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Kaniva Corps closes doors after proud 140-year history

Salvation Army members Craig Smith and Stephen Weaton fold the corps flag as part of the closing ceremony for Kaniva Corps.

It all began under a humble gum tree in Adelaide’s Botanic Park on 5 September 1880.

Two converts of William Booth’s new ‘Salvation Army’ – Edward Saunders and John Gore – staged the first unofficial Army meeting in Australia from the back of a greengrocer’s cart.

The following year, the first officers arrived from London – Captain and Mrs Thomas Sutherland – and The Salvation Army made an official start, spreading like wildfire.

One of the towns that ‘caught the fire’ was Kaniva, a rural community 300km south-east of Adelaide, just across the border in Victoria.

Two Salvation Army soldiers, affectionately known as ‘Satchel and Cook’, had moved into the Kaniva farming district and set about making converts and establishing a corps.

Little did they know that their initiative would result in The Salvation Army serving the vibrant community for the next 140 years.

Major Karen Armstrong hands the corps’ flag to Major Peter Walker from Division Headquarters at the closing ceremony.

In a bittersweet moment, Kaniva Corps recently celebrated its 140th anniversary at the same time as closing its doors. The COVID-19 pandemic and a decline in church membership were the catalyst for Kaniva closing. The corps was also no longer financially viable.

The celebratory service on 31 December 2023 at its church building in Progress St featured the Horsham Corps band and a worship group from a Samoan fellowship that will now use the Army hall. A community Christmas carols by candlelight event also formed part of the celebration.

“I wanted to finish very well,” said Major Karen Armstrong, who was Corps Officer at Kaniva. “I kept saying to the people of Kaniva, it might be The Salvation Army shutting their doors, but it’s not God. God is just going to take you on a different journey. He is saying, from Isaiah 42, ‘I can still do something new’, and that’s what my message was based on at the last service – that God was going to do something new.”


The Army comes to town

After ‘Satchel and Cook’ established The Salvation Army’s footing in Kaniva in 1883, they were soon followed by Envoy Samuel Dalling, who arrived as a fresh convert from Mount Gambier. By profession a vet, Samuel moved around the district giving the gospel message wherever he went and commenced cottage meetings at Lawloit, Lillimur, Yearinga, Yanac South and Kaniva.

Envoy Samuel Dalling, a well-known Kaniva local identity.

Many converts were made, including the well-respected Envoy J.L. Judd of South Yanac. A call went out for an officer, and a corps commenced at South Yanac with 60 soldiers being placed on the roll.

It was decided to move The Salvation Army from Yanac South to Kaniva where the first citadel was erected on June 12, 1889, under the command of Captain James Duncan. During the next 16 years, there were no less than 30 officers that moved rapidly throughout that period.

The daughter of Envoy Dalling, Mrs FJ Vivian, known as ‘Eva’, became an officer and for four years served in Western Australia before having to return for home duty as her mother was ill. She settled in Kaniva and served the community for 42 years before retirement.

Historical records further document that the ‘Three Envoys’ – Dallings, Envoy Judd and Mrs FJ Vivian – became eminent names in The Salvation Army in Victoria. Apparently, they didn’t take too well to wearing The Salvation Army cap, so wore black felt trilby hats – and hence were known as ‘The Three Bishops!’  Many of their descendants became Army officers and served for many years to come at Kaniva.

A beautiful appointment

During Kaniva’s entire history, more than 40 corps officers have served the community, including current Victorian Divisional Commander Colonel Kelvin Merrett and Captains Chris and Tracey Sutton, Corps Officers at nearby Horsham. Its building on Progress Street was built in the 1950s, with renovations taking place in the proceeding years.

It was the legacy of all those involved in the rich history of Kaniva that Major Karen Armstrong embraced when she arrived at Kaniva in November 2022 to serve as corps officer to both Kaniva and the neighbouring Broughton Corps (which remains open) and as rural chaplain for the West Wimmera area.

The women and children of the Salvation Army’s Kaniva Corps gather for a group photo in the 1920s resplendent in their hats!

“It was a beautiful, beautiful appointment,” Karen said. “I found there was a richness in their faith which I thoroughly enjoyed. People cared for each other. They understand the land. When you look at the Bible, you see the stories that Jesus taught; you would be right in amongst it when Jesus is talking about the wheat fields because that's what they’re in. When you hear that Jesus is the Lamb of God, well, they’ve got sheep and they know what that shepherd mentality is – that humbleness, and they are humble people.


“You are just accepted,” she said. “You are not a local and never will be – but you’re accepted. They accept The Salvation Army and who we are and what we stand for. And they have always done that.”

Deep faith and resilience

The farmers’ resilience was also on full display when Karen served the people of Kaniva. She said they had it in “bucketfuls”.

“Tough times have birthed a deep faith in farmers,” she said. “Right on Christmas time, there was one farmer household, and for 48 hours, they were virtually going non-stop, knowing that if they didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be able to get the harvest and the wheat cut.”

When it came to the sad realisation Kaniva Corps would be closing, Karen had one clear focus – to ensure the closing went well and The Salvation Army would come out with a good name and not a negative name.

An archived typed note dating back many decades details the birth of Kaniva Corps in September 1880 in South Australia.

“For me, it had to be a time of glorifying God,” she said. “Not only for those years of faithfulness and God being faithful to the people in the area, but the people who served God so humbly, and the number of people over those years that have been pray-ers. When I have spoken with past corps officers who had served at Kaniva, they told me it was their best appointment.”

While Kaniva Corps has officially closed, for the month of January 2024, The Salvation Army has leased out its building to the local Samoan group – something that excites Karen.

“There’s a whole Samoan community that will move in,” she said. “And I am glad it will keep the building alive.”



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