Project Canterbury

South Sea Epic: War and the Church in New Guinea

Compiled by Ruth Henrich

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1944.

Chapter XI. Looking Forward

There are three causes for encouragement as we look to the future: new recruits for missionary service are offering themselves; the funds of the Australian Board of Missions have reached a higher peak than ever before; the attitude of both Government officials and the general public towards missions has changed enormously.

New Recruits.

Two priests, one each from the dioceses of Gippsland and Wangaratta, have just left us for service in New Guinea, a fully-trained nurse now at the A.B.M. Hostel and three others at present nursing in Victoria are preparing for missionary service, and another very capable young woman has offered herself as a candidate for service with A.B.M. Dr. and .Mrs. Keys Smith are in readiness to proceed to New Guinea as soon as permission is given, and the Doctor's brother, Durham, who is studying medicine at the Melbourne University, is also an accepted missionary candidate. Enquiries have also been received from other prospective candidates.

A.B.M. Review, August 1, 1943.

Increase of Mission Funds.

The Australian Board of Missions has just closed a phenomenal financial year. With but few exceptions every diocese has overgiven its quota, and the Reconstruction and Advance Fund has been strongly and generously established. When the Board meets at the end of July it will find that every mission grant has been fully paid. This is all the more striking because this time last year the Board, as an act of faith, had budgetted for £3,500 in excess of its income, and it is this enlarged budget that has been exceeded.

Whichever way the Board looks at it, whether from the point of view of the quotas sent in by the dioceses (income), or the quotas plus the result of special appeals (gross receipts), the money received is a record for any year in the history of the Australian Board of Missions. The nearest approach to it was in 1929, but this year the diocesan quotas are nearly £2,000 higher.

What is evident is that the Church as a whole has laid upon the Board an obligation to do at once some forward-looking thinking and planning.

A.B.M. Review, July 1, 1943.

[87] Changing Attitude towards Missions.

The Bishop of Newcastle (Australia), in a speech in Sydney on March 8, 1943, said:--

I want to tell you of the remarkable change which I have seen in missionary work, and in the attitude of the public towards it. ...

The attitude of governments has changed. You can measure the enormous extent of the change if you read the reports of the Administration of Papua, and especially the reports of the late Sir Hubert Murray. You can see it also in such a document as the Report of the Royal Commission in South Africa on the question of Native Education. Official opinion has come round full circle, and the missionary is nowadays recognised as the indispensable ally of the Administrator, and the mission hospital and the mission school as the principal and most important agencies for securing the physical, mental and moral health of the native community. The change in public opinion has been equally striking, though not yet so complete. For the most part it has been killed by the sheer logic of facts.

You saw, I expect, in the papers recently about the Bishop of New Guinea's experience when, after addressing a battalion of Australian soldiers for an hour on the subject of his mission work, they voluntarily subscribed the sum of £65 to help the Mission and its task. I saw in that action far more than just an isolated act of generosity on the part of that particular lot of soldiers. I interpreted it as representing the crumbling of the last barrier of criticism against the Church's missionary enterprise. It seemed to me to symbolise the fact that the long fight for the proper recognition of the Church's primary task had been finally won.

What has brought about the change? I believe it is because the missionary enterprise has been able to confront the world with the kind of evidence it cannot refuse to accept, the evidence of an unlimited willingness for sacrifice. . . .

I know of no incident in the whole missionary history of the Church more thrilling, and, at the same time, more humbling, than the decision of the Bishop of New Guinea and his staff to remain at their posts amongst their children of the Faith, despite the obvious and terrible risks to which their decision would expose them. They were offered the chance of evacuation to Australia; every pressure was brought upon them to accept it; every consideration of [87/88]
worldly prudence counselled acceptance. Yet they stayed. Why? Because there was one consideration in their hearts which outweighed all others. They were convinced that the Christ Who had called them in the first instance to follow Him to Papua was calling them to remain. So they remained. Remember that amongst those who came willingly and cheerfully to that tremendous decision were a number of women, some of them quite young. It is sometimes urged as a reproach against the Christian religion by those who sit loosely to it, that it appeals more to women than to men. I think that, in view of the decision of those gallant ladies, that particular gibe must seem most pitiably cheap. The whole incident is both inspiring and humiliating. It fills us, or should fill us, both with pride and with shame. Pride in the thought that our Church can still produce the human material of which saints and martyrs are made. And shame, as we contrast the quality of their discipleship with ours, the niggardliness of the support we have given to them with the splendour and completeness of their own self-sacrifice.

Quoted in A.B.M. Review, August 1, 1943.

A Question.

The future of the Church's work in New Guinea will depend to a considerable extent upon the form which the post-war administration of Papua and the Mandated Territory will take.

We have to admit that the fighting in Papua is taking place not for the preserving of the people of Papua, but rather to prevent war taking place on Australian soil. But these people of Papua, who are standing so solidly with us, will not grudge us even the making of their country into a battleground if only, when the war ends, we give them as square a deal as they have had in the past. As to whether they will get such a deal some of us, who love these folks, are somewhat anxious.

When we speak of Papua we do not include the Mandated Territory of New Guinea in that name. The two Territories are totally unlike, for the administrations of the two Territories have never been on a par. The Mandated Territory, which is nowadays simply spoken of as "New Guinea," was German territory, and the German rule of the natives was characterised by harshness. After that territory was [88/89] mandated to Australia, the administration of it continued to be on the harsh, stern side. In some respects it might be claimed that it was an abler administration than that of Papua, but the attitude of the two administrations towards the natives has never been the same.

The Administration of Papua has been criticised as being too pro-native, too "soft," and was said to spoil the natives. And yet has not this "soft" administration been fully justified in that it is these people of Papua who have been the ones to stand by us and to show such utter loyalty?

When the war ends the probability is that these two territories will be united under one administration. Which type of Administration--New Guinea or the Papuan type? It is important that this matter be considered fully and carefully. If we give to these loyal people of Papua the type of Government which has been used in New Guinea, then we shall be disloyal to the principles for which we are fighting, and unworthy of Australia's past history. Papua stands to-day as a country for which Australia may be proud in that the country which has been ruled by Australia is the most loyal of all.

There is talk even, in some quarters, of making Papua into a "white man's country." Would that be a fair return for their loyalty? Open up the country by all means, but let us see to it that in doing so, native rights are preserved and the natives protected in the future, as in the past, from all who would exploit them for their own ends.

In the matter of the reconstruction of Papua, Australia's honour is at stake.

A.B.M. Review, January 1, 1943. (Writer not named.)

Project Canterbury