Bush Church in Derby Western Australia

Motoring into Derby Western Australia we were excited to see the proliferation of iconic Boab trees lining Derby Highway. On our bucket list was to visit the Boab Prison tree, which we did and were totally taken back by its presence and history.

Derby is a smallish town situated in the Kimberly region of WA, along with the towns of Broome and Kununurra. It is one of the three with a population over 2,000. Located on the King Sound and is reputed to have the highest tides in Australia with a deferential between tides (low and high tides) of almost 12 metres or 40 feet in the old money.

My wife Cherylyn had a speaking engagement on behalf of the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) at the Anglican bush church was which was also the site where we would be parked for a couple of days. We noticed almost immediately the high percentage of Aboriginals in and around town and a quick check with Google told us that the town has approximately 50% Aboriginals residents.

A quick drive around to get our bearings and then to the church to set up camp. We were greeted by the new Pastor and what is very common in this region …… the church dogs which, jumped excitedly, licking us and showering us in red fine dirt. The red dirt permeates everything no matter, how hard you try to keep it out.

As the sun set that afternoon, we made our way into the small open air bush church. A building that could have doubled for a hay loft or workshop. Open to the elements on the two main sides, it is testament to the lack of rain and inclement weather that would otherwise render it unusable.

Several folks were already seated but were outnumbered by dogs who were lying on the tiled floor totally unconcerned at what was going on around them. Folks started to come in in dribs and drabs until the place was full of noise, folks chatting and the Pastor and musicians hurriedly preparing to start the service.

A wonderful Aboriginal man started the service. He was looking tired, and we found out he had just driven the two and a half hours from Broome to take the service with the Anglican Pastor.

My wife Cherylyn spoke, and I wondered what impact or relevance her message about the global work of FEBC would have on these folks – Aboriginal men, women and children so far divorced way out here from the big cities?

Now I realise the real meaning of ‘never judge a book by its cover’ because as I looked around and spoke to these folks, I was very surprised indeed. One Aboriginal man – tall, slim and straight as a lightning rod – was still working as a stockman. At the age 72, he had a love for Jesus that was so open and warm I could have spent all night talking with him.

Several Aboriginal women seated beside us told us their stories of how they grew up on a Christian mission, were schooled there, came to Christ there, loved living there and even travelled as missionaries to Indonesia later in life. Heartbroken, they advised that some years back the government came in and shut the mission down, giving the land back to the Aboriginal Land Council and telling them they should live with their traditional people. But the mission and the Church was their family, even to the extent that many had lived there all their lives, even marrying and continuing to serve there in various roles – one lady as a teacher.   

Seldom do we hear stories like this. We hear salacious stories that the media use for headlines. Did things go terribly wrong at some missions? Certainly, and people were hurt. We all know this but do we ever hear the like of what we heard that night at Derby: the wonderful work of missions, the love, the message of salvation that brought them to Christ, a life of love for Him We don’t hear this because evil is at work trying to put a stop to the world knowing the truth.           

– Gary McArthur