The “Good News” Reaches a “Most Distant” Part of the Earth
AUSTRALIA, the “island continent,” called the land “down under,” is larger than any country in western Europe. Yet it is home to only some 13 1⁄2 million persons of varied nationalities.
In this sparsely inhabited land of almost three million square miles (7,770,000 square kilometers) the terrain and climate vary considerably. These range from the tropical north to the desert interior, from the largest coral reef in the world—the Great Barrier Reef, teeming with life—to mammoth, barren Ayers Rock, in desolate surroundings. The eastern side of Australia is rich in crops such as sugarcane, wheat and other cereals. Here about 61 percent of the population is to be found.
But when the traveler crosses the Great Dividing Range stretching from north to south along the eastern coast, the scenery changes from lush coastal country to rolling hills and then to plains and semidesert. In the heart of Australia, where Ayers Rock is located, salt lakes and deserts abound. The dry conditions of the great Australian plain have made this island continent ideal for wool production and favorable for cattle raising. In the “outback” areas, the landholdings, or “stations,” as they are called, are very large.
For these reasons the fulfilling of Jesus’ command to be ‘witnesses of me to the most distant part of the earth’ has been a challenge that is being faced. (Acts 1:8) Let us go back some 70 years or so to the beginning and relive the experiences of some of those who have shared in preaching the “good news” in this distant part of the earth.
Toward the end of the 19th century, with colonization only about 100 years old, some Bible-oriented individuals received, from relatives and friends overseas, copies of publications of the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Also, about this time, Bible Students emigrating from Britain arrived in Perth, Western Australia, and Brisbane, Queensