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St James Catholic Church

  • 601283
  • Monash Ave, Malanda


Also known as
St Jame's Catholic Church & Altar I St James Catholic Church & Altar
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
28 July 2000
Religion/worship: Church
6.1 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Establishing settlements and towns
8.1 Creating social and cultural institutions: Worshipping and religious institutions
Halfpapp, Albie
Construction period
1926, St James Catholic Church & Altar (1926)
Historical period
1919–1930s Interwar period


Monash Ave, Malanda
Tablelands Regional Council
-17.35386586, 145.58938846


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The St James Catholic Church (1926) is important in demonstrating the development of the Atherton Tablelands region following closer agricultural settlement in the early 20th century. The church was built with locally milled timber, on land donated by the English family, one of the earliest selectors in the area.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The St James Catholic Church is a fine example of a Gothic timber church. It retains its high-pitched, gabled roof; chamferboard external cladding and horizontal tongue and groove internal lining; choir loft; lancet windows; Celtic cross finials; decorative brackets to the eaves; and most of the original furnishings, including the carved timber altar with reredos, and timber pews. The ventilation under the eaves represents the adaption of a European design to the Queensland climate.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The simple design, incorporating carved internal detailing and furniture, demonstrates a high level of craftsmanship using local timber. The altar with reredos (c1928), a remarkable and highly ornate original fitting, has been retained and adapted to suit changes in the liturgy. In its open, churchyard setting, the church is an attractive feature within the streetscape.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

It has a special association with the Catholic community of Malanda. Both the fundraising for the Church and its design and construction were projects involving the wider community within the first 20 years of closer settlement in the district.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The St James Catholic Church has a special association with the life of the English Family. Known as the founders of Malanda, James and Catherine English were early selectors who arrived in the region when the district was opened up in 1907 under the Queensland Government's Special Agricultural Selections Act 1901. James English, who later introduced the Australian Illawarra Shorthorn breed of dairy cattle to the Atherton Tableland, donated the land for the church.


The St James Catholic church of Malanda, located west of Monash Avenue, was constructed in 1926 and opened in January 1927. A Malanda architect, Robert (Bob) Ransom Hassall, designed the church, and the altar with reredos, which were constructed from local timbers. Another local, Alby Halfpapp, built the church. James English, who was an early settler in the Malanda district, an important figure in the development of the dairy industry on the Atherton Tableland, and Chairman of the St James Church building committee, donated money to the church's building fund and provided the land on which the church was built.

Malanda is part of the traditional land of the Ngadjon-Jii people.[1] Amongst the first European settlers in Malanda was the family of James English (1865-1951). English, who is known as the founder of Malanda, came from the Lismore district of New South Wales seeking cedar, in 1907. The Special Agricultural Homesteads Act 1901 (renamed the Special Agricultural Selections Act in 1904) allowed groups of selectors, being either family groups or people who knew each other, to apply for adjoining blocks prior to a whole area being opened up for selection. This was designed to encourage the first settlers to help each other. The East Barron and Malanda area was opened up under this scheme in 1907, for 12 groups, and the ‘English Group’ was authorised to select 39 portions.[2] James English took up two parcels of land, with his son Patrick taking another two. Two friends who had accompanied English from NSW, Percy and Stan Davies, also took up land.[3] James English was a driving force in the establishment of the Eacham Shire, gazetted in 1910, and later served on the council during the 1920s.[4]

As settlers removed the timber, dairy farming became a mainstay of the district. From 1908, James English introduced Australian Illawarra Shorthorn (AIS) cows, heifers and bulls to the Atherton Tableland. The breed soon dominated the local dairy industry. In 1918 he donated five acres (2ha) of land to the Eacham Show Society, of which he was Patron.[5]

English, who with his wife Catherine had entertained many visitors to the district, also saw the need for a hotel for travellers once the rail line from Yungaburra opened in December 1910.[6] He applied for a licence and built the Malanda Hotel in 1911.[7] In addition, English preserved an area of natural rainforest behind his property, which, as ‘The Jungle’, proved a popular attraction for tourists to North Queensland from 1929.[8]

James English also erected a timber mill. The Phoenix mill at Tolga was dismantled and reconstructed at Malanda from 1919.[9] This later supplied timber for many buildings of the Malanda township, such as shops in English Street, as well as the Majestic Picture Theatre [QHR 601743].[10]

