The Salvation Army was established on January 8, 1887, when Captain and Mrs Bob Smith opened No. 154 Corps at Gunnedah, in the province of Newcastle, making the Army the fourth church in the town.

The barracks were located in Conadilly Street but later moved to the corner of Marquis Street and Little Barber Street. The first major fire in Gunnedah occurred in April 1888, originating at night in a large wooden building in Conadilly Street which had been used as the Salvation Army barracks.

The fire quickly consumed seven buildings, including the barracks, Mugivan and McClelland’s Bakery, the two-storey dwelling of James Pullen, the office of the Gunnedah Advertiser, Thomas Stewart’s store and two other private dwellings, along with outhouses.

Freeman’s Journal, of April 28, 1888, reported that “had it not been for Walter Douglas, James Bowen and the police, assisted by a large contingent of others, the fire would have destroyed the whole of the Conadilly Street frontage between Chandos Street and Marquis Streets”.

A report in the Daily Telegraph on July 10, 1888, gave a brief description of the opening of the Gunnedah barracks: “The new Salvation Army Barracks were opened here on Saturday. The building is about 60ft in length and will hold 300 people. Major Spratt and several prominent Salvationists, accompanied by some of the Salvationist band, from Tamworth, were present”.

In April 1964, the dedication and official opening of the new Salvation Army quarters in Barber Street, constructed a cost of 3861 pounds, was dedicated and officially opened by territory commander for NSW, Queensland and Papua New Guinea Lieutenant Commissioner Bramwell Cook. Commissioner Cook praised the work of officer in charge, Captain Skinner, who had raised more than 1700 pounds towards the cost after selling the old quarters for 50 pounds. The remainder had been financed by a grant from headquarters and a loan of 400 pounds. Captain Skinner was also praised by Gunnedah mayor Frank O’Keefe, Canon RF Kirby and Cr WC Muir representing Liverpool Plains Shire Council. Captain Skinner paid tribute to the many organisations that had supported the project and to the members of the Salvation Army for their hard work. Two years later extensions were officially opened by Lieut. Colonel Brian Paterson.

The Salvation Army hall in Gunnedah in 1935. The Salvation Army Hall on the corner of Marquis Street and Little Barber Street was moved to the corner of Barber and Chandos Streets in the mid-1930s to make way for industrial growth. Note Pike’s Powerhouse chimney stack in the background.

The following year local Salvationists celebrated the centenary of the Salvation Army which had been established in London by William Booth in 1865. A Methodist preacher, William Booth had founded the Salvation Army as a humble working men’s mission.

A century later, the organisation had spread through countless countries with its officers and soldiers, a great proportion of them being women, caring for the sick, the derelicts, the unwed mothers and lost souls in the same spirit of compassion and grace as their predecessors did a century ago.

After 100 years of service to the Gunnedah community, the Salvation Army celebrated its centenary in April 1967, with special events planned for three days of celebrations.

Part of the celebration included a sunrise service on Porcupine Lookout followed by a holiness meeting where the original century-old flag was unfurled and a new one dedicated.

The Army’s Thrift Centre opened in 1986 and moved to a new location in Little Barber Street in August 2005, during the ministership of Marilyn and Bruce Ault who replaced Major Barry Fischle and his wife Ruth after their transfer to Cessnock. The Gunnedah Family Store now operates from 29-31 Chandos Street while the church is located at 30 Tempest Street, formerly the Centrelink building renovated for the needs of the Salvation Army in 2017, during the ministry of captains Richard and Gaye Day. In 2018, Richard Day was given the honour of being a baton bearer when the Queen’s Baton came through Gunnedah in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games.

In the early days of the Salvation Army, the organisation was supported by many well-known families such as the Westerwellers, Owens, AJ Baker and others who recognised what great work the army was doing and gave practical support.

Several of the officers stationed in Gunnedah became well-known and gained promotion, including Captains Pratt, Shephard, Cummings, Olsen, Owen, Anderson, Royle, and Captain Powell who then became Mrs Lt. Commissioner Carpenter, who with her husband went on to manage the Army’s work in Argentine, South America.

The 1935 Back to Gunnedah Week jubilee book reported visits by commissioners Bowton, and Whatmore, as well as Commissioner McKenzie, known as “Fighting Mac” in 1934.

There was a tragic incident in November 1903 when a young baritone player with the visiting Austral Guards bandsmen of the Salvation Army, drowned in the Namoi River when the group of 25 went for an afternoon swim. Eighteen-year-old Wilburn Finlay, 18, was a native of Auckland, New Zealand.

Salvation Army citadel and welfare centre in 2006. The Salvation Army now operates from new premises in Tempest St with the family store in Chandos Street.

Salvation Army stalwart John Lodge was given the stamp of approval as Australia entered the new millennium.

His portrait, taken by local photographer Peter Lorimer, was one of only 25 selected by Australia Post for its Faces Of Australia – Snapshot Of A Nation competition, the pictures going on to the new millennium range of postage stamps. There were more than 30,000 entries in the competition.

Mr Lodge, then 83, and his wife Joyce were guests of Australia Post at a gala black-tie presentation in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin Hotel in Sydney.

Between them, John and Joyce Lodge had given almost 80 years of service to the Salvation Army, becoming the face of the Army through their collections at the town’s hotels and clubs every Friday night. The Face of Australia competition set out to capture everyday Australians at a significant time in the country’s history. Each of those chosen people were featured on the 45-cent stamps some 13 million times.

The Lodges came to Gunnedah in the mid-1950s and lived for a time in a tent-house below Pensioners’ Hill. Mr Lodge found work wherever he could, as a railway fettler, in the mines and at the abattoir, as they raised their six children.

Another long-serving and dedicated couple who became the ‘face’ of the Salvos were Bob and Val Hodges who gave countless years to the corps, helping to raise funds for the welfare and charitable arm of the church.

The annual Red Shield appeal was administered by a committee from the wider community established in 1975, with Neil Carter, of Rangari, elected the foundation chairman of the committee. The appeal has continued over the years with great support from local volunteers who acted as door knockers.

Over the years the Salvation Army has catered for children in the Sunbeams, run along the same lines as Girl Guides – and seniors in the Golden Years Club, designed for people over the age of 50, with activities embracing bus trips, sing-a-longs, quizzes and games.

In 1986, Salvationists David and Brenda Lodge became house parents at the Edith Beasley Cottage for children with a disability who attended GS Kidd Memorial School. The home was supported by the Challenge Foundation.

In 2007, the Salvation Army celebrated 120 years in Gunnedah with a formal dinner and concert, with Territorial Commander Les Strong saying that “the Gunnedah corps had a fine record for serving the community and while there had been many changes during that time, the Salvation Army’s message had been the same” while Major Joy Harmer said that those who had served in the past had been an inspiring example”. Joy also established the Salvation Army’s Hope House in 2011 – a drop-in centre in Hopedale Avenue, with programs targeting mothers, carers, pre-schoolers, challenged teenagers’ first-time offenders and drug and alcohol abuse.

Today, the Salvation Army continues to meet the needs of the community with support from the wider Gunnedah community. Peter and Sally Hall are at the helm of the organisation taking over from Lieutenant Marika Haupt and her husband Zane who accepted a transfer to Darwin in 2021.

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