Record Rewind: The tractor that helped start a church

A look back at the origin story of Mildura Seventh-day Adventist Church (Victoria).

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"Big Lizzie" on display at Red Cliffs, Victoria.

Have you watched the TV show, Who do you think you are?—stories that trace the ancestry of well-known people? Or perhaps you remember This is Your Life telling the stories of Australians who made a difference to the lives of people around them. Have you wondered how all the information is gathered? Family records and stories become important.

I grew up loving the stories my grandparents told.

When my grandmother (Florence Gates) turned 90, I collected stories from her 10 children to record her life story. One story was of her shooting a camel which was trying to drink precious water on the farm at Boinka, in Victoria’s dry Mallee country. Other stories told of her years of service to the local hospital auxiliary, and her sponge cakes prepared for the street stall to raise funds for the school which is now Henderson College.

I encouraged my mum Valma Hancock (nee Gates) to write her story too. Her older sister Betty had to wait until Val was old enough to start school, then they were both helped onto a pony which took them to school and back home each day. Mum remembered how they had to pack all their possessions in the Great Depression and leave the farm, moving up to Mildura on the mighty Murray River. Her dad had to find work as a labourer and at times they lived in tents beside the irrigation channels.

My mum also told how they started attending the Mildura Seventh-day Adventist Church. Her dad, Jack Gates, had joined the Bottrills (who were Adventists) when they arrived at Ouyen on “Big Lizzie” (the first large tractor built in Victoria—now a major tourist attraction in the district—attracting visitors from around the world).

The Bottrills’ care and witness left a lifelong impact on the community and young Jack. In his retirement he built a small replica of “Big Lizzie”, named her “Little Lizzie” and took her to various schools. “Little Lizzie” even went to Melbourne’s Big Camp at Nunawading. It showed how “Big Lizzie” worked and how it travelled from Richmond to Mildura, where it was used to clear land for soldiers returning from World War I.

“Big Lizzie” . . . back in her heyday.

The Bottrills were the first Adventists in Mildura when they arrived with “Big Lizzie”. Within months another Adventist family moved into Mildura; then a young graduate from Avondale College came and stayed with them, canvassing the area with the publication Heralds of the Morning. That young graduate was W R Scragg (Sen). He found many families interested in his books and so there was a small group to form the Mildura Adventist church on November 29, 1919.

The Mildura church has been blessed with expansion for nearly 100 years. Now, a number of the descendants of founding members are among the leaders in the church.

Many pastors came to Mildura and left lasting impressions. Among them were Pastor Tucker, Pastor A J Gathercole and Pastor C F Hollingsworth who is remembered for collecting a widow and her four children and bringing them to Sabbath school and church each week. More recently Pastors Darren Slade and David Butcher have been recognised for their leadership talents and now lead different conferences in Australia.

To celebrate all these memories, Mildura church will hold a special “Centennial” Sabbath this year on November 16. If you’ve been blessed by your association with Mildura please plan to attend. In the meantime, put “pen to paper” or “finger to the keyboard” and record your stories.


Liz Knott attends Mildura Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victoria.