Bathurst Island Mission 1911-1938-1978

Also known as: 
Nguiu, Wurrumiyanga

Catholic mission strongly focused on Tiwi girls, guarded in dormitories until they married. Initially staffed by German speakers, later the staff included many different nationalities.

 

Selecting a mission location

 

When Fr. Francis Xavier Gsell arrived in Darwin in 1906 as apostolic administrator, his Society, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) expected that he would continue the mission on the Daly River abandoned by the Jesuits six years earlier. He would need no extra funding for this, since it was already established, and the Jesuits had left £110 with Bishop Kelly to pass on to the new mission. However Gsell soon impressed upon his superiors that nothing was left of that mission except a school building, which was moreover on land that had been purchased (and sold) by the Jesuits and was not included in the Aboriginal reserve or any land devolved to the MSC, and over which white and indigenous residents at the Daly were now fighting.1 The Jesuit missionaries struggling at the Daly River had already suggested the Tiwi islands as a better mission prospect than the mainland, less prone to flooding, more densely populated, and more sheltered from contact with Chinese and Europeans.2 However there was local resistance to a mission. In April 1911 Gsell and Fr. John Lee visited Joe Cooper at the buffalo camp to chose a site for a mission on Melville Island.3 In the draft of his autobiography he was much more specific about the resistance he encountered:

 

'To make sure, I wrote to the man, explaining to him my ideas. He could not legally prevent the establishment of the mission station, but he made no bones about his opinion. There is no suitable place on the island he said, for such a station, and besides, he would rather be without it. That made it clear, and to avoid any trouble, I decided to look somewhere else.'4

 

The South Australian government also proved uncooperative. Just months before the handover the South Australian government gave notice that about ten agricultural blocks of up to 5,000 acres were now available north of the 18th parallel including Bathurst Island, under the Northern Territory Tropical Products Act, 1904.5 This was the country of Gsell's second choice:

 

.... Bathurst had no white settlers and was completely free of interference .... I applied to the government of South Australia to which the Northern Territory belonged, to create Bathurst Island a Native Reserve ... my application was pigeon holed, and the island was thrown open for sale and speculation .... and some of the land was sold.'6

 

Fr. Gsell had to wait until the federal government took over the administration of the Northern Territory before land at the Tiwi islands could be secured.7 He had long anticipated that a federal Labor government intending to pass special provisions for Aborigines would be easier to deal with. 8 Feeling 'blackballed by junior officials', he 'went over their heads' to get the support of the Archbishop of Adelaide O'Reilly, the Minister for the Northern Territory Denny, and Dr. Gilruth, the first administrator of the Northern Territory, who ordered that the land already sold by auction be recovered.9 Gsell then formally applied for a license to establish a mission on Bathurst Island similar to the land grants made in British New Guinea.10 That same month the South Australian government - presumably under pressure from the federal government - promptly declared the whole of Bathurst Island an Aboriginal reserve and granted 10,000 acres for a mission on an annual basis with rights of renewal for 21 years, otherwise the land was to revert to the crown without any claim for compensation.11

 

Tiwi Locations in Erckenbrecht Tiwi Mission Location

Tiwi Locations in Erckenbrecht

Source:  Corinna Erckenbrecht, ‘Der Bischof mit
seinen 150 Bräuten’ Jahrbuch des Museums für Völkerkunde Leipzig, 2003, 41:303-322.

Tiwi mission locations map

Source: Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934)
Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA


 

According to the government the mission was placed on a ‘strategic point on the edge of the strait separating it from Melville Island, favorably placed for the pursuit of marine industry and contact with both islands’ and the soil was judged suitable for tropical agriculture. A drawback was the prevalence of mosquitoes and sandflies due to a large billabong sitting between the mission and the beach.12 Fr. Frank Flynn MSC explained the site selection in sociological, rather than geological terms: a site was selected over which none of the Tiwi groups had priority claims, otherwise the missionaries 'would have been greeted with a shower of spears and a hail of arrows.'13 Nobody mentioned the opposition from vested interests that kept the mission away from Melville Island.

 

The Tiwi

 

Gsell expected that the island natives were 'more apt to receive the benefits of civilisation and religion than those of the mainland', and had 'a docile character, being agile and gracious'.14 Actually the Tiwi had no record of being docile. The British military at Fort Dundas (1824-29) were driven away by repeated attacks, and Macassan captain Husein Daeng Ranka was also attacked several times in the 1880s. Macassan captain Daeng Sarro called the Tiwi aggressive and unfriendly.15 Perhaps because of this, Paul Foelsche in 1882 also described them as 'very hostile'.16

 

White settlement was encroaching on the Tiwi in the 1890s. E. O. Robinson, who held a lease at Melville Island from 1892 to about 1907, was dubbed the 'rajah of Melville Island' with interests in gold mining, pearling and trepanging.17 He brought the revenue potential of the Macassan trepang trade to the attention of the South Australian government and was appointed as collector of customs at Cobourg Peninsula and Croker Island from 1881 to 1899. He competed with the Macassan trepang fleets in northern waters and contributed to the decline in the trade and its prohibition in 1906.18 Working for Robinson was Joe Cooper, who in 1894 commenced a buffalo shooting camp (now Paru village) at Melville Island.19 Cooper was driven off Melville Island by Tiwi attacks and retreated to Croker Island where he married Alice Rose, an Iwaidja woman from Croker Island. Cooper and Robinson were shipping indigenous men between Melville and Croker Island to forge a compliant workforce for themselves.

 

Cooper returned to Melville Island in 1905 and became 'honorary sub-protector of Aborigines' (1905-191620). He regularly dealt with visiting Macassan trepangers, who called him Djon and his wife 'Daeng Te'ne ('the lovely one').21 Cooper employed Melville Islanders and workers from Cape Don (Taroola), and when Gsell arrived, there was a feud in progress with the Cape Don workers who were shooting up Tiwi camps to gain access to their women.22 A young researcher (later influential anthropologist), Baldwin Spencer, stayed at Joe Cooper’s buffalo camp for two weeks in 1912 and found the Tiwi friendly and with a great sense of humour. Perhaps the 'docile character' of the Tiwi owed something to their adopted skin relationships with, and developing dependence on Cooper.

 

Gsell reported that pearl-shell divers regularly visited Nguiu (Bathurst Island) and some of the buffalo hunters and timber getters made camp occasionally. Presumably he took his detailed ethnographic information from others who had studied the local indigenous populations, including Paul Foelsche.23 Gsell noted that the Tiwi had shifted from bark canoes to dugouts and there was a low incidence of disease other than yaws, particularly in children, but introduced venereal diseases were spreading. Gsell marveled that even deep wounds did not result in tetanus and were treated with ashes, leaves and human milk, while other diseases were treated by bloodletting. He mentioned that the Tiwi population was evenly distributed over Melville and Bathurst Islands, speaking the same language and grouped into several families or clans, with very few mixed offspring.24 Gsell estimated the population at around 2,000 (in or after 1925), but a 1939 estimate was only half that number, with about 500 on each island.25 Both Charles Hart in 1930 and Commissioner Woodward in 1973 commented that the island had not suffered a significant population decrease. 26 Charles Hart explained the striking population density with reference to the natural abundance of food sources, but he made the mistaken assumption that the Tiwi had been isolated until the 1930s.