The Malanda district prospered due to timber and the dairy industry. By 1922, as well as the hotel, Malanda possessed two butter factories (1919, 1920), four sawmills, two blacksmiths’ shops, two saddlers’ shops, a cabinet and joinery factory, plumbers’ and tinsmiths’ works, two general stores, a drapery and a millinery, stationer’s shop, state school, shire offices, and a private hospital.[11] The nearby Malanda Falls was already a tourist attraction by this time, but visitation increased after the opening of the Gillies Highway in 1926.[12]

Although the town (surveyed in 1911) was thriving in the early 1920s, there was only one Church (Wesleyan) in Malanda by 1922.[13] In 1925 the Catholic community, of which the English family were staunch members, decided to build a church. At a meeting on the 9 August 1925 a building committee was formed to attend to the construction of a Catholic Church. At subsequent meetings, it was decided to build a church that could accommodate 200 people.[14] Local Catholics undertook fundraising events, including St Patrick’s Day dances.[15]

Robert (Bob) Ransom Hassall (c1882-1957) was commissioned to draw up plans and specifications and Lynch was appointed foreman of works. Hassall was an articled pupil of Addison and Corrie from 1899-1904, and a draftsman for them during 1905. He worked in the partnership of Addison and Hassall, Brisbane, from 1906-7, before working in Atherton from 1910-13. He served during World War I, and returned to work as a draftsman with J and HG Kirkpatrick, in Sydney, from 1919-20. He commenced work in Malanda in 1921.[16] Hassall’s later work in Malanda included an extension to the Malanda Hotel (c1928); St Matthews Anglican Church (1929); the Majestic Picture Theatre (1929); and the Malanda School of Arts (1932).[17]

Alby Halfpapp was deputed to build the church with the help of a permanent assistant, at the rate of £2 7 shillings per day for the two, with the additional help of three men for two weeks to start the work off. The building was to have a concrete floor with ironbark blocks. The outside walls were to be of water gum chamfers, and the ceiling and lining of bull oak, with all other timbers to be left to Hassall to determine. At later meetings, the proposal for a concrete floor was altered to that of a wooden floor, and the further suggestion was made that a choir gallery be included in the plans, if the estimate did not exceed £1,000. Timber mills from Millaa Millaa, Glen Allyn, Kureen, Yungaburra and Malanda were asked to tender for the supply of timber. The tender was given to Patrick English of Malanda who agreed to supply and deliver all timber to the site for 48 shillings per 100 super feet.[18]

James English, who gave £100, as well as Mick Lynch, Dan O’Connell, Peter and Lou Kenny and Jack Hanrahan, who all gave £50, made the first donations towards the building of the church. These men were all members of the building committee. James English then donated 1 acre, 1 rood and 39.5 perches (0.6ha) of land, valued at about £600, from the grounds of his home, upon which the church would be built.[19]  

Catherine English, an avid Catholic, wanted to see the church built in her time, but she died in January 1926.[20] Halfpapp commenced construction after late July 1926;[21] the building of the church was finalised by November 1926 and it was opened and blessed by Bishop Heavey on 23 January 1927.[22]

A contemporary newspaper article reported that the main building of the new ‘Roman Catholic Church’, built of Tableland timbers with an iron roof, was 52ft by 28ft (15.9m by 8.5m); with two attached sacristies measuring 12ft (3.7m) square. Located on a site overlooking Malanda, its style was Gothic, with double (lined) walls, and ‘an unusual feature is the overhanging principals of the roof, which have verge projections from the wall plates and make the appearance and ventilation much better. The principals are neatly chamfered, and are supported on arched brackets, which are connected with steel rods in place of the beams. The ceiling is also of an unusual type, consisting of diagonal panels, with wooden mouldings between the principals, each alternate panel being reversed, thus resembling a huge herring-bone scheme. The windows are of coloured cathedral glass…The seats and kneeling forms are light, strong and neat, and are of a pattern different from those commonly used’.[23] The timber had been supplied by Patrick English’s Phoenix sawmill in Malanda; the joinery was supplied by GE Smith of Mareeba; and electricity was laid on from James English’s home nearby.[24]

The timber for the altar is said to have come from the English property as well. The altar with reredos (an ornamental screen behind the altar) was designed by Hassall and built in Mareeba by cabinet maker Steve Purcell, at a reported cost of £1200, and was delivered to Malanda in November 1928.[25] In 1941 the altar and reredos had a different colour scheme to that seen in 2019 (currently painted white, with gold trim), with the altar columns and plinth having a marbled appearance.[26] A sealed brass tabernacle (box) was added to the altar in the late 1950s; and the height of the dais, on which the altar with reredos stands, has been reduced since the late 1960s.[27]

