Catholic and Indigenous

In the early years of the Catholic Church in Australia, the Church was focused on establishing in the cities and spreading the gospel to Irish settlers and convicts. Although Archbishop Polding established a mission in Stradbroke Island, it was not successful, and the relationship between the aboriginal and Church didn’t form because most white men dealt with the aboriginal in a manner fitting for apostles of Satan.

In 1838, New South Wales Attorney General, John Plunkett, who was a Catholic, was able to convict and execute those who did the Myall Creek Massacre.

Remote Area Missions

The Catholic Church also organised various missions into Aboriginal localities. Such missions include:

The Kimberley

There are many Catholic missions in this region. It started in 1890 with Beagle Bay. Today, the pearl shell altar at Beagle Bay is considered a heritage treasure and The Rock and the Sand by Mary Durack details the history of this mission over its long period.

Mission Girls, a book by Christine Choo, also narrates stories of the Aboriginal women who went to Kimberley on Catholic missions. For a brief period, there was an order of nuns made of indigenous people alone.

The Sisters of St John of God who was in the Kimberley region at that time also worked with indigenous patients. Mother Mary Gertrude was the leader of this order.

However, the Church was held complicit in the child removal policies of the government, which saw the separation of aboriginal children from their family. Two different writers, Margaret Zucker and Christine Choo, raised this point.

New Norcia

In 1847, the Benedictine Abbey of New Norcia north of Perth was founded as a mission for the Aboriginals. Its founder was Dom Rosendo Salvado, and one of the celebrated figures from this mission is Mary Ellen Cuper, the aboriginal telegraphist. Four aboriginal women also joined the missionary sisters here.

Northern Territory

In 1846, Father Angelo Confalonieri escaped death by a shipwreck to become the first missionary in the northern part of Australia. He lived near Port Essington for two years after that. Later on, there was a Jesuit mission on the daily river that had to be abandoned due to a flood in 1899. This mission included Donald, the brother of Mary MacKillop.

In 1911, Father Gsell, who later became a bishop, started a mission on Bathurst Island. He’s popularly called the Bishop with 150 wives because of his “buying” of young brides who have been promised in marriage.

In 1935, Layman Francis McGarry also co-founded a mission in Alice Springs and in this same place in 1986, Pope John Paul II addressed Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and spoke about justice as well as missionary works and the traditional culture.

In 1940, Garden Point was established on Melville Island for children of mixed race.

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