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santa teresa use

From the OLSH Parish Bulletin, Randwick (Fr Peter's Back Page)


Peter Hearn MSC has been PP of Randwick for many years. He spent a number of years in the Northern Territory.

The MSC-OLSH involvement with Aboriginal people and the acquiring of land for them in the Northern Territory.

 With the possible exception of the Tiwi Island people (North of Darwin), the Aborigines contacted by MSC and OLSH Missionaries in the Northern Territory from 1911 onwards, were in desperate need when measured against a number of social indicators such as health, attachment to land, psychological well-being and their capacity to cope with the dominant culture.

Protecting existing lands:

gsell tiwi

When Fr Francis Gsell went to Bathurst Island, now Nguiu, in 1911, both Bathurst and neighbouring Melville Islands had been parceled out as pastoral leases by the Commonwealth Government with no sense of their ownership by the Tiwi people. Fr Gsell single-handedly moved the Federal Government to proclaim the Tiwi Islands an Aboriginal Reserve, removing the pastoral leases. He had seen the deprivation of Aboriginal people in Darwin because of their close contact with the European culture and was determined to provide a buffer for the as yet untouched Tiwi Islanders – although Pearl Divers visited the Islands and in their wake children of mixed-descent were the result, whose care became an issue for the Government and the missionaries in the decades following – another story.

anne tiwi

Retaining people on their existing lands:

boniface wadeye

At what was then Port Keats, now Wadeye, South-West of Darwin, the land of the Murrinpatha and other tribes was already a reserve when the first MSCs were asked by the Government to set up a mission there in 1935. Partly this was to try and stop the drift of Aboriginal people to the white settlements – eg the mining areas of Daly River and Pine Creek from the 1870s where alcohol, opium and prostitution were rife, causing havoc to Aboriginal health and well-being. By the 1930s, whole tracts of land had been deserted by the allure of white settlement, and some of the smaller tribes of the Daly River had ceased to exist. Jesuit missionaries had endeavored to anchor the Daly tribes in their own land, but they had been recalled in the late 1880s.

tess ward book 2

The Mission at Port Keats did anchor the remnants of around seven tribes there allowing them to regroup and rebuild in numbers. Later Missionaries were instrumental in having abandoned cattle stations added to the reserve for future generations. So, this was a case of keeping the people on their own lands.

Acquiring land for landless people 1:


Perhaps Alice Springs provides the greatest saga of MSC-OLSH and Aboriginal people creating a future together. When the first MSCs arrived there in 1929, Alice Springs had a white population of around 400. However, Aboriginal people were drifting into the town fringes as pastoral leases were taken up dislodging them from their traditional lands. Fr Paddy Moloney found an atmosphere of intense bigotry and racism on the part of some people in the town. After a fruitless eff ort to find land in an area removed from the town, he obtained a grant of 425 acres at Charles Creek, on the outskirts of Alice Springs. There, housing, gardens, workshops, and a school were opened for the people. They were forced to move with 48 hours’ notice during WWII to Arltunga, an abandoned mining town 110 km east of Alice Springs.

santa teresa

Here they ran out of water and had to move a few kms to another site and with the failure of the water supply there, Bishop John O’Loughlin successfully obtained a grant of land in what is now Santa Teresa for clans of the Eastern Arrente Tribe. During a six-year drought, Santa Teresa was overwhelmed by Aboriginal people moving there, facing starvation according to a newspaper article in Alice Springs – but it was a safe place.

Acquiring land for landless people 2:

daly river

Finally, the Daly River natives had been dislodged from their tribal lands over many decades, and so the Bishop acquired a peanut farm as the base for an MSC mission there in 1955. None of these missions was supposed to become a township – rather to be a place for education, training in trades, and for care of the elderly and sick. Circumstances beyond the control of the missionaries saw each place become in fact just that, a township, with all the administrative issues that came with it. It is a fascinating story.

olsh tiwi