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St Joseph’s, Perenjori, was built in 1937 (ABC News/Natasha Harradine)

In a town of just 200 people in Western Australia’s grain belt sits a tall, white church that seemingly has more visitors interested in its architecture than worship these days. Source: ABC News.

It is one of dozens designed by architect priest Msgr John Hawes during his time in the Midwest region from 1915 to 1939.

Professional decorative painter and restorer Phil Reeves is at work in St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Perenjori.

It is the third Hawes building Mr Reeves has worked on despite not knowing who the designer was until he uncovered some significant finds at the Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral in Geraldton. 

Mr Reeves said the interest was extraordinary, given St Joseph’s location off the beaten track. 

Mr Reeves is working on St Joseph’s thanks to a fundraising effort by the Geraldton and Perth Vietnamese community, which donated money to the church after Cyclone Seroja tore through the state’s Midwest.

But restoration and upkeep on buildings that were about 100 years old was ongoing and expensive. 

With 17 buildings by Msgr Hawes under the ownership of the Geraldton Diocese, attention was turning to how to guarantee their future.

Geraldton Diocese heritage director Robert Cross said there was not enough appreciation locally for the works of Msgr Hawes.

“The driving philosophy behind Hawes’ works was what they called the arts and crafts movement, which was a reaction to 19th-century industrialisation that demeaned the work of people,” he said.

“We have here in the Midwest one of the most significant collections of art and craft buildings in the whole world.”

He says previous grants from state and federal governments have been very welcome but the diocese can no longer afford the maintenance. 

The church has launched the John Hawes Foundation with the hope of raising funds to conserve the remaining buildings it owns. 


Geraldton diocese working to preserve the renowned works of architect priest John Hawes (ABC News)