St. Anne's Church | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


St. Anne's Church

Item details

Name of item: St. Anne's Church
Other name/s: St Anne's Shrine
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Religion
Category: Shrine
Location: Lat: -33.8850487110 Long: 151.2757684300
Primary address: 60 Blair Street, Bondi, NSW 2026
Parish: Alexandria
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Waverley
Local Aboriginal Land Council: La Perouse
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP317699
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
60 Blair StreetBondiWaverleyAlexandriaCumberlandPrimary Address
47 Mitchell StreetBondiWaverley  Alternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Trustees of The Sisters of MercyReligious Organisation 

Statement of significance:

St Anne's Church is of State significance as a fine and representative example of the Inter-war Romanesque style. A Catholic church largely built in the 1930s but completed in the 1960s to the competition-winning design of Joseph Fowell and Kenneth McConnel, the decorative scheme is restrained but features highly-crafted timber, brick and sandstone detailing. It has a careful integration of furniture and fittings also largely designed by the architects that includes an ingenious and possibly unique ventilation system (recently dismantled but stored onsite). Winner of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects' 1935 Sulman Award, this is the only church to win this prestigious award as a complete design, and has been described as 'perhaps the highlight of ecclesiastical architecture in interwar Sydney'. Its representative significance is enhanced by its continuing role and positioning as a landmark element in a church-school precinct of buildings. This precinct also represents the establishment of the Bondi Beach Parish of the Catholic Church and its importance as a place of worship for the local Catholic community through several generations.
Date significance updated: 02 Feb 04
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Joseph Fowell and Kenneth McConnel, architects
Builder/Maker: R. M. Bowcock
Construction years: 1934-1964
Physical description: St Anne's Church is a fine example of Inter-War Romanesque church architecture. The textured red brick façade contrasts with the sandstone plinth, entry portico, door and window surrounds and parapet copings. The roof is of red tiles over the nave and aisles, and copper over the northern apses. The south (Blair Street) elevation of the church features a sandstone portico with a gabled roof supported by sandstone columns and pilasters, described as 'outstanding' in the Waverley Council heritage inventory file. A statue of St Anne with the child Mary forms the finial to the portico gable. The chamfered corners of the sandstone parapet wall to the portico gable are carved with gargoyles supporting saints. The corners of the sandstone entry door reveals are carved with a chevron pattern. Above the mullions to the three windows over the entry portico are two figures of angels. These were formed by carving green pressed bricks which were then fired and rebuilt in position. All other bricks in the building were apparently hand brushed by university students to give the façade a subtle texture. The main east and west gables of the church have sandstone crosses as finials (National Trust listing card).

Cream bricks internally blend with the sandstone trim to the arches, window reveals and sculptures. The plan of the church is based on an axial nave and aisles terminating in apses at the sanctuary end. A shrine to house a relic of St Anne is placed on the west aisle. A panelled timber confessional is located at the southern end of this aisle. The piety store (originally another confessional) at the southern end of the eastern aisle is of a similar style to the two confessionals on the western side of the church, but has been altered. The nave ceiling is constructed of panels of redwood timber boarding between trusses. The aisles also have panelled redwood boarded ceilings with recessed amber glass lights. Below the gallery, the ceiling is timber panelling. Twelve Stations of the Cross are located between the aisle arches and windows and at the south end of the church over the arches to the side aisles. Brick corbels beneath the stations contain lights to illuminate the stations at night. Ten bronze pendant lanterns designed by the architects light the nave. Cranked concrete buttresses hidden in the walls are connected horizontally by a beam in the nave waft below the clerestory. The aisle roof carries the weight of the nave, roof trusses to the foundations. A gallery at the rear of the church is supported on hardwood adzed beams themselves supported on stone piers. To alleviate problems of echo on the face brick the rear internal wall of the gallery is built with honeycomb brickwork with the interstices backed with small squares of an acoustic material, Celotex. The timber pews are original and were probably designed by the architects. The church had timber flooring with modern red carpet on the aisles between the pews, however green carpet covering the entriely of the nave and aisles flooring was introduced first in 1980 and expanded to cover all but the sanctuary in the late 1990s. All carvings in the church were executed by Mr Magness M. Swan to the design of the architect (National Trust listing card).

The apses on the north side were not built in the initial work of the 1930s but were constructed in the 1960s under the supervision of Joseph Fowell, one of the original architects, and form an harmonious addition. A half dome over the nave apse is lined with timbers in a herringbone radiating arrangement supported on a semi circular sandstone arcade. The apse houses a sandstone baldachino, designed to complement the arcade. The apse to the eastern aisle was also built at this time. The apse for the western aisle which was part of the original scheme was not built (National Trust listing card).