 

First church at Bathurst from first Gsell book Sisters from MSC Darwin
The first church at Bathurst Island

Source: Goodmann, Annales, 1939

 The MSC Sisters of Darwin

Source: F.X. Gsell 1954.

 

 

How to start a mission

 

Fr. Gsell moved to Bathurst Island on 1 June 1911 to establish a mission and the arrival narratives generally have him working in splendid isolation. However he was assisted by 'four Filipinos' and some Tiwi men who almost disappear in the sources. 27 Gsell's autobiography mentions that he arrived on the island in a boat hired from Jolly and Company crewed by four Filipino pearlers, engaged for keep and a little pocket money. An arrival narrative by Fr. Frank Flynn MSC gives the impression that they constructed a 'hut from branches'28 but Gsell mentions that they brought with them a pre-fabricated house from Darwin, which took seven days to erect, assisted by 'one-eyed Boolak and hunchback Tokoopa'.29 Caruana adds that Br. Lambert Fehrmann also helped.30 When the cottage was ready - just on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 8 June 1911 - Gsell held a mass and from then on remained ashore while the crew continued to sleep on the lugger. Presumably Br. Fehrmann and Fr. Courbon had by now arrived. It took a month to make any contact with Tiwi, and the women were kept out of sight much longer.

 

It is not clear who the Filipinos at Bathurst Island were, or whether they stayed for any length of time on the island. Later reports refer to one or two houses occupied by 'Manillamen'. In 1916 a resident of Bathurst Island was the sailor Alfonso Aboliro, born in Laiti in 1874, who arrived in Australia in 1897, and his wife Mary Elisabeth Aboliro born on Thursday Island in 1869.31 Alfonso captained the mission boat and remained a lay-helper at the mission, residing with his family in a separate house, until about 1950. It is possible that Gsell recruited the Aboliros during his visit to the MSC Sisters at Thursday Island in June 1907.32 (Thursday Island, and its Filipino population, functioned as an important stepping stone into New Guinea, see MSC). In 1908 Gsell mentioned that a Filipino family had been looking after his laundry while he stayed in a hotel in Darwin. During his six years on Yule Island he must have realised how important the help of Filipinos was in binding indigenous people to a mission, and he felt that his position in the Northern Territory was rendered all the more difficult because the government refused to allow him to import Filipinos to assist his mission.33 Twenty years later mission reports also refer to a Byciclo and an Antonio, who may have been indigenous people. However it is likely that the Filipinos were of immense strategic assistance to the Catholic missionaries, as had been the case on Yule Island and in the Kimberley, where Catholic Filipinos formed families with indigenous women and created important links between the missionaries and the indigenous communities.

 

The Jesuits, who had suggested the Tiwi Islands as a more promising mission field than the mainland, had left several Christian families behind at the Daly River when they withdrew in 1899. When Gsell's new mission almost foundered because none of the Tiwi would come near, the Northern Territory administration boosted the mission's take-off by removing mixed-descent children from the Daly River to Bathurst Island. These removals are forgotten in the MSC sources. The only recorded observation of this starting aid was by the Russian Leandro Illin, who toured the Northern Territory in 1911 as an expert advisor to the federal government with a view to turning the Daly River into a Russian expatriate community, and whose 92-page report refers to these removals in passim.34 Catholic Filipinos and the mixed descent children from a former mission area provided the fertile soil for a successful mission on Bathurst Island.

 

Early Mission Staff

 

Gsell's first confrères at the island were the German Br. Lambert Fehrmann as cook and general factotum (1911-1917) and the French Fr. François-Régis Courbon (1911-1913). It is difficult to find sources on these men.35 At the MSC headquarters in Issoudun this was explained with reference to the maxim of the MSC founder Jules Chevalier that missionaries were to remain unknown and to count for nothing ('aime á être inconnu et compter pour rien').36 Perhaps the other explanation is that there was a high staff turnover around the fixture of Fr. Gsell, and that most of the mission history was written for Centennial celebrations in 2006 and 2011.

 

Fr. François-Régis Courbon (1877-1949) had attended the Petit-Oeuvre college at Issoudun, where a visit from the founder of the Papuan MSC mission, Fr. Verjus, inspired him to become a missionary. He came to Sydney (probably with Gsell and others) to undertake his noviciate and became one of Gsell's first students at the Kensington college opened in December 1897. Fr. Courbon was ordained in Manly in December 1902 and then became teacher of theology at the college for six years. According to his obituary he felt ill prepared for teaching and struggled with English, although Fr. Gsell later claimed that 'his English was perfect'.37 In 1908 he became parish priest in Kensington and then volunteered for the Bathurst Island mission. Fr. Gsell described him as an instant success among the Tiwi:

 

'As a matter of fact, he was one of those lucky people who have the gift of tongues: something of immense importance in our mission work because, as in Papua, there were almost as many dialects here as there were tribes of aborigines ..... Father's reception was a triumph, since apart from the fact that his charm was not a bit affected by his ignorance of the language, his hosts saw that he was tall and could grow a splendid beard. ... The popularity of Father Regis amongst the natives, something won effortlessly, was extraordinary; and he was never seen without being surrounded by a joyous band. This highly erudite theologian of brilliant intellect had a most inventive turn of mind, especially where hunting, fishing, gardening and other homely pursuits were concerned.'38

 

Fr. Courbon did not have the same praise for Fr. Gsell, whom he found difficult to work with. After two years he asked for a transfer 'to any other mission'.39 His time on the island was spent 'building habitations and an orphanage, but it was useless because the indigenous people did not approach the white residences'.40 Fr. Courbon resolved to follow the Tiwi and live with them in the bush, where he familiarised himself with their customs and learned their language, but he became disillusioned with the prospects of the Tiwi mission. Gsell comments:

 

'I have to admit that there was one thing which did not march nearly fast enough for him: and that was the conversion of the natives. I dare not try to imagine what he would have thought had he foreseen that even after thirty years of work we still could not claim one single adult convert.'41

 

The government wanted to appoint Fr. Courbon as Protector of Aborigines, but this title was 'not aspired' and 'might have aroused envy'42 (possibly from Gsell). At any rate it was the beginning of World War I and the French call-up was publicized in the Australian press.43 Courbon gained permission to return to Sydney in November 1916 and made his way back to France, following Fr. Louis Cros who had served in Darwin and Pine Creek (1906-1914) and also responded to the French call-up. Because Courbon had arrived so late in response to the mobilisation orders he was placed before a war tribunal (presumably to ascertain that he was not a spy). The forty-year old recruit was cleared of any charges and became interpreter for the allied troops at El-Kantara on the Suez Canal where his English and his bush skills served him well. Seized by painful illness he afterwards became editor of the Annales and died in Issoudun.44

 

Brother Lambert Fehrmann, the other MSC staff at the commencement of the Bathurst Island mission, came to Darwin in June 1907 to help Fr. Gsell with building and housekeeping. He then returned to Papua New Guinea45 but was recalled to help set up the Bathurst Island mission in 1911 to build a prefabricated residence together with the Filipino and Tiwi men, and continued building what Fr. Gsell referred to as a 'little village'. He also started a vegetable garden, then returned to Papua New Guinea in 1913. Br. Aubrey Kelly replaced Br. Lambert but only stayed for a year, apparently leaving at the request of Fr. Gsell, and Br. Lambert was recalled to Bathurst Island from 1914 to 1917. He 'expressed the wish to return to Sydney as soon as possible'.46

 

The Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Sisters (OLSH) arrived on the island in 1914 to conduct the school. They occupied the prefabricated building that was first erected on the mission, now with a verandah all around, while the MSC staff occupied the new house built from local timber.47 Perhaps they had less trouble in getting on with Fr. Gsell. Sisters Margaret Corrigan, Mary Baker, and Gertrude Pitt remained at the island until 1934.48

 

Fr. William M. Henschke MSC (1889-1972) replaced Fr. Courbon in 1915. Before Henschke travelled north 'Fr. Courbon told him what it was like working with Fr. Gsell, and wished him well.'49 Henschke was a product of the MSC college in Kensington from a pious Catholic family in in Hookina (Port Pirie, South Australia), who had six of their eleven children in religious life.50 He made his profession in 1906, and was ordained in 1914.

