Redemptorists of Australia and New Zealand

Australia, New Zealand and Samoa

Province of Oceania

Bringing Good News to the World

In Jaru Country

By Noel McMaster C.Ss.R.

There is not much left of the first significant non-Indigenous material constructions in Jaru country in the East Kimberley area of Western Australia. What remains is known today as “Old Town”. “Old Town” preserves and promotes the site of the camps of the first non-Indigenous gold seekers who came in the 1880s.

Aboriginal man In the middle of last century, “Old Town” was relocated to the new town of Halls Creek, about 15 kilometres away. It was also about this time that the first Christian evangelisers arrived in the district as bearers of new religious values.

The traditional country of the Jaru people will be forever older than “Old Town”. That country takes in much of their Big Water Dreaming, otherwise know as the watercourse of Sturt Creek. There, the religious destiny of Jaru people has evolved over millennia.

Today’s non-Indigenous evangeliser, who might aspire to some kind of ‘gospel communion’ in exploring such religious destiny, has come to be aware of a number of things. For instance, he or she would be more acutely aware that such a communion is only possible in extended partnership with Jaru interlocutors. The Jaru need to be respected as equals with their own enduring stories to tell and to develop further.

When I first celebrated the Catholic Eucharist at Ringer Soak with Jaru people in1997, my missiology was probably as faltering as my Jaru words and sentences. But the challenges presented certainly seemed worth the effort.

At the conclusion of the celebration, the renowned Jaru elder, Rosie Lala, with a ‘thumbs up’ sign, declared authoritatively, “Proper Jaru”. The gesture and words were taken as an invitation to a partnership, one that had at least begun to be entertained in earlier times by my predecessors in the Halls Creek parish.

“Marlu yunga” came naturally: “let’s shake hands”, for the future.