From Preveli to Prevelly
Drive west from Margaret River to reveal the stunning coastal town of Prevelly, and its unexpected Greek Chapel.
Walcliffe Road connects Margaret River town with its closest beach, Prevelly, renowned for its beauty, beach, pumping surf breaks and famous caravan park. Diane Bortoletto discovers more about this fascinating place.
The scenery is truly breathtaking as you round the bend on Wallcliffe Road and catch the first ocean views from high on the hill. It’s a view I never tire of seeing, the Rivermouth to the right with wispy shades of sand in the shallows and the vast Indian Ocean in front, at times wild with waves. To the left is an unexpected little whitewashed Greek Chapel; St John the Theologian stands proudly and serves as a reminder of how Prevelly came to be.
Let’s rewind the clock to 1941, to World War II, when English-born Australian soldier Geoffrey Edwards was captured and imprisoned during the Battle of Crete. He escaped the Gestapo and was led by a shepherd to the Preveli Monastery, a safe haven for hundreds of Australian, New Zealand and British troops who had escaped from prisoner-of-war camps and were cared for by the monks.
Forever grateful for the help he received, Geoffrey raised money for a fountain and a plaque at the monastery that was unveiled on the Battle of Crete’s 50th anniversary. His gratitude didn’t end there.
It was in the 1950s when Geoffrey moved his family to a large but barren parcel of land purchased 10km west of Margaret River. The family’s vision was simple: to build a holiday park with chalets and campsites. They named it Prevelly Park after Preveli in Crete and it continues as a popular campground today – albeit under different ownership.
Carving a settlement out of virgin bush on a small budget was a mammoth task. Geoffrey and his wife Beryl worked rain, hail and shine and built the chalets largely themselves with a little help from the local building crew. Beryl was an animal lover and would care for sick, injured or orphaned kangaroos, which became an attraction of Prevelly Park, often returning as tame friends after their release. Eventually, the Edwards’ had the land declared as a wildlife sanctuary.
The land they owned around Prevelly Park was sub-divided to help pay off their mounting debts. With their daughter Marilyn about to start high school, it was with a heavy heart that the Edwards left Prevelly for Perth nine years after first arriving.
Some 35 years after leaving Crete, Geoffrey returned with Beryl during a European holiday. The local people of Preveli had heard of Prevelly in Western Australia and with warm Greek hospitality, they welcomed Beryl and Geoffrey like heroes. The monks celebrated their visit with thanks, prayers, and feasts. So moved by the reunion and reception, it was decided that a permanent link would be forged between the places by way of a small Greek chapel similar to those dotted all over Greece.
In an extract from ‘The Road to Prevelly’, authored by Geoffrey Edwards (1989), he explains: “It would be a memorial to those who fell. It would honour those brave Cretans, the men and women who risked their own lives in helping us during our hour of need. It would be a symbol of the fight for freedom. It would be a message to all future generations that freedom is not free. It would be named the Chapel of St John the Theologian, the same as the Chapel at the Monastery, thus forging a permanent link between the two; one in the old world, and one in the new.”
With the support from the Greek Orthodox Church in Perth, and the Greek Consul, the chapel was built and completed in 1979. Measuring 12 metres long by six metres wide with a bell tower nine metres high, the chapel was furnished with donations from the Greek community and ex-servicemen organisations.
On April 7, 2000, Geoffrey was awarded an order of Australia Medal (OAM) for services to the Greek Community and then peacefully passed away four days later.
These days, Prevelly and adjacent Gnarabup are thriving coastal communities, but it hasn’t been without tragedy. In November 2011, savage bushfires driven by 70km/hour winds razed 40 homes, including the historic Walcliffe House, and destroyed over 3,600 hectares of pristine bushland. It was only the heroic efforts of the firefighters, water bombers, and volunteers, and perhaps some divine intervention, that the Greek Chapel was spared.
As Genevieve Broadhurst writes about the devastating bushfires in the final chapter of ‘The Road to Prevelly;’ (2013 edition) – “We will rejoice the slow recovery of our strong community and unique environment, encouraged by the composed presence of the intact Greek chapel.”
The chapel hosts a few weddings each year and largely remains locked. Visitors are welcome and can pick up the key for the chapel from the Prevelly Park shop.
Copies of The Road to Prevelly by Geoffrey Edwards can be purchased at The Margaret River Bookstore 1/109 Bussell Highway, Margaret River
This story was originally published in the Your Margaret River Region Magazine by Premium Publishers.