Ellen G. White: The Australian Years: 1891-1900 (vol. 4)


The Earnest Search for a School Site

When Elders Olsen and White returned with Ellen White from New Zealand to Australia in late December, 1893, the search for school land began in earnest. Following up investigations Arthur Daniells had made, they visited several places during their few days in Sydney. This continued off and on through the late summer and fall. The school had been made a union conference project, which drew W. C. White, the president, very closely into the task. By the time Ellen White had moved to New South Wales, the conviction seemed to prevail that the school should be located in that colony, with its warmer climate, perhaps within seventy-five miles of Sydney. 4BIO 147.1

The suffering of Sabbathkeeping families, not a few of whom lost their homes, led some church leaders in Australia to feel that the land that would be secured for the school should be large enough to provide little farms for some of these families. Thus they thought in terms of a thousand or two thousand acres. The big problem, of course, was the shortage of money. Their dire situation is revealed in a letter W. C. White wrote May 16 to his longtime friend C. H. Jones, who was at the Pacific Press: “We are planning to buy a large tract of land, and we can scarcely get enough money to go and see it.”—4 WCW, p. 385. 4BIO 147.2

When W. C. White made the move in early April from Melbourne to Granville, he stopped over at Thirlmere to examine two tracts of land they had heard were available. After the weekend with the churches close to Granville, he and his associates were off Monday morning to Dapto, fifty-six miles south of Sydney, where they found three thousand acres of beautiful land on Lake Illawarra. They got back at midnight, and three hours later started off for Morisset, seventy-six miles north on the coast, to see a tract of land near Dora Creek and Cooranbong. After a day there, they went twenty miles on to Newcastle. Then back to Morisset, where another day and a half was spent examining the Brettville estate on Dora Creek (Ibid., 254). 4BIO 147.3

The latter consisted of nearly 1,500 acres, which could be purchased for $4,500. After hearing the report of what had been found, Ellen White wrote to Dr. Kellogg in Battle Creek: 4BIO 147.4

Most diligent search has been made for a tract of land of several hundred acres on which to locate the school, so that the students may have an opportunity to till the soil, and poor families may have a little piece of land on which to grow vegetables and fruit. These would go far toward sustaining them, and they would have a chance to school their children. But money matters are very close. We are all hard pressed for means, and know not just what to do unless money shall come in. We must live, and have means to carry forward the work.—Letter 47, 1894. 4BIO 148.1

While at home in Granville, W. C. White devoted some time each morning to reading the manuscript on the life of Christ. He gave study also to a manuscript prepared by J. O. Corliss for two tracts dealing with some of the D. M. Canright criticisms of Ellen White and Seventh-day Adventists. The most misleading falsehoods were being disseminated in the Melbourne area by the Protestant ministers in an effort to combat Adventism. 4BIO 148.2

A few days later the workers reached the decision that the Brettville estate at Cooranbong was the place for the school. A contract was signed and $125 paid to bind the transaction until a further inspection could be made by the president of the Australian Conference and other workers from Melbourne in mid-May (Letter 40, 1894; 4 WCW, p. 423). 4BIO 148.3

Ellen White reported: 4BIO 148.4

Brother and Sister Lawrence went yesterday [May 16] with a tent, W. C. White has taken a supply of bedding and provisions, and thus the party will be provided with board and lodging, to save hotel bills. And the fact that they can spend their nights on the ground will expedite business. All will return Monday or Tuesday.—Letter 46, 1894.

The L. N. Lawrence family, father, mother, and daughter, had come from Michigan at their own expense to aid wherever they could with the work in Australia. This was in response to an appeal made by Ellen White in The Review and Herald, February 14, 1893 (see also The General Conference Bulletin, 1893, 316), in which she declared: 4BIO 148.5

What a great amount of good might be done if some of our brethren and sisters from America would come to these colonies as fruit growers, farmers, or merchants, and in the fear and love of God would seek to win souls to the truth. If such families were consecrated to God, He would use them as His agents. 4BIO 149.1

When Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence reached Dora Creek they found they could rent a small house, three rooms and a kitchen (4 WCW, p. 457). So when the church leaders came in on Thursday and Friday they found a place to stay. Those who came to inspect the land were Brethren Daniells, Smith, Reekie, Humphries, Caldwell, Collins, and White. McCullagh followed early the next week after Sabbath obligations had been fulfilled. Even though she was not feeling well, there came a time when Ellen White could not refrain from joining the group. This she did on Wednesday morning, May 23, accompanied by Emily Campbell, George Starr, and Mr. McKenzie (Manuscript 75, 1894; 4 WCW, p. 457). 4BIO 149.2

By the light of a candle Ellen White wrote of it early the next morning: 4BIO 149.3

We found a good dinner waiting for us, and all seemed to eat as if they relished the food. After dinner we went to the riverside, and Brethren Starr, McKenzie, and Collins seated themselves in one boat, Brethren Daniells, McCullagh, and Reekie in a still larger boat, and Willie White, Emily Campbell, and myself in another.