The church’s grounds were later extended to the north in 1946, when 3 roods and 39.5 perches (0.4ha) of land was transferred from four spinsters, who had owned it since 1932, to the Corporation of the Sisters of Mercy of the Diocese of Cairns.[28] A presbytery was built, just southwest of the church, c1959, when the parish of Malanda was established.[29] Sections of the church grounds, in the north and the south, were progressively sold, in 1961, 1987 and 2017.[30]

James English died at his home in Malanda in January 1951, and his funeral was held at St James Church, before he was buried at Atherton cemetery.[31] In 2019, St James Church still stands on Monash Avenue, just north of ‘The Jungle’.


The St James Catholic Church is a small, lowset, single storeyed timber church located on Monash Avenue, set back on the crest of a slope and overlooking the town and district of Malanda.

The timber-framed and -clad church is symmetrically composed and has a high-pitched gable roof. T-shape in plan, the rectangular core is aligned on an approximate northeast-southwest axis; projecting gable-roofed wings flank the southwest end and in 2019 contain a vestry and reconciliation room (northwest wing) and sacristy (southeast wing) that both have rear doors accessed by timber stairs. The building has a frontispiece at the northeast end, which forms a small porch that provides access to the front doors of the Church via side stairs and a modern concrete ramp.

Tall, narrow, pointed-arch ‘lancet’ widows are located on all sides of the building. Single lancets are located in the frontispiece (timber louvred), and on either side of the front wall of the building. Three single lancets combine to form ‘Trinity windows’ in the front and rear gables. Along each side of the church are four double lancets. Both double lancet and Trinity windows are located in the vestry and storage room.

The church interior contains a central aisle, flanked by timber pews, that leads to the altar. The communion rail has been removed; however, its original location is still visible in the timber floorboards. The c1960s timber altar is located in front of the original altar and allows the priest to face the congregation whilst conducting mass. The original ornate timber altar with reredos (decorative timber screen behind), transforms this otherwise simple, unadorned country church into a highly evocative place of worship.

Timber stairs positioned adjacent to the front entrance access the original choir gallery, approximately 2m wide, which is used for storage and contains overflow seating. The open roof space features overhanging principals with verge projections from the wall plates, supported on arched brackets with metal tie rods. The original decorative timber ceiling is concealed behind a c1960s sheeted false ceiling.

Features also of state-level cultural heritage significance include:

  • Views to the church from Monash Avenue
  • High-pitched, intersecting gable roof form
  • Corrugated metal roof sheets
  • Celtic cross finials crowning gable ends
  • Ventilated eaves lined with evenly-spaced timber boards
  • Decorative timber eaves brackets
  • Timber chamferboard cladding
  • Tall, narrow, lancet windows, each comprising three panes: a pair of vertical-sliding sash-windows with yellow glass, topped by a pointed-arch fixed pane of green glass
  • Pointed-arch, boarded timber entrance doors
  • Choir gallery, including: stop-chamfered timber support posts; timber stairs; decorative timber balustrade and battened valance
  • Original tongue and groove boarded ceiling (concealed behind c1960s sheeted ceiling)
  • Exposed, overhanging, chamfered principals with verge projections from the wall plates, supported on arched brackets with metal tie rods
  • Interior horizontal tongue and groove boarded wall linings
  • Original altar with reredos (decorative timber screen behind), including: flat-topped table supported by eight columns (previously painted with a marble appearance); panel situated behind the columns that features a Celtic cross highlighted with gold paint, and carved gothic designs with gold-painted motifs including single grape leaves, a chalice surrounded by grapes, and heads of barley; centred tabernacle topped with a crucifix, housed within a narrow pointed arch; three decorative pointed arches located on either side of the tabernacle, topped with ornate timber carvings; centred Celtic cross forming the apex of the altar; and white painted finish with gold paint highlights
  • Timber pews
  • Hardwood polished floor constructed from local rainforest timber, 'black bean'
  • Lowset form on timber stumps
  • Adjacent bell tower

Features not of state-level cultural heritage significance include:

