For over 100 years, the Presbyterian Church has been running camps for youth to encourage and present them with the challenges of the Gospel. For around 30 years, these camps had taken place in schools and other educational sites, but around 1918 the government put a stop to the Presbyterian Fellowship Union (PFU) using government school buildings to hold their camps. This left the PFU with an issue.
Margaret Friend’s faithful legacy
Margaret Friend was a faithful and godly woman born in 1853 to a wealthy family and was the youngest of six children.
While not much has been recorded about Margaret’s early life, it is known that she remained single for the duration of her life and suffered respiratory issues from the age of 52. She was advised for the sake of her health to move away from her family home in Burwood, to somewhere with better air quality.
Margaret purchased a large block of land in what was – at the time – semi-rural Thornleigh, to build a secluded home for herself. In 1906, she built a prefabricated timber home which she named ‘Windyhaugh’, and shared with one of her older sisters, Annie.
In 1912, Margaret attended a meeting of the PFU in Thornleigh, where she was inspired and moved by what she saw and heard. From that point onwards, Margaret became a key proponent of the PFU camping movement and despite never having attended a camp herself, volunteered as a youth coordinator at the 1917 camp in Bowral. She saw the effect that camp had on young people and became dedicated to the ministry.
The gift that keeps on giving
The government order stopping PFU camps from holding its camps in government school buildings occurred not long after Margaret’s involvement with PFU began. Margaret wrote a letter to a PFU executive member, dated July 19, 1919:
“For some time I have had it in my mind that I should like the Presbyterian Fellowship Union to have this property (just over six acres) after my death; but knowing you are anxious to have a settled Camp Site, think it better to offer the Committee my paddock (about three acres), as a gift from any date they choose (that is, if they think it would be suitable as a camping ground), and the rest of the property after my demise … I realise that three acres is not enough for a Campsite for the larger camps, so if the Committee decides to accept this gift, I am prepared to supplement it with 500 pounds toward the purchase of ground which adjoins mine, and which is, I believe, in the market at present.”
It was Margaret’s great love for the ministry of the PFU, the camps and winning youth for the Gospel that encouraged her to offer up her land, home, and extra funds to the PFU to enable the ministry to continue.
Her offer was accepted by the PFU in August 1919 and the building began.
The first camp building was the girls’ quarters and was affectionately named ‘Margaret Friend’. It was designed to facilitate relationships and – like Margaret – brought people together in Christian fellowship.
The Margaret Friend Fund
Margaret died in 1933 at the age of 80. At her memorial service, she was fondly remembered for her faithful service to the Lord as well as her philanthropy and humanitarian work. As she’d said in her letter, Margaret left her property to the PFU in her will.
The site continued to be built on and used through to the mid-90s but was becoming more and more difficult to maintain. By now, the PFU had been PFA and then PY. The facilities had become outdated and were a drain on the group’s funds and time (spending weekends caring for the site), and it was decided to sell the site. After a few failed attempts at sales, the site was finally sold in 1996 and the finances from the sale led to the establishment of the Margaret Friend Fund.
The Margaret Friend Fund Committee was established to oversee the funds that were generated from the sale and, after a lot of consideration and visiting of many different campsites around NSW and Australia, it was decided that the funds would best be used for subsidising the camping ministry as necessary using other sites (rather than buying another of our own) and for training youth leaders.
The final camp at the Thornleigh site was held in the Summer of 1996/97 and was considered to be one of the best camps. A thanksgiving service for the many years of service provided by the bequest of Margaret Friend and the campsite at Thornleigh was held on the 26th of April 1997.
The Margaret Friend Fund is still active and in use to this day in 2023, with money being supplied for training and camp subsidies as needed. Margaret’s enduring legacy has so far lasted over 90 years beyond her death with her initial generosity in 1919 still having an impact on Christian youth.
A history of camping in the NSW Presbyterian Church from 1919
If you would like to learn more about Margaret Friend, the history of camping in the NSW Presbyterian church, and what’s to come for PY… Look no further than our very soon to be published coffee table book. It’s a book about God’s work through His people – first through Margaret Friend, but also through countless others over the past 100 years.
To get your hands on a copy for yourself, your family, or friends, email email@example.com