ACW connected remote Christian women
During the early years of Australian Church Women (ACW), a close relationship was established with the women’s groups of the United Churches in Northern Australia, which included Papua New Guinea (PNG). The first links were with Alice Springs, Batchelor, Darwin, Katherine, Kununurra, Tennant Creek, and Woomera in Australia, and Lae and Port Moresby in PNG.
ACW National/Working Committees had a member responsible for corresponding with these distant, and often remote, fellowships of Christian women.
The first correspondent was Mrs Keelah Dey (https://www.acw.org.au/post/keelah-pulsford-dey), and in the 1967 National Committee Minutes she reported that the Darwin Women’s Fellowship of the United Churches had recently become a group of ACW. Mrs Dey and the ACW correspondents who followed her were often thanked by the women’s groups for this measure of shared fellowship that linked them across great distances.
One of the women of Northern Australia, Mrs Maisie McKenzie (https://www.acw.org.au/post/go-and-do-thou-likewise), was a very regular correspondent and sometimes her letters were printed in Women at Work, the ACW National Newsletter. When Maisie and her husband, Rev. Doug McKenzie, were ministering in Alice Springs and far beyond, she sent a most interesting report of their Patrol Ministry.
Their base was the John Flynn* Memorial Church in Alice Springs, and extracts of this particular letter were printed In the September 1971 issue of the newsletter. The extracts are reproduced here because I think you will enjoy reading of their experience of ministry in Central Australia fifty years ago. Her report was titled ‘May Patrol’.
‘In the early days of the Patrol Ministry, Robert Mitchell and his daughter loaded their organ on a buggy and drove their horses through the bush. Then came Bruce Plowman and his boy, Dick Gillen, and their camels. They were followed by Flynn in his buckboard.
‘Sixty years later [110 years for today’s reader] the bush hasn't changed much. The same droughts, the same floods, the same sandhllls, the same washed-away tracks, the same great distances, the same heat, the same thirst, the same flies, the same bull-dust are all still there. AND the same wide skies, the same stars, the same bush-smell, the same solitude, the same sense of peace as one unrolls a swag beside a camp-fire where the billy is boiling.
‘Of course we have it easier. Our car Is equipped for the work and covers the distances in a comparatively short time … As a matter of fact we would gladly have exchanged our Holden for a camel last week when we were stranded in the bush. Camels' wiring and points behave more predictably than our new engine did …
‘The whole trip vas bathed in perfect Centralian eighty degrees [Fahrenheit] sunshlne and we wouldn't have swapped our days with anyone in the smoggy, polluted, damp, cold, wlndy southern cities.
‘We stopped and talked with everyone (the whole two!) we met on the road – the first a woman in difficulties, the second a man driving earth-moving equipment to some mining camp In the Harts Range. We were able to help the woman by getting a message to her husband. The man was soon squatting down on the ground with Doug, drawing maps in the dust. This is almost a ritual in the outback. In France people gesticulate, in London you look for a policeman, in outback Australia you squat on the ground and draw in the dust! …
‘We have never seen so many 'roos – they were everywhere – lying under trees, sitting up straight with ears erect, bounding along with the car, keeping well up with us at 40 m.p.h. They looked in harmony with the bush whatever they were doing; but the station owners don’t feel in harmony with them, as they eat the precious herbage that is desperately needed for sheep and cattle … ‘On the way home we got a fright when a dingo hurtled out of the bush and ran headlong into the side of the car, killing Itself. Dingoes are a menace to the lambs – but it was a magnificent looking creature. 'It was dark by the time we got back to Alice Springs with all its street lighting and juke boxes and hamburgers and drunks spilling out of the pubs, and we threw an envious glance back to the stock camps under the gidyea trees.’
Six months before this report, Maisie attended an ACW Working Committee meeting in Melbourne where it was suggested to her that she could start an inter-church women’s group in Alice Springs, and encourage the Darwin women to do the same. Upon her return home, Maisie began to carry out the suggestion.
*Go to https://flynnchurch.org.au/ for further information on the John Flynn Memorial Church in Alice Springs. Reverend John Flynn was the founder of the first aerial medical service that became the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.