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