The foundations were built of sandstone from the quarry in Clyde Street, North Bondi. The Catholic Weekly of 7/12/94 is quoted as stating that its statues are also of sandstone from the local quarry (Bondi View, 2004).

The interior is distinguished by a technically innovative ventilation system consisting of holes in the floor covered by ventilation boxes (hidden under pews) that could be opened by pulling on a drawstring to allow cool air from under the church to circulate throughout. On hotter days a motorised fan stored below the church could be activated to extract hot air from the ceiling of the church, thus aiding the convection process. A parishioner had been carrying out electrical maintenance on this system for much of the past 55 years that he had been attending the church (Kildea, 2004). This ventilation system has been recently dismantled as part of a redesign of the spacing of the pews to allow for larger parishioners. However the removal of ventilation boxes and the filling in of the holes in the floor are reversible and the ventilation machinery remains intact, enclosed in a small sealed room under the church.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building is generally in good condition. However there is a structural crack at the south end and much of the timberwork is in need of refinishing. (National Trust 1999).
Date condition updated:29 Jan 04
Modifications and dates: Although the main body of the church was constructed in 1934, the second stage including final altar and apses were not completed until 1964, under the supervision of one of the original architects, Joseph Fowell.

Carpet was laid in the nave in 1980 and relaid in the late 1990s, and now includes the aisles. In 1999 the altar gates were removed and later repositioned on the eastern aisle. Other recent internal changes include: removing ventilation boxes from beneath the end of the pews and plugging the associated venitlation holes in the floor; removing several rows of pews and re-spacing the rest to allow for the comfort of larger parishioners; re-locating the baptismal font from the rear of the church to under the apse and then to the western front of the nave; installing glass panelling and doors at the end of the nave to provide a quiet 'crying room' for parents of young children; replacement of two exterior light fittings with spherical lightbulbs; removal of 6 bronze candlesticks from the altar; removal of the altar rail.
Current use: Religious worship
Former use: Religious worship


Significant Aboriginal rock carvings provide evidence that Aboriginal people occupied sites nearby the location of St Anne's Shrine in Bondi Beach, long before European settlement. An important type of tool was first found in the region and is still known as the Bondi point. The indigenous people of the area at the time of European settlement have generally been referred to as the Sydney people or the Eora (Eora means "the people"). There is no clear evidence for the name of the particular groups of the Eora people that occupied what is now the Waverley area. Most sources agree on the Cadigal but there are sources which name the Biddigal and Birrabirragal bands as well. A number of place names within Waverley - most famously Bondi - have been based on words derived from Aboriginal languages of the Sydney region (Waverley Council web page, 2004). By the mid nineteenth century the traditional owners of this land had typically either moved inland in search of food and shelter, or had died as the result of European disease or confrontation with British colonisers. Few religious beliefs of the people were recorded, but oral traditions have ensured that some have been carried on.

From 1895 the Catholic Church was present in the Bondi area on land gifted to the Franciscan order at the corner of O'Brien and Simpson Streets. Rapid population growth in the area resulted in the parish of Bondi being divided in 1925, creating a new parish of St Anne's, Bondi Beach. Father Daniel O'Sullivan was appointed priest in 1926 to the new parish and oversaw the establishment of several major church buildings during his fifteen years of stewardship. A new site bordered by Blair Street, Mitchell Street, and Oakley Road was purchased in 1926. The year following the demolition of the older St Anne's church in O'Brien Street witnessed the construction of a new church school on the Oakley Road side of the new site. This was followed by a presbytery on Mitchell Road in 1932, and the first section of St Anne's Shrine fronting onto Blair Street in 1934. Also constructed during this period was St Anne's Convent in 1935 (built by the Sisters of mercy) and a girl's school in 1938 (McDonald, 2003, 2).

The initial brief for St Anne's Shrine required that the church be built in two stages as only half of the proposed budget of 20,000 pounds was available. In 1934 only the back, southern section of the church including nave and aisles was completed. In 1957 a newly appointed Father Patrick Cunningham set up a Parish Building Fund to raise money for building the northern section of the church comprising sanctuary, sacristies and altar. In 1964 the completed church was solemnly blessed by the Archbishop of Sydney, Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy (National Trust, 1999).

Originally designed to serve the Tridentine Rite, various interior aspects of the church have been adjusted to address liturgical changes associated with the Novus Ordo. The publication of the Constitution of the Liturgy by the 2nd Vatican Council in 1963 is associated with major changes to the internal arrangement of Catholic churches worldwide. While these changes were not incorporated into the 1964 design, by 1980 when Father Kenneth Sargeant was appointed parish priest, a stone altar was placed in the sanctuary to allow the priest to celebrate Mass facing the congregation. Also the church was carpeted throughout (McDonald, 2003).