  • Modern concrete ramp accessing frontispiece
  • Modern corrugated metal roof cladding
  • Clear glass replacement panes in lancet windows
  • Flat-sheeted c1960s false ceiling
  • Modern floor linings including carpet
  • Metal posts / stumps
  • Modern fixtures, fittings and services
  • Freestanding patio, on the northwest side of the church


[1] (accessed 20 May 2019).
[2] ‘Rural interests, the Atherton lands, twelve groups formed’, Brisbane Courier, 20 September 1907, p.2; Queensland Government Gazette, 1907, p.622. The Special Agricultural Homesteads Act 1901 was renamed the Special Agricultural Selections Act by a 1904 amendment, which added agricultural farms (not just agricultural homesteads) to the group purchase scheme. During 1907, 33,568 acres (13,584ha) of land in the Atherton district was opened up under the Special Agricultural Selections Act; with 14,000 acres (5666ha) allotted to groups (‘Lands administration, question of group settlement, statement by Minister’, Brisbane Courier, 7 June 1907, p.5; ‘Department of Lands, Annual Report Year 1907’, Evening Telegraph, 1 October 1908, p.3).
[3] H Tranter, ‘James English and family’, in Malanda – in the Shadow of Bartle Frere, Eacham Historical Society, 1995, p.16.
[4] ‘Malanda, the heart of the Tableland’, Cairns Post, 14 October 1922, p.9; ‘Death of founder of Malanda. Late Mr J English. Story of a pioneer’s life’, Cairns Post, 4 January 1951, p.5.
[5] ‘Eacham Show Society – a generous donation’, Cairns Post, 22 October 1918, p.4; DNRME Survey Plan RP705261, 1918 (5 acres, sub 1, Portion 129 (now southwest half of showgrounds)); ‘Malanda, the Heart of the Tableland’, Cairns Post, 21 October 1922, p.9; ‘Death of founder of Malanda. Late Mr J English. Story of a pioneer’s life’, Cairns Post, 4 January 1951, p.5.
[6] ‘Notes and news’, Cairns Post, 20 December 1910, p.4 (railway opened). The railway was extended to Tarzali in 1916, and Millaa Millaa in 1921. The Malanda railway station was originally to be named ‘Tutumoulin’, after the Aboriginal name for the Johnstone Falls (later called the Malanda Falls), but the locals objected. (‘Today‘, Northern Miner, 3 May 1910, p.4; ‘Malanda, the heart of the Tableland’, Cairns Post, 14 October 1922, p.9).
[7] ‘Tolga’, Evening Telegraph, 28 March 1911, p.4; ‘Malanda, the Heart of the Tableland’, Cairns Post, 21 October 1922, p.9. It is claimed that the Malanda Hotel is the largest timber hotel in Queensland. In 2019 it is still owned by the English family.
[8] ‘Malanda as a tourist centre; southern visitors to the Jungle’, Cairns Post, 5 September 1929, p.14; ‘Natural Bush Reserve’, Cairns Post, 4 January 1951, p.5; ‘Majestic Picture Theatre’, QHR 601743.
[9] ‘Malanda Notes’, Northern Miner, 2 August 1919, p.4. Malanda’s first sawmill was the ‘Perseverance’, opened at the Johnstone Falls (later called the Malanda Falls) in 1910 by John Prince (‘Malanda and upper Johnstone’ Cairns Post, 21 November 1910, p.7; ‘Malanda notes’, Cairns Post, 12 May 1913, p.6).
[10] The Majestic Picture Theatre was built by James’ son, Patrick English, to cater for ‘pictures, dancing and theatricals’ and opened in December 1929 (‘Majestic Picture Theatre’, QHR 601743; ‘Opening of the Majestic Theatre’ Cairns Post, 21 December 1929, p.16).
[11] ‘Malanda, the heart of the Tableland’, Cairns Post, 14 October 1922, p.9.
[12] ‘Malanda Falls Swimming Pool’, QHR 602733.
[13] ‘Malanda, the heart of the Tableland’, Cairns Post, 14 October 1922, p.9; DNRME Survey Plan M6031, 1911.
[14] Notes from Keith Hanrahan (2000), from Minutes of meetings for Committee for the building of a Catholic Church in Malanda; Information on the early days of St James' Church, Malanda, as related to Irene M. English by her husband William English.
[15] ‘Malanda Notes’, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 29 March 1924, p.15; ‘Malanda Notes’, Cairns Post, 24 March 1927, p.12. The March 1927 dance was to raise funds for an organ for the new church.
[16] D Watson, and J Mackay, A Directory of Queensland architects to 1940, St Lucia, University of Queensland, 1984, p.100.
