied in to the event by telephone line, making a grand total attendance on Sunday of 36,757!
Many fine experiences were shared and the program left everyone with an increased determination to ‘exert themselves vigorously’ in the preaching of the “good news of the kingdom” in every corner of the vast Australian continent. It is this work that has given birth to and will ensure the continuing value of the new Australian branch building.—Luke 13:24; Matthew 24:14.
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The new Australian branch dedicated March 19, 1983
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YOUNGSTER SUPPORTS CONSTRUCTION WORK