By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE Josephite Sister Kay McPadden realised it was time to start recording the history of the Catholic Aboriginal faith in Cherbourg one day sitting having a cup of tea on the verandah of the community’s St Peter Claver Church.
This awareness led to a two-year project, which eventually expanded to include Stradbroke Island.
The fruits of this research were handed over by Centacare’s Murri Ministry to the Archives of the Archdiocese of Brisbane on June 17.
The research, in digital and hard-copy versions comprising interviews, photographs and memorabilia, will also take pride of place in an historical display in the Francis Rush Centre during G20 open-house events in Brisbane later this year.
Sr McPadden at the handover outlined the circumstances leading to the start of the project.
“I was having a cuppa with some of the local Aboriginal women when I looked up at the church’s dedication plaque,” she said.
“It was the 50th anniversary of the church’s opening but the plaque had no mention of the dedication date.
“That’s when I decided to record the history of the Catholic faith in Cherbourg.”
Also giving an additional “sense of urgency” was the importance of contacting living historical sources.
“Unfortunately, life expectancy for Aboriginal males is only around 54 and about 65 for women,” she said.
The Josephite Sister, whose ministry with the Cherbourg community goes back to 1979, conducted interviews for the research with the assistance of Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar, photographers and curators.
Australian Catholic University academic Dr Stefano Girola also provided research assistance.
Murri Ministry, of which Sr McPadden is a member, produced the folders and DVDs containing the research material. Catholic Religious Australia Queensland funded the project.
At the presentation of the research material were Murri Ministry co-ordinator Ravina Waldren, Sr McPadden, CRAqld executive officer Mercy Sister Mary Lowcock, archivist Fr Denis Martin and assistant archivist Carolyn Nolan.
Ms Nolan said the material would be a “wonderful addition” to the archives particularly as there was so little available on the archdiocese’s early Aboriginal Catholic history.
“You’ve achieved something remarkable here,” she told Sr McPadden. “You have a wonderful ability to look and see what will be lost if she doesn’t jump onto it straight away.
“You should be in every parish. It would have made our job in archives so much easier.”
Fr Martin hoped to be able to give a gift back to Murri Ministry.
“I would like to organise a framed photograph of Archbishop (John Bede) Polding for Murri Ministry,” he said. “It was Polding who spoke about the Aboriginal people with great feeling, was like a spiritual father to them and wished he could do more for them.
“He was also the father of the Catholic Church in Brisbane.”
Even a brief skim through the material gathered divulged many fascinating insights into the archdiocese’s Aboriginal history.
Among this information was that:
- Originally, Cherbourg was known as Barambah. In 1904 it was established as a Lutheran Missionary Station for indigenous Australians.
- Forty-seven Aboriginal tribes with different traditions and different rites were forced to live together in one place.
- Religious institutes involved with the Cherbourg Catholic community over the years were the Presentation, Good Samaritan, Charity, Holy Spirit and Josephite sisters, the Marist and Christian brothers, Marist priests, and diocesan chaplains.
- In 1913 a church in Wooroolin (just north of Kingaroy) was opened and dedicated by the late Archbishop James Duhig, then Coadjutor to the Archbishop of Brisbane.
- In 1918 the first Masses in the Murgon region were held in private homes until the first Church was built and blessed on August 4 by Fr M O’Flynn, for Archbishop Duhig.
- The Catholic Parish of Murgon was established in 1927 and regular visits of local priests to nearby Cherbourg began.
- In 1972, the church moved from Wooroolin to Cherbourg. Fr Patrick Stratford would head into Cherbourg on a Wednesday afternoon to give religious education to the students.
- Also in the 1970s, Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters Sr Delores and Sr Agnes moved into the vacated convent at Wondai and walked to Cherbourg to visit families.
- In 1993 Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane, issued a public apology on behalf of the Catholic Church to Aborigines for the way the Church treated them in the past.
- In the 2000s Josephite Sisters Anne Cannon and Kay McPadden and other members of Murri Ministry visited and started working regularly with the community.
Ms Waldren said the Catholic faith’s more than 100 years in Cherbourg and 170 years on Stradbroke Island was “ a story that had to be recorded”.
“Aboriginal Catholics are so proud of their faith background … who they are and where they’re from,” she said.
“It’s been a beautiful journey with the religious sisters and the priests as well.
“The majority of that community has now moved from Cherbourg to settle in Brisbane and so the journey continues.
“This research project will also provide a valuable connection point for the non-indigenous community to the Aboriginal people.”