Sydney Archdiocese Central Council Celebrates Two Major Milestones this Year

There has been much to celebrate in Sydney Arch Central Council this year, with the centenary of the very first Vinnies shop, and that of Sutherland Shire Regional Council.

A century ago, two Vincentians, W.J. Coogan and D. Mulquinney, joined eight other Society brothers, as they were then known, on a working bee that continues to have profound repercussions for the Society and retailing across Australia.

In 1922, they gathered on a site in Newtown, close to the current Vinnies shop, to create what a hand-lettered sign behind them proclaimed to be the “St Vincent de Paul Waste Collection Depot”.

They created a canny business model – the collecting, storing and, where necessary, the repairing of unwanted items that could be sold to raise funds for charitable purposes.

No item was too big or too small to be ferreted away: “Last week’s deliveries included a cartload of furniture, another of timber and glass from a demolished building, a wire dummy such as is used by dressmakers, a bath, and a couple of wash-tubs,” one newspaper reported.

“It will be seen that nothing, from a needle to an anchor, goes to waste at the depot, and everything means money for the Society’s good works.”

Nowadays, nobody wants second-hand needles and few need anchors, but the Society’s retail presence has expanded throughout NSW with a total of 227 Vinnies shops and annual revenue of $67.6 million.

In the same year, Sutherland Shire Regional Council was established, including Conferences in Cronulla and Sutherland. On the 30th of July, members gathered at Gymea Trade Services Club to mark the milestone.

In her opening speech at the dinner, Sutherland Shire Regional Council President, Pat Cudmore, recounted some stories from the early days of these two Conferences.

She shared an extract from a 1922 report submitted to the Sydney Regional Council of the Society, which read “St. Aloysius Cronulla: there was practically no local distress in the district during the year, but the brothers made up for this by increased zeal in other directions. Every one of the special works received generous help. Waterfall Hospital was visited regularly, and the patients were cheered by gifts of reading matter, tobacco, cigarettes, and where necessary, clothing also was supplied. Exceptionally good work was done in the way of providing school fees and books to enable poor children to attend Catholic schools”.

Another report cited by Pat told of the difficulty of travelling to Kurnell in the 1930s, highlighted by plight of Father Donovan and local Vincentians. “He [Fr. Donovan] had no transport of his own and after a while he bought himself a horse. This was very necessary as it was still difficult to travel by vehicle to Kurnell. Just prior to the beginning of World War II, Charles Chauvel, the film maker, commenced directing the Australian epic film ‘Forty Thousand Horsemen’ and the desert scenes were being shot in the Wanda sand dunes. Fr. Donovan befriended the film crew and after the film was finished, they gave him one of the horses, which he presented to the St Vincent de Paul members for their visits to Kurnell.”

Many things have changed in the last 100 years; Sutherland now has 10 Conferences and about 112 members. They no longer hand out tobacco or visit people on horseback. But the core purpose for Vincentians remains the same – to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.


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