Thomas Rentoul (1882 – 1945) Methodist clergyman
Thomas Rentoul’s vision, judgement, conviction and speaking and debating ability led to high appointments as leader and administrator in church and community. His influence in social reform, housing and soldiers’ welfare extended beyond the bounds of the Methodist Church.
Thomas Rentoul (Rintoul), Methodist clergyman, was born on 23 November 1882 at Metcalfe, Victoria, one of eleven children of Alexander Rintoul, schoolteacher, and his wife Margaret Macdougal, née Craike, both Victorian born.
Embarking as chaplain in March 1916, Rentoul served in France with the 59th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force. He established a soup-kitchen on the Somme River front and frequently crawled over the battlefield through heavy shell-fire to recover the personal belongings of men killed before writing to next-of-kin at home. Suffering from the effects of gas, he was invalided back to Australia late in 1917.
Appointed to the Malvern, Melbourne, circuit in 1919, Rentoul served at the new Epping Street Peace Memorial and Darling Road churches, visiting the many ex-servicemen who built their homes in the area. On 23 April 1921 he married Ivy Victoria Comben at Wesley Church, Melbourne.
Next year he was appointed assistant director to Rev. A. T. Holden, general superintendent of the Methodist Home Mission Department, and took over Holden’s position in 1932; in that year Rentoul became resident principal of Otira Home Mission Training College at Kew. In 1937 he was appointed director of the Methodist Federal Inland Mission where he inaugurated and edited The Inland Link. He travelled widely throughout the remote areas of northern, central and western Australia.
Rentoul’s vision, judgement, conviction and speaking and debating ability led to high appointments as leader and administrator in church and community. His influence in social reform, housing and soldiers’ welfare extended beyond the bounds of the Methodist Church.
He was a thinker and a tireless administrator, with a keen sense of humour. In 1940 he became president of the Methodist Conference of Victoria and Tasmania, and in May 1945 was elected secretary-general of the Methodist Church of Australasia.
In 1937 Rentoul had been appointed Methodist chaplain general with the rank of major general, and he saw service throughout World War II in Australia and overseas. In 1945 he was appointed to an inquiry into offences against military law, courts martial and detention systems.
Further achievements of Thomas Rentoul :
Orana Family Services by Sonia Prasel
Sourced from an article published in the Burwood Bulletin, Spring 2007 at
How fortunate we are to live in a community, and indeed a country, that has been a leader in the way we treat and care for the underprivileged. During the 19th century, many churches throughout Victoria, and I guess Australia, were beginning to take notice of the less fortunate who needed assistance. They began to set up refuges and institutions to help children and families in need of care and shelter.
It was in the late 1880’s that the Methodist Church in Victoria saw their need to step up and reach out to orphaned and mistreated children. They set up a committee which was comprised mainly of women, to provide temporary care for abused, neglected or abandoned children. The committee focused their energies on providing a home environment for those in need. They wanted to move away from the institutionalisation that many children, unwanted by their families, had previously received.
The foundation set up by the committee was up and running when a small, two storey, single fronted Victorian terrace was obtained by the Church in the inner suburb of Carlton. In its infancy it was officially named Livingstone House. By 1891 the service had outgrown the building and a much grander property was needed. A large home for the children was acquired in Cheltenham and along with the new property came a new name. Livingstone Home, as it was re-named, began its journey to care for children in need.
In 1944, progress saw the need to build new, more family friendly style accommodation. The Cheltenham site was considered ideal by many for this. Reverend T.C. Rentoul with the assistance of Reverend A. Pederick led the project and made some interesting decisions. Rentoul was a man of strong character and determination with great plans. He believed he had found a better location than Cheltenham and together with Pederick, they acquired 21 acres of orchard alongside Wattle Park in Burwood. Today, this site has been developed and is located opposite where Deakin University now stands. Back in 1944, Rentoul had expanded on the committee’s ideas by conducting his own research and visiting a similar site in England. Among his many ideas, he wanted to see Burwood establish several homes in a village environment which would house either boys or girls. Rentoul and Pederick had not consulted the committee when they attained the land. They acted on their instincts and it was only afterwards that they sought the approval and funding from the church to endorse their action.
The committee knew that the Elgar Road property was to become the fourth children’s institution in close proximity which meant Burwood had a cluster of children’s institutions. This did not appeal to the committee as they also had considered Cheltenham the more lucrative position. There were 27 acres at Cheltenham (6 more than in Burwood) as well as trains and the beach nearby. This was the main basis of the appeal and they considered it more suitable to their needs than Burwood.
As I said, Rentoul was a strong-willed character who also had a long list of enviable contacts within the church. It may have been with the assistance of his influences that he managed to convince the committee to support his scheme. Once Rentoul had gained his approval he set about raising the £50,000 he believed he needed to construct the ten cottages on the Elgar Road land. The £50,000 later proved to be a grossly underestimated figure and final costs were more than four times that amount. Included in his plans were several residential homes for the children known as ‘cottage style’ accommodation. Every Methodist church in Victoria and Tasmania was pursued in his quest to establish the home and realise his dream. Estimates of 100 Cheltenham and 50 immigrant children were given as the number to be housed there which made it a large scale accommodation home.
In December 1945, Rentoul died suddenly. His forceful personality and position in the church had actually been a positive step towards seeing the project’s realisation. Reverend Norman Kemp and Reverend John Benjamin were given the task of taking over from him and raising another £100,000 which was deemed necessary for the project. Without Rentoul’s strong character and desire, the men encountered several difficulties with both the church and public funding. By the end of 1947 they had been promised only £70,000. They were £30,000 short of their target and well short of the final costs. Another promise was also made. A selection of 50 English children to live on the new estate was also endorsed and preparations commenced for their migration to Burwood.
In 1948 the State Building Committee granted a ‘scaled down’ proposal for thee cottages and a preschool. This was significantly less than the 10 cottages that Rentoul had planned for. Later, a new Superintendent was appointed, the Reverend Keith Mathieson, and under his command, the building of the scaled down plans commenced in June 1951. The contracted cost by this stage had been estimated at £185,000.
By mid 1952 the first of the children began to arrive at Burwood. A memorial stone had already been laid at the site by the then Governor of Victoria, Sir Dallas Brooks. Another name change was expected, so the site was officially named ‘Orana, The Peace Memorial Homes for Children’. (Orana being an Aboriginal word for ‘welcome’). By Spring 1952 all the children were in residence, however of the 50 English immigrant children promised, only 37 had made it to our shores. Not all of those children were located to Burwood either.
The final cost of Orana – by mid 1952 it stood at £215,000 – a whopping increase in the original estimate made by Rentoul. Despite the cost, the children of Orana were happy and on the whole it was considered a great success. Orana enabled the children to be schooled away from the property and gave them their own bedrooms as opposed to ‘dormitory style’ accommodation. There were beautiful gardens and lots of wide open space for the children to run. They no longer had the feeling of residing in an institution and Rentoul’s vision was complete.
By today’s standards, Orana probably had its share of problems, but it was certainly a significant step in the right direction towards appropriate care for the children of Victoria. Orana stayed in Burwood until 1989, when the State government requested they move to their current location in Meadow Heights. And yes, you guessed it – another name change went with the move. In the same year as the move ‘Orana, The Peace Memorial Homes for Children’ became ‘Orana Family Services’.
Orana still remains in Meadow Heights today and among their many services, they still offer family support, foster care and community development services.
Refer also John Flynn’s associates
which includes a reference to the streets of the suburb of Flynn in Canberra.
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