This picture is of the Mitchell River Mission in 1919. It is not from the Dossier. There are, however, a cluster of images in the Dossier from this Mission because Jonathan Meiburg spent some of his fellowship time here
what the body allows
and indeed this is a place of loss
a flash in the heart
The Mission itself was active in Kowanyama Queensland land of many waters, North of where I visited, for a very short time, in 1996 and what I remember were the crocadiles, the baby cassowaries and the lovely scrubfowl.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t sense the human history. It is imprinted but I was somewhat ignorant and I was a tourist travelling to a conference. But you feel these things, you know.
The Mitchell River Mission itself was active from 1904-1962 well past the time of the Second Great Awakening but, as Australian missions started late, certainly during the heyday of mission work in Queensland.
everyone to experience the wholeness of life God offers in Jesus Christ, and to this end support our Partners as they participate in God’s mission.
So they say on their website
god made me
Should I say now that the mere idea of missionary work bothers me. I cannot view it with eyes unclouded by doubts and even antagonism.
I learned a lie/that power breeds/regeneration
It always appears to me to be an issue of power and of erasing of difference. A coming into the fold because of power or of fearing of hellfire or even of a sort of pity.
burning wall/that approaches
And of course, over all my impression of missionary work, in the recent history of the church is the shadow of abuse (a cleanly term). I know a person who works with the indigenous survivors of institutionalized abuse in Canada’s Anglican schools–these are adults that carry the little broken children they were locked inside themselves.
I suppose we all do, but then this abuse changes the nature of the break.
And, ultimately, the Anglican missionaries enabled and embodied the colonial waltz of the British Empire.
the empire/that sleeps
Images of the Dossier from the mission archives;
Wedding–1950’s clothing– a man in slacks, no shirt, paint spear(?) crossing before the front of the camera. Another image of the wedding(?) With a baby and bottle and child/young woman looking into the camera, dogs and people in pants or skirts and shirts, and a cluster, in the upper left corner, of men in dungarees and naked painted chests, headgear. Three aboriginal men, in western clothing, in front of the Australian flag, one holding what appears to be rigging.
Peter Bindigo 6.11.1904, John Grady 6.11.1904, Warrie 8. 4.1906
Tommy 13. 8.1911(Little Tommy), Willie 13. 8.1911 (Daphne)
John Grady Rhoda Grady
C Married according to native custom (both)
A 40 yrs ? 36 yrs ?
F Terracolly Benginjee
M Banang Bongelgorrambo
Married 1. 1.1913
A child gutting a marsupial(?)–this is perhaps one of the most beautiful photographs in the Dossier. Two older (white bearded) aboriginal men, just their heads and a bit of their torsos and nothing else in the photograph.
1.1931 Camp man Lightfoot A nomadic native
7. 5.1931 Maurice c23y Accident while mustering
19. 7.1931 Percy c25y Lingering death. Bush burial
11.11.1931 Jane 2d Dau of Amos & Annie [This is a baby]
29. 4.1932 Bob Dunbar c50y Died suddenly
3. 7.1932 Jack Daphne, old man Senile decay
30. 6.1933 Erlish c13y Unwell for some time [and this is a child]
31. 3.1944 Leah Lorraine Measles & dysentry, Dora’s baby [a baby]
[on and on, when cause of death is listed, measles, dysentery, whooping cough, illness, unwell
old man, died suddenly, lingering death, accident, decay]
and the last to die
12. 9.1962 Bernard Brumby Drowning
The Queensland aboriginal is docile, law-abiding, and even quick to learn
In the Dossier there are also small photographs, some with labels, arranged as in a photo album: “Norman & sign High Voltage Keep Out” “Aborginese [sic] Natives–He said many were friendly”
Who is the Norman in these photos? He is the only person named, all others are the “natives.” What I know about Norman is that he apparently “hated Guard Duty.” But why was he doing guard duty in the mission?
total institution…of locks and guards
And who has written these labels on these small slightly blurry photographs? Who is the I behind the hand?
MIGRATION ACT 1958
you [who] are in Australia unlawfully
you should immediately tell an immigration officer
The missions of Australia (mission becoming a sort of slang term for state institution) grew out of the desire, of course, to proselytize but also out of a certain sense of a need to “protect.” And they were late to happen, perhaps, in part, because Samuel Marsden, though deeply interested in setting up missionary work in New Zealand held to popular thought of his time, in which Australian Aborigines were believed to represent the lowest form of social life in the great Chain of Being
The missions of Australia, from the 19th century and through the 20th century, were institutions, or total institutions, with an inside and an outside.
Single boys have their own house and may not
Single boys may
No dance or play
Natives who purchase food from the store are expect to
Natives must wash
Girls must perform all necessary work
Girls are not permitted
Attendance at morning prayers in church is compulsory
these girls receive food
if she does not accept
No adults are allowed inside the school fence
Males are expected to keep the building
Females are to keep mats
Same as sanitary men
God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.
I cannot feel myself as a missionary, I cannot pull up reserves of empathy for that state.
Now will you not see that my God is a better God than yours
Or at least, not the state of the missionary that believes in his work. The missionary who is full of doubt is another matter.
but he felt a deep reluctance to saying it
I have lost Him. I lost Him.
The voices of the missionaries remain, in their letters and notes and the records of the overarching agencies for whom they acted. Their voices, their impact or what they are impress upon the images in the Dossier. None of these images is free from the gaze of the empire.
they are gone/ they are gone from life
But the voices of those within this, the aboriginal people taken into the fold,
compulsion, duress, undue influence
the children just when they are brought in, before they realized themselves members of a Stolen Generation
Everything’s gone, the loss of your
all these things
Their voices are lost. The sound vanishes and what they were inside of themselves, in the moment, at that time, is gone. Because of what you become when you are inside of something, and placed within it by the culture that creates the documentation.
not to talk that language, that it’s devil’s language.
So, perhaps it is easier for me to be in the place of the doubting missionary, because that is how the history is written and how our eyes are tuned. And of course because the line of my ancestry travels straight back to Great Britain (and Germany, though that’s another story).
wiped out all our language that we knew.
but the missionary’s voice is not the one I want– I desperately want those lost voices.
The only time I was happy is when my father or mother would come into the mission and see me
we can see…hold their hands
they were lovely moments
From the Apology Given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008:
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
Quotes are from Erving Goffman, Angela Middleton, Jonathan Edwards, Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Archbishop of Brisbane, Lyn Austin, Elsie Roughsey and the testimony of an Aboriginal woman forcibly removed from her parents a from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.”