 

'He was a big man at 6ft 41/4'' and weighing 17 stone and not afraid to do hard work. ... he had a very quiet manner about him. A man of few words he became well known for his short expressive sayings. On one occasion when the minister of another religion complained that Fr. Henschke had buried one of his non-Catholic parishioners according to the Catholic rites, Fr. Henschke simply said: "I buried the man because he was dead."'51

 

By the time Fr. Henschke arrived at Bathurst Island the mission had a church and 'a couple of other houses for the Manila men who helped Fr. Gsell build the mission'.52 The mission was earning an income from a sawmill, which helped to fund the building program, and Fr. Gsell put his new confrère to work in the sawmill six days a week. This gained him the approbation of the Tiwi men who worked with him, but kept him at arm's length from any spiritual work because he disagreed with Fr. Gsell's management. Fr. Henschke 'found it difficult to communicate with Fr. Gsell' and 'by 1919 he had had enough'. 53 On Ash Wednesday of March 1919, while Fr. Henschke and the St. Francis mission lugger were in Darwin, the mission was struck by a severe cyclone, causing 'utter desolation; all the houses were flat down' and a baby drowned. Some men from the Vesteys meatworks in Darwin came for their Easter holiday and helped rebuild. Fr. Henschke was already disillusioned with the mission where he felt there was no apparent 'christianising' work and no instruction for Aboriginal adults. He was instructed to remain until Fr. Gsell undertook his first home visit to Europe in 1921, and thereafter Fr. Henschke left for Darwin (and later became Vicar-General). This left Fr. Gsell without an assistant priest until the arrival of Fr. John McGrath in 1927.

 

Mission policy

 

Under Fr. Gsell's direction the Bathurst Island mission was very much focused on children. During its first fifteen years no adult conversions were achieved whereas 113 children received baptism, and these became the core of the Christian community.54 The greatest problem Fr. Gsell saw for the future of the Tiwi was the high rate of infertility, estimated at 50% of women. He strongly felt that this was because ‘young girls are dragged into the harem before they are ten years of age’ and ‘marital rights are used before the girls mature’. He also noted that the practice of marrying fecund girls to much older men presented a check on population growth. Gsell saw polygamy as the root of the problem, involving rape and forced prostitution. He related an incident in the buffalo camp where a Tiwi man ‘forced his wife at the point of the rifle to submit to a white man’. Another young woman escaped three times while her husband tried to take her to a pearling boat, until he speared her in the leg and took her by force to the boat. Gsell felt that the White Australia Policy, which barred Asian women from entering Australia, was part of the problem, and that the mixed offspring effectively defeated the policy.55

 

The Tiwi tried to explain the advantages of their marriage customs, which were at the basis of ‘their whole conception and practice of life’. Fr. Gsell understood that the old men needed their wives to feed them, and the women found it easier to feed a family and care for the sick if working together. Also, women in mourning (pukumani) could not look for food for five or six months. Still, Gsell squarely took on patriarchal polygyny as the primary enemy of women, health, and the future of the Tiwi. He reported spectacular instances of abuse of young women at the hands of their husbands, noting that most men were single until well into their forties because girls were promised before they were born, so the future offspring of young women was pre-allocated.56

 

Gsell consistently portrayed himself as the progenitor of the idea of purchasing the marriage rights of the mission girls to free them from traditional obligations. However the Jesuits at Daly River had already pioneered this practice. In June 1888 they proclaimed the rule that parents of schoolgirls at Uniya could not give their daughters in marriage without the consent of the mission superior. Two months later (August 1888) they freed the mission girl Helena from an older promised husband by giving her father some tobacco and cloth, and in January 1891 they betrothed Helena to a mission boy of her choice, giving gifts to her father (see Daly River mission).57 At Bathurst Island it was the mission girl Martina that made Gsell adopt this policy in 1921.

 

Gsell's autobiography narrates how he gradually developed this policy, starting with conditions placed on mission girls, then purchasing the marriage rights of adult women, and finally of mission girls. Before 1921 Fr. Gsell accepted promised girls who were brought to the mission to guard them while a future husband might have to go away for work, on the condition that the men had to promise monogamy and a Christian education for their children. He recalls that his first 'breakthrough' came when Antonio, who had several wives, wanted to give one of them to his brother Louis, a recent widower, but ‘had tribal law against him’. (That is all that is revealed about this case. Perhaps Louis was not a ‘true’ brother through the male line, or one or both of these men were not Tiwi.) Antonio had the idea of selling one of his wives to the missionary, who could then allocate her to Louis ‘without breaking the laws of the tribe’. Gsell consulted the woman and made Louis promise that he would confine himself to this one wife only, and that the children would be raised as Christians.58 In effect Fr. Gsell made claims over children not yet born similar to those by which girls were promised to men before they were even conceived.

 

A ‘real windfall’ was when an old man with six wives died on the station, and the women asked Gsell to ‘set them free’. Gsell ‘bought the whole lot’ in return for goods to the value of £2 for each woman. The oldest woman wanted to live as a widow with her children, and according to Gsell became the first independent widow on the island. The youngest wife, aged between 8 and 10, was taken into the convent. The four others were married to young men of their choice after pledging monogamy and rescinding any marriage obligations of any of their children.59

 

The idea to buy little girls came with ten-year old Martina from the Malaola people on the north of Bathurst island, who stayed at the mission until an old man came to claim her as his wife in 1921. Five days later she arrived back with a spear wound in her leg seeking shelter at the mission. When the ‘whole tribe came painted for war’ and wanted to claim her back, and she clung screaming to the missionary. Gsell invited everyone to make camp and thought about it during the night, and ‘Divine providence set us on the right track’. In the morning he laid out wares including ‘flour, blanket, mirror, tomahawk, knife, calico, tobacco, pipe, billycan etc. to the amount of about £2’ and struck a deal with the men to sell all rights over the girl. He reported that in his first 15 years on the island he purchased the marriage rights of 124 girls.60 Actually this means that he purchased the rights of 124 girls in a matter of three years (1921-1925). He kept a meticulous index card register about all of the biodata and contractual conditions of these girls.61 During this period about an equal number of boys also came to the mission, sometimes to escape initiation, and 25 monogamous couples were settled on the mission.62

 

Gsell's card index
Fr. Gsell's index card system

Source: MSC Archives, Kensington

 

 

One of the promised husbands Bridal Couple
One of the promised husbands

Source: MSC Archives, Kensington

A Christian wedding at Bathurst Island

Source: MSC Archives, Kensington

 

