I was at St George’s Cathedral for about 12 years and then the bishop sent me up to York. York was pretty run down at that time, about 1978. I had a sort of feel for the place already from visiting my rector friend here. When it actually came to the crunch I moved here reluctantly as things were sort of in such a sad state; the building was in a state of decrepitude and everything was sort of run down. The actual church, when I first arrived, was pretty grim. No one much went. There had been a lot of neglect. My predecessor, who had been an exemplary priest, wasn’t very well, so things got a bit out of hand. The town had suffered since 1968 after the earthquake, when the population had declined by a thousand or so to its lowest ebb really, historically. The main street was pretty empty, just concrete footpaths and not a lot of business activity or anything. But that all improved over the years as they held festivals and things, which attracted a lot of people.
The population of York is pretty stayed. The majority are born here and grow up here and a lot don’t leave. York is a bit of a tribal place. It is a sort of general statement, but you get fairly big, extensive families and they don’t need, or have time or social energy to sort of embrace people outside of their network. I remember when we had the first music festival here, it wasn’t greeted particularly enthusiastically by many, and the crowds weren’t appreciated on a Saturday morning and all that sort of thing. Over about a decade there were lots of those sorts of festivals – not just in the business district but out in halls and homes and so on. They were very popular with people coming up from Perth and elsewhere, but locally there was this sort of rump that didn’t have much interest.
The result of these festivals was that many were attracted to buy weekend cottages here and they often had quite a lot going for them in the arts and so on, which is quite different to many of the people here. They put a lot of energy into committees and running things. At the festivals we used to get international performers. It was pretty exciting. And you’d get out on the streets and have a drink and meet new people and move around. We had an exceptional organ at the church and I would organise three or four concerts a day at the church too. There was a lot of preparation that went on over the course of a year. Schools would bring their bands up and take part, parents would come up and bring their kids. It wasn’t elitist at all but it was a very high standard. For about a decade it created a bit of an aura for people that weren’t from York. It was all so exciting.
I’ve been retired here for about 20 years and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. When you retire you are conscious of not having the same official place in the community and there is a risk of feeling a bit lost. But I found that people related to me even more freely once I retired, which was a positive surprise.