When travelling, I’ve developed an eagerness to unearth buried faith stories in the towns I pass through. It can be a rough, ready and random process at times, but that’s the fun of it. Recently, taking a break in Young, the cherry capital of NSW, I was startled to read that a leader of the Australian Chinese community had declared about a chapter of local history, “This is our Schindler’s List!”
Now that’s a big call for a small-town story.
A quick flash back will give this context. In 1982 Australian novelist Thomas Keneally published Schindler’s Ark, a powerful piece of historical fiction about Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party who became an unlikely hero by saving the lives of 1200 Jews during the Holocaust. 1n 1993, Stephen Spielberg turned it into the highly successful movie Schindler’s List.
So, what could that Chinese man possibly be talking about?
It turned out he was moved by the brave intervention of a Christian couple to rescue 1200 Chinese miners at Lambing Flat from a sustained, brutal attack. John and Ann Roberts were the “Schindlers” who offered refuge during the riots of 1861 that rated as the most violent in the state’s history. In fairness, it should be said this comparison was a long way from the systematic slaughter of the concentration camps. Nevertheless, the risks the Roberts family took were real and the rescue was genuine.
As the day wore on in the Young archives, one remarkable story led to another. What emerged was the extraordinary effort made by a brave young widow to sail around the world to train as a nurse just so that she could return to the scene of her husband’s tragic death, to serve that rough mining community.
These heroic moments have been overshadowed by the ugly racist incident that left a deep scar on Australia’s soul. I left Young that day buoyed by the courageous faith of the Roberts family and Margaret Wilkie and determined to tell their story.
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.