Government inspections

 

The Northern Territory Inspector of Aborigines J.T. Beckett visited Bathurst Island mission in 1916. It now had a convent for Sisters and girls, a church and a large building for boys. It also had a fish trap, a sawmill, a 14-ton lugger and dinghies and 70 acres of garden. Beckett reported that on his arrival in Apsley Strait on 11 May 1916 he ‘found the missionaries in agitated state’ fearing a plot to murder them. One of the young mission boys reported overhearing the old men in the camp that they planned to kill the missionaries and take all the girls into the bush, and when the convent girls were asked they also said they had heard about this, and that it was to take place next Sunday. However, the men in the camp denied any such plans. They were planning a battle with the Melville Islanders, which took place on 13 May, and the Melville Islanders returned battle on 16 May. Eventually the whole episode was placed in connection with a 15-year old boy, who alleged that he had been persuaded to kill the missionaries on behalf of one of the former mission girls. Her husband had joined the army, and she had been sent to Darwin but without access to their money, including the husband’s army pay, which Gsell was controlling. Beckett stayed until 22 May 1916 and with ‘Fr. Hensky’ (Fr. W.M. Henschke) slept in the schoolhouse ‘to reassure the sisters'. Beckett suggested the government might show greater support for the mission with regular inspection visits, and asked the local protector R.J. Cooper ‘to keep an eye on the islanders’. 63 However Cooper's appointment as local protector ended in 1916.

 

Beckett's report suggests that Fr. Gsell closely monitored the young mission women even after they married. Most of the young Tiwi men spent several months each year in Darwin to earn money, since the mission did not enter into a cash economy. Gsell reported that some of these men shared their incomes with their families, but many fell prey to ‘drinking, gambling and immorality’.64

 

Gsell expected some effective government intervention to prevent Tiwi interactions with lugger crews – ‘young males in the prime of life’. Under the Aboriginal Ordinance Aboriginal women were not allowed to access or work on boats and actually the Chief Protector had been refusing permission to employ any Aborigines on pearling boats. But to police on-shore interactions required a local protector and a patrol boat. Other options canvassed were to invoke the Quarantine Act to prevent ‘Japanese and other coloured crews’ from landing unless they were in distress, or to proclaim the whole of Melville Island an Aboriginal reserve.65 The CPA suggested that the mission boat, which now had an auxiliary engine and was the fastest in the area, could be used for occasional patrolling, and in September 1930 Pat Ritchie, lay assistant at the mission, became local protector. Even before Ritchie's appointment, Charles Hart gained the impression that the missionaries were the local protectors. He wrote that 'Bathurst Island is a native reserve with the missionaries as protectors'.66 However Fr. Gsell objected to any member of the mission staff in carrying out police duties: ‘It is against our principles, and ecclesiastical authority would never approve of it’.67 (Though the Pallottine Fr. Püsken was appointed protector of Aborigines at Lombadina in July 1927.) Gsell maintained the pressure. In 1931 he reported that ‘The whole life of the Mission Station reduces itself these year into a fierce struggle against the demoralizing effects of the pearling lugger’s crews’ who ‘will soon turn the whole Island into a prostitution camp’.68

 

In all other ways Fr. Gsell kept the government at arms' length with minimalist annual reports and very approximate budget statements. In 1929, for example, the income was a £250 subsidy, and £100 each from the sawmill, the boat service and the sale of produce, and expenses were exactly £550. The budget for 1931 was identical, except that not the sawmill but donations made up £100.

 

According to its annual report the mission staff in 1931 consisted of two priests, three sisters, three lay brothers and one ‘Manillaman’. The livestock had increased to 200 goats, 150 fowls, 30 pigs, 6 horses and reportedly 200 head of cattle – although according to Pat Ritchie, who arrived as a lay helper on the island in 1930, the mob was completely wild.69 The mission now had a missionary residence, 3 workers’ bungalows, 6 houses for Aboriginal residents, a few ‘smaller shelters for natives’, a convent, a church and two schools, one for 54 girls and one for 68 boys (only 7 of these children were described as being of mixed descent). The resident population varied from 100 to 300 with an average of 150 present at any one time, and an estimated 800 Tiwi were in some kind of contact with the mission.70 Charles Hart concluded from his fieldwork on the Tiwi Islands in 1928 and 1929 that ‘no tribe in the Northern Territory has so assimilated white ideas or is so familiar with white men' and observed that in Darwin the Tiwi were considered 'more savvy'.71

 

That year mission subsidies were reduced by 20% under the Financial Emergency Act 1931, which meant £200 instead of £250 for Bathurst Island (until 1936, when it was raised to £225). In the grip of depression a group of men from the unemployment camp in Darwin made several attempts to steal the mission lugger St Francis and the trepang boat owned by Fred Gray at Groote Eylandt.72 Gsell reported that hundreds of Tiwi had flocked to the landing sites of the pearling luggers and very few were living on the mission station during 1933. ‘The mission work has been practically reduced to school work.’73

 

The number of school children was still around 130 with an average attendance of 100, and in 1934 ten children were described as being of mixed descent. At the mission station the girls were kept under strict control, while the boys were free to spend their time in the bush, and therefore did not attend school regularly. That year Gsell also ‘purchased’ rights over twelve Japanese-Aboriginal children who were still too young to come to the mission and were living with their mothers in the bush. Two young girls had come to the mission to seek refuge but were claimed by their older husbands and ‘handed over to the Japs’.74 Contact with Japanese was increasing. That year new pearl-shell beds were discovered and a number of companies brought in luggers from Dobo and other pearling ports. Gsell went public with his concerns and gave an extended interview that was widely repeated in the press.75

 

In 1934 the Chief Medical Officer (who was also the Chief Protector of Aborigines) surveyed the mission in detail. The women’s dormitory was occupied by eight young women (900 cubic feet of space per occupant), the top floor had two Sisters (3,600 cubic feet each). The children’s dormitory housed forty (440 cubic feet each), with a Sister’s room on top. There was also a kitchen, a staff dining room for the six staff (the mission had three male and three female helpers and Gsell), a house for visiting Aborigines, and a two-roomed ‘Malay’s house’ occupied by four (presumably the family of Alfonso, who was sometimes referred to as Malay) (980 cubic feet each). The school consisted of two rooms with about 25 pupils each, and was conducted from 9 to 12 Mondays to Fridays, and afternoon singing and recitation three times a week. The school taught standard primary school curriculum up to Grade 3 of and included religious instruction of half an hour per day. The convent girls were dressed in short white cotton skirts (washed weekly), the boys had loincloths, and each child had two blankets. 76

 

Milk was obtained from 3 cows and 15 goats, the goatherd numbered 120, and there were about 100 fowls. The diet was supplemented with native food including kangaroo, fish, turtle, turtle eggs, oyster, dugong and yams. Seventy acres of garden produced sweet potatoes, cassava, caffir corn, bananas, pineapple, mangoes, coconuts, melons, peanuts and sugar cane. Bread, flour and milk was given to the convent children ‘when obtainable’, for dinner they had rice or barley or beans with either salted or fresh (kangaroo) meat, sometimes they had soup and potatoes and yams. For tea they had bread, yams or potatoes, and bananas or other fruit in season.77

 

