Bleischwitz, Alphonse (1910-1993)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Birth / Death: 
born 23. 12. 1910, Zadel (Silesia)
died 19. 2. 1993, Perth

Spent nineteen years at Balgo, five years as rector of Lombadina and ten years as parish priest in Wyndham. Witnessed the dismissal of the Pallottines from Aboriginal affairs and wrote an unpublished history of Balgo.


Alphonse Bleischwitz was a son of farmers Josef and Hedwig Bleischwitz née Rasch in Zadel (Silesia). In 1924 his siblings were Magdalena (born 1908), Joseph (born 1909), and Bruno (born 1920), and his mother was still of childbearing age. After completing Volksschule (public school) at age 14 he was granted admission to the Pallottine Herz Jesu Missionshaus in Breslau (Frankenstein) that had opened in 1919 and which had just received recognition as a private high school. The rector then sent him to Vallendar in 1929 to attend the mission college:


Here comes the boy together with my letter in response to your postcard. Thank you for taking on the boy. But why send him to high school? Let’s not cling to this racket, which is what it is. It is a good thing to have passed a matriculation exam but you can get into heaven without one. Don’t experiment so much!1


Bleischwitz received his habit in Olpe in May 1930 and professed in May 1932.2 He studied philosophy and theology at the Pallottine college in Limburg, where he took his eternal profess in May 1935 and was ordained in 1936.3


He left for the Australian mission on 20 May 1937 and spent 19 years at Balgo, which at this time was considered one of the most difficult mission stations in the Australian desert.


His first assignation was to help in winding up Rockhole, to make a new start at Balgo. Bleischwitz described the ‘Abrahamic cattle drive’ through the desert from Rockhole to Balgo, which immersed him straight away into a level of bushmanship that few care to experience. He was travelling with Br. Stephen Contemprée in ‘Betsy’ the old diesel truck following the caravan of sheep, goats, donkeys, horses and camels, when they got bogged. Br. Stephen set out on foot with a few provisions and managed to reach the main party at Comet, some thirty kilometers away, to get help. Having to dig for water to feed the stock, the party split up and Fr. Alphonse camped at Comet where they erected makeshift shelters and were lashed with sandstorms. Fr. Bleischwitz watched incredulously as Br. Contemprée used dynamite and risky procedures to dig for water. After nearly a year of wandering they settled down to form a new mission at Balgo Hills in 1940.


In October 1940 the police confiscated their Flying Doctor radio set and all firearms. The German missionaries were declared enemy aliens and instructed to remain at Balgo. If they wanted to leave the mission they needed prior approval from the Halls Creek Police, 280km north.4


At Balgo Bleischwitz kept a meticulous record including rainfall. He recorded the movements of the hundreds of Walmadjiri and Gugadja traversing the mission, and later wrote an unpublished history of Balgo that pays homage to Fr. Nissl and that served as a basis for Byrne’s biography of Frank Nissl.


During World War II Bleischwitz lost touch with his family and in June 1946 anxiously asked the Provincial in Limburg whether he could find out anything about them.5 His family in Silesia were expelled by the Russian army at the end of the war. They lost what little they had in property and resettled at Peine near Hanover.6 He was able to visit Germany in 1954 travelling with Bishop Raible and Br. Frank Nissl via South Africa where they visited other Pallottine missions and renewed many old contacts.7


Alfons Bleischwitz, Bishop Raible, Franz Nissl with Bishop Hippel in Oudtsdhoorn, S.A.
Source: Pallottis Werk 1954/4.


In January 1952 he was at Tardun, where it was recorded that:


By chance we found an ordination card which showed that today was the 16th anniversary of Fr Alphonse’s Ordination. He agreed somewhat reluctantly, due to his bush life, to sing the High Mass. We had a short musical evening. The next day Fr Girke took the Bishop and Fr Alpohnse to Geraldton.8


In 1959 be was appointed director of the Pallottine college in Manly, where news of the death of his mother reached him. Ten years later he returned to mission work as superior of Lombadina (1969-1974).


During this period the Limburg fraternity suffered several blows. The old guard was dying, and a new generation felt that the Pallottine discipline had outlived its usefulness. One renegade Father, Peter Willis openly challenged the authority of the church structure to prescribe celibacy. Church attendance was dwindling and the Pallottines in the Kimberley were getting replaced by secular priests and Redemptorists (Kununurra), Carmelites (Broome) and Jesuits (Balgo). Bleischwitz reflected:


Where are we going – where is our religious discipline. Sometimes I think we have thrown everything away because it came from the past and hence it was outmoded – we haven’t even crutches left on which we could lean. Many find it hard to say mass every day if there are no people there or not enough – well if I would not have had my daily mass in Balgo I would not have been able to carry on.9


When Bleischwitz was posted to Wyndham the Limburg Provincial wrote:


good old Alphonse must always go where there is trouble in order to calm the situation and solve the problems. ... You always wonder how some of our people always manage to get all things mixed up in no time. If they at least were able to learn. However in most cases this is not given them, because they are convinced that only they themselves are doing the right things. 10


From 1974 to 1984 Fr. Bleischwitz worked in Wyndham, where celebrated his golden jubilee as a Pallottine. He felt that the experience of the last 25 years had been sad. The Benedictines were completely withdrawing from Kalumburu (formerly Drysdale mission) and getting replaced by a secular priest.11 He felt isolated and lonely in Wyndham with nobody to talk to and found Wyndham ‘rather depressing’.12


