In mid-April, Cyclone Ilsa whipped up record-breaking winds off the Western Australian coast. Heavy rain fell over WA in a line straight towards a little Lutheran community in the Gibson Desert called Kiwirrkurra.
At the same time, more than 600 kilometres to the south-east in Hermannsburg (Ntaria), last-minute plans were being made for a Bush Bible Course to be held at Wallace Rockhole. The site is 35 kilometres from Ntaria towards Alice Springs on bitumen, then 20 kilometres on recently graded dirt roads. Aboriginal pastors were heading to the bush course Sunday afternoon. It was predicted that Cyclone Ilsa would dump heavy rain on Saturday afternoon. And it did!
With no Plan B, organisers had to think and act quickly. Wallace was out of the question due to the road being ripped up. So, it was off to Ntaria, where the gospel was first brought to Central Australia in 1877. Cyclone Ilsa had certainly changed the bush course!
Dr Graham Harms travelled north from South Australia’s Barossa Valley to lead eight sessions studying the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Bathed in warm sunshine, the lawns of Bethlehem Lutheran Church made a pleasant classroom after the Saturday rain. The 26 pastors and four lay people present soaked up many amazing revelations unearthed by Dr Harms over the three days.
We sincerely thank Dr Harms for his preparation and the clear and informative way he presented the material. Linguists David Strickland and Paul Traeger translated the information into Luritja and Alyarrwa for the 14 Aboriginal pastors and one woman from Ti Tree who attended, along with 12 non-Aboriginal pastors and three ‘cookies’ who fed everyone.
The course concluded with a holy communion service led by the Hermannsburg pastors, with Dr Harms preaching. We praised God not only for the rain but also for the blessing of clear blue skies and warm sunshine for the three days of intensive learning at the course.
Because of Cyclone Ilsa, Wallace Rockhole is now being planned as a future course venue. The course relocation was actually good news for one group of long-distance travellers. Those attending from the west-northwest – in particular Kiwirrkura – had less distance to travel and less distance on dirt roads to navigate. After checking weather conditions, Pastor John West and a couple of others bravely and patiently drove from Kiwirrkura to Ntaria. This included 520 kilometres of dirt road, much of which was muddy or waterlogged. Having spent Saturday night in Kintore, they arrived at the course campsite in a mud-spattered car on Sunday evening.
Just after Cyclone Ilsa became a tropical low, it joined up with a cold front heading east across the Nullarbor Plain and Great Victoria Desert. A lot of the ex-tropical cyclone’s heavy rain then affected locations such as Yalata and Ceduna on South Australia’s West Coast. Local pastors Lindsay Thomas and Andrew Vanderwal had been preparing to come to the bush course along the dirt road via the Gawler Ranges and Kingoonya to reach the Stuart Highway leading to Central Australia. But the rain necessitated a 400-kilometre detour via Port Augusta.
It is not often we face post-cyclonic rain just before a bush teaching course. And even less often does such weather track so closely to FRM communities. So, it is even more remarkable that these two travelling parties drove so far – one no less than 2000 kilometres. There may have been others living closer to Ntaria who did not risk attending because of the rain, but those who did were immensely blessed by the teaching.
Pastors Neville Doecke and Paul Traeger are the FRM Support Workers for the Western Arrarnta and Pintupi–Luritja language areas respectively.