In 1926, the population of Australia was just over six million people, King George V (the current Queen’s grandfather) was the head of state and Melbourne would go on to defeat Collingwood in the VFL Grand Final. At the beginning of that year, on Sunday 17 January, Arthur Tonkin celebrated his fifth birthday and attended his first church service at Surrey Hills Methodist Centenary Church with his family.
Throughout the next nine decades, Arthur celebrated most of his major life events in the church building. He and Nancy were married at the church in 1944 and their three children, Thomas, Helen and Ted, were all baptised in the church.
This Sunday, Arthur will celebrate his 95th birthday, which marks 90 years to the day since he first set foot in Surrey Hills UC. While the coincidence of that milestone is remarkable in itself, it is Arthur’s contribution to the church that will be recognised by the congregation.
“Arthur has been a lay preacher for more than 70 years, preaching at over 1600 services throughout Victoria,” Bryan said.
“He has been a presbytery representative, chairman of Surrey Hills UC congregation and council, choirmaster, Sunday school teacher and president and vice-president of the local preachers’ association.”
While Arthur’s contribution to the administrative and worship areas of the church have been important, Bryan said it was his leadership of church youth groups in the 1950s and ’60s that have had most impact on him personally.
“Arthur had a profound influence on many young people during that time. He was, and still is, a man of great faith who led by example. For us at that time he was a living testament to the importance of faith,” Bryan said.
An accomplished artist and singer, Arthur was choirmaster at Surrey Hills UC and still sings with the Melbourne Singers. He is a noted historian and has spoken to numerous groups throughout Victoria on Colonial history and paddle steamers. In spite of his busy schedule, Arthur always found time to help others in the wider Surrey Hills community. This contribution was recognised in 2001 when he received the Surrey Hills Citizen of the year award.
“If one adds to all of his achievements – an unfailing sense of humour, his remarkable memory, his love of his church and his love of people – I would have to say he has led, and continues to lead, a remarkable life,” Bryan said.