This weekend’s AFL indigenous round is named for Sir Douglas Nicholls. Australian Football’s webpage makes a significant comment about the champion Fitzroy footballer, “Arguably one of the most famous, and undeniably among the most important, Australians of the 20th century, Doug Nicholls' most significant accomplishments transcended football.”
What were they?
A few weeks ago, I stood in the humble weatherboard schoolhouse at Cummerugunga where a young Douglas had hidden under the floorboards for fear of the police who were taking the young girls away to the Cootamundra Girls Home. In later life, he said that Jesus’ message of forgiveness enabled him to rise above bitterness.
You could be forgiven if, like me, you’ve watched war movies over the past fifty years and got the impression that square-jawed, bullet-proof commandos were the only heroes on the battle front. Padres? Well, they were inoffensive chaps who kept well back from the action.
Michael Gladwin’s book ‘Captains of the Soul’ blows that myth to smithereens. His extensive research declares that the weapon-less chaplains were, more often than not, men admired by the troops for their calibre and courage.
Photographer George Silk remarked on the toughness of the padres. Of this photograph of a Catholic chaplain conducting mass prior to battle, he wrote, “You could almost see God Himself in the jungle.”
Digest this astonishing story Gladwin tells of a chaplain putting his life on the line to bury a young Digger.
Australia should be proud of the fact that Lifeline began here as the initiative of the Rev Sir Alan Walker. This Methodist minister was fearless at speaking out on things that matter and relentless at working on solutions to the things that trouble us. My friend Ian Palmer who volunteers as a telephone counsellor sent me his reflections on what this 24/7 service has meant for us over the past six decades and OK’d me to share it. It’s an amazing story.
I had been looking forward to visiting Echuca for a while because it’s the site of one of the greatest of Australia’s invisible faith stories. Back in the 1870’s Daniel and Janet Matthews, without support from any church or society, created a sanctuary for the suffering and hunted Aboriginal people. They called it Maloga.
Located on a beautiful bend of the Murray River, this traditional ceremonial ground saw leaders emerge from the Yorta Yorta people who learned to make the teachings of Jesus a launching pad for the civil rights movement that finally gave them recognition as citizens in their own country.
The Bush Missionary Society began in 19th century Sydney with a handful of boys reaching out ten miles to Coogee and Five Dock – the remote bush as it was then. Les Stewart stretched the thinking and the boundaries of the mission first to Western Australia and then asked his board’s permission to venture 12,000 km to Siberia, Central Russia and Uzbekistan. Now that’s really going bush!
Les wasn’t daunted by the physical challenge, but more by the fact that the autocratic regimes of these countries resist the Christian message. But his heart heard these oppressed Christians calling for help. Here he tells heart-stopping stories of the way he negotiated his visits there to teach hungry congregations.
The villages at Burrill Lakes and Termeil made headlines when they were caught in the holocaust of 78,000 hectares of bush ablaze in 2019. Les Stewart was trapped in a creek bed with fire all around, his clothes smouldering, trying to defend his homestead, when his son arrived in a water-tanker and hosed him down.
It was a narrow escape, but not the first for the man singer/song-writer Colin Buchanan christened, ‘The Bishop of Burrill.’ Les is a surfer, a horseman, a bikie and a preacher. More than anything, this bushman is a doer. Most of his life has been given in the service of people in remote places as a leader in the Bush Missionary Society.
I learned from him that this grew from the initiative of a handful of teenage boys back in the 1850’s, taking simple leaflets explaining the Christian faith to isolated people on the fringes of Sydney. In a short time, missioners in horse-drawn vehicles were travelling all across NSW, an area four times the size of the United Kingdom, connecting to families and itinerants on lonely back-country properties.
In the years we lived in Bourke, we often heard warm praise from the locals for the Bush Brothers. They were an Anglican order, begun around 1900, which mobilised young men from Oxford University to tackle the tyranny of distance in the Outback. The first Australian recruit, 21 year old John Dent Martyn, caught my attention with his enthusiasm. Here is a snatch from his diary.
“The old Lizzie in which I have to travel is quite a specimen for the Museum. It is six years old, has done 76,000 miles, has been up two trees, has torpedoed one cow, has had the chassis snapped, has been bogged, I might say, hundreds of times! I have just got in tonight from a 150 mile trip. That is the shortest trip I have to do…Who wouldn’t be a Bush Brother? This district is half the size of England and just as large as the whole of Victoria."
LISTEN as Paul tells more of Brother John's story.
Freddie Campion was a member of the Governor’s staff, the NSW golf champion of 1895 and an athletic horseman who loved to shoot. The neglect of the spiritual health of the Western people haunted him; he returned to England to train for the ministry. February 1902 saw him disembarking from the SS RUNIC in Sydney with two other passionate young Anglican missionaries, Charles Matthews and Reuben Coverdale. They were bound for Dubbo as the nucleus of a unique band of men who were to become known across the Western plains over the next century simply as ‘the Bush Brothers’. Click READ MORE
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.