At the annual retreat in 1975 Bishop Jobst revealed to the remaining Pallottines that the Church must withdraw from its missions. It was the Whitlam government period, after the 1967 Referendum that gave powers to the federal government to administer Aboriginal affairs. In the battle for ascendancy between the federal and the state governments in indigenous affairs, the churches were again unwelcome. The Brothers and Fathers who had devoted their lives to indigenous advancement lost their purpose and sense of value:


Don’t know what I’m going to do – here will be no place left for me – pensioned off in a radical way.13


During a high period of social change the churches were loosing their predominance in indigenous affairs, and were coming under renewed criticism, not only from agnostics but also from within. One of the Pallottine brothers took issue with the celibacy requirement, asked for dispensation from his vows, and published a book that apparently cast the Catholic church as the anti-Christ: ‘and his theology! Louis, .... it is a torture’. Apparently Willis ‘told the bishop nothing can stop him from getting married, have children and say mass at the family table’. Bleischwitz resolved to read this painful book to the end and then immerse himself in healing literature that brought him peace: Renè Vouillaume, Carlo Caretto, Edward Farrell, Peter van Breemen. He felt isolated and alienated:


If you would be here ... I am alone, few understand me, Wyndham ... a slight evil which increases depressions still, Louis, I feel, at this time we must show our love for the church through faithful service to the end. Thanks for listening to me – I had to get it off my chest ... 14


Bleischwitz felt there was ‘no life left in me at all’, either spiritually or physically. He felt spent, and spent in vain. Rustling up a little bit of humour he wrote to Münz in Limburg:


I am still trying my best to forgive you, before it is too late, that you did not return to Australia’15


The Provincial tried to cheer him up:


You scare me. Have you been ill? What is the matter? You speak so much of the end of life ... don’t let your head hang down, dear old fellow, and get a grip!16


The Provincial in Limburg, who knew the Kimberley well, commented tongue-in-cheek when conveying the documents necessary for Bleischwitz to claim a pension after 38 years of service to Australian communities,


you must be at a loss how to spend all that money in Wyndham. I suppose there is always the Pub to which you can carry your money, maybe you will become a RC (regular customer) at the Wyndham pub in your old age? 17


It was a high time for historical awareness, in the lead-up to the Bicentennial of Australia, with much well-funded historical research, as well as the Pallottine centennial of Beagle Bay. Bishop Jobst in Broome was commissioning serious historical work, and Bleischwitz resolved to write a history of Balgo and Rockhole mission, drawing mostly on his own experience. He sent a 25-page handwritten manuscript to Limburg. By this time, much as his English was inflected with German, his German grammar had become almost completely Anglicised, while his question marks were Spanish. The manuscript required much editorial work. At any rate, the German Province had its own calendar of commemorations, and Australia did not rank highly in its historical consciousness. The manuscript was misplaced.18


Fr. Bleischwitz sent another copy to Fr. Kücking in Limburg in 1990, where it was duly filed away. He had moved to Derby in virtual retirement in 1985 and lived at the Holy Rosary Parish Catholic Presbytery. He felt that for all the effort invested by the Pallottines, Rockhole was now no more than a hole of rocks (dem Erdboden gleich).


After being diagnosed with an incurable disease Fr. Bleischwitz was taken to Perth. His sister Caecilia, a Pallottine missionary Sister in South Africa, was with him for his last few weeks in the St. John of God hospital in Subiaco where he died at age 82.


Read in German - Geschichte der australischen Mission von Alphonse Bleischwitz SAC



1 P. Franzen PSM, Herz Jesu Missionshaus der Pallottiner, Breslau, to P. Baumann, 8. 4. 1929, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

2 Leugers

3 Pallottine Necrology

4 Francis Byrne OSB A Hard Road – Brother Frank Nissl 1888-1980, A life of service to the Aborigines of the Kimberleys, Perth, Tara House, 1989:90.

5 Josef Bleischwitz to Provinzial Ludwig Münz, 20 June 1946, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

6 Francis Byrne OSB A Hard Road – Brother Frank Nissl 1888-1980, A life of service to the Aborigines of the Kimberleys, Perth, Tara House, 1989:65.

7 Francis Byrne OSB A Hard Road – Brother Frank Nissl 1888-1980, A life of service to the Aborigines of the Kimberleys, Perth, Tara House, 1989:101.

8 Tardun Chronicle, 25 January 1952

9 Alphonse Bleischwitz to Louis Münz, 8 January 1974, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

10 Ludwig Münz in Limburg to Alphonse in Wyndham, 19 January 1974, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

11 Bleischwitz in Wyndham to Langefeld, 8 June 1882, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

12 Alphonse Bleischwitz in Wyndham to Louis Münz, 22 August 1977, in English, typed, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

13 Alphonse Bleischwitz to Ludwig Münz, 2 July 1975, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

14 Alphonse Bleischwitz in Wyndham to Louis Münz, 22 August 1977, in English, typed, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

15 Bleischwitz to Münz, 24 August 1976, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

16 Ludwig Münz, Provinzial, Limburg to Rev Fr Alphonse Bleischwitz SAC Wyndham, 31 August 1976, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

17 Ludwig Münz to Alphonse Bleischwitz, 14 October 1975, in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

18 A. Bleischwitz, SAC, Holy Rosary Parish Catholic Presbytery, Derby, WA 4 April 1990 to P Kücking, in B7d,r (18)d ZAPP.