On 3 July 1927 Governor-General Lord Stonehaven attended the last service in the Presbyterian Church on the corner of Broadway and Glebe Point Rd, after which parishioners met in Record Reign Hall while the church building was moved stone by numbered stone to a new site on Bridge Rd, in the hope that the quieter location would reverse falling congregation numbers. Three adjacent houses – Hamilton, Alma and Reussdale – had been bought and the Broadway land sold. Alma, 158 Bridge Rd, was demolished to make way for the re-assembled house of worship while Hamilton was incorporated into a church hall and Reussdale became the manse. The whole operation took a year. The rededication service on 14 July 1928 was well attended. Rev. Robert Racklyeft, who was on the committee which handled the reconstruction, continued as minister at the new address and moved his young family from 30 Allen St into the presbytery at 160 Bridge Rd where he remained until 1942.

On the cleared land at Broadway the church was replaced by Brockhoff’s flour factory where fox terriers and snakes kept down the mouse numbers.

Robert Racklyeft was born at Redfern on 20 September 1883 to English-born bootmaker George Racklyeft (1848-1926) and Catherine Mary née Doolittle (1845-1930), assisted immigrants who arrived in Sydney on 15 February 1876 on the Earl Dalhousie with Eleanor (5), Emma (3) and Charles (2). In Australia ten other Racklyeft children were born in the period 1876–90. The family lived on Cleveland St, Redfern before moving to Beamish St Campsie. Robert, said to have been educated at Newington, played cricket with the Redfern Melrose Club and first grade rugby with the Campsie Pirates.

Behind hoardings at far left is the vacant site of Glebe’s Presbyterian Church, removed stone by stone in 1927 from Broadway to be reassembled on Bridge Rd. Clergyman Robert Racklyeft continued his ministry at the new address (image: Government Printing Office)

By 1905 Robert Racklyeft was working as a machinist on the Singleton Argus. During his stay in the town he continued to play football and cricket, taught Sunday School, sang in the Presbyterian church choir and was active in the International Organisation of Good Templars which promoted temperance. He left Singleton to train as a Presbyterian minister and worked with John Flynn and the Australian Inland Mission (Racklyeft kept a pedal wireless in his Glebe home.)

At St David’s Dobroyd, on 4 June 1913 Racklyeft married Mary Partridge, sister of Kingsley ‘Skipper’ Partridge who also worked with John Flynn, and the couple moved to Lockhart where Helen Kingsley was born in 1915. Rev. Racklyeft was at Quirindi, his next posting, when he embarked as an army chaplain on the Borda on 17 July 1918. He served in France before returning to Australia in August 1919. (Robert’s younger brother Winford, a ship’s engineer, drowned on 16 October 1917 when his merchant steamer was wrecked.)

Robert Racklyeft’s son Peter McAlpin was born at Quirindi on 30 April 1922. In 1925 Racklyeft was posted to Corowa; the next year to Summer Hill; and in April 1927 to Glebe. In 1929 he took leave of absence on the grounds of ill health and sailed to England on the Baradine.

During his ministry Racklyeft set up the Boys Brigade, modelled on the Scouts movement. He enlisted again as a chaplain in the Second World War, while his son Peter was a Spitfire pilot. In 1944 he was posted to Singleton where he remained until 1949 (his farewell function was lit by emergency lighting because of power cuts) before returning to Sydney to live at Rose Bay. On 3 October 1955 he died at Bathurst and was buried there.

Racklyeft’s daughter Helen was an early woman graduate in Veterinary Science from Sydney University, entering the course on an exhibition. She was educated at Corowa District School and Sydney Girls’ High where she won prizes for Greek, matriculating in 1932. After travelling in Europe, she returned to Sydney in 1938 and resumed her studies. In 1942 she married fellow vet Selwyn Louis Neiderer and after the war they set up a veterinary practice in Victor Harbor SA. Helen Neiderer died in 1998.

Sources: New South Wales Presbyterian 19.7.1928; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; Trove website
Chaplain Robert Racklyeft (right) with Captain Williamson outside the officers’ mess, Harfleur 1918 (Australian War Memorial)