Going GREYT! 1 Peter 4:10

In Going GREYT! we feature stories of some of our ‘more experienced’ people within the LCA, who have been called to make a positive contribution in their retirement. We pray their examples of service will be an inspiration and encouragement to us all as we look to be Christ’s hands and feet wherever we are, with whatever gifts and opportunities we’ve been given.

by Helen Beringen

Life is too interesting to overlook anything.

So says Chris Halbert, whose approach to life has seen her capture and preserve history in many forms, from football memorabilia to sheet music.

For Chris, each piece tells a story that keeps our history alive. The 74-year-old volunteer director collects stories of the memorabilia for archiving in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) History Centre which she manages.

And as one of the choir librarians at Adelaide’s Bethlehem congregation, she is equally passionate about preserving the Lutheran Church’s history of church music.

Chris’s service to both fields – the history of Australian Rules football and music – was recognised with a Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in this year’s Australia Day Honours. She believes it’s critical that we not only keep our tradition of church music alive but also build on it.

‘The Lutheran Church has such a superb history of church music. I, and many others, are committed to keep this, build on it, and not lose it’, she says.

‘We have got a tradition that cannot slip through our fingers. That is why we are passionate about keeping it.’

Music has always been a part of Chris’s life, from her childhood in Peterborough and Port Augusta, in South Australia’s Mid North, to adulthood where she went on to study and teach at the Elder Conservatorium of Music at The University of Adelaide.

It was part of her environment from the moment she was born and is in her blood as a descendant of early Lutheran and pioneer farmer JH Koch.

‘My great-grandfather arrived in South Australia from East Prussia in the mid-19th century’, Chris says.

‘He founded Petersburg, which became Peterborough during World War I … So, music has been in my blood and all my relatives from the beginning, and that includes piano and singing. I started learning the piano when I was seven years old.’

There is a treasure-trove of sheet music that Chris helps safeguard in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Adelaide, whose current Flinders Street building was erected in 1871–72. The congregation’s 9am traditional service includes organ and choir music, some of it almost as old as the church itself.

Not only has Chris sung in the choir for two decades, but she is also part of a team that preserves and files hundreds of sheets of music.

‘As you can imagine, there is a lot of music sung each week’, she says. ‘I was mending music this morning and thinking, “How many people have touched this music before me and used it?”. It could be 100 years old.’

Chris is as passionate about ensuring a continuation of this music tradition, as she is about preserving the history of South Australia through its SANFL History Centre.

‘The history of the SANFL is an important part of the history of South Australia. That, in itself, is the best reason for treasuring it’, she says.

That’s despite not knowing much at all about football until she met and married Sturt premiership player and Magarey Medallist John, her husband of 53 years.

John’s involvement in the SANFL for more than 50 years as a player, coach and administrator meant he, and his mother, had collected a lot of football memorabilia. So much in fact, that Chris wrote to the SANFL asking what could be done with the collectible items.

The SANFL’s interest in preserving league memorabilia led to Chris’s involvement in establishing the SANFL History Centre in 2014, which is now housed above the Lutheran Archives in Adelaide’s inner-suburban Bowden.

‘Football history has become a significant part of my life and I am working with people who feel the same way’, she says. ‘As a close-knit volunteer team, we need to work well together. We need to match people with the tasks required.’

The centre processes and catalogues donated memorabilia. It is also digitising football content inherited from four television stations plus the SANFL – about 4800 videos and films so far!

The centre’s artefacts range from the shiny to the quirky. Along with the socks, jumpers, photographs and trophies, they’ve got a tiny 1897 gold replica football which was awarded to a player, and even a toilet seat painted with a landscape by a well-known artist, along with a matching painted football. This was donated by SA football great Barrie Robran.

The centre’s first exhibition in the State Library in 2017 attracted 70,000 people, and Chris and the team from the library and SANFL are now planning for a second exhibition, slated for June to August 2022.

Chris says the inaugural exhibition was a great way to tell the stories behind the memorabilia, and the feedback from visitors to the exhibition provided an opportunity to hear new anecdotes. ‘People loved the community aspect of it, and families loved it’, she says.

Chris remains passionate about working with others to make such events happen.

‘I am really passionate about volunteering in the community’, she says.

‘Everybody is blessed to be able to serve. Working with individuals is amazingly rewarding, working with a team is also rewarding. I don’t think about it much, I feel blessed that it just happens.’

Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.

Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor lisa.mcintosh@lca.org.au  

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