Written by Pia Blak
The Danish Church in Brisbane has a very long and very rich history that can be traced back to 1872. Over time, the church has been known as either the Scandinavian Church in Brisbane or the Danish Church in Brisbane and has been led by a long a number of Danish priests. The church has also owned or been housed in several different buildings
From the beginning of Danish immigration to Queensland, there was a need for joint church attendance with compatriots. It is only natural to find solace in each other’s company when facing a new life in a foreign and different country. You enjoy the service of worship in one’s own language and enjoy singing hymns known from childhood.
Danish immigrants came to Australia as early as 1851 (when gold was first discovered). They went out because of war and hard times in Denmark, among other things. The Three-Year War (1848-1851), and the Schleswig-Holstein border disputes in the 1860-1870s. Many of these immigrants settled in Queensland. Between 1870 and 1900 the Danes were a significant immigrant minority in Brisbane and Queensland.
Historian Robert Ørsted Jensen says that 18 percent of all non-British persons who were naturalized in Queensland before 1903 were of Danish origin. Hard economic times and labor market turmoil in Denmark, as well as free travel, offered in the 1870s by the Queensland government, contributed to this figure. In the 1870s, up to 4000 Danish men and women settled in Queensland.
The first known Scandinavian church service was held in Brisbane 141 years ago, namely on Wednesday, June 26, 1872 in a small Lutheran wooden church on Wickham Terrace. The service was held in Danish by Norwegian Pastor Christoffer Gaustad. As the number of Scandinavians in Brisbane had risen, he preached to them again in 1874. Pastor Gaustad addressed most of the spiritual needs of the German settlers. He spoke several languages fluently. In 1878, Pastor Gaustad had managed to form a congregation called ‘Swedish-Norwegian-Danish congregation in Brisbane’.
As early as 1873, Stephanus Grønvold of Norway, Johan Nielsen and Captain Jacobsen of Denmark began to raise money for their own church. In 1875 a wooden church was built in South Brisbane for use in Scandinavian worship. Danish priest George Sass arrived in Brisbane in 1877 to lead the Scandinavian congregation. He had previously helped set up a Danish church in Nikenbah at Hervey Bay in Queensland.
In August 1880, the Danish priest Jens Christian Petersen received the call to take up the position in Brisbane. With great enthusiasm, he also organized and started Scandinavian congregations and churches in 3 other Queensland cities. To strengthen his work he united the Scandinavian church in Queensland with the German Lutheran church organizations under the name German-Scandinavian Lutheran Synod in August 1885.
To promote Sunday school work among children of Scandinavian parents who had not learned the language of their ancestors, he translated the Lutheran catechism into English. He believed that the Church should use the English language to survive. On Sunday, therefore, he held a Scandinavian church service at 11 and an English church service at 19. Unfortunately, Pastor Petersen’s health was not good, as he had been infected by the yellow fever while in Brazil. Therefore, in 1886 he returned to Denmark.
Danish priest Christian Christensen took up the work in Brisbane, Laidley Creek, Swan Creek and Freestone Creek near Warwick and in Maryborough. On the arrival of the Norwegian priest Jens Christian Larsen in 1889, Pastor Christian Christensen moved to Maryborough. Pastor Jens Christian Larsen served the congregation for four years before returning to Norway in November 1893, and Pastor Christian Christensen returned to Brisbane. For three years Pastor Christensen preached to his congregation before returning to Denmark in 1896.
Left without a priest, the congregation invited the Danish priest Carl Georg Bjelke-Petersen from New Zealand to serve them in Brisbane. Pastor Bjelke-Petersen brought his family, which included son Johannes (Joh) Bjelke-Petersen, who later became Queensland’s longest-serving prime minister (Premier) for 19 years.
As the only Danish priest to serve all of Queensland, Pastor Bjelke-Petersen committed himself to a huge workload. A lot of time was spent traveling around Queensland to preach and perform various pastoral duties. At the Brisbane docks, he also met a large number of new immigrants and helped them find work and housing.
The Danish-German priest Henry Menzig stood for the Queensland congregation between 1912 and 1914, before the Danish priest Peter C. Ligaard arrived. Thirty-five-year-old Pastor Ligaard was successful in reviving the Danish Church and Sunday School in Brisbane and the scattered Danish settlements in Kingaroy and Warwick district, Maryborough and Nikenbah were again visited by a Danish priest. The priest drove these very long trips on his beloved motorcycle.
In 1918, the old wooden church at Kangaroo Point began to collapse and therefore a property was purchased in Dock Street, South Brisbane. Unfortunately, it was sold again around 1921 due to lack of support from Denmark, the US and locally.
Following the sale, the Danish Lutheran Church was based in the headquarters building of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 108 George Street, Brisbane. Here Pastor Ligaard had a place for worship, a reading room and private living above the church room. The Danish Church at this time had come under the Danish Church abroad.
Every two weeks in 1924, Pastor Ligaard conducted a huge effort to broadcast morning service in Danish over the radio to the entire nation.
In 1936, the Old Bible House was purchased by the state government, and the Danish church had to relocate to Luke’s Anglican Church, 18 Charlotte St. This building was transformed in 1979 into the Pancake Manor restaurant and it remains a popular eatery today.
Unfortunately, it was the end of an era when, in 1940, DKU (Danish Church Abroad) decided to move Pastor Ligaard and the Danish church to Sydney because of rising Danish immigration there.
Sixty-six years would pass before the Danish church returned to Brisbane. Eight years after DKU reestablished the Danish church in Sydney in 1988, the Danish priest in Sydney again began serving the Brisbane church with four church services a year.
The services of worship began in 1996 when three enthusiastic ladies in Brisbane felt that there was a need for a Danish church and services in Danish in Brisbane. The ladies worked hard to find a church where they could hold the Danish services four times a year. An agreement was reached with St Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mt Gravatt. This church is still used by the Danish Church in Brisbane.
The original fundraising was in the form of the first Christmas bazaar, where Pastor Henrik True drove up from Sydney with Danish sweets and other Danish goodies. This was complemented by the Christmas decorations the ladies had made in the months leading up to the event. Later, a craft group was formed and this group has been running ever since, still making the Christmas decorations for the annual Christmas bazaar.
At one point the church also ran a Danish mothers group, which met regularly. Sunday school for Danish children has occasionally existed over the years.
Henrik True, Torben Ebbesen, Lars Skjødt-Jakobsen, Jesper Engholm, Frede Tramm, Marie True and Bente Holdgaard are the Danish priests who have presided in Brisbane’s Danish congregation for the past 17 years. They have always brought a lot of joy to, among other things. to visit older Danes from Danish society in the area. Today, the Danish Church is still running successfully in Brisbane, and we hope that it will continue for many years to come.
If you are interested in seeing old pictures of the Danish clergy in Brisbane from 1872 to 1940, take the time to visit St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Wickham Tce (corner of Ann-Wharf streets), which was the site of the first Scandinavian worship was held in 1872.
On the walls of the church, which is the third on the site, hang pictures with brief descriptions. Also note the beautiful Bethlehem Memorial Pipe Organ, made by Danish-born Knud Smenge.