The very first record of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Port Pirie was of a small galvanised iron structure 28 feet square which was built in 1873. During 1875 a new weatherboard church was built on the corner of Alexander and Gertrude Streets in Port Pirie.
At the Annual Methodist conference in March 1912 it was unanimously agreed that the Port Pirie Methodist Church should become Central Mission. The Mission aimed to be the living centre of evangelistic effort and social service, in an endeavour to counteract the influence of the hotels, and to attempt to help people have better things in life. Rev. JC Hughes was the first Superintendent of the newly formed Mission. A group of volunteers concerned about the welfare of sailors whilst in port agreed to visit the boats on a regular weekly basis. In September 1912 Sister Annie was inducted as a Sister of the People. Her role was to work among the 4,000 inhabitants in the Port Pirie West area experiencing hardship. The existing weatherboard building was by this time inadequate for the Mission’s needs and a larger building was envisaged.
During the first World War the Methodist Church opened its doors for two hours a day for people to offer their prayers for those on active service overseas. These were hard years in Port Pirie with unemployment high and typhoid fever prevalent. Missioners set up a men’s and women’s gymnasium to alleviate the idleness and planned activities for underprivileged children at Christmas.
1919 saw the continuation of harsh times in Port Pirie with a Spanish Influenza epidemic in February and in May a miner’s strike in Broken Hill, causing 2000 men to become unemployed at the Broken Hill Associated Smelters. The length of the strike meant that men had to go elsewhere to find work. All the churches felt the strain as demands for clothing and food was high. Donations of leftover bread from a local bakery and clothing, both new and repaired, from the Pirie West School were distributed through the Mission. The smelters restarted in January 1921. Limited resources were stretched further when excessive rains caused heavy flooding in March 1921. Unemployment remained high and the number of itinerants passing through Port Pirie increased.
The Church Building Fund begun in the early 1900’s finally saw the new church built on the corner of Florence Street and Norman Street. The Inaugural Service was held on October 15th, 1922. It was later sold and is now a restaurant.
Meal tickets were offered during the years of the Depression and an unemployed single men’s camp was established with Missioners negotiating with the Corporation to provide 25 beds and the government to provide blankets. The camp was forced to close in February 1930 due to lack of funds and insufficient supervision, but assistance given to single men between the ages of 20–30 years continued. As the Depression continued the number of men dependent on the Mission rose to 100. A cobbler’s shop was set up, using leather obtained from the government. One year Missioners repaired 480 pairs of boots.
In August 1934 the breaking of the embankment saw the lower areas of Port Pirie flood. Despite facing hardship themselves, Missioners distributed over 500 relief parcels and opened the doors of their homes to help flood victims. Central Mission was more involved in its relief work than any other church in Port Pirie at the time.
With the outbreak of World War II the Church was needed more than ever. The war time evacuation plan saw Central Mission become a relief depot in case of air raids. A train load of Asian evacuees were the first people to utilise these overnight arrangements. In January 1940 the Central Methodist Church was totally destroyed by fire. Inadequate insurance coverage forced services to be offered from the partially damaged manse.
At the end of the war the Mission assisted soldiers adjust to civilian life. Meal tickets as well as occasional accommodation and jobs around the manse were offered to men seeking help.
Rev. Benn was the first Methodist Industrial Chaplain, a new concept introduced at the Smelters in 1966. When his family left Port Pirie in 1968 the Central Methodist Church was closed except for weddings and meetings and the manse was taken over as offices for the Superintendent and the Parish General Offices. The Central Mission complex was purchased by the Department of Community Welfare.
When the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian denominations amalgamated to become the Port Pirie United Parish, the name of Central Mission was retained because of the welfare component. Rev Norman’s foresight in 1970 saw the need for an “Opportunity Shop” to be established to supply clothing and goods for people on low incomes. The store was opened Tuesdays and Thursdays by volunteers under the leadership of Edna Zubrinich and Linda Fitzgerald.
In 1976 at the Annual Methodist conference, Port Pirie Central Mission was declared an Incorporated Association, enabling greater opportunity to receive government grants and financial assistance from community sources.
After his induction as Superintendent in 1976 Rev John Mauviel advocated for emergency housing for deserted wives with children and a shelter for homeless men.
Initially one house was purchased. Soon there was a waiting list for emergency accommodation. Over the next three years eight more houses were acquired. Money was received from Morialta Trust Fund to provide hot water systems. The tenants paid a nominal rent including a component for gas and power. The demand for housing was always greater than the supply. Two caravans were purchased and used in emergencies.
Permission was sought from the Department of Community Welfare to use the former Central Mission manse for a homeless Men’s Shelter to meet the growing need of itinerants as well as local homeless men.
Tennyson House was established as a community home for single girls. A care taker/cook was employed to care for the premises and five tenants.
By mid 1977 plans were well in hand for establishing a Crisis Counselling Service in Port Pirie under the auspices of Central Mission. Interested people were trained and when qualified were rostered on a telephone counselling service from 6pm to midnight. The service was expanded to a 24 hour counselling service and became part of the Australian National Lifeline programme.
In 1980 the Wayside Lodge men’s shelter was demolished and the former Presbyterian manse was opened in October 1980 as St Andrews. Homeless men were offered individual rooms with communal lounge and dining facilities.
The Mission’s services expanded to include a coffee lounge, Good News Book Shop, marriage counsellor and the appointment of a Housing Officer to look after the tenants in the Mission’s accommodation.
A generous bequest in 1986 from the estate of the late Allan and Audrey Ward of Weroona Island made it possible to purchase a new Mission complex to accommodate the expanding services which included Family Support and later Alternative (Foster) Care and Tenancy Support. In 2000 the Mission became known as Uniting Care Port Pirie Central Mission aligning with the national UnitingCare identity.
The Mission’s offices at Ward House in Ellen Street were quickly being outgrown. Several options were considered and a new site was identified at 60 Florence Street. In 2001 all programs had moved and were operating from the new premises.
In 2002 a Memorandum of Agreement was established between the four Missions in South Australia – Adelaide, Bowden, Port Adelaide and Port Pirie. Common badging and Strategic Plans were developed and in 2003 UnitingCare Port Pirie became UnitingCare Wesley Country SA.
The launch of the new badging of UnitingCare Wesley was held in Adelaide in October 2003 in the presence of Her Excellency the Governor of South Australia, Marjorie Jackson-Nelson. The Missions in Partnership met regularly to develop and provide mutual support in the areas of Information Technology, Business Excellence and Purchasing.
As services expanded rapidly over the country regions of Yorke Peninsula, Mid North, Far North and Eyre and Western, a more representative name of UnitingCare Wesley Country SA was adopted in 2011.
In 2012 we celebrated 100 years of continuous service to our communities ‘caring for country people’.
The following years saw much discussion amongst the national UnitingCare network about a common brand across the community service organizations. These discussions coupled with a major shift in how community services are being funded and the evolution of consumer directed care encouraged the board of UCWCSA to rename the organization Uniting Country SA and launch a new and fresh brand to take the organisation into the future.