Hills to Hawkesbury Living Magazine - - Living Legends -

In the last in­stall­ment of this three part se­ries on Ray Cun­ning­ham we learnt about Ray’s WWII years.

In this, the se­cond in­stall­ment, you will learn of how Ray Cun­ning­ham and his wife Eve­lyn’s heart for the peo­ple of Bor­neo led them to spend a life­time work­ing with the var­i­ous lo­cal tribes of the is­land, through chal­leng­ing con­di­tions.

Af­ter the war Ray re­turned to Aus­tralia and worked in his pre­war pro­fes­sion of sheep and wool class­ing in Walca for a sea­son. Through the mir­a­cle heal­ing of a Pa­puan friend, Ray was mo­ti­vated to serve God. Ray en­rolled at Croy­don Bi­ble Col­lege to learn more while he worked out what he should do. It was dur­ing this time that Ray en­quired with the Bor­neo Evan­gel­i­cal Mis­sion (BEM) as he had a heart for the peo­ple he had met dur­ing the war, both in PNG and Bor­neo.

At the same time God was work­ing on the heart of an­other exser­vice­man, Bruce Mor­ton. Bruce was a Kit­ty­hawk fighter pi­lot dur­ing the war, a RAAF Flight Lieu­tenant with No 32 Squadron, who only in his teens at the time, con­ducted bomb­ing and straf­ing mis­sions against the Ja­panese over Bor­neo and other is­lands to the north of Aus­tralia. Bruce also en­quired with BEM and Ray and Bruce were con­nected as a team.

Also at about the same time the Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice (RFDS) in Parkes, NSW run by Dr Jef­frey Young were up­grad­ing their air­craft to a larger ca­pac­ity one. Dr Jef­frey’s brother, who had served in Bor­neo sug­gested to the Doc­tor that they should do­nate the old air­craft to the BEM. There were no airstrips in Bor­neo at the time and they feared that the air­craft would be lost in the hos­tile ter­rain. “Con­nect­ing the dots” with Bruce be­ing a pi­lot and want­ing to join the BEM, they de­cided to give the air­craft a try. No one could have re­alised how that air­craft would revo­lu­tionise the lives of the peo­ple of Bor­neo. At that time there was no air ser­vice in Bor­neo.

Ray and Bruce dis­man­tled the air­craft at Bankstown air­port and packed it into crates. Friends of the mis­sion then or­gan­ised Ray and Bruce to join a Shell Oil Com­pany tanker as crew and the air­craft was stowed on board. The pair worked their way to Bor­neo on the ship. Land­ing at Labuan Is­land off the main­land of Bor­neo, the air­craft was re-as­sem­bled. Through the gen­er­ous do­na­tion of a por­tion of cleared land at a rub­ber plan­ta­tion that an airstrip was es­tab­lished in or­der to bring the plane to the main­land of Bor­neo. Ray re­counts that up till this time govern­ment of­fi­cials and Shell staff were plac­ing bets that the men and the air­craft would not last 12 months on their mis­sion. So much for the bet, by the end of 4 years Bruce Mor­ton was mar­ried with a 15 month old son, still in Bor­neo, and had flown over 100,000 miles with­out in­ci­dent. At the con­clu­sion of the first 4 years the first air­craft, Aeron­ica, was sold and re­placed with an Auster with greater car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that the Auster air­craft had been used in Bor­neo when scout­ing against the Ja­panese and were now be­ing used to reach and ser­vice the peo­ple of Bor­neo.

Over the first 4 years Ray as­sisted in build­ing airstrips in sev­eral lo­ca­tions and liv­ing amongst and work­ing with the lo­cal peo­ple to tell them of the Bi­ble in­clud­ing:

• Lawas – work­ing with the Mu­rut peo­ple

• Baram River – work­ing with the Kayan peo­ple

• Lio Matu – work­ing with the Kenyah peo­ple Over the 4 years and since Ray had met Eve­lyn dur­ing the war, the two had stayed in touch as friends. Eve­lyn had been work­ing in ed­u­ca­tion in Aus­tralia for that pe­riod, but had also found her­self drawn to mis­sion work in Bor­neo. Ray mar­ried Eve­lyn mar­ried in Lawas and Eve­lyn then joined Ray in Liomatu.