The mission maintained 55 girls and 9 boys, and about a dozen aged and infirm, although there was no proper provision for nursing of the sick. Fr. Gsell had ‘a certain amount of medical knowledge’ and first-aid skills, and treated yaws with N.A.B. (neutralizing antibody) injections. The mission had an all-weather landing ground for aircraft, but still no wireless to call for help. The motorized mission lugger, the fastest of its kind, plied to Darwin monthly for mail and supplies and could effect transport to Darwin in around 24 to 48 hours. Medical examination of 76 adults and children revealed that parasitism was not prevalent, threadworm rare (one case), and a few cases of yaws and hookworm. 78

 

Between forty and fifty adults worked on a day-by-day basis in return for flour, tobacco and clothing in agricultural, pastoral (100 head of cattle) and marine jobs. The lugger was crewed afresh for each voyage. The medical officer concluded:

 

‘The attitude of the aboriginals towards the Missionaries can best be described as one of confidence and respect without any element of fear. …. in short the policy of this Mission appears to be based on the principle of minimum interference with the physical and social life the aboriginals. … the most striking feature of the Mission is the happiness and contentment of the aboriginals who come into contact with it.’79

 

The 1935 annual report records the arrival of a fourth Sister and a wireless set, and the mission now had a cow shed, six stock yards, and 85 head of cattle – possibly a more realistic figure than the 200 reported in 1931. The pig-herd had shrunk to 25, but there were still 150 fowls and 120 goats. Income from sales of produce had dropped to £60 (but donations were recorded at £300 to balance the budget), which must reflect a slowing of economic activity on the mission. The sawmill no longer rated a mention. Fr. Gsell wrote pessimistically that the number of pearling boats in the area had increased, and so had the incidence of prostitution. ‘Not one little girl has been given to the mission for the past two years’ but many had been taken bush and never returned, and it looked like the ‘mission will collapse within a few years’. 80 In view of the imminent collapse of the Tiwi mission Fr. Gsell established missions at Port Keats (1935) and Tennant Creek (1936).

 

The contact between Aborigines and pearling crews in the north, and Fr. Gsell’s policy of purchasing girls, had by now become a hot topic debated in the press and in parliament. The pearling industry had acquired strategic as well as economic significance and it was suggested that Gsell was overstating the impact of contact with the lugger crews. Gsell wrote to the Minister for the Interior that the reports about prostitution

 

‘are not exaggerated, in fact it cannot possibly be exaggerated, since all the lubras of these two Islands, apart from those on the mission station, are actually turned into prostitutes. … The women are compelled by their husbands to carry on the traffic. … The race is committing suicide by polygamy, child marriage, prostitution, grog and drugs. They are only being as thoughtless being children [sic] and they should be saved in spite of themselves. …’81

 

Despite sexual relations with lugger crews reported by Gsell since 1911, the number of reported mixed offspring remained low. In 1939 Gsell reported 22 known mixed descendants on the island. This seems a very low figure, especially since some of these were presumably by now offspring of mixed-descent Tiwi rather than fathered by foreigners. 82 Either Gsell was ignoring the mixed population outside the mission, or he had indeed overstated the extent of Asian-Aboriginal mixing.

 

Gsell still saw Christian education and moral reform as the only avenue of improvement. However, he bent some way to the demand for a cash economy by allowing a store to be opened on the island mission. Still the drift to the luggers continued. In 1936 the mission raised only £50 from sales of produce, and Gsell reported a ‘heartbreaking situation’ where ‘gradually the whole population is drawn away’ to the Japanese camps, even though a patrol boat was now operating.

 

 

Mission Girls, Gsell, Peter McGrath, NAA photo  Sister in schoolroom

Bathurst Island mission residents with Bishop Gsell,
mission superintendent Fr. John McGrath, Br. Carter and
‘Old Peter’ Pierre de Hayr, 1939.

Source: NAA Series M10, 3/34

The school at Bathurst Island

Source: MSC Archives, Kensington

 

 

 

Peter Hay and two nuns
Girls, Nuns and Peter de Hayr

Source: MSC Archives, Kensington

 

 

Bathurst Island after Gsell

 

Fr. Gsell left the island in 1938 and was succeeded by Fr. John McGrath. No sooner had Gsell taken up his appointment as Bishop in Darwin that the administration began to problematise the Northern Territory missions. C.L.A. Abbott had replaced Carrodus as Northern Territory Administrator, and the medical services in the Territory were about to be placed under the control of the Director-General of Health. The Minister for the Interior was planning to visit the Northern Territory to appraise the Aboriginal policy and to ‘consider whether we can utilize missions more fully in carrying out the government’s policy’.83 The government policy was assimilation - not sheltering indigenous people from contact with white society.

 

Bishop Gsell was still wielding his battle-axe, arguing that indigenous ‘welfare will be sacrificed on the altar of the pearling industry’.84 In response, the administrator stationed a police officer at Luxmore Head (Garden Point) on Melville Island to prevent illicit interactions with the lugger crews.85 The effect of the new police station was felt at the mission the following year, with the resident population swelling to almost 350 for a six-month stretch because Luxmore Head had now become a much less attractive site. The police station at Garden Point was transformed into a third Catholic mission in 1940.

 

Bathurst Island mission now had a certified nurse and Dr. Ford visiting from Darwin. The major health issue was hookworm, and only two cases of venereal disease were diagnosed. Two cases of leprosy were suspected, though Byciclo and Antonio (of the many wives) were keeping well out sight for fear of removal to Channel Island. There were now 103 boys and 95 girls at school, more than ever before.86

 

In 1941 the subsidies to the Northern Territory missions were almost doubled, and when Bathurst Island mission was hit by a severe cyclone in 1948 destroying buildings and the established plantations, the government approved compensation of £1,150. By 1950 the annual subsidy was £1,000 including £250 each for a certified nurse and registered teacher. A new Northern Territory Administrator, A.R Driver, issued guidelines for annual reports, which the superintendents ignored until they were censured in 1950. The Bathurst Island missionaries were warned that their policy of keeping young adult couples on the mission was 'not in keeping with Government policy to train and educate the full-bloods to the stage where they can divorce themselves from their former tribal affinities and be absorbed as normal citizens in the white community.’87

 

World War II

 

On 19 February 1942 Fr. John McGrath at Bathurst Island spotted the advance of the Japanese 188-strong air-fleet towards Darwin and attempted to raise the alarm by alerting the coastal radio station VID Darwin at 9.37 am. Darwin RAAF headquarters ignored the warning, possibly because a fleet of American kitty-hawks was also making its way to Darwin. The same message from a naval coast-watcher at Melville Island was also ignored, and the air raid alarm was only sounded when the air-fleet appeared on the horizon. It was the first and most devastating of 64 Japanese air raids on Darwin.88

 

At Bathurst Island an American DC3 bomber was sheltering awaiting repairs, so the island also became a target. The airstrip and mission church and were machine-gunned from fighter planes swooping down to ‘treetop height’. The mission chapel, which was only completed in late 1941, sustained 27 bullet holes.89 Sixteen Sisters and 50 mixed descent girls sheltered under the tables in the convent.90 Baz Luhrmann’s movie Australia (2008) is a fictional allusion to this incident, but actually no Japanese invasion force landed on any Australian island.

