Page 6, 9th March 1945

9th March 1945
Page 6
Page 6, 9th March 1945 — Buying and owning girls has never been in favour with

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Buying and owning girls has never been in favour with

Christians, who does but the only priest it has the best of in the world reasons

By GILIXRT MANT and GAVIN CASEY NEITHER her mother nor her mother's mother nor any female of her tribe had ever had

any choice in the matter of marriage, but the slim, ten-year-old black girl could not face the future that had been arranged for her.

For her, the only form rebellion could take was flight. and among the tribes the flights of terrified women from the wrath of their race had always ended the same way — in ceremonial slaying. But this girl Won out. and found nol only a new hope for her tribal sisters, but a chance of survival for her dying people. In the grim, lonely bush days of terror would end in death , but at the Catholi, Mission there would be warmth and comfort and kindness, at least until the tribe discovered where she was.

Back in die scrubby ranges the tribe's trackers were busy, moving este the girl's trail with uncanny speed followed by the armed warriors who were to carry out their code of justice. They arrived at the Mission the next morning, a fierce, angry crowd muttering guttural indignation as they waited patiently to see Dr. Gsell. When the priest came out to them, they demanded the shivering terrified girl. He refused, of course, but he could not reason with the natives.

But Dr. God ll knew the men with whom he had to deal as well as he knew his duty. The issue was never in doubt when the priest offered to buy She girl in honest trade from the man to whom she tribally belonged.

When the warriors went back to the ranges, filled with goodwill and a little envy of the old man who had been able to exchange one of the girls who were so cheap and plentiful for such scarce treasures, Dr. Gsell had the first of the " wives ' whose number has grown to 150 in the following eighteen years..


To-day, the spade-shaped heard oL 72year-old Dr. Gsell is white, hut when, in 1911, he stepped out of a lugger to begin mission work on Bathurst Island, 100 miles from the port of Darwin, he was an exceptionally powerful man of 39. Since 1938, he has been Bishop of Darwin, spiritual leader of a diocese of more than half a milli& square miles which includes the whole of the Northern Territory, the 60 islands of the Torres Straits group between Australia' and New Guinea, and innumerable other islands.

He made no converts for fifteen'

years. Even now, alter thirty-three years of effort he has never converted all adult North Australian native to Christianity. His success hos been wholly with the young and • began with the purchase of his first " wife" eighteen years ago.


Under the tribal laws of Bathurst Island, all the women were the wives of the old men, who had from ten to twenty-five wives, while the young men up to 30 or V. years of age had no women at all.

Selling and hiring ot wives has now virtually disappeared with the spread of monogamy. The young, virile man with only one wife is as jealous of her as any white and domestic arrange merits are progressing towards au reaiii as much happiness as members of the civilised races enjoy.

" Courtship is rather original, though," says Fr, lienschke. " The yeung man who wishes to marry a gill offers her a present. often consisting of plugs of trade tobacco. If the girl accepts and smokes with pleasure, he knows his chances are good. If she refuses his gift, he will have to think out new ways of gaining her favour."

Nowadays, Dr Gsell administers his vast parish from Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia ano Fr. Henschke. who remained at Darwin through the fierce bomhino of 1942, travels between the Svred Heart Missions that care for the aborigines of half a million square miles.

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