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Bexhill is a gem of the region

Bexhill Open-air Cathedral, perched on Inspiration Point.
Bexhill Open-air Cathedral, perched on Inspiration Point.

AS YOU drive along the Bangalow road from Lismore you come to the village of Bexhill. Though now small, it was once larger than the nearby settlement of Lismore and was alive with cedar cutters.

Trading vessels loaded at nearby Boat Harbour. Later the cleared land became important dairying country supplying the large and prize-winning Unara Butter Factory.

Later still there was the famous Bexhill Brickworks which supplied bricks not only locally but to many other centres. The railway ran conveniently alongside the works to carry the bricks away.

Bexhill may now seem a sleepy old place, but this is deceptive.

Its village church, the Church of the Good Shepherd, nestles in the trees on a hillside, and it is the centre of an amazing vitality.

Originally built by Methodist worshippers it is now attached to the Uniting Church.

It has a magnificent pipe-organ, and perched high on nearby Inspiration Point is the unique Open-Air Cathedral.

The Cathedral was built in 1958 by Bexhill Christian Youth Fellowship and was, from its beginning, meant to be non-denominational, although maintained by the nearby church community.

It has become a popular place for weddings.

Most country churches have at best a tiny pipe-organ, but more likely a free-standing electronic instrument of some kind.

Bexhill's church is different - it has a pipe organ which would grace any large Gothic cathedral.

Long-time church musician and organist Grant Virtue is mainly responsible for this gem.

From the 1960s he had the desire to obtain a pipe organ for his village church.

He heard about one stored in Brisbane and used a parishioner's farm truck to bring it to Bexhill.

It had had a colourful history and was in disrepair, having been through flood and fire. This did not deter Grant and in 1962 it was dedicated and working beautifully.

It was refurbished in 1979 and now attracts city organists who marvel at it.

An annual concert is held when well-known organists are invited to perform.

Proceeds go to the upkeep of the church. Organist David Parsons has been participating in these concerts for over 20 years and each year there are special guests.

A church bell used to be a vital part of every village.

It rang not only to remind worshippers that there was a religious service but also to warn of danger, fire, flood, or even invasion.

Joyously it would ring for weddings and other gala days. In wartime the bells were silenced at most times and rang only when danger was around.

At the end of conflict it rang with triumph. Now, few of our villages have church bells - but not so Bexhill.

The church bell was cast in England and was erected on a tower just outside the church as a memorial to former local resident Keith Virtue.

He became a famous aviator during and after the First World War and co-founded New England Airways which pioneered aeroplane travel between Brisbane and Sydney and inland to Armidale.

New England Airways had its headquarters at Lismore and later became part of the Ansett group.

The Virtue family were early pioneers of Bexhill.

The church and open-air cathedral work together and the bell rings out for all events.

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