Published: 03 December 2012
Historically Unique, Maryknoll
Angelique Eccleston and Des O’Connell, Maryknollers
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 46-49.
Founded in June 1949, Maryknoll is a rural community nestled within the northern foothills of Cardinia Shire, Victoria.
Maryknoll has been built over time on small steps and has grown out of a well thought out plan, providing for a balanced blend of co-operative, social, spiritual, environmental and town planning principals, all soundly designed to foster unity, peace and love.
Today, Maryknoll teems with significant social, spiritual, environmental and historical values indicative of State and National recognition. These are values that today’s Maryknollers seek to have fully assessed to gain heritage and environmental protection through legislation. The protection is necessary to ensure this historically unique rural community escapes urbanisation and avoids fragmentation, so values remain intact and continue to be honoured and preserved.
Drive into Maryknoll today and you’ll find near 200 properties with lot sizes ranging between 2 to 9 acres, all surrounded by a rural buffer. Each lot was designed to be self-sustaining, free from main services, with ample room for a vegetable patch, family involvement and animal husbandry practices. You’ll find the majority of the houses, some of which are post-war, blend in beautifully with the natural environment.
Maryknoll sustains over 40 hectares of bush reserves peppered in and around a community who cares for it. The nature reserves teem with environmental significance on multiple levels and play an integral role in linking the community with wildlife corridors and over five kilometres of walking tracks. Most of the roads are unsealed and have Koori names, honouring the land’s ancestral heritage.
The town planning is designed to foster unity and connect the community, based on Burley Griffin’s design principals reflected in Canberra. All roads in Maryknoll lead back to the heart, being the Civic Precinct, locating the CFA Station, Father Pooley Memorial Hall, the Holy Family Church, and the General Store nestled in St. Joseph’s Square. You automatically sense there is a social, structural and natural order about this peaceful settlement that randomness could not have a hand in creating, and didn’t.
Maryknoll is Maryknoll because of a well-thought out plan that has been carefully implemented through small steps, slow growth, and, in part, has naturally evolved. Yet there was once a time in our history when Maryknoll was no more than a seed for potential thought inside the mind of one man - a young, courageous, charismatic Victorian of Irish decent named, Father Bill Pooley, Maryknoll’s founder.
In the early 1940s, Father Bill Pooley was in the Corpus Christi Seminary at the Werribee Mansion, Victoria. He was a young priest living in times when communism and capitalism were shooting roots the world over and fear of living under such social systems was rife, further influenced by the controversial Spanish Civil War (ended late 1930s). A decade later, as a result of War World II, the United Nations was formed.
During these times, Father Pooley developed a keen interest in Catholic Action in Australia and his thoughts and ideals were greatly influenced by the discussions held at the Campion Society, a lay Catholic adult education movement formed in 1931 within the grounds of Melbourne University and named after the English Jesuit Edmund Campion (1540-81).
From out of the Campion Society there grew a new social and philosophical awareness. The schools of thought hotly discussed by this small group of intellectuals and university students included Papal encyclicals and the works of the English Catholic sociological thinkers Hilaire Belloc and Gilbert Chesterton, who formulated Distributism, an economic philosophy considered the Third Option. Its practical implementation in the form of local co-operatives has been documented by Race Mathews in Jobs of Our Own.
One Papal Encyclical Father Pooley read that greatly interested him and also influenced Belloc and Chesterton in the formulation of Distributism, acting as a launching pad, was Rerum Novarum 1891, by Pope Leo XIII, as being the way forward to foster social order and justice. The encyclical read:
If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the greater abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them, nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labour of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labour would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self-evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born; for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life.
In their formulation of Distributism, Father Pooley was aware Belloc and Chesterton had analysed what had worked in medieval times, before the development of the capitalist philosophy as first articulated by Jean Quidort (d. 1306) in the theory of homo economicus. Belloc and Chesterton promoted that Distributism could be successfully realised by firm commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (being built into financially independent local co-operatives).
G. K. Chesterton, in his book, The Outline of Sanity, says of these times:
It is a time that man exercise his free will and decide to regain the fullness of his individual, familial, and community life by renouncing or tempering his involvement with an economic system, and with its technological substructure, which rips from him two of his most precious commodities, his own labour and the fruit of it. How can a man be happy, with a truly human happiness, unless his own work is controlled by his own will and not subordinated to the profit-making demands of the owners of capital and the means of production? How can the God-ordained nature of work be realized if neither his hands nor his mind manipulate materials provided to him directly by the Hand of Almighty God according to forms that are derived, through the agency of the human intellect and imagination, from the natural created structure of the world?
Father Pooley clearly recognised the principals and values underpinning Distributism, backed by a financially independent cooperative, would greatly assist in creating a sustainable rural community. He recognised Distributism as a way to foster ownership of the means of production that would be spread as widely as possible among the populace, as opposed to being centralised under the control of a few controlling parties.
Father Pooley once wrote in the St. Mary’s News, ‘Since the beginning of the great industrial movement, man has become an adjunct to the machine - an instrument of capital for the purpose of production’.
He saw Distributism as providing the basis for a sustainable way for families to live on the land, be close to nature, become a stakeholder in property and the fruits of their labour, and feel a strong sense of community-belonging that would foster well-being. He believed such a community would naturally encourage friendship, unity, peace, love, a willingness to participate and provide for a substitute to the secular industrialised society.
Throughout his days at the Corpus Christi Seminary and afterwards, Father Pooley was greatly influenced by Archbishop Dr. Daniel Mannix, a leading figure in Catholic Action during the Great Depression, the lead up to World War II, and beyond.
These events profoundly affected the thoughts of people, who were living in these stark circumstances. The prosperity and relative peace being enjoyed nowadays make these social and economical problems appear as theoretical exercises, but fragile world peace and economics should alert our awareness of these issues, so that we may see them more clearly as did Father Pooley.
As did Dr. Daniel Mannix who, at a convention of Catholic University bodies, made it clear that he would consider supporting any proposal that would promote Christian social order and justice:
You are the leaders of the people - any ideas that you may initiate to make things better than they are at present will receive a cordial welcome, and will be assured of the utmost consideration. And I can assure you that I shall leave nothing undone to give effect to any feasible proposal.
In the late 1940s, Father Pooley met with Archbishop Dr. Daniel Mannix to speak of such a proposal. A proposal to create his vision of establishing a small rural community based on a sound plan. Father Pooley received Dr. Mannix’s full blessing and support for the project and to such a degree that Dr. Mannix created the Parish of Tynong North at the inception of the work.
As the new Parish Priest, and in his own words, Father Pooley said in a St. Mary’s Newsletter, ‘It showed, more than anything else, His Grace’s confidence in the work and his desire to encourage its success’.
Father Pooley established links with the National Catholic Rural Movement (NCRM). The principal aim of the NCRM was to support Catholic Farmers, promote decentralisation and community well-being and cooperatives as an organisational form, reflected in Distributism. With support and guidance from the NCRM, Father Pooley on the 19 June 1949, registered the St. Mary’s Cooperative Society. Four days later, on 23 June 1949, the St. Mary’s Co-operative Society purchased 540 acres of land in Tynong North, within the then Shire of Berwick. It was a day in history when the seed to create the Maryknoll Community was planted in fertile soil.
Father Pooley recognised a great deal of work lay ahead for himself and the founding families, but more importantly he knew the real work had begun.
Reprinted with permission from Co-operatives Victoria. www.victoria.coop