 

After the first bombing the whole Northern Territory came under military control (22 February 1942 until 1945).91 Evacuations were ordered, so many Tiwi went bush to avoid being relocated. The convent was evacuated to the mainland in February 1942 although some women continued to cook in the kitchen for staff and for visiting service officials. Eighty Bathurst Island men joined 56 Port Craft Company, Royal Australian Engineers (AIF) and were stationed at the Larrakeyah barracks headquarters of the Darwin garrison. Mission luggers were also requisitioned for military purposes - the St. Francis with Br. Andrew Smith as skipper was placed at the disposal of the Australian Navy, and the Pius was deployed in the Army’s Water Transport Unit in Darwin harbor.92

 

The German missionaries were under close watch. With the sanction of the Catholic Bishops army chaplains were posted to the Kimberley missions, including John Flynn MSC stationed at Beagle Bay (1942 to 1944). Rev Frank Flynn MSC remained in contact with all the MSC missions established by Gsell from 1942 to 1946. Flynn wrote dispatches to the MSC newsletter, and presumably also to other interested parties, and published his memoirs as a book in July 1947.93

 

In August 1945 Flynn accompanied Bishop Gsell back to Darwin, calling in at all the military staging camps and mission stations in a carefully orchestrated itinerary, a symbolic hand-back of authority over the missions to the Bishop. The Larrakeya dancers performed the ‘bombing of Darwin dance’ (spotting planes in the sky, alerting Darwin by radio) and the ‘St Francis dance’ (named after the mission lugger that had been placed in military service). The Bathurst Islanders appropriately intuned the song ‘Who are We?’ The convent and school had been turned into a Catholic Services Club. The reconnaissance party called in at Channel Island, where Gsell’s early convert Martina had died only a few months earlier, her fervent wish to once more see Bishop Gsell unfulfilled.94

Bishop Gselland Fr. Flynn on a tour of the vicariate, 1944 Girls at Bathurst Island Mission Station and Bishop Gsell and Peter McGrath

Bishop Gsell and Fr. Flynn on a tour of the vicariate, 1944

Source: NAA 758638

Girls at Bathurst Island Mission Station surrounding Bishop Gsell, Father McGrath,
Old Peter and Brother Carter, 1939

Source: NAA series M10, 3/34

Eglise Mission e Mgr.Gsell

'Église Mission de Mgr. Gsell' (Nguiu mission church, n.d.)

Source: Benoît Gsell, Benfeld and Dominique Thirion, Strasbourg

 

 

 

Postwar changes

 

When Bishop Gsell retired in 1948 Bathurst Island was the oldest mission station in the northern part of the Northern Territory, and was upheld as proof that it was possible to halt the decline in Aboriginal populations. (See also Hermannsburg).  In 1951 the Roman Catholic Church was reported to have three missions in the Northern Territory, Bathurst Island with 9 staff and 657 residents, Port Keats with 8 staff and 315 residents, and Garden Point with 7 staff and 129 residents, all recorded as ‘full blood’.95 (The Little Flower Mission in the desert did not rate a mention until it was moved again in 1953 and became Santa Teresa.) The church, with funding from the department, purchased a 25-ton ketch Margaret at £8,500 for freight and passengers, because the St. Francis was not considered safe for passenger transport - one of the Sisters had been thrown overboard recently in only modest sea.

 

In an effort to render Bathurst Island mission self-supporting, an agricultural officer was called in to advise on likely income-earning agricultural activities, and the missions were forced to adopt a proper budget system. As a result wages for staff and mission supervisors appeared in the budgets for the first time, resulting in a budget increase of £10,472 on previous years for the Catholic missions in the Northern Territory, half of which was staff allowances.96 This demonstrated that the unpaid staff on missions had been effectively contributing large sums of money every year to the public purse.97

 

At the same time, missionary activity came under increasing fire of criticism. Arnold Pilling conducted fieldwork on the Tiwi islands in 1953 and was joined in 1954 by Charles Hart, and Jane Goodale stationed herself at Snake Bay on the north coast.98 These and subsequent anthropologists have reclaimed the validity of indigenous lifeworlds and taken off the ‘brothel glasses’ (Bordellbrille) through which according to Friedrich Engels, colonists looked at indigenous society.99

 

A strong church community emerged on the island and defended the mission, pointing out that many of the indigenous customs had been left unassailed, including the pukumani burial. An indigenous congregation of Sisters, 'Handmaidens of our Lord', is now directed by Sister Barbara Tippolay who grew up at Garden Point, and in 1975 a group of fifteen Tiwi had an audience with Pope Paul VI. When the land was returned to Tiwi ownership in 1978, the Tiwi invited the Sisters to continue running the school. One of, these, Sister Anne Gardiner has been on the island since November 1953.100 She named one of Martina's great-grandsons, Francis Xavier Kurrupurru, after Bishop Gsell in 1961. Kurrupurru grew up in a staunchly Catholic family and has been involved in local government and in the church at Tiwi for over thirty years, saying that his great-grandmother's faith in the church was a major influence in his family. In his maiden speech as the Member for Arafura in the Northern Territory parliament in 2012 he referred to the good intentions and cultural disruption brought by the missionaries:

 

'Bishop Gsell became the protector of young promised wives who did not want to marry an old man under Tiwi law. This was a major change for Tiwi culture. It is a measure of strength of the Tiwi that they were able to cope with the change.'101

 

Staff associated with Bathurst Island Mission

 

Fr. F. X. Gsell MSC, 1911-1938

Fr. Regis Courbon MSC, 1911 –1916

Br. Lambert Fehrmann, German, 1911-1913, 1914-1917

Fr. W.M. Henschke MSC, 1915 - 1921, later Vicar-General (born 5 April 1889, -9 September 1972), RAAF chaplain

 

Sr. Margaret Corrigan, at least since 1916 until 1934

Sr. Mary Baker, at least since 1916 until 1934

Sr. Gertrude Pitt, at least since 1916 until 1934

 

Br. Aubrey Kelly, stood in for Br. Fehrmann in 1913

Br. Joseph Keeley, November 1921 - April 1923, born in New Zealand, miner in Lithgow, travelled widely in Great Britain and USA, contracted life-threatening gastroenteritis

Br. Denis McCarthy, June 1924 - 1935, was posted to Port Keats

Fr. John McGrath MSC, 1927 – 1948, (born 1893, died 1982) rounded up cattle that had been running wild since 1919 cyclone with Pat Ritchie, proficient Tiwi speaker, grew potatoes, ground-nuts and other fruits and vegetable and began a dairy in 1932 turning out butter and cream, refused to evacuate during World War II, radioed alarm of Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942, died at Douglas Park in 1982 and is buried at Bathurst Island.

Pat Ritichie, lay assistant, stockworker, 1930-1934

Cecil Stanley Farrar, lay brother, at least since 1931 – 1934

Alfonso Aboliro, ca. 1931 – ca. 1950, referred to as ‘our captain’, ‘a Manillaman’ (1931) and ‘the Malay’ (1934)

Br. Andrew Smith, 1930-1935, New Zealander, educated by the Christian Brothers in Abbotsford, Victoria, and joined the Royal Navy in 1918 and the Royal Australian Navy in 1920 to serve as Petty Officer on the HMAS Geranium minesweeper before joining the MSC. He was placed in charge of the St. Francis and re-joined the RAN during World War II.

