CHEERY CHAPEL: Judy Steward outside the AnnaBella Wedding Chapel at Ilkley.
CHEERY CHAPEL: Judy Steward outside the AnnaBella Wedding Chapel at Ilkley. Cade Mooney

Charming chapel at Mooloolaba

DOWN a long, tree-lined drive, over a dam sprinkled with lilypads, where grass paddocks calm to lawn and towering gums whisper with the wind waits a chapel.

It could be a country church, if it were in the country – if it were a church. But the AnnaBella chapel is 15 minutes from Mooloolaba beach and is privately owned.

The latest addition to the Sunshine Coast’s wedding venue options, the AnnaBella chapel has been a six-year labour of love for the Steward family.

The Stewards were running cattle and a home-based business on their 14ha at Ilkley, but decided a chapel was a worthy use for such a special place.

“People would come and say how beautiful the property was. I was sort of looking for something to do and thought it would be nice to share it with people somehow,” Judy Steward said.

But building a chapel is not as easily done as it was when pioneers pooled their funds and labour to build the little churches that are a part of many Australian country towns.

“We did six years of research,” Judy said. “It wasn’t supposed to take that long. We looked at chapels in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, to work out what we wanted.”

What they wanted was a chapel with character, not too old-fashioned, not too modern, striking but not overdone.

The twin-gabled building was virtually designed around two tall old iron doors Judy found during a trip to a French antiques business in an industrial area at Noosaville, and an extra-long Chinese timber cupboard now at the altar.

The Stewards modified the design as the project went on.

“We were always asking, ‘What do we need?’ It was changed along the way to what we needed,” Judy said.

“We made the windows bigger. We thought, ‘Let’s open it out’. It’s such a nice view. Every window has a view.”

Judy is delighted with the finished building, which has room for perhaps a string trio at the rear, and great acoustics which means a PA is not necessary.

Where possible, the Stewards used local tradespeople and suppliers.

Much of the timberwork, including the striking frame for the front entry and the arching surrounds of the windows, was done by a next-door neighbour.

“We had a lot of wonderful tradesman, friends and family who helped do this,” Judy said.

The chapel has become a home to treasures Judy has collected: vases, a silver candelabra, glass candlestick holders, and a round oak table and timber chair, suitable for signing documents.

“That’s how I do everything – if you like it, it will fit in,” she said.

Perhaps the best treasured find was a set of timber pews, enough to comfortably seat 60.

“We rang up an antiques shop and said we were looking for pews,” Judy said. “You wouldn’t believe it, but she said a friend had just bought a church in Ipswich. We couldn’t believe our luck, to get a whole set.”

Even more unbelievably, the pews fitted perfectly. Shorter ones were placed near side doors in the chapel. The pews from the Ipswich church’s choir area are around the altar, with only one requiring a small modification. They were dusted and refinished by friends.

“Friends have been tremendous,” Judy said. “If your friends can’t support you during life, well, what’s the point of having friends?

“They’ve been amazing. Very supportive and very helpful.”

Judy said she hoped AnnaBella, one of only a handful of private chapels on the Coast, would offer young couples an alternative to churches, the beach, and gardens for their special day. The chapel is also available for funerals and naming ceremonies.

The first wedding is in May and celebrants have also nominated it as a back-up plan for upcoming weddings in the event of rain.

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