[17] ‘A fine country hotel’, Cairns Post, 25 February 1928, p.3; ‘St Matthew’s Malanda, dedication service’, Cairns Post, 29 July 1929, p.12; Opening of the Majestic Theatre’, Cairns Post, 21 December 1929, p.16; ‘Memorial School of Arts, Malanda, new building opened’, Cairns Post, 3 June 1932, p.9. St Matthews was the first concrete building in Malanda (‘Malanda Anglican Church, foundation stone laid’, Brisbane Courier, 9 October 1928, p.23). Hassall’s name was often misspelt as ‘Hassell’ in articles.
[18] Notes from Keith Hanrahan (2000); Information on the early days of St James' Church, Malanda.
[19] Information on the early days of St James' Church, Malanda (£600 value of land). In August 1927, three blocks of land, totalling 1 acre, 1 rood and 39.5 perches (0.6ha) of land belonging to James English, including the current site of the church and the presbytery to its southwest, were transferred to the Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate Apostolic of Cooktown (DNRME Certificates of Title 20200125 (February 1920) and 202249187 (August 1927)). The land included resubdivisions 65 (1 acre), 66 (1 rood) and 75 (39.5 perches), of subdivision 2 of Portion 129. In 1990 the land was granted to The Roman Catholic Trust Corporation for the Diocese of Cairns (DNRME Deed of Grant 21440009, May 1990).
[20] ‘Mrs J English’, Cairns Post, 5 January 1926, p.5.
[21] ‘Mainly for women’, Cairns Post, 22 July 1926, p.10 (Halfpapp to commence building). Halfpapp also built the Majestic Picture Theatre in Malanda (‘Opening of the Majestic Theatre’ Cairns Post, 21 December 1929, p.16; ‘Majestic Picture Theatre’, QHR 601743).
[22] ‘Roman Catholic Church. Opening at Malanda’, Cairns Post, 27 January 1927, p.3.
[23] ‘Roman Catholic Church. Opening at Malanda’, Cairns Post, 27 January 1927, p.3.
[24] ‘Roman Catholic Church. Opening at Malanda’, Cairns Post, 27 January 1927, p.3; ‘Atherton Tableland Notes’, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 3 February 1927, p.3.
[25] Information supplied by Applicant (cost of altar); ‘Mareeba News’, Cairns Post 27 November 1928, p.7 (altar, entirely the work of Steve Purcell, forwarded to Malanda. The article noted that ‘Tableland timbers get a further advertisement in this respect’).
[26] 1941 photograph, ‘St James, Malanda’, (accessed 26 June 2019). Prior to delivery to Malanda, the Altar and reredos had not yet been painted to resemble stone (Pers. Comm., Dr Barry Craig, 28 June 2019).
[27] Pers. Comm., Dr Barry Craig, 28 June 2019.
[28] Resubdivisions 63, 64, 76 and 77 of Subdivision 2 of Portion 129 had been transferred from James English to Mary Meagher, Margaret Power, Mary Leahy and Mary Mansfield in 1932 (DNRME Certificate of Title 20200125, February 1920; DNRME COT 20283245, October 1932).
[29] Notes from Keith Hanrahan, 2000; ‘Roman Catholic Parish of Malanda (with Millaa Millaa)’, (accessed 26 June 2019). The presbytery is not in a 1952 aerial (DNRME aerial QAP0318024, 4 September 1952), but is present by 1964 (DNRME aerial QAP1414009, 24 June 1964).
[30] DNRME COT 20283245, October 1932 (resubs 63 and 64 transferred to the English family in 1961); DNRME COT 20595228, July 1960 (resub 77 sold 1987); DNRME COT 51090756, April 2017 (resub 66 sold 2017). In 1989, part of the Monash Avenue road reserve, which widened opposite resubs 65, 75 and 76, was added to those allotments (DNRME Survey Plan NR8038, 1989). Until then, part of the church had stood on the road reserve. In 2017, the eastern half of the original resubdivision 65, plus resubs 75 and 76, were reconfigured to form Lot 75, SP298304 (fronting Monash Avenue); while the western half of resubdivision 65 became Lots 64 and 65, SP29830 (DNRME Survey Plan SP298304, 2017).
[31] ‘Natural Bush Reserve’, Cairns Post, 4 January 1951, p.5.

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Location of St James Catholic Church within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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