Br. George Carter, 1935-1938, farmer born in Charleville, worked at Palm Island during 1934, went to Hammond Island in late 1938, at Melville Island in 1951, then Channel Island 1952, then Port Keats 1953 'a notorious moaner', died at Croydon 1969.

Fr. Greg Abbott, 1936-1939, ordained ca. 1935, experienced the March 1937 cyclone at Bathurst Island, was transferred to Palm Island 1939, became an army chaplain during World War II stationed at Beagle Bay, then short periods at Bathurst Island, Port Keats, Thursday Island, Camp Hill (Brisbane army base), left for PNG in 1947, 30 years at Goodenough Island, 7 years at Sogeri, then Cape Rodney and MSC residence in Port Moresby, retired at Kensington.

Br. Thomas Bede Commerford (1940-1943) logged and milled timber, erected the church, presbytery and convent, remained on the island during World War II and went bush with Tiwi after first bombing of Darwin. Later at Port Keats.

Pierre de Hayr, Dutch, sawmiller and builder, ‘old Peter’, arrived ca. 1942, stayed for 20 years, built the second St. Francis

Fr. A.J. Cuneo MSC, (mentioned in 1948, when Bathurst badly hit by a cyclone, and 1952 as superintendent)

Fr. T. Whitty MSC, school principal (mentioned in 1952)

Br. Rex Pye, mechanic (mentioned in 1952)

Br. G. Groves, builder, currently in medical treatment (mentioned in 1952)

Sr. Marita double-certificated nurse in charge of hospital, dispensary, child welfare (mentioned in 1952)

Sr. Alfonso, trained teacher (mentioned in 1952)

Sr. Benedetta, kitchen (mentioned in 1952)

Sr. Anne Gardiner (November 1953 - present)

 

1 Gsell in Darwin to MSC Provincial at Kensington, 9 March 1908, MSC archives Kensington.

Je dois vous armer mon Rev. Père, pour commencer que votre réponse concernant la mission du Daly River m'a absolument xxxx et que je ne suis pas encore revenu du coup. Vous me dites que cette fondation est décidée, mais qu'on ne peut ne donner un sou de secours, que par conséquent je dois faire des emprunts pour la fonder, que d'ailleurs il y a déjà une maison et une plantation en rapport au Daly. Je me demande qui a pu vous donner ces renseignements qui sont a pôle opposé de la vérité. J'ai pu vous dire que les Jésuites y ont laissé l'école que les sauvages et les fermiers blancs se disputent depuis dix ans et qui pourra nous servir d'abri provisoire en attendant de bâtir mieux. Quand à la fameuse plantation nous possédons un terrain de 340 âcres qui n'a jamais vu de charrue depuis sa création. Les Jésuites avaient des jardins et plantaient du tabac; mais de tout cela on ne trouve même plus la trace et ce n'était pas sur le terrain qu'ils nous ont ligné, mais sur celui qui'ils rempaient eux-mêmes et qui est retourné au gouvernement.

2 Paddy J. Dalton SJ ‘History of the Jesuits in South Australia 1848-1948’ Unpublished MS, 1948:52.

3 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:44.

4 Cited from Gsell's book manuscript by Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14.

5 Office of the Minister for the NT, Adelaide, 11 July 1910, in Permission to establish RC Mission A1640, 1910/570 NAA.

6 Cited from Gsell's book manuscript by Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14.

7 Gsell in Darwin to MSC Provincial at Kensington, 12 April 1910, MSC archives Kensington

Quand à la mission rien n'est encore réglé, et rien ne sera fait tout quand le transfert du territory ne sera pas réglé. Les élections viennent de nous donner un gouvernement Labour et je crois qu'il sera plus facile de traiter avec lui. En tout cas je pense que l'année ne se passera pas sans que quelque chose eut fait, au moins une prise de position et un commencement ...

8 Gsell in Darwin to MSC Provincial at Kensington, 9 March 1908, MSC archives Kensington. After describing the shortage of funds and staffing he wrote:

La conclusion pratique est que de cette mission il ne faut plus en parler. [Cordant] il ne faudrait pas la perdre entièrement de vue. Il est probable que le Commonwealth d'Australie se fera transférer l'administration du Northern Territory sous peu et alors ils feront certainement des provisions spéciales pour les Aborigines. Il faudrait se tenir prêt pour l'éventualité, car ce sera une occasion unique qui ne se représentera plus jamais.

9 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:42-43.

10 Gsell to Minister for NT, 17 September 1910, in Permission to establish RC Mission A1640, 1910/570 NAA.

11 Tiwi Reports 1910 permit in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

12 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

13 Mgr Gsell et les quatre Manillois qui l'accompagnaient eurent soin d'aborder en un lieu qu'aucune tribu ne revendiquait comme lui appartenant. S'ils avaient agi autrement, leur débarquement eut été salué par une pluie de lances et une nuée de flèches. F. Flynn MSC '40 ans chez les Aborigènes Australiens - l'évêque aux 150 épouses' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur, December 1960:267.

14 F. Flynn MSC '40 ans chez les Aborigènes Australiens - l'évêque aux 150 épouses' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur, December 1960:266-269.

15 Regina Ganter Mixed Relations: Asian-Aboriginal Contact in North Australia UWA Press 2006:24.

16 Paul Foelsche, 'Notes on the Aborigines of North Australia' Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia, December 1882:1-18, note A.

17 C. C. Macknight, 'Robinson, Edward Oswin (1847–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-edward-oswin-8242/text14431, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 6 January 2015.

18 Regina Ganter Mixed Relations: Asian-Aboriginal Contact in North Australia UWA Press 2006:23ff.

19 C.W.M. Hart 'The Tiwi of Melville and Bathurst Islands' Oceania Vol.1 (2) July 1930:167-180.

20 The date of Cooper's return to Melville Island is from Macknight's ADB entry for E. O. Robinson. Mulvaney states that Cooper left the island in 1914, however Protector Beckett refers to him as being on the island in 1916. J. T. Beckett, Report on visit made to Anson Bay District, Melville, Bathurst and Indian Island re. Aborigines, A3 NT1916/2359 barcode 50271, NAA; D.J. Mulvaney Paddy Cahill of Oenpelli, Aboriginal Studies Press 2004.

21 C. C. Macknight, 'Robinson, Edward Oswin (1847–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-edward-oswin-8242/text14431, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 6 January 2015.

22 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:47.

23 Paul Foelsche, 'Notes on the Aborigines of North Australia' Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia, December 1882:1-18

24 Gsell, Report about Bathurst Island Mission, 16pp NAA barcode 66600 in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA. The undated report refers to at least the first 15 years on the mission, so dates from after 1925.

25 Annual Report for Bathurst Island 1939, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

26 A. E. Woodward Aboriginal Land Rights Commission, AGPS 1973.

27 F. Flynn MSC '40 ans chez les Aborigènes Australiens - l'évêque aux 150 épouses' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur, December 1960:266-269.

28 F. Flynn MSC '40 ans chez les Aborigènes Australiens - l'évêque aux 150 épouses' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur, December 1960:266-269.

29 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:46-50.

30 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14. The Feast of the Sacred Heart falls between 29 May and 2 June.  This means the cottage cannot have taken seven days to erect.

