The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - JANE FRASER

THERE are few things that make your heart sink as much as the flood of sto­ries com­ing from in­dige­nous Aus­tralia, each of them worse than the other: pornog­ra­phy, dis­ease, rape, drunk­en­ness, sui­cide, a lack of ed­u­ca­tion; oh hell, you could go on for­ever. It’s al­most as if they have a death wish.

I know com­par­isons are odi­ous, but the con­di­tions in Ku­lum­buru in the Kim­ber­ley when we vis­ited a cou­ple of years ago were far worse than any­thing I’d seen in even the re­motest and poor­est parts of Africa; some­times the only meal for African AIDS or­phans was a large bucket of boil­ing wa­ter on a fire, which ap­par­ently staves off hunger pangs, but their school uni­forms were washed and the floors of the huts swept clean.

In Ku­lum­buru, chil­dren’s eyes and ears were ooz­ing nox­ious goo, we vis­ited a fa­mous artist who had gan­grene, and three women sit­ting in front of us in the lovely iron- roofed church had head lice jump­ing all over the place.

The bishop of Broome, Christo­pher Saun­ders, worked at Ku­lum­buru Mis­sion in the 1980s and now is in charge of 773,000sq km, over­see­ing the wel­fare of 8000 Catholics. And he has some good news, al­though it seems al­most like tempt­ing fate to even men­tion Balgo, the way the rolling maul of catas­tro­phe seems to en­velop that in­dige­nous com­mu­nity.

Balgo is half­way be­tween Broome and Alice Springs in the Great Sandy Desert and has been home to the no­madic Kukatja, Jaru, Wal­ma­jarri, Ngarti and Pin­tipi peo­ple for more than 40,000 years, Google tells me.

The bishop is bring­ing 110 pil­grims from the Kim­ber­ley, 10 of them priests, to World Youth Day in Syd­ney in July, and 21 of th­ese are from Balgo, in­clud­ing their Venezue­lan parish priest, Fa­ther Eu­gene. They will be camp­ing on a class­room floor at St An­thony’s School in the sea­side sub­urb of Clovelly.

I met His Grace a few weeks ago when he was in Syd­ney and he re­ported things were go­ing more or less ac­cord­ing to plan. He has paid all the air fares and, he said, is suss­ing out the mat­ter of warm cloth­ing for the young­sters, in­clud­ing track­suits and, hope­fully, jeans and shirts. Un­usu­ally per­haps for Catholic com­mu­ni­ties, there aren’t any chook raf­fles as such to raise money for the pil­grim­age, but there are hot dog stands, raf­fles and chuck- in, which is a bit like rat­tling a tin in a pub, and tong, a Broome word for giv­ing a per­cent­age of their money. The east­ern states have do­nated $ 10,000; hope­fully there’s more to come.

He says the young men and women are look­ing for­ward to see­ing the Pope and are par­tic­u­larly keen to meet in­dige­nous peo­ple from other coun­tries. Per­haps they’ll meet them at the Bondi Beach bash be­ing or­gan­ised by Fran­cis­can Fa­ther Paul, who has in­vited yours truly and Fa­ther Tim Hoag, my nephew’s parish priest in Spearfish, South Dakota.

fraserj@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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