The Anglican Diocese of Riverina was established officially on 16 December 1881 by a Declaration of Trust, and sponsored by the Hon. John Campbell, MLC, who donated £10000. Covering at least one third of the total area of New South Wales, parishes in the Riverina Diocese prior to 1881 were administered either from the Dioceses of Goulburn or Bathurst, and were often worked tirelessly by itinerant priests on horseback. The idea behind the carving up of Goulburn and Bathurst Dioceses stemmed from Bishop Selwyn's policy of extending missionary Anglicanism into remote parts of New Zealand by splitting up the countryside into smaller and more manageable bishoprics. Although the Anglican Church was intent on bringing church to the people of Riverina, the first three Bishops were however consecrated on the other side of the world in England.
After his consecration in England on 1 May 1884, the first Bishop of Riverina, Bishop Sydney Linton, set sail for Australia with his family on 15 January the following year. Upon his arrival he was welcomed in Melbourne, Sydney and Goulburn before travelling west to Hay to inspect the site of the proposed bishopric. On 18 March 1885, Bishop Linton was installed formally as Bishop of Riverina in St Paul's in Hay by the Incumbent, Reverend James Macarthur. Throughout his pioneering service, the Bishop toured extensively around to Riverina parishes and was instrumental in setting up the first Synod for the Anglican Church in 1887. The Bishop made the last of his journeys throughout the Diocese during 1894, when suddenly he fell ill and died later in Melbourne. The second Bishop nonetheless found the Diocese in a somewhat ailing financial state.
Bishop Ernest Augustus Anderson was installed in Hay as the second Bishop of Riverina on 11 February 1896, at a time when funding for the church was in short supply. Station owners no longer had the means of supporting the church because of the continuing drought and rabbit plague, which meant that clergymen had to work for almost nothing. Bishop Anderson's episcopate was also characterised as a time of conflict between the Bishop and his clergy, and between the clergy and their parishioners. However, at the turn of the century new towns throughout the Riverina began to flourish as the growing wheat industry gave the district a much needed economic boost. The Bishop retired from service on a rather positive note in 1925, leaving twice as many parishes in the Diocese as he took over originally.
The third Bishop of the Riverina was elected for the first time in the actual diocese he was serving. Reginald Charles Halse was elected Bishop of Riverina on 22 July 1925 and consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey in London on 29 September. Bishop Halse's reign saw a number of significant changes, including the introduction of the motor car and aeroplane to assist priests in bringing the church closer to the people in remote areas. By the 1930s, the motor car was the accepted means of travelling to cover an increasing number of parishes and services, and the use of the plane to establish contact with frontier parishes was the idea of the Rector of Wilcannia, Reverend Leonard Daniels, who had been dubbed the 'first flying parson' in Australia. Halse remained Bishop of Riverina until 1943, when he was transferred to Brisbane as Archbishop. The successor to Halse was Bishop Charles Herbert Murray, who was elected to administer Riverina in November 1943 and officially consecrated at St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney on 2 February 1944.
Compiled by : James Logan.
Sources : Clyde, Laurel, In a Strange Land: a history of the Anglican Diocese of Riverina. The Hawthorn Press: Melbourne, 1979.
Image : Pen and ink drawing by Caroline Merrylees, of Bishop's Lodge, South Hay, built 1889.