Bor­neo was un­der the con­trol of the Bri­tish Govern­ment. For ease of gov­er­nance the Bri­tish had di­vided the Sarawak prov­ince (roughly 2M in­hab­i­tants) into 5 di­vi­sions, giv­ing each of the ma­jor Chris­tian mis­sions or de­nom­i­na­tions a di­vi­sion. The Angli­cans and Catholics mis­sion was to pro­vide an ed­u­ca­tion to the chil­dren of the lo­cal tribes. The BEM (the Cun­ning­ham fam­ily) went and lived with the lo­cal peo­ple and would en­ter the fa­mous long houses of the re­gion to meet and talk with all of the peo­ple of the tribe. The long houses would ac­com­mo­date an en­tire vil­lage in a sin­gle, very long house.

Ray and Eve­lyn had been liv­ing up in the moun­tains of Bor­neo at the head of the Ra­jang River in the Iran Moun­tains work­ing with the Kenyah peo­ple for two years. Some Kenya men made their way to the coast and were la­bor­ing for Chi­nese traders in construction to make cash. Amongst the labour force em­ployed by the Chi­nese were Iban labour­ers. The Iban tribe were by far the largest group of peo­ple in Sarawak with some 800,000 peo­ple. The Kenyah Chris­tians ed­u­cated by Ray stood out from the Iban work­ers, many of whom had adopted some form of Chris­tian­ity. The Kenya did not get drunk, en­gage in cock fight­ing and were no longer wear­ing charms. The Iban peo­ple were still wear­ing their charms along with their new crosses and prayer beads. One of the main Iban chiefs no­ticed the difference and asked the Kenyah work­ers: “How did you be­come Chris­tians like this? We like your type of Chris­tian­ity but can­not be­lieve your story about a whitey who came from over the moun­tains and not from down a river, all whiteys come from down a river. If you get that whitey to come down, we would like to learn from him.” The Kenya work­ers re­turned and told Ray that if he could get down and present to the Iban they would be­lieve Ray, but the Iban would never be­lieve them.

The only way Ray could travel down to this lo­ca­tion was over fast flow­ing rapids in a ca­noe, down­stream. The in­hos­pitable ter­rain kept the peo­ple groups isolated. Ray was tu­tored on pol­ing and han­dling ca­noes by the Kenyah and made his way down the fast flow­ing river with an outboard mo­tor strapped to a ca­noe. The Ra­jang river is the long­est (563km) river in Malaysia, also known as the Ama­zon of Bor­neo.

The trou­ble was that Ray had now en­tered the di­vi­sion as­signed to the Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies. Ray paid a cour­tesy visit to the lo­cal Bri­tish Dis­trict Of­fi­cer, an ex-Ox­ford rugby player, who’s ini­tial ap­pear­ance was fairly in­tim­i­dat­ing. The of­fi­cer folded his arms as Ray ex­plained that while cur­rent mis­sion­ar­ies were ed­u­cat­ing the chil­dren, no one was hav­ing an im­pact in the long houses and it re­quired peo­ple like Ray to ac­tu­ally con­nect with the lo­cal peo­ple so they could hear from the Bi­ble for them­selves. In the end the of­fi­cer in­vited Ray to his house for din­ner. The next day the of­fi­cer pro­vided Ray with his own speed boat to go and visit the Bri­tish Res­i­dent Of­fi­cer who con­trolled the whole di­vi­sion, to ob­tain per­mis­sion be­fore the whole sit­u­a­tion blew up with the in­cum­bent mis­sion. Ray was granted per­mis­sion. By this time Ray spoke Malay, Kenyah and Kayan. Ray was now had to learn the Iban lan­guage. The lo­cal Iban Chief asked Ray to come to his area, a side stream off the main river com­pris­ing of 80 vil­lages with no Chris­tian in­flu­ence. This is where Ray and his fam­ily started with a great out­come in God’s per­fect tim­ing as a re­sult.

In the next and fi­nal in­stall­ment of this se­ries find out how Ray was in­stru­men­tal in paci­fy­ing a volatile sit­u­a­tion in the Bor­neo Con­flict and how a se­ries of events worked to­gether to bring about a strong Chris­tian com­mu­nity in Bor­neo.

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