- Published: Saturday, 21 March 2009 23:22
Brother Ed Bennett died in Darwin on 17th December 2008 at the age of 95. He had spent all of his ministerial life as an MSC in the Northern Territory, amid the loneliness and difficulties of remote Australia. This was his world for the 73 years of his religious life.
Brother Ed was born on the 3rd of March 1913 at Leichardt NSW; his earliest years were spent in the Bondi-Randwick-Clovelly area of Sydney. He was a life-saver with the Clovelly Club and joined the Volunteer Militia. He left Marcellin College at age 14 and took up the life of a jackeroo working for some time on stations in South West Queensland: often a lonely life, droving sheep. It was during this time, he recalls, that he developed a love for the Rosary. Perhaps this was what drew him to the MSC Novitiate at Douglas Park when he was 21. He made his first profession on the Feast of the Assumption, 1935.
Immediately after profession he was appointed to the “Centre” in the Northern Territory – a very remote and isolated part of Australia at that time. He was charged with helping Father Patrick Maloney establish the Little Flower Mission in Alice Springs. Little did he realise at the time that a great part of his life would be spent in Central Australia! The arrival of the OLSH Sisters in Alice Springs three years later began a life-long friendship with sisters working in the NT missions.
In January 1941 Brother Ed was appointed to the “Top End”, to work with Father Bill Connors MSC on the foundation of the Garden Point Mission on Melville Island. His Memoirs give moving descriptions of the struggle to clear acres of virgin bush to establish the mission building, and make a garden to provide food. The mission had been created in response to the policy of the Government of the time of separating children of mixed race from tribal life. When the first group of young boys arrived Ed found himself responsible for some 40 youngsters ranging in age from 5 to 16. He noted: “I had quite a job on my hands!”
Early on the morning of 19th February 1942, Ed and Fr Connors saw in the sky over the island, 14 Japanese planes headed toward Darwin. However, the government patrol officer on Melville refused to notify Darwin! The rest is history: the catastrophic bombing of Darwin.
After the war, Brother Ed was made skipper of the “St Francis”, the mission boat. He held this responsibility for the next seven years, first with the “St Francis” and then with her replacement, the “Margaret Mary”. The mission lugger was the life-line for the Top End missions: whatever the weather the ship sailed. On one voyage one of the sisters fell overboard. Ed, calling on his lifesaver experience, dived in and rescued her.
After his years at sea, Ed returned to work on land: first at Garden Point and then in charge if logging on Bathurst Island – a task that required considerable ingenuity.
In 1954 he returned to the Centre and to the newly established Santa Teresa Mission, where he helped erect the old church bell from Clovelly. During the following years he spent some time at Port Keats before returning to Santa Teresa. In 1973 he was appointed to Mission Headquarters in Darwin, where he survived Cyclone Tracey, “with a pair of rosary beds and half a bottle of Bundy”!
In 1978 he returned to Alice Springs where he was to spend the rest of his life until moving to Darwin in his last years. In the Alice one of his regular ministries was visiting the Old Timers’ Retirement Village, talking to old friends and bringing them Communion – in later years he would do this on his trusty motor scooter. Through all these many years with his varied duties, Ed remained a man of prayer, especially the Rosary. In hot summers and freezing winters he was the first to open the Church in the morning.
Throughout his life Brother Ed had a special devotion to St Anne, the mother of Our Lady. For his Golden Jubilee of Profession in 1987 he enjoyed a trip overseas with Brother Delaney. During that time he visited the Marian Shrines of Europe as well as the famous shrine to St Anne at Beaupré outside Quebec Canada.
In 2001 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) “for services to religion and to the community of the Northern Territory through the Catholic Church particularly the communities of Melville Island and Alice Springs”.
As the years drew on he became weaker and had trouble with his eyes. Although he had to surrender his ‘duties’ he remained alert. In his nineties he was reading Michael Fallon’s books on the Gospels – this, a man who had left school at age 14! He loved to keep up with his friends and enjoyed his annual visits to Sydney when he would stay at Randwick and catch up with friends of his youth. His love of lawn bowls introduced him to a wide circle of friends of many religions and none.
In his final years Ed moved to the Ranch in Darwin – where he managed with the help of his motorised scooter to visit the “Club” of an afternoon. It was in Darwin that he died. Funeral services were held in Darwin and Kensington. He was laid to rest in the community cemetery at Douglas Park.
(adapted from the Eulogy by Fr Timothy Brennan, Provincial)