Bishop Michael’s Letter12 May, 2022
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
I write this after just returning from a trip to the Central West – 2700 kilometres, $600.00 worth of diesel and rain everywhere. It is lovely getting the reports of the rain from Julie Groves whose farm is located where the Thompson and the Barcoo Rivers come together at the beginning of Coopers Creek. There they received 60mls of rain. In Isisford it was 153mls of rain, Aramac 91mls and Northwest of Longreach, where Fr Matthew Moloney’s family are 140mls, and Yaraka received 87mls on Anzac Day. There was water everywhere and the roads were cut but what was amazing was the beautiful, soaking rain that has soaked in and has made a very promising winter for our farming families that grow our food, but also care for the land for future generations.
The trip west was a fantastic opportunity to connect once again with all the small communities from Alpha to Jericho through to Aramac, Muttaburra, Ilfracombe, Jundah and Isisford. These small communities get Mass occasionally, from once a month, to once every couple of months, to once a year depending on circumstances. Yet, in each of these communities the faith is alive.
I celebrated Confirmation for five of our young people at Aramac and three young people at Isisford.
The first stop on the trip west was at Alpha where the community gathered on Easter Monday to celebrate the Resurrection stories of the Lord. This small community gathers once a month to celebrate the Eucharist and other Sundays Sharon and Trish make sure that the church is open and pray together with those who can gather. It is great to see Trish and Sharon and their families with all the other families that gather at Alpha. The Cook family two hours down the Portwine Road and the Hauff family from Blackall joined the Alpha community for their Easter Mass.
The next day was at Jericho celebrating Mass for two of the locals who had travelled in from their farms, one an hour away and the other twenty minutes. They travel vast distances to gather when Mass is celebrated in the Jericho church.
On Wednesday it was a sad occasion when we farewelled Daphne Tilse, the mother of Trish Mahon. Together with her brothers, sisters, and family as we celebrated the Requiem Mass in Alpha.
Then it was onto Aramac and Muttaburra. With the guidance from Loretta, a few locals gathered at Muttaburra for morning tea and for the discussion of the future of the church in Muttaburra and their request for a regular Mass offered to them in this part of the Diocese. For me, it was retracing the steps of Grand Aunt Katie who taught here in the late 1890’s.
Muttaburra, with the beautiful rolling plains of Mitchell grass, about a 2-hour drive northeast of Longreach was the heart of sheep country. Many farmers have converted to beef because of the wild dogs. Many properties are now fenced with very strong fences to protect their livestock from being attacked.
The following day it was a drive to Aramac through the rolling plains for sheep and cattle country to celebrate Confirmation with five of our young people. These young people came from the various farms quite a few kilometers out of town. The celebration reinforces how much the people of the west appreciate the visits from their priests and their good work. Loretta is a local of Aramac and together with her mum, they ensure that the church grounds are mowed and the church is loved for the community to gather.
A little drive out of Aramac is the geological feature of Lake Dunn which is on the jump up where the land changes from beautiful cattle country into a new vista. Lake Dunn is a freshwater lake which attracts many of the local people and those from afar for water sports, a cool spot with camping especially around Easter time. The trip to Lake Dunn, apart from the sight of many kangaroos lapping up the fresh water on the road from the recent showers, one is drawn into the scene of sculptures that adorn the road. There are over fifty of them by Barcaldine local, Milynda Rogers. These beautiful sculptures are made from materials taken from scrap, wire to hubcaps to many other odds and ends from the sheds around Aramac. They depict the human and natural life of the area. Some sculptures include the blue crayfish that can be found in Lake Dunn, dancing brolgas, frilled neck lizard, a rodeo rider and those who follow the equine industry. They are beautifully done and are certainly worth a trip to this part of the diocese.
After Aramac it was onto Ilfracombe. There we gathered with a couple of people from Longreach but also a couple of the locals who had driven over ninety minutes to attend Mass. Ilfracombe is not far from Longreach but in its day it was also a hub of the sheep industry.