We rode several miles upon the water. Though the stream is called Dora Creek, yet it has the appearance of a river, for it is a wide, deep stream. It is somewhat salt, but loses its saltness as it borders the place which we are investigating. It required two rowers to pull the boat upstream. I should judge this is no creek, but a deep, narrow river, and the water is beautiful.... On our way we passed several houses upon farms of about forty acres of land.... 4BIO 149.4

When we landed on the ground to be explored, we found a blue-gum tree about one hundred feet long lying on the ground. There was a fire in the center, and the smoke came out of the forked ends, and the main trunk, which united together to form three chimneys; several feet of one fork was a burning mass of glowing coals. The day before, Willie and Brother Reekie had taken their dinner at this place and had kindled a fire in a knot of wood, and it had been burning ever since. There was no danger of setting the woods on fire, and it was a pretty sight. 4BIO 149.5

Willie, Emily, and I rested here for a little while, but the rest of the party took their shovels and went on to examine portions of the land that they had not yet passed over....Around us were immense trees that had been cut down, and parts were taken out which could be used.... I cannot for a moment entertain the idea that land which can produce such large trees can be of a poor quality. I am sure that were the pains taken with this land, as is customary to take with land in Michigan, it would be in every way productive.—Letter 82, 1894. 4BIO 150.1

She had most likely read the negative report of Mr. A. H. Benson, the government fruit expert who had examined the land at the request of church leaders. He had declared it for the most part very poor, sour, sandy loam resting on yellow clay, or very poor swamp covered with different species of Melaleuca. According to him the whole of the land was sour, requiring liming and draining (DF 170, A. H. Benson, “Report of the Campbell Tract Near Morisset, N.S.W.,” May 21, 1894; see also 4 WCW, pp. 410-412). 4BIO 150.2

It has been told that when Mr. Benson handed the report to a member of the committee he remarked that “if a bandicoot [a marsupial about the size of a rabbit] were to cross the tract of land he would find it necessary to carry his lunch with him.” (See DF 170, “The Avondale School,” WCW to F. C. Gilbert, December 22, 1921.) 4BIO 150.3

“While sitting on the log,” Ellen White recorded, “my mind was actively planning what could be done.... I could see nothing discouraging in prospect of taking the land. But our party returned, and broke up my future faith-prospecting.” She was escorted to some parts of the land, walking and resting and thinking. As the larger group came together near the boat landing, they brought encouraging reports of their findings. 4BIO 150.4

Wrote Ellen White: 4BIO 150.5

They came from their investigation with a much more favorable impression than they had hitherto received. They had found some excellent land, the best they had seen, and they thought it was a favorable spot for the location of the school. They had found a creek of fresh water, cold and sweet, the best they had ever tasted. On the whole, the day of prospecting had made them much more favorable to the place than they had hitherto been.—Letter 82, 1894.

But night was drawing on, and the party returned down Dora Creek to the cottage by the light of the stars. As Ellen White pondered the work of the day there was one point that troubled her. She wrote: 4BIO 151.1

Everything about the place had impressed me favorably except the fact that we were far from the great thoroughfares of travel, and therefore would not have an opportunity of letting our light shine amid the moral darkness that covers our large cities like the pall of death. This seems the only objection that presents itself to my mind. But it would not be advisable to establish our school in any of our large cities.—Ibid. 4BIO 151.2

High-priced land they could not buy—this land was only $3 per acre. There were problems of having the school too close to the city, with its many temptations. All in all, Ellen White was well pleased with the prospects. 4BIO 151.3

Ellen White retired early, but the committee earnestly discussed their findings on into the night. There were diverse opinions, for there was considerable variation in different parts of the land, but the majority felt the enterprise could be made to succeed. Added to this was their observation of Mrs. White's confidence in the potentialities of the property. Late that autumn night, the committee voted to purchase the Brettville estate for $4,500. 4BIO 151.4