Listening to the West Kimberley People

With his arm elbow deep in muddy water Eddie looks up and winks and mentions that if this mud crab gets a hold of his fingers we had better watch out as we will all know about it! We were out on the Mangrove flats that the people of Ngamagkoon belong to. Eddie is part of the Sampi family, made well known by the Eagles player Ashley Sampi, a Bardi from the mob at Ngamagkoon.

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The 5 of us  began our journey in Broome 4 days previous. We were on what we called a “listening journey”, as part of a programme I run called OnEARTH for Global Mission Partners. We were there to listen to country, to story, to legend, to the people of the Dampier Peninsula –

  • Jawi
  • Bardi
  • Nyulnyul
  • Jabirrjabirr
  • Nimanburru
  • Ngumbarl

Before the arrival of Europeans, the natural environment on the Dampier Peninsula provided plenty of bush tucker for the indigenous people.  Creeks, tidal areas and the ocean are full of fish, dugong, mud crab and oysters and the vine thickets provide fruits and berries to make a varied and nourishing local diet.

Dampier Peninsula people still have a strong affinity with the sea and bushland, as we discovered along our journey.

After driving from Broome we arrived in Looma (120km S/E of Derby) with a population of around 400. We stayed with Natasha and Jamie Short, a wonderful couple who pastor the People’s Church as well as look after the community youth centre. They are fantastic people. Jamie is a White fella from Perth and Natasha, an Aboriginal from the Halls Creek area. They have been serving at Looma for about 7 years now and have 2 great kids.

2009 07 28_1108After lunch and a swim down on the stunning Fitzroy River we drove up to Derby to visit the Whites. Paul and Laurel White pastor the Derby Baptist Church among other activities.  They have bought the Aboriginal Training Centre just out of town and have big plans for growth and extension. Whilst there we did some manual labor… we raked up truck loads of dry leaves (fire hazard) and were asked to remove the stumps of 2 recently cut down Boab trees- hmmm??!!

Laurel White looked after us while we were there. She is a great lady, she has a wonderful gift of hospitality and generosity! Paul, her husband and pastor at the church is a pilot and was away in Perth during our stay.  Outside the life and ministry of the predominantly white church Paul and Laurel have some amazing relationships and ministries in Aboriginal communities.

Kimberly Aid – This business has began as a result of RFDS having bigger planes and not being able to access smaller community airstrips around the Kimberley. Paul and Laurel have got a bunch of medical people and pilots to donate their time to assist in evac when RFDS can’t make it in.

Kingdom Aviation – Paul and Laurel run a 3 plane ministry that flies all over the Kimberley sharing their faith, serving the poor and running programs in schools, parent support group, and other training.

Dentistry – Laurel is a dentist nurse and in her work in Derby has made many an indigenous persons dentistry journey easier as a result of special favours and ‘working the system’ that does not always serve people from remote communities very well at all. Her willingness to make all sorts of tough things just ‘happen’ for people who otherwise couldn’t get there was wonderful! She tells a great story too!

After 2 nights in Derby we drove ‘the back way’ on some very out of the way tracks to get to Cape Leveque up on the top of the Dampier Peninsula. Upon check in at Kooljaman we drove over the hill toward our beach campsite, as we rounded the hill the most amazing view was taken in to gasps from all on board – this place was paradise! Kooljaman is jointly owned by Djarindjin and One Arm Point Aboriginal Communities and sits 220km north of Broome. We visited one of these communities on the road on the drive up the Peninsula –

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Some 200 km from Broome, there are two communities very close together with about 60 Aboriginal (Bardi) people in Lombadina (first settled in the late 1890’s by Thomas Puertiollano who sold the land to the Catholic Church) and over 200 in the more traditional Djarindjin. We called in to Djarindjin specifically to catch up with Barry Ennis, the Principal from the Lombidina/Djarindjin School. We had heard through Sabrina 2009 07 30_0986Haan/ABC radio National that the EON Foundation from Perth had been helping the school set up a organic community Kitchen Garden. Barry showed us around the garden but was also good enough to spend time sharing with us the history of the the area. This community is not without some of the usual issues we read about in the media in remote Aboriginal regions, but there was something about the place that we all loved. We sensed a slowness and peace about it, a friendliness that  drew us in.

P6060072 copyOn our first night at Cape Leveque (and every subsequent one!) we made our way down to the Western Beach and watched the sunset – undoubtably some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen!

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On Friday we went to One Arm Point community (Ardiyooloon). This community is the home of the Bardi and Jawi people who were the traditional inhabitants of the area. These people are still active in hunting around the local area and in most cases still using traditional hunting methods as they hunt for sea turtle or goorlil (we saw the evidence of a fresh catch along the beach!), dugong (odorr), and many many of the amazing fish (aarli) up there. They also collect the trochus shells and make jewellery, oysters, mud crabs and more. These people are proud of their hatchery on the point where they nurture all sorts of creatures in giant tanks.

Here at One Arm Point we stopped and and chatted with a wonderful couple called Brian and Violet Carter. Their son is the Chairman of One Arm Point Aboriginal Community. This lovely old couple can tell some stories! Brian moved to Derby as a pilot in 1956, later married Violet and have lived in One Arm Point community for many many years, to look at Brian you know he is not Aboriginal but to listen to him speak and hear his heart beat, you know he is on the inside! They both sat with us and shared some great insights into the local culture, politics, and … well fishing and tides 🙂  Brian and Violet are both followers of Christ


and asked us excitedly if we had seen their ‘church’. It was a roof and some poles with a piece of shade cloth they were quite happy with – we fell in love with these guys and their beautiful faith and love for life and one another.

P6070117 copySaturday morning saw us pulling into Eddie’s place at Ngamagkoon, just south of Kooljaman. We had asked if Eddie could spend a few hours with us telling us about his people and their culture. He was willing and would even show us the basics of living in a coastal Bardi community. We drove out into the Mangrove Flats and went on foot (with spears) into the thick mud searching (and finding!) some VERY large crabs hiding under trees. After crabbing we headed back to the Melaleuca scrub (not venturing too far in as there were sacred ceremony sites in behind) looking for bush honey and pollen. With our ears against the trunks listening for bees we wandered through the scrub until Eddie found the right spot, cut it open and allowed us to sample the most

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beautiful tasting honey and pollen (tastes like sherbet). Interesting, one white person we met, not knowing or respecting much of Aboriginal culture told us with some disdain that “Aboriginal people set fire to everything!

2009 08 01_0804But Eddie taught us that his people light the bush to thin it, also to make it better for collecting their fire wood, as well as for hunting the stuff in the long grass, such a different window we were now looking through! From there we went out onto one of the most stunning coastal scenes I have seen. The Ngamagkoon people’s land has a creek running out into the ocean where they do much of their spearing and fishing from.

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This site was one of untouched bush and mangrove reaching to long white beaches and crystal clear aqua coloured lagoons. After extracting our car from the soft sand we headed back to Eddie’s place to bid him farewell and be told that we were welcome back to his country and community any time.

This time with Eddie was more than we could have hoped for and all voted it as the highlight of our trip that was drawing to a close faster than we wanted. We headed back to camp for one more afternoon sleep (a tradition we embraced…or did we start that one?), a fire with some reflections of our time away, and a dinner of local Barramundi, Kangaroo and … cow! Eddie mentioned that morning that there were a few ‘stray’ cattle around 🙂

Sunday morning, time to make our way back to Broome for a 1pm flight to Perth. On our return down the challenging stretch of unsealed road we took time to visit Beagle Bay Community. It was looking very nice and manicured after a week of political meetings discussing a report written by an old school mate Steve Kinnane. I read Steve’s book Shadow Lines while we travelled this week. The book follows the lives of his Grandmother (a Mirrawong woman stolen from Argyle Station in the early 1900’s) and his grandfather (an Englishman) through to today. What a brilliant read! (See below)

The Beagle Bay community is located 120 kilometres from Broome. In the centre of the community there’s a beautiful church, built of stone from 1914-1918 by German Pallottine monks, who settled here around 1901.

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On entering the Sacred Heart Church you can see a stunning pearl shell altar. Coloured windows create a special mood in the building. But, we forgot it was Sunday and church had already started and we had a plane to catch, so we missed the insides 😦

The community’s name was derived from the vessel “Beagle”, which moored at the bay when the priests were looking for a suitable mission place in 1889, ironic really as this was the ship Charles Darwin sailed on. It was much of his work that was used to base most of the atrocities done to our Aboriginal people!


If you are wanting to connect and learn more with the rich lives of the first Aussies, grab a copy of The First Australians (SBS), or Read Steve’s book Shadow Lines (2003, Fremantle Arts Press). One review says that … “Shadow Lines revolves around two people born a world apart, a half caste Aboriginal woman by the name of Jessie Argyle, and an Englishman named Edward Smith. Edward was born in 1891 and emigrated to Australia in 1909 as an eighteen year-old. Jessie was born in the Argyle region in the far north of Western Australia in 1900, and was taken from her family in 1906 under the newly created Aborigines Act of 1905. This book makes the often dry history of Western Australia since white colonisation come alive, and is probably a far better way to learn about the sordid history of this state than by way of the official history textbooks.

What Kinnane has done here is weave together a rich tapestry of historical tales”…read the rest here.

Not everything we saw ‘impressed’ us. Not every road taken in order to work among the people of the Kimberley would be a road I would have taken. This makes neither my road right or the road we observed wrong, just different tracks people take and our reactions to them. We went to look listen and learn from all we encountered, I trust this is what has happened.

Well I have to say that sometimes I love my job – last week was one of those times 🙂

Thanks to The Wembley Downs Church of Christ (where I hung out for the first 18 years of my life! As our new friend Eddie might say “they grew me up”) for making this trip a reality and for those who travelled the journey Dennis R, Steve M, Matt B and Ken V – What a great a bunch of guys to hang out with for a week, Thanks!

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Off to Thailand – Join Me?

onearth11I run a thing called OnEARTH.

It is a study in a book of the bible (Acts) all about living beyond yourself, living for others, something I find amazingly hard to do! So I invented a programme to help me… and anyone else who wants to tag along for the ride 🙂

This year I am running OnEARTH in Perth at the Warwick Leisure Centre. It is includes the following;

1) 2 hours a week together looking at life…the universe… and everything. (14 weeks starting in March)

2) A two week trip to Northern Thailand (April 25 – May 8th) right in the middle of the above 14 weeks.

3) A weekend of connecting with people doing it tough right here in our own city.

If you are keen, either leave a comment, sign up on Facebook or email me for more info

Emerging Missional Church…Working?

Recently at Forge we have taken a long hard look at ourselves and some of our history, our early claims and our dreams and hopes.

I think some of us hoped that ‘breaking up’ big churches and forming more relational little faith communities might just be what attracts hundreds of people and would be the answer to people’s claims that the church is irrelevant. (not nec Forge policy – to break up big churches!) Some years down the track this seems not to have been what happened. What has happened, at least in part, is many of these small communities have rescued people who may have ordinarily fallen away from fellowship with believers (Church) and maybe even with Christ. Some people on the fringes of faith may have been restored or introduced to Christ and some hard core ‘pagans’ who might never have graced the doors of a church have indeed met Christ over a beer and BBQ.  We at Forge are tweaking who we are (yes, we are big and ugly enough to see we can morph and grow as we get older!) whilst still holding to our passion for training people in missional ways individually and encouraging and fostering the growth and development of new experimental versions of ‘church’. Heck we always said it was a massive experiment founded on a passion for Christ and his Church, we want to keep experimenting! But we are also wanting to work with existing churches of all shapes and sizes and traditions in helping them re-imagine themselves as missional communities.

Articles like the one in Out of Ur by Dan Kimball spurs me on to make sure my focus (particularly as a worker for Forge Aust and a member of a type of Church I think Kimball is describing) is on building God’s Church, not just in having nice fellowship and good times, but really seeing the Kingdom of God impact everything it comes into contact with. I don’t feel comfortable with everything Kimball says in his article, but I think I agree with more of it than I care to admit quite frankly. I am not sure about –

“But for now, I would rather be part of a Christ-centered megachurch full of programs where people are coming to know Jesus as Savior, than part of a church of any size where they are not.”

But maybe I do…I guess I have sustainability issues, resource use issues and a whole host of other questions about that statememt personally, but if people are genuinely coming into the Kingdom, and following Christ and making a difference to the world…is any cost too great? Or does that question take me back to a place that ends in all sorts of dark corners 🙂 I guess the whole Husdon Taylor story…perservering in tough missional ground without seeing the fruit yet holding faithful to the gospel year in year out – this is the fly in my ointment. What if … what if we are just so used to “just add water” solutions in our “have it now” society, what if… Could be just my excuse… hmmmm

Here is a taster… the whole thing is here.  Al Hirsch has made some great comments regarding the article here, but I have added a teaser from them at the bottom.

Dan Kimball’s Missional Misgivings

Small, indigenous churches are getting lots of attention, but where’s the fruit?

I hope I am wrong. For the past few years, I have been observing, listening, and asking questions about the missional movement. I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory. Again, I hope I am wrong.

We all agree with the theory of being a community of God that defines and organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God’s mission in the world. But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the “attractional” model of church as ineffective. Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people “come to us” isn’t going to cut it anymore. But here’s my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.

Not long ago I was on a panel with other church leaders in a large city. One missional advocate in the group stated that younger people in the city will not be drawn to larger, attractional churches dominated by preaching and music. What this leader failed to recognize, however, was that young people were coming to an architecturally cool megachurch in the city—in droves. Its worship services drew thousands with pop/rock music and solid preaching. The church estimates half the young people were not Christians before attending.

Conversely, some from our staff recently visited a self-described missional church. It was 35 people. That alone is not a problem. But the church had been missional for ten years, and it hadn’t grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people. That was a problem.

Read the rest here.

Al Hirsch says –

* I centainly don’t believe that attractional is not working.  What I have said is that it has appeal to a shrinking segment of the population, and that persistence  with a church growth style attractionalism, is in the long run, a counsel of despair. Are you suggesting that we simply stay with what we have got?  Surely not bro?

* If we persist with our standard measurements for mission, we will miss the point.  The issue is what idea of church is more faithful to the Scriptures. Genuine fruitfulness, surely, cannot simply be measured by  numbers but by ‘making disciples.’ How does one measure that?  By all accounts, current churches are made up largely of admirers of Jesus but few genuine disciples/followers–this is not a biblical idea of fruitfulness!

* Besides, the early church would not measure up to the current metrics!! If Rodney Stark is right, there was only 25,000 by …. (read the rest at Al Hirsch’s blog)

Next Year

I am heading to Cambodia with the family next April for 2 weeks, but I am leaving them to fend for themselves from Singapore to Perth as I am heading up to Thailand for 2 weeks with the OnEARTH programme that I run for GMP.

If you like the sound of a 12 week study in the book of Acts in missional living (Ignition) and a weekend with the homeless in Perth as well as 2 weeks in Northern Thailand, Give me a yell!


Rev. John Green and the People of Coranderrk Station

There are stories you find that you wonder how they have ever been kept a secret. The story of Scottish preacher man John Green, described as a

“Devout Christian man, yet a gentle and understanding man. He was a freak, he had almost no prejudices, whether, a black or white or whatever. There were few people around like Green…

He transcended the popular racist mindset, he had full faith in the aboriginal people, their community, their capabilities and what they were able to achieve.”

I discovered John Green in episode three (Freedom For Our Lifetime) of “The First Australians” on SBS online. He is an amazing and inspirational example of an incarnational missionary. He gave his life for the people he loved, the Wurundjeri Aboriginal nation near Melbourne Vic around 1860 and beyond.

Green stood with Simon Wonga and Barrack, leaders of the people whilst they asked for just a portion of their own land back. They gained victory as they were given what they called Coranderrk Station, named after a tree growing nearby. They claimed the land as their own, they set up their own settlement, independent, very unique at the time. Although the government continued to hold their finances and dictate much of what happened on the station they were given local right to govern. The model Green helped them establish was so successful that others began. But none with the same ‘feel’ as Coranderrk station, others were ruled over by white fellas, and you had to ‘convert’ to Christianity before being allowed on the land, Green allowed the aboriginals the right to choose, it was their land wasn’t it?

After some years of very successful lifestyle the government decided to  set up a brewery at Coranderrk, growing the grain and everything on site with promised return of profits into a new hospitalal.

This was the beginning of the end for the settlement because;

1. They put a white fella boss over Wonga, Barack and Green.

2. They refused to pay any money to the Aboriginals for their work.

“The board is under no obligation to pay any aboriginal. They must be attentive and civil to all persons or they will be sent away.”

The government sold the entire project out from under Wonga, Barack and Green and their community and kept the $1m – a promise broken.

The grain gardens drained the energy of the community and of Green. He was forced to resign and struggled as he was the meat in the sandwich between two races of people. Green found himself living just outside the settlement banned from entering by government officials who saw him as a threat, he allowed the aboriginals too much self governing rights, too much freedom!

One aboriginal man says “Green had lost hope with Government officials, he had no friends there. he was a black man on the inside, all his friends were aboriginal. He lived with them and let them live in and run their own community”

By now, the government ruled the town, Wonga dies, some say of a broken hert. His friend Green at his side despite not being allowed there. Coranderrk was a pain to manage for the government as the locals all had tasted self rule and were quite independent thinkers and doers. So they decide to sell the land and just get rid of the problem. After massive appeal to the government the local aboriginals were given the land and their good friend Green back in their community.

In 1886 the “Protection Board” makes a new law that begun what we now know as “The Stolen Generation”, it is called the Half Cast Act. If you were not a full blood aboriginal you were removed from any settlement, more than halving the populations of the communities and the governments budget for them. Children and grandchildren, aunties and uncles mothers and fathers, families were destroyed and torn apart.

The beginning of the end for Corunderrk. This was genocide. Absorbtion of aboriginals into mainstream white Australia. Although at this time Corunderrk was given over to the Aboriginal people, the people, their heart, was taken from them and Corunderrk collapsed.

We hear nothing of what became of Green in these latter years, we hear much of the leader of the Corunderrk people – Barack, and so we should! It seems fitting that the ledgend of this man Green and his ministry to a wonderful people seems to fade away. That the story finished as a tribute the the last great leader Barack as he drags himself, crippled, the 60 mile journey yet again to Melbourne to plead for his people.

At that time in Victoria it is suggested about 300 Aboriginal people remained. Today there are approx        30 000 and traditional ceremony and teachings have begun again as young aboriginals reconnect with the stories of Wonga and Barack…oh and a white fella named Rev, John Green.

Willow Creek Revealed

The dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church

Greg Hawkins, Executive Pastor – Willow Creek Church.

I have just finished watching this video of Greg Hawkins talking about the results of Reveal, a research study into 31 churches including their own, Willow Creek Church.

When I watched the video, I got some goose bumps, the language he uses sounds like Jamison (A Churchless Faith) and shades of Fowlers stages of faith. There is still a strong ‘Invitational’ feel which is understandable in a church like Willow – ie, what would you do with all those buildings if people stopped coming! But there is a genuine passion to discover what do with the people Jamieson identified so clearly (6 or so years ago!) as exiting the church in droves – committed believers, leaders, staff. It is encouraging that Willow has taken on similar research that Jamieson did (it was too hard to swallow for many senior leaders back then, they just rejected his findings and called them dangerous and divisive) and that Willow, with such a strong mainline appeal, may just shake something into many people who count their success by bums on seats and money in the bank.

At Forge we are wanting to take these comments by Willow seriously and determine just how they may help to serve the Church to grow genuine missional disciples.

Amahoro Conference, Africa

Amahoro… ever heard of this?
It is a conference in Africa, primarily for Africans, but not exclusively. Last year 80% were indigenous Africans. BUT – the themes and speakers caught my attention.
“Post-colonialism” – Being Christian, our way!
Toward a gospel of reconciliation.
Cultivating Missional Living.
Justice in South Africa … and more.

And names like McLaren, Annmie Bosch (Yes, widow of David Bosch!), Emergent Village and other people and groups come together to form this group.

Look at this –
The vision of Amahoro Africa is to see a vibrant and effective network of African leaders working together throughout Africa to further God’s Kingdom on behalf of those suffering from physical and/or spiritual poverty. We hope to facilitate an environment in which these leaders will be able to join their strengths together, combine their learning and pool their resources to release the justice and mercy that Jesus spoke of and exemplified in His life.

This looks great in my opinion!

Anyway I have been meeting a bit with Andrew Rigg, a great guy from down Binningup way (Aghh Binningup…those good old Binningup youth camps in the early 90’s!)
Andrew has started Day4 Community Aid and Development and is like a rep for Amahoro in Australia, along with Fuz Kitto and others.
OnEARTH is looking at teaming up with Day4 to see a bit more interest in getting some people over to witness this wonderful missional, grassroots indigenous happening called Amahoro and then connect it with a trip into Rwanda to serve a local church seeking to do just what Amahoro is all about – Incarnational Mission!

Why not visit the Day4 site and make some inquiries about joining the trip next June, and it you want to really go the next level, inquire about doing the OnEARTH missional discipleship course alongside this whole experience!