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Thirty Years in Tropical Australia

By the Right Reverend Gilbert White, D.D.
Bishop of Willochra

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1918.


IT was my happy privilege to have helped in the consecration of Bishop Gilbert White in Sydney in 1900 as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Carpentaria. Ever since I have been in closest intimacy with him, honoured by knowing his inmost thoughts on all great questions. He was no stranger to Queensland when consecrated: for fifteen years he had worked there as a priest, to be followed in due course by fifteen more years as Bishop, this book being the record therefore of thirty years of as fine and devoted a work as any achieved by living man.

Let it be recognized also that the Diocese of Carpentaria comprises the north coast of Australia nearly from east to west. All of it the Bishop travelled incessantly, his home consisting of a small house on Thursday Island which was seldom occupied by him, tenanted, however, by a devoted sister. Some things indeed the Bishop has almost entirely omitted from this book, namely, the daily and very serious trials of heat, flies, and constant fatigue of long journeys by land and sea, by night and by day. Never, indeed, was there a man more reticent about matters which fill the pages of many travellers and not without good reason.

These chapters provide a varied and fascinating bill of fare whilst humour sparkles everywhere. The Cape York region, the Aboriginal Mission Reserves on the Mitchell and the Roper, serious adventures in ketches in "the Gulf," the Northern Territory, the Torres Strait Islands, and a memorable journey to Bishop Brent in the Philippines, all these will be read with interest and with profit. We are glad also that the Bishop has included the record of his trip, already published separately, along the telegraph line from Port Darwin to South Australia through the very heart of the continent. He was the first minister of religion to visit those scattered stations of the operators, and I am not aware that he has been followed by any others.

The time came, of course, when such a sphere had to be resigned into the hands of a younger man, and a right worthy successor he has. The last event of the Episcopate of the first Bishop in that northern region has its own special interest, namely, the acceptance by him of the Mission in the Torres Strait Islands, handed over to him without conditions by the London Missionary Society.

From Northern Australia the Bishop descended into the South Australian State, but not to a well-organized Diocese. It was characteristic of him to elect to be Bishop of a newly formed Diocese, and as such unorganized, in what may not unfairly be called the back blocks of South Australia. Here, as Bishop of Willochra, he is creating traditions fine in aim and full of promise for Australian life, moral and spiritual. And in this connexion I may say that I do not know a more fearless man. He believes in plainness of speech, and since he loves Australia and the Australians he tells home truths in a manner understanded of the people. If he ruthlessly lays bare the sins of modern social life, even those who are offended will not fail to recognize his transparent faithfulness to the plain duties of his office. In the larger life of the Church in Australia Bishop Gilbert White has taken a leading part of late in a very happy consummation, namely, in the consolidation of one Australian Board of Missions which can now speak for the whole Church and for every section of it.

The book too has the scent of Australia in it, and those who best know that great continent will linger over its pages and perhaps long for the return of days gone by, feeling once more the glamour of a land which captures the heart with an intensity of affection which lasts to the end of life.


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