Room with a loo and a holy view

Charters Towers church becomes home


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Liz Schmidt sits in her formal living room, with the modern entertainment area pictured in the background. Photo: Jessica Johnston.

Liz Schmidt sits in her formal living room, with the modern entertainment area pictured in the background. Photo: Jessica Johnston.

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An old church hall has been beautifully renovated into a home for Charters Towers Mayor Liz Schmidt

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IT had a kitchen and two toilets.

It wasn’t much, but Liz Schmidt decided it was enough to get by while she renovated the 1980s style church hall to turn it into a home.

After all, it was never really about the home, but all about preserving the historic church.

In making her home on the site of the heritage listed red brick former Church of Christ, Liz was all about saving a piece of history.

Renovating the church was never an option. She wanted to return it to the community which held the proud old structure so dear.

So the hall was it. It was a large open space with a kitchenette at one end. On the other end was the single enclosed room, which had served as an office for the church minister.

Bare floors and a wall of roller doors completed the look.

But for Liz, she saw a clean slate and plenty of opportunity.

Liz bought the property for $275,000 in 2014, and negotiated the challenges of adhering to the sites Heritage Listing when undertaking the renovation.

The kitchen of her home was basic and featured old pine cupboards.

The renovated kitchen with indoor plants growing beneath the natural light rangehood.

The renovated kitchen with indoor plants growing beneath the natural light rangehood.

These she replaced covered, bought new appliances and added beautiful modern marble benchtops with an island bench.

To one end, obscured from sight, she added a laundry area.

A key feature of the kitchen is the ‘natural rangehood.’

Liz said the tall kitchen ceiling, with open sides wired off with mesh and a skylight was quite normal for the period, but allowed for the heat to escape and her indoor plants to flourish.

“The real plants grow because of the natural light and I don’t need a rangehood, as it allows the heat and cooking smells to escape.”

To the side of the kitchen, Liz turned the mezzanine level into a storage area and office, accessible by ladder and closed off from the formal lounge with stylish concertina doors.

The kitchen flows to an open plan living area, that she has styled into two different sections.

The front area is the formal lounge, artfully decorated with beautiful antique furniture she has collected from around the North.

The master bedroom is built on a mezzanine level.

The master bedroom is built on a mezzanine level.

It is a perfect nod to the glorious church, visible across the courtyard from the row of windows that have replaced the unsightly roller doors.

To the rear of the living space is the modern tv area, which can be closed off with concertina doors to provide a distinction between the spaces.

It is off here the former minister’s office has been renovated into a second bedroom.

But perhaps the stroke of genius and hidden gem is the master suite.

A door from the living area leads up a stairway to the beautiful large master bedroom, complete with views to the church from original louvre windows.

“To wake up every morning to the view of the church is just breath taking.

“For the renovation we reused as much as we could, including the louvers.

“I hired a local builder and everything that could be bought locally we did.

The plush carpet in the master bedroom is a story in itself.

“It is made from recycled soft-drink bottles,” Liz reveals.

“It is so soft, it is like walking on a cloud.”

The second bedroom was the only original room.

The second bedroom was the only original room.

There are two bathrooms, one with internal access at the entrance, and the other which is accessed outdoors.

“That is the public toilet, which I keep open if people want to use it for their functions.”

For security and privacy, Liz built a car port on High Street between the church and the hall, which has a roller door to close off the property from the street.

Her courtyard is a sanctuary, a place to ponder, but also forms part of the space where the public is welcome.

Historic church a Towers blessing

LIZ Schmidt was never in the market for a church. It was 2013 and she wanted to buy a house close to town ahead of running for Mayor of Charters Towers Regional Council.

Liz Schmidt believes the church belongs to the community.

Liz Schmidt believes the church belongs to the community.

But there was one structure that just kept popping up on her searches, the old Lutheran and Church of Christ building on the corner of Anne and High Streets.

Out of curiosity, Liz set up an inspection, thinking that would get the idea out of her head once and for all. It did the opposite. She had to have that church, not as a home, but to return it to the community.

Liz didn’t want to see the historic building renovated, but wanted to return it to its original use.

The Lutheran’s laid the first stone in 1885 and it was commissioned in 1886. The grand old red-brick building became a meeting place for the large German population who had moved to the Towers during the mining boom.

But that relationship soured during WWI, with several young residents paying the ultimate sacrifice during the war. Residents tried to drive the Lutheran priest out of town, but he stubbornly remained for some time. The cornerstone out the front of the church, which had been inscribed in German was vandalised, leaving only the date behind but no words. The Church of Christ bought the building and by the 1930s had commenced holding services there.

The facade of the former Church of Christ.

The facade of the former Church of Christ.

These days, the stunning stain glass windows send bright light flooding the original pews and pulpit. A large bath, once used for adult full immersion baptisms, sits at the alter.

Liz said the community felt a strong connection with the church, and since she bought it people had held funerals and weddings there, including a recent ceremony which attracted 180 guests. Liz held her own mother’s funeral at the church shortly after she bought it. Other community members just go there as a peaceful place for quiet reflection.

“People say to me all the time about turning it into something else, offices, cafes, but it has never entered my mind,” Liz said.

“It has been a church for 132 years, it should remain a church forever. It is an important structure.

“Whilst I was not religious when I bought the church I've always had a religious background I guess, but I didn't buy the church for its' spirituality, it actually claimed me.

“I say God knows why I bought this church and I really mean it. 

“It's uplifting I guess to come out of my house and have this as the backdrop.”

For whom the bell tolls

THE original bell tower stands tall and proud in front of the historic Anne Street church.

It has been there since day dot, and still functions with inspections undertaken regularly to ensure the leather straps holding the bell are not weathered by time.

To prevent children or other mischief makers from sound the church bell in all hours of the day, the ropes to operate the mechanism are safely stored out of reach, but that hasn’t stopped the haunting sound of the ringing bell sounding at random and inexplicable times.

The bell tower.

The bell tower.

Liz recounts one night when the bell started ringing. She hopped out of bed to look  out her window, expecting to see neighbourhood children up to no good.

But there was not a soul in sight. A neighbour had also woken to have a look and said the same thing. Not a soul.

When Liz mentioned the random ringing in conversation, someone asked her if she knew that there had been some Army boys in town that night, after completing training in the region.

She accepted that the lads may have cammed up and rung it on a dare.

“The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about really,” she laughs.

“But that was not the only night it happened.”

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