As the capital’s Aussie population celebrated Australia Day, alternative ‘church-goers’ numbering over 1,000 descended on the new Clapham High Street venue to party. But this time with extra purpose. For this year’s true-blue commemoration was filled with thoughts of the red country back home, still reeling from near biblical-levels of fire devastation.
Management and organisers of London’s infamous Sunday gathering, now firmly established in folklore as a ‘must do’ (and still surviving after 41 years), responded to the outpouring of grief from the capital’s Antipodean community. They decided to donate profits from this year’s Australia Day party to relief efforts Down Under.
Chief Church ‘warden’ and former Johannesburg bodybuilder Julian Molteno said the decision was an easy one to make.
“It is this deep respect, love and appreciation for every Aussie or Kiwi that has either attended or worked at The Church that has spurred us on to do all we can to help with the tragedy unfolding in Australia,” he said.
“We have cut back our expenses as much as possible with quite a few Church staff working Australia Day without pay.”
Joining the usual lineup of raucous party-goers on stage beside eyebrow-raising performances from notorious acts, were vending stalls on the sidelines, raising money for Aussie firefighters and scorched earth consequences back home.
From Lamington bakes to Tim Tams and other homely recipes, Church-goers flocked to make contributions, All washed down with copious snakebites, of course. While ‘belting out’ patriotic renditions to John Farnham and Powderfinger cover tunes, naturally.
Sisters Julia and Louise Rundle from Penrith, NSW broke with their 13-year tradition of a Sunday morning sleep-in to attend The Church, donning Australian Wildlife Society shirts volunteering to awaken the consciences of their fellow Aussie party-goers.
“We feel pretty helpless being over here and not being able to do anything,” said Julia, as she reached out among the celebrants with cake bakes for sale and rattled money buckets.
“If I was at home, I’d want to be volunteering at an animal rescue centre. So I wanted to give something back today here in person in London.”
Her sister Louise, a teacher from their hometown beside the Blue Mountains, paid tribute to the venue for organising the benefit.
“This is my first time at The Church after 13 years in London. The staff were right on the ball straight away with the relief effort, pushing everyone to give to the Aussie community over here. Everyone’s been really generous today.”
Molteno, for his part, is determined to maintain his venue’s iconic place in the expat-Aussie culture, which has witnessed the dismaying disappearance of all Walkabout bars in the capital, plus the Redback in Acton.
“We’ve seen them all off,” he reminds, uncomfortably aware that UK government visa restrictions have diminished the Antipodean customer base.
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Yet the South African is still recognised fondly from aboard Contiki and Topdeck buses returning from European tours, spotted jogging along the banks of the Thames by weary-eyed regular Church attendees. They are among the estimated 1.5 million revellers that have performed ‘the rite of passage Church attendance’ since 1979 across London.
He proudly jokes of a visit to his Australian dentist who, upon hearing about his connection to the party venue, excitedly showed him his scruffy ‘Church boots’ set aside for messy Sunday sessions. At wherever venue the Church might appear.
Molteno and his team maintain their four-decade brand by defiantly hosting Church now on special occasions during the year. Adapting to their expat customer base with spiritual gestures like last weekend should see them well into their fifth.