Youthworks has a proud history of camping ministry that now stretches back over 70 years, to when we began as the Anglican Youth Department during WWII. Concerned at what the young people of Australia would come back to after the war, Archbishop Howard Mowll appointed the Rev Graham Delbridge as the first ever Chaplain for Youth in 1942.
Laying the Foundations
The challenge for Graham was enormous, yet under God, he laid the foundations that would forever change the landscape of youth ministry in Sydney. Sites were purchased along the Port Hacking River; ‘Le Meuse’, used for youth camps, was renamed Chaldercot in 1944, while Rathane served for welfare and spiritual work with returned service men and women, until it too was handed over for youth work in 1946.
Following Graham Delbridge’s resignation in 1952, and Rev Arthur Dean’s four-year tenure as Director, Archbishop Mowll appointed Rev Neville Bathgate as Director of the Youth Department in 1956. Neville had travelled extensively throughout North America, and was greatly impressed by Camp Pioneer in Canada. He resolved to establish a similar program on the sites at Port Hacking, and so the hugely popular ‘Camp Howard’ was born in 1957, with the first camps being run by Neville and Deaconess Joan Ash at Chaldercot. Under Neville’s leadership, and later Directors, the Youth Department saw significant expansion of its sites and camping ministry.
In 1958, Blue Gum Lodge in the Blue Mountains was purchased, and the construction of Deer Park was also begun by volunteer labour, opening 18 months later. The Southern Cross Ski Chalet was added in 1963, while Telford was acquired in 1969. Camira Conference Centre at Gerroa was also added later.
Expansion of Programs
Under Director Terry Dein in the 1970’s, the first disability, country and mid-week school camps were introduced. Together with new off-site camps,such as ‘Challenge’ for troubled, at-risk youth, the new campsites allowed for thousands more young people to visit for church camps, leadership training and weekend retreats, with many encountering Christ for the first time.
When John Cross arrived as Director in 1981, he brought a renewed focus on maximising the weekday ministry potential of the sites. Previously, the boatsheds and other resources remained locked during the week, and Camp Howard existed only during the holidays. In 1983, however, after much discussion and prayer, the sheds were opened for mid-week groups, and Howard Education Camps (now known as Horizon) commenced in 1984, with Trinity Grammar and SCEGGS Redlands the very first schools.
As the new educational camping program became rapidly popular with schools, it became necessary to develop young, well-trained leaders who would view camping ministry as a long-term vocational choice. After 40 years of use, it had also become clear that in order to continue attracting schools, a major upgrade of the properties was required. Thanks to a large gift by the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation in the late 1980’s, Rathane, Chaldercot and Deer Park were redeveloped, with 25,000 young people attending our camps in 1990.
A New Era
By the mid-90’s, there was a growing conviction that the future lay in amalgamating the Anglican Youth Department and the Anglican Education Commission (AEC), combining their resources for more effective ministry to young people across the diocese. From this merger, Youthworks was born in 1997, which has grown to incorporate publishing and training resources, as well as camping ministry.
In 2002 we opened our third major centre along the Shoalhaven River, with two venues: Waterslea and Koloona. Further building projects at the Port Hacking sites supported the development of new programs and camps, such as HSC Study Camps, the Outdoor Ministry Conference, WROK! and Outdoor Ministry Traineeships.
Today, over 43,000 guests stay annually at Youthworks sites and the vast majority of these are students and young people. Our heart is to provide them with experiences of God’s creation within a caring community that will see their lives enriched with a fresh focus and direction for life.