31 Both were resident at Bathurst Island when they registered as aliens in 1916. Alien Registration of Alfonso Aboliro, 24 October 1916, MT269/1 Barcode 6561190, NAA; Alien Registration of Mary Aboliro, 26 October 1916, MT269/1 Barcode 6561191, NAA.

32 Gsell foreshadows this visit in his letter to the MSC Provincial at Kensington of 12 November 1906, MSC archives Kensington.

33 Gsell in Darwin to MSC Provincial at Kensington, 9 March 1908 and 12 April 1910, MSC archives Kensington.

34 Elena Govor My Dark Brother 2000:126ff.

35 See also Wendy Beresford-Maning 'Men With no past? Researching Religious Lives', Journal of Northern Territory History 20, 2009.

36 Information supplied by P. Pierre Bally, MSC, Issoudun, 3 October 2014.

37 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:57-59.

38 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:57-59.

39 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:15.

40 'Le Père François-Régis Courbon MSC' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur Vol. 88 February 1954:43.

41 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:57-59.

42 'Le Père François-Régis Courbon MSC' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-CoeurVol. 88 February 1954:43.

43 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:15, 5.

44 'Le Père François-Régis Courbon MSC' <Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-CoeurVol. 88 February 1954:43.

45 Gsell in Darwin to MSC Provincial at Kensington, 12 Aril 1910, MSC archives Kensington.

46 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14.

47 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14.

48 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

49 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14.

50 Necrologium Societatis Missionariorum SS.Mi Cordis Iesu, Rome 1993.

51 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:19.

52 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:14.

53 Anthony Caruana MSC 'Reflections on hundred years of MSC mission work in the Northern Territory 1904-2004, unpublished MS, 2004:19.

54 F. Flynn MSC '40 ans chez les Aborigènes Australiens - l'évêque aux 150 épouses' Annales de Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur, December 1960:266-269.

55 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

56 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

57 'Diary of the Station of St. Joseph of the Mission of the Society of Jesus on the Daly River, in the Northern Territory of Australia' translated by Paddy Dalton SJ, revised and typed by F. J. Dennett SJ August 1982, in Archives of the Society of Jesus, Kew, Melbourne.

58 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

59 Gsell (n.d., ca. 1925) Report about Bathurst Island Mission, 16pp NAA barcode 66600 in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

60 Gsell (n.d., ca. 1925) Report about Bathurst Island Mission, 16pp NAA barcode 66600 in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

61 Index card file held in the MSC archives basement, Kensington. Unfortunately I was only shown this index at the end of my visit and was not able to peruse it.

62 NAA

63 J. T. Beckett, Report on visit made to Anson Bay District, Melville, Bathurst and Indian Island re. Aborigines, A3 NT1916/2359 barcode 50271, NAA.

64 (Annual Report) Mission on Bathurst Island 1929, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

65 Darwin Department of Health to Government Resident, 25 February 1929, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

66 C.W.M. Hart 'The Tiwi of Melville and Bathurst Islands' Oceania Vol.1 (2) July 1930:167-180.

67 Extract from letter received from Rev. Father Gsell, Bathurst Island Mission Station, 15 April 1931, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

68 Annual Report of Bathurst Island Mission Station December 1931, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

69 Pat Ritchie’s adventures were reported in the press around the time of his book release North of the Never-Never by Angus and Robertson in Sydney in 1934: in the SMH (26 March 1934), the Dubbo Farmer (29 March 1934), the Catholic Press (29 March 1934), the SMH (5 January 1935), the Adelaide News (22 March 1935), the Barrier Miner (23 March 1935), the Northern Miner (6 July 1935), the West Australian (5 July 1935), the Western Mail (11 July 1935), and in September 1935 six papers carried his story about ‘divorce’ on the Tiwi islands. His book includes an illustration of ‘a turtle and her young’ and other incredulous details.

70 Annual Report of Bathurst Island Mission Station December 1931, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

71 Charles Hart, ‘The Tiwi of Melville and Bathurst Island’ Oceania I (2) 1930:168.

72 ‘Attempt to Steal mission lugger fails’, Melbourne Herald, 1 November 1933, and ‘Piracy Plans. Defeated by coup at Darwin. Police Capture on Lugger’ Canberra Times 31 October 1933 and Melbourne Herald 27 September 1933, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

73 W. M. Henschke for F.X. Gsell, Annual Report for Bathurst Island Mission, 1933, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

74 Gsell, Annual Report Bathurst Island Mission December 1933-December 1934

75 ‘Girls Sold for £2 each. Aboriginal Customs of Australasia. Missionary tells his experiences’, Morning Post (Sydney) 8 June 1934, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

76 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

77 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

78 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

79 Report on Bathurst Island Mission n.d. (ca 1934) Barcode 666000 Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

80 Annual report for Bathurst Island, December 1935, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

81 Gsell to Minister for Interior, 30 September 1935, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

82 Annual Report for Bathurst Island 1939, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

83 23 June 1938 to Gsell, Bishop of Darwin, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

84 Annual report for Bathurst Island 1938, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

85 C.L.A. Abbott, NT administrator to Dept. Interior Canberra 2 February 1939, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

86 Annual Report for Bathurst Island 1939, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

87 M. L. Culnane, Acting Chief Clerk, NT, Memorandum re annual report in August 1950 for up to December 1949, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

88 Department of Veteran Affairs, ‘Australia’s War’ http://www.ww2australia.gov.au/underattack/airraid.html

and Peter Dunn, ‘Japanese Air Raid On Bathurst Island
On 19 February 1942’, 2002. http://www.ozatwar.com/japsbomb/bomboz01.htm accessed February 2014.

89 Rev. Frank Flynn MSC Distant Horizons - Mission Impressions as published in the Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Kensington, Sacred Heart Monastery, 1947:70ff.

90 F. X. Gsell The Bishop with 150 wives – fifty years as a missionary, Angus and Robertson, 1956:145.

91 The federal archival Bathurst Island mission correspondence has a gap from 1941 to 1948.

92 Rev. Frank Flynn MSC Distant Horizons - Mission Impressions as published in the Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Kensington, Sacred Heart Monastery, 1947:77.

93 Rev. Frank Flynn MSC Distant Horizons - Mission Impressions as published in the Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Kensington, Sacred Heart Monastery, 1947.

94 Rev. Frank Flynn MSC Distant Horizons - Mission Impressions as published in the Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Kensington, Sacred Heart Monastery, 1947: 67,74.

95 7 June 1951 to Director NT Affairs, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

96 C.R. Lambert, Secretary Dept. of Territories and C.H. Moy, DNA, 1952, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

97 Annual report to December 1950 Wise report on 11 July 1951, in Bathurst Island Mission Reports 1910-1915 2A 431-1951k-1294 NAA.

98 Arnold Pilling and Richard Waterman (eds) , Michigan State University Press 1970.<

99 Corinna Erckenbrecht, ‘Der Bischof mit seinen 150 Bräuten’ Jahrbuch des Museums für Völkerkunde Leipzig, 2003, 41:303-322.

100 'My Island Church: The extraordinary 100-year old story of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Tiwi Islanders' Compass, ABC, 13 April 2014.

101 Francis Xavier Kurrupurru, Member for Arafura, maiden speech in the NT Parliament, Tuesday 23 October 2012

http://notes.nt.gov.au/lant/hansard/hansard12.nsf/WebbyMember/9A0F9AD237A89C6169257AF50012966F?opendocument