At the meeting that birthed the Australian Union Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, it was resolved that the Australasian Bible School should be moved to New South Wales. Up to that point, the school had been situated in the heart of Melbourne, a booming metropolis located on the southeastern tip of the Australian mainland. However, at the meeting, there was a sense that the school should be moved away from the city and established in a more rural location that would enable agricultural and manufacturing industries to be established.
This call was made at a particularly difficult time. Australia was in the midst of economic depression and many Australian Adventist families were out of work and in danger of losing their homes. With such a state of affairs in place, it was difficult to imagine how this small, financially struggling group of believers could cough up enough money to purchase a large plot of land and build a school on it.
However, the leadership moved forward in faith and a search was made for a large piece of land. Eventually, the Bretteville Estate on Dora Creek in Cooranbong was selected as a promising prospect. The search committee decided to spend some time prospecting the land and Ellen White joined them. She along with many of the others were impressed by the land and the committee voted to purchase all 1500 acres for the sum of $4500.
Commenting on the land Ellen White wrote “Everything about the place has impressed me favourably, except the fact that we were far from the great thoroughfares of travel and therefore would not have an opportunity of letting our light shine amid the moral darkness that covers out large cities like the pall of death. This seems the only objections that present itself to my mind. But it would not be advisable to establish our school in any of the large cities”
Two days after the committee had voted to purchase the land they decided to pay the place another visit for a second round of prospecting. Before they set out they came together to pray and Ellen White was deeply impressed to ask God for a special sign that would clearly point out that this piece of land was the right one for them. As she prayed she was then impressed to pray for Elder McCallugh who was present with the group. He had been very ill and was losing his strength rapidly. Ellen White prayed for him and he was miraculously healed during the prayer meeting. This was a clear and direct indication to her that the Lord was leading in the matter regarding the school.
Also around this time, Ellen White had a dream in which she saw a freshly turned furrow and two men examining the soil. Both these men were familiar with the rich soil of Iowa and commenting on the quality of the soil in Cooranbong they said: “this is not good land, the soil is not favourable.” When Ellen looked up she saw her angel standing on the furrow. “False witness has been borne against the land,” he said and then he went on to explain the science of the soil stating that if the land was well worked it would not fail to produce a bountiful harvest
However, during this time some of the church leaders began to have second thoughts about the land. They were worried by reports that had been presented by a Mr A.H Benson, a government fruit expert they had invited to inspect the land. He reported that the soil was very poor adding that “if a bandicoot were to cross the tract of land he would find it necessary to carry his lunch with him” After hearing this report the General Conference Foreign Missions Board asked W.C. White to delay proceedings at Cooranbong until they had time to further consider the matter.
On the contrary, given all the light she had received Ellen White was certain that it was time to advance and not retreat. She told her son Willie “be careful that you do not show any distrust of God in your decisions concerning the land upon which our school should be located…if you depend upon men who do not love and fear God, who do not obey his commandments, you will surely be brought into very difficult places.” Later she called for a meeting with both W.C. White who was chairman of the location committee and A.G. Daniells. Earnestly she posed the question “is there not a God in Israel that ye have turned to the gods of Ekron?”
When the Foreign Missions Board heard about Ellen White’s deep convictions regarding the land they backpedalled and encouraged the brethren in Australia to purchase the land as soon as they saw fit. The leadership moved forward and purchased the land. The first building was erected from materials taken from the land and was a small dormitory, a dining hall and a kitchen. Not having much money the leaders called for volunteers to help finish the work and S.N. Haskell and his wife Hetty were among those who volunteered. The builders worked tirelessly through the night with one holding a candle while the other drove in the nails. Ellen White wrote of how women worked till their hands were blistered but rubbed vaseline on them so they could continue working. And so it was that amidst great sacrifice, toil and difficulty Avondale was erected for the glory of God and the furtherance of His mission in the new Australian field.
The school was dedicated on April 28th 1897 with a cohort of 10 pupils and four teachers. This number swelled to 60 by the end of the school term. The school would go on to have a huge impact on the work of Seventh-Day Adventists in the South Pacific training pastors, teacher, doctors and nurses who served in various capacities across the mission field. In 1911 the name of the school was changed to the Australasian Missionary College and in 1964 changed again to Avondale College.
One of the most important lessons that the story of Avondale College teaches us is encapsulated in the words of Ellen White to her son Willie “We are to acknowledge God in all our councils. When we ask Him concerning anything, we are to believe that we receive the things we ask of him”