A Gospel Night in Tennant Creek

By the time my wife and I had reached Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory of Australia the complaint that we had heard all too often, “the problem with Aboriginals is …”, was starting to wear a bit thin.

Well, as my friend once told me, and everyone else in the congregation……every good sermon, lecture or story begins with a history lesson.

For a long time my wife and I had a goal shared by many, to travel the length and breadth of Australia in a motorhome, visiting places we had only read about. Our opportunity came when I took early retirement. We had the sad passing of my wife’s father John whom we were caring for.  None one wants to lose their loved ones and John was no exception. John had come to Christ late in life so the comfort for us at his passing was that both he and his wife Rosemary were both committed Christians and now safe in the hands of Jesus. We are constantly reminded of Psalm 122.6-7, that even death cannot breach the security we have in Him.

We purchased a motorhome, and my wife Cherylyn went to the CEO of her company, the Far East Broadcasting Company  (FEBC), and advised him that she was resigning to head off on an adventure round this wonderful continent. The CEO (Kevin) asked Cherylyn not to resign, and presented her with an offer we could hardly refuse. Would she remain in her current position undertaking administration one day a week from our van and visit Churches speaking to the congregations as we travel. A wonderful offer and a blessing we have carried out faithfully for the past 29 thousand kilometres and 9 months to date.

When God blessed man, He told him be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). He was blessing the first people on His earth, people whom He had made, and whom He commanded to fill the earth.

Our blended family is comprised of Ulster Scottish, English from Yorkshire, our children have German and Estonia origins and my son and daughter have aboriginal heritage on their Granny’s side from Aboriginals in the Bathurst NSW area, the Wiradjuri people. My daughter a nurse has of late embraced her linage, my son, a Police Officer, not so.

Can we say that ‘everything that is wrong with Aboriginals is their own fault?’ Reality is hard. Children throw stones at cars, the Aboriginals are often drunk, and your van will be broken into – these were the constant warnings given prior to visiting towns like Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.

Well, here we were, in a caravan park in Tennant Creek right on the main drag of the Stuart Highway, where the population is about 3 thousand, half of which are Aboriginal. It is 7.00 p.m. and pitch black with a wonderful star-filled sky – stars so illuminated to give off light that one will never experience in the city. The temperature is a dry heat of 36 degrees. Sure enough, one camper comes and complains that kids had thrown a stone at his vehicle, another advises a tent and a caravan had just been broken into, and in the distance what appears to be a country and western band strike up.

I am very prone to a bit of country music and the band seems quite good particularly the twang of the lead guitarist. Presumably, there was a band at some nearby hotel, so we decide to venture out to find it, something worth noting we had been warned not to do. Visitors are not supposed to venture around at night outside camp ‘Stalag’ as I named it.

A couple of tunes boom out in the night which strengthens my resolve to find the band. Lo and behold we hear an Aboriginal man start to talk about Jesus…….now we have to find them so of we set up the highway, across paddocks, down ditches and culverts until we reach some paved road and an housing estate. The place is a bit of a mess, dilapidated homes, broken down cars, kids running in the dirt but, there are two large audio speakers on the dirt and a band of four aboriginal men singing country gospel songs, and preaching God’s Word to a couple of dozen Aboriginal men and women seated on green plastic chairs in the middle of a red dirt dusty paddock. 

We walk right up to the Aunties and Uncles (when you don’t know their names Aunties and Uncles are fine) and ask if we can sit down, and are told “Sure.’ There are no spare chairs so for the next hour we sit on the dirt listening to the music and the simple but plain and effective message calling those gathered to turn from their bad ways and to trust Jesus who was sent by his Father God to save us from the burning we deserve. it’s a sound message – one that would call a person to repentance.

Charles Spurgeon in his book Lectures to my Students advises preachers to speak in plain words. No fancy words used at this aboriginal outreach, and none required.

The following day we tell fellow travellers and a police officer in town of our adventure, and they were horrified and amazed we had come back in one piece. I have to wonder if it’s their attitude which is part of the problem. My wife and I pass the time of day with every Aboriginal we met, we sit and have a bottle of Coke with them a chat and at times a takeaway meal. They are smart and engaging if you make the effort to know them. We need to take every opportunity to reach out to them. We should be in constant prayer for them and for those wonderful men in that outreach on a hot dry dusty summer night in Tennant Creek. Man will try every way to solve the problems in Aboriginal communities with little result, but there is an answer – one delivered simply by God-fearing and Jesus-loving Aboriginals on that night in Tennant Creek.     

– Gary McArthur (September 2023)