On the Saturday afternoon it was great to catch up with some of our new teachers as they settle into teaching life and experience their enthusiasm for teaching at Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School in Longreach.
An early Sunday morning start for the drive to Jundah, about two and a half hours, for the 10 am Mass. The clouds looked very heavy on the way down but yet it was a nice trip and it is certainly very beautiful countryside. At Jundah I was greeted by Julie Groves who looks after the church, together with Anna. Julie lives on a property where the Barcoo and the Thompson Rivers meet at Coopers Creek. Just as we started Mass, it rained! The community gathered for Mass and shared their appreciation of the great work of our priest who visit there once every two months to provide Eucharist for the community, 220 kilometres from Longreach.
After a cup of coffee at the roadhouse and a few sandwiches for the road it was then on to Isisford. On the road passing ‘Retreat’ and then via Yaraka and up to Isisford. It was a very wet trip and the road south of Jundah was slippery and muddy. But out here in the west people look after each other. Julie said “There is Bob Long the mail contractor down there at Yaraka. I will give him a ring just to make sure that you are safe for this trip.” So before setting out, a quick phone call to Bob who said I will expect you in a couple of hours and off I went. Without any phone coverage, Julie and Bob were looking out for me as I drove towards Yaraka. Upon arriving in Yaraka, in a very welcoming voice, Bob said “You have arrived.” That real sense of knowing that this is how country people look out for each other.
Before leaving Yaraka, there was a side trip to Mount Slowcombe which unveiled an incredible vista of the valley and surrounding hills of God’s creation. Then the visit to the Anzac Shrine and a prayer. The shrine was prepared for the Anzac Dawn service.
Stopping at Emmet, which now has a historic railway siding and a couple of houses, there are hints of the busy days when the railway came through here on its way to Yaraka and provided the much needed transport for cattle and sheep going out and goods coming in.
Arriving in Isisford in the rain was a great site. Checking in to the Golden West Hotel it was time to get ready for the next day. After a great pub meal at the hotel and sleep it was time to greet the next day. It rained all night; heavy rain and I knew that the Barcoo River was not far away from Isisford and in fact at the end of the street.
First there was a Mass for the community who gather in the church of St Joseph and Confirmation for some of our young people. Loretta had organized for five of our young people from two families to be confirmed, but one family could not make it because the road had been cut with water. The faith is still very much alive here down in this part of the Diocese with just a few people that gather once a month to celebrate the Eucharist with their priest. They appreciate the incredible mileages our priests travel in the west.
After Mass, we moved to the Shire Hall for Anzac Day. The Anzac Day Ritual of Remembrance was led by Councillor Dale Bignell. Sally-Ann Edwards of the Longreach Regional Council ensured that the day ran smoothly, Lest we Forget. Our young people from the school and their teachers marked the day with the laying of wreaths and the reading of the oaths. Lunch followed sponsored by the Longreach Regional Council and put on by the local state school P & F. It was a marvellous lunch and a gathering of about eighty on this very wet day in Isisford. One of the local farmers said very casually, ‘Bishop, I think you might need to travel to Blackall this afternoon before the waters and the Barcoo come up and the roads are cut.’
So, after lunch, I set out on a very wet drive to Blackall and Barcaldine for an overnight stop.
It was marvelous to see this country in the rain and to watch the spirit of our people lift because they knew that the next season was assured. The soaking rain reaching deep into the earth to ensure that the grasses for our cattle and sheep are maintained. This is the first great general rain that this part of the west has had in my eight years as your Bishop. I arrived in May 2014 and was greeted by the drought, an incredible drought.
The blessing of rain and the blessing of the faith of our Catholic people in the west is an incredible gift to experience on pastoral visitation. I am sure you will join with me in thanking all our farmers for continuing to be our providers of food and great inspiration.