In 1934, the architects Fowell and McConnel won a design competition for a new Catholic Church at Bondi, judged by Leslie Wilkinson. The practice of Fowell and McConnel was established in 1927 when the pair entered a competition for the design of Tamworth War Memorial Town Hall for which they were awarded second place (National Trust, 1999). They were more successful in winning the competition for the BMA Building in Sydney's Macquarie Street, which also eventually won them the first RIBA medal to be awarded in Australia (Metcalfe, 1997, 66). Born in Australia but educated in England, Joseph Fowell (1891-1970) arrived back in Australia in 1919 where he taught under Leslie Wilkinson at Sydney University. The partnership went on to design a number of Catholic churches in Sydney and some N.S.W. country towns. Kenneth McConnel left the practice in 1939 due to ill health. After WVY7II, McConnel formed a new partnership with Stanley Smith which was eventually to become McConnel Smith and Johnson (National Trust, 1999)

Fowell and McConnel designed a church to accommodate 1,000 with separate committee rooms, campanile and cloister to be added when money became available. The first stage of the church was completed in 1934 with R.M. Bowcock as its builder. The north end of the building was enclosed by a timber framed wall, faced with fibre cement sheeting that marked the position of the future sanctuary. The north end of the church was completed with the addition of the apses some thirty years later to an amended design by Fowell, Mansfield, Jarvis and Maclurcan (Joseph Fowell being one of the original architects). The free standing campanile and linking cloister, which was part of the original concept, was not built.

St Anne's Church was awarded the Sulman Award by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1935. It was the first church building to receive the medal and remains the only complete church building to have received the medal (although additions to St Michael's Church were awarded the Sulman medal in 1942).

In his history of the Sulman Award, Andrew Metcalfe described the church as 'a tour de force of brickwork construction with highlights of sandstone trim', and 'perhaps the highlight of ecclesiastical architecture in interwar Sydney'. He suggests it is stylistically related to and contemporaneous with the English architecture of Guildford Cathedral (c.1932), St Saviours Eltham (c.1933), St Wilfrid's Brighton (c.1934) and St Andrews Luton (c.1932), all of which are linked to twentieth century Swedish architecture, notably Ostberg's Stockholm Town Hall (1911-1923) (Metcalfe, 1997, 66).

The National Trust's Jacqui Goddard described the church as 'absolutely, vitally important . . . An incredibly fine example . . . Of interwar architecture, with a lot of international influence . . . The interior is reasonably austere . . . But with very beautiful Australiana in its detailing' (Radio National, 3/12/2003).

The church is featured in 'A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture', where it is presented as an example of the 'Inter-War Romanesque' style. There it is described as a 'nobly scaled design influenced by French examples such as Albi Cathedral' and Joseph Fowell listed as one of the style's 'key practitioners' (Apperly et al, 1989, 196-7).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Interwar Romanesque-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship Practising Catholicism-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
St Anne's Church is of of historic significance as a sign of the early and continuing role of the Catholic Church in the growth of residential development in the Bondi Beach area from the 1920s. Together with the adjacent school buildings the Church forms a precinct that has served the spiritual and educational needs of the local Catholic community for several generations. As winner of the Sulman Award for architecture in 1935, the church also offers historical insights into questions of taste and aesthetics in Sydney in the 1930s.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
St Anne's Church testifies to the vision of the founding priest of St Anne's Parish at Bondi Beach, Father Daniel O'Sullivan, who played a major role in establishing the physical fabric required to meet the community's spiritual, pastoral and educational needs. The church is also associated with Father Patrick Cunningham, parish priest from 1957 to 1979 who, early in his ministry, devoted himself to the completion of the building. The prominent Sydney architect Joseph Fowell, considered one of the key exponents of the 'Interwar Romanesque' style in Australia, is also associated with the building for presiding over both stages of design and construction thirty years apart.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
St Anne's Church is of state aesthetic significance as a fine example of the Interwar Romanesque style of architecture. Designed by Joseph Fowell, one of the pre-eminent exponents of this style in Australia, it has been described as a 'nobly scaled design' (Apperly, 1989, 196) and as 'perhaps the highlight of ecclesiastical architecture in interwar Sydney' (Metcalfe, 1997, 66). The aesthetic and technical excellence of St Anne's Shrine was recognised immediately upon completion of the first stage of construction in the form of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects' Sulman Award for 1935. It is of interest that this important award was granted to an incomplete building, recognising the quality of the overall design intention.

The dominance of brick mass to round arched windows is characteristic of the Romanesque style, which was widely adopted in Catholic churches built in Australia and elsewhere in the 1920s and 1930s, possibly to distinguish them from the Gothic Revival style then used by the Anglican Church (McDonald, 2003, 8). The Romanesque style has been described as a means by which architects of the period could 'move cautiously towards the uncluttered simplicity of mass and detail favoured by the modernists'. The church illustrates typical characteristics of the style including: use of piers or buttresses, large entrance arches, low pitched gabled roofs, elaborately detailed brickwork and squat massing of the architectural volumes (Apperly et al, 1989, 195-6). The size and architectural massing of the church can readily be appreciated in its open corner setting, and its relatively monumental scale makes it an important landmark in the locality. The round arched stone entrance portico to Blair Street is considered an outstanding example of stone craftsmanship (Waverley Council, 1999). The interior detailing is richer than the exterior and skilfully executed in brick, carved stone and timber. The spatial qualities of the interior, including the open relationship between nave and aisles, and the particularly fine modelling of the sanctuary with its encircling arcaded ambulatory are of considerable aesthetic merit and capture a symbolism and spatial quality evoking the medieval origins of the style.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
St Anne's Church is of social significance for its historic role in the establishment of the Bondi Beach Parish of the Catholic church and its importance as a place of worship for the local Catholic community through several generations.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
St Anne's Church is of state significance in this criteria for its architectural qualities that provide an important point of reference in the adaptation of the Romanesque style as symbolic of the meanings and functions of the Catholic Church. Its contribution to understandings of 1930s taste and aethetics is enhanced by it being the recipient of the Sulman Award of 1935, and by it being included as a primary example of the Interwar Romanesque style in Apperly et al's "A Pictorial Guide to identifying Australian Architecture".

The (currently dismantled) ventilation system using convection to circulate cool air from beneath the church through ventilation holes under the pews is an ingenious, environmentally sustainable and possibly unique system of temperature modification that is worthy of further study.
SHR Criteria f)
St Anne's Church contains a rare ventilation system using convection to circulate cool air from beneath the church through ventilation holes into boxes hidden under the pews (where drawstrings could be pulled to allow the air to circulate into the church). This ingenious, environmentally sustainable and possibly unique system of temperature modification has been dismantled, however all the parts are stored on site and capable of reinstatement, or study. The church more generally is of local significance for being a fine building of relatively monumental scale within the Waverley area.
SHR Criteria g)
St Anne's Church represents a fine example of the Interwar Romanesque style of architecture, which was commonly used in the design of Catholic churches throughout New South Wales in the 1920s and 1930s. It has been described as a "nobly scaled design" (Apperly, 1989, 196) and as "perhaps the highlight of ecclesiastical architecture in interwar Sydney" (Metcalfe, 1997, 66). The church's representative significance is enhanced by its positioning as the key element in a church-school precinct of buildings.
Integrity/Intactness: The church is substantially intact in exterior and interior fabric although there have been many minor changes to the interior in recent years including carpeting, removing the altar rail, relocating altar gates and baptistry font, and dismantling the ventilation system. Many of the items that have been removed are being stored underneath the church.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions Works and activities with a current and valid development consent issued by Waverley Council for Development Application number LD869/03 in accordance with the recommendations of the Heritage Council Approval Committee meeting of 4 February 2004. May 26 2006
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0170626 May 06 683216
Local Environmental Plan  12 Jun 96   
Heritage studyWaverley Heritage Study by Perumal Murphy Pty Ltd 01 Jan 89   
National Trust of Australia register Saint Anne's Shrine 24 Aug 99   
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register  30 Mar 79   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 2004"The Church of Babel", The Bondi View Dec 2003-Jan 2004
Written 1936Architecture, March
Written 1935Building Magazine, January
Written  St Annes Bondi Beach 1925-1985
WrittenAn Architectural Competition and its Conduct1933Building Magazine, June
WrittenApperly, Richard, Robert Irving and Peter Reynalds1989A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture
WrittenInterview with parishioners and Jacqui Goddard from the National Trust2003"Renovation row at St Annes" Religion Report, Radio National
WrittenKildea, Syd2004Letter to Waverley Council re ventilation system at St Annes Shrine
WrittenMalcolm Brown2003Why some of the congregation hate this turbulent priest's guts (SMH 27/10/03)
WrittenMax Dupain Photographs of St Annes Shrine (not stated)
WrittenMetcalf, Andrew1997Architecture in Transition, The Sulman Award 1932-1996
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)1999Classification Card
WrittenOriginal drawings for St Annes Shrine by Fowell and McConnel1935RAIA Sulman Award Collection, PXD319 Vol 1 ft 6a-d
WrittenPerumal Murphy Pty Limited1989Waverley Heritage Study
WrittenWaverely Council1999Heritage listing for St Annes Shrine

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055014
File number: H97/01007

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