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- Published: Wednesday, 17 November 2010 12:31
The Northern Territory's largest Aboriginal community celebrates 75 years since the arrival of the first Catholic priest.
A pilgrim group from Wadeye attended the canonisation of St Mary McKillop. Deacon Boniface Perdjert was the deacon at the Australian Mass celebrated at St Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome on the day after the canonisation and presided over by Cardinal Pell, concelebrated by Australian bishops. Fr Leo Wearden MSC, parish priest, participated in the pilgrimage.
Part of the transcript of an ABC program on Wadeye follows.
LAETITIA LEMKE, PRESENTER:
The arrival of missionaries in remote areas of the Northern Territory transformed the lives of Aboriginal people. In the first quarter of the 1900s the religious institutions moved into some of the most remote parts of the country to spread Christianity. Wadeye is the Northern Territory's largest Aboriginal community and the Catholic Church considers it one of its most faithful. This year the community is celebrating 75 years since the first Catholic priest arrived. Louisa Rebgetz reports - and a warning to Indigenous viewers: this story contains images of people who are deceased.
WILLIAM PARMBUK, RAK WAMBU CLAN:
In the early days when Docherty arrived here in Werntaknaa, that's where he brought the good news to the people.
LOUISA REBGETZ, REPORTER:
It was on this beach 75 years ago, the first catholic missionaries moved into the region of Port Keats on the Northern Territory west coast. To mark the anniversary, the community re-enacted those historic steps taken in 1935 by Father Richard Docherty. Sailing in on the Saint Francis, Fr Docherty was joined by the anthropologist W.H Stanner who described the first contact as a peaceful encounter.
KIM BARBER, ANTHROPOLOGIST:
One of the reasons for the peaceful arrival, at least for Docherty and those with him, is he brought back with him some of those individuals who had been jailed in Darwin. So he came with his own set of mediators who came from the area and they were able to assist, communicate with the local people of Port Keats.
BONAVENTURE NGARRI, RAK KIRNMU TRADITIONAL OWNER:
When they saw their own countrymen they were on that boat and they weren't afraid they just went out and greet them.
The very first Catholic mass was held here and the government encouraged the church to establish a mission.
FATHER MARTIN WILSON, CATHOLIC CHURCH:
The government view back then was that people were dying out. They thought if a mission were to start there it might save the people.
They arrived bearing the fruits of the western world - goods like tea, tobacco and sugar. Those products helped to lure people from the 20 surrounding tribal groups - so many, that in 1938 the priest was forced to look beyond these lands at Werntek Nganayi to find a new site for the mission.
FATHER MARTIN WILSON:
He wanted good water, he wanted good anchorage, he wanted fairly good soil and a healthy location and it took him some time to find the ideal spot.
They moved to the place now known as Wadeye, establishing one of the biggest missions in remote Northern Territory. This footage captured in the 1970s shows how the church forever changed the lives of the local people. A school was built to educate students on the ways of the western world. And like in many other missions at the time, young children were forced to live in dormitories away from their families. In the early days people who worked were given provisions.
SISTER EMMANUEL CHAPMAN, CATHOLIC CHURCH:
Every morning at nine o'clock there was a bell rung and the people came for work. But before work Father Docherty gave them about 20 minutes of knowledge of the scriptures.
Well, the church provided a framework by which people were employed. And, again, remember that at the time that the church went in there, there was no infrastructure, so people were employed milling timber, making bricks, creating houses, running the power station, making bread and all the things that are necessary for running the community and looking after themselves.
Christianity was readily embraced by the Murrin-Patha people of the region. Legend has it that's because a man named Mulindjin had a vision of Mary just before the missionaries arrived.
We had visions from the skies until this priest came and showed this little statue and this old man came, had a vision in the bush and said, this is the lady that I saw.
FATHER MARTIN WILSON:
When the missionaries arrived and they had the statue of Mary, Jesus' mother the people recognised - that's the woman.
This ceremony in 1974 marked a significant milestone. Boniface Perdjert became the country's first married Indigenous deacon.
SISTER EMMANUEL CHAPMAN:
It seemed to fit in with their own religious understanding of a spirit beyond just the human.
The Missionaries pushed Christian values and discouraged conflicting Indigenous traditions. But, as this footage shows, traditional life wasn't forgotten - it was incorporated into sports carnivals and religious ceremonies.
When this white man came, life changed for them see and they believe with the white man but at the same time they didn't lose their culture.
During the 1970s the government took control of the mission, and non-church agencies began to take over the delivery of services.
And that brings with it a change in standards and change in the employability of the people who otherwise would have serviced it. The question is - what other things should have been done or could have been done to allow people employment and other things that would of helped them create productive lives?
Today, the community faces new challenges. Most of the people are unemployed and older people watch with apprehension as new generations grow up at Wadeye with limited education.
FATHER MARTIN WILSON:
They go to school they come out at the end of the schooling, but then what can they do? What work? There's no work.
THEODORA NARNDU, KARDU THITHAY DIMININ TRADITIONAL OWNER:
It's got to be the continued journey of our next generation that faith will still continue, Lord hear us.
For me, I have two beliefs - my traditional way and then religious, the Catholic religious.
One could speculate endlessly about what would of been had the church been there but I think the overriding conclusion one would come to is that if the church hadn't been there things would of been vastly different and probably different in a negative way than they currently are.
November 2010 at Wadeye
Media reported on November 12th 2010 that people from across the Northern Territory, including politicians, reporters and health workers, travelled to Wadeye, about 400km southwest of Darwin, this week for the opening of a community-designed health clinic.
The $7.6 million commonwealth-funded clinic, four years in the making, has been culturally designed to accommodate the individual private needs of men and women.
It has new emergency room services, a pharmacy and special digital X-ray equipment, meaning fewer people will need to travel to Darwin for medical tests.
Bishop Eugene Hurley blessed the centre before it was officially opened by senior Aboriginal health worker, Mathias Nemarluk, and federal Minister for Indigenous and Remote Health Warren Snowdon.
"If we don't have good health and housing, how can we expect people to focus on education when they have more important things to worry about," Bishop Hurley said, adding that Wadeye first became a Catholic mission 75 years ago.
Tobias Nganbe, the former local catholic school principal, said health and housing had improved in the community in recent months, and that people were beginning to understand the importance of education.
Of the 3000 people who live at Wadeye, 1000 are of school age.
About 600 children are enrolled in the school but fewer than 200 attend regularly.
"It's still got a long way to go, but it's becoming better," Mr Nganbe said.
Friday, November 5, 2010 9:13 AEDT
Thursday, February 3, 2011 9:13 AEDT
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