The legacy of ‘Brother’ Boko
It began at about 8.00am on a Sunday – a phone call from the church worker at Titjikala (Maryvale) asking if I would come so the people could have holy communion. After agreeing and driving the 90-minute trip, I was most surprised to discover a whole tribe of white fellas waiting at the church.
Nine siblings of the Smart family had travelled to Titjikala from all over Australia to be with their extended Aboriginal family, including Lorna Wilson, Patricia Boko, Margaret Campbell and Janie Wells, to lay a memorial stone on the grave of their foster brother, Lincoln ‘Brother’ Boko.
Jenny Smart, the eldest daughter says, ‘Brother was about eight years old when he came to live with us. He did not know exactly when he was born, but he knew he was born behind a sandhill. It was mind-boggling for us. He was shy at first, but then so much fun and so cheeky once he felt part of our family’.
A school teacher at Titjikala in the 1960s had noted how bright young Brother was and wanted to provide him with the best educational opportunities. So, he contacted his friends, the Smart family in Adelaide, to arrange with them to take Brother in and support his schooling. They did this wholeheartedly. Younger sister Jacinta recalls what an amazing inspiration Brother was for all of the family.
After completing his education, Brother moved back to the Northern Territory. The Smart family may have thought their journey with Brother had come to an end, but there was more!
Brother worked as an assistant teacher at Titjikala for many years. The school principal from 1998 to 2005 noted, ‘Brother Boko is absolutely a fantastic assistant teacher and has worked really hard over the past seven years. He is the best at planning and thinking from little things to big things’. During this time, the school was awarded the Garth Boomer Award for excellence in collaborative teaching and learning.
Later he moved to Alice Springs due to health problems. There he worked at the Finke River Mission’s Yirara College as a boarding houseparent. He also worked with St Phillips College. He had IT skills and taught the Pitjantjatjara language. During this time, he actively engaged in the ministry of Alice Springs Lutheran Church.
He was a respected elder in his community and in Alice Springs. He was always looking out for his people and wanting them to thrive. One example of this was his leadership in partnering with the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre to create new research training, employment and enterprise opportunities for the Titjikala community.
Sadly, Brother passed away in October 2014, but the Smart family’s strong connection with the Boko clan and Titjikala community lives on.
In partnership with Titjikala, renowned musician Gabriella Smart has been providing regular music training over a number of years. She has also helped to establish the Titjikala Project, which aims to develop a sustainable and long-term culture of empowerment and dignity through arts for health.
Jacinta Smart, Arts Learning Area Leader and Aboriginal Focus Person at Cornerstone College (Mt Barker SA) has coordinated many service trips to the Finke River Mission area and has been exploring the feasibility of a partnership with Titjikala.
Since Brother’s death, the Smart family has been planning to provide an appropriate headstone to mark his grave.
Jacinta says, ‘During the service, it was very moving when we sang Amazing Grace all together in language. Following the service, we walked together to the cemetery. Two brothers, Otto and Phil, laid the stone on Brother’s grave, surrounded by all his family, bonded together.
‘Brother was an important part of our lives, and this memorial stone is a recognition of and testament to the impact Brother had on our lives. He was loved and brought joy to our lives. He opened our minds to Aboriginal culture in a way that not many people get the privilege of experiencing. His legacy to us is his extended family opening their arms to us and teaching us. I wish he had lived to see the strong bonds between his family and ours. But it feels now that the circle is complete.’
As his sister, Lorna Wilson noted, ‘He brought us all together’.
Let us remember with thanks God’s gift to us through Brother’s life. May we also walk together in joy, love and unity – one family under Father God.
Malcolm Willcocks is the Pitjantjatjara Support Worker in the Western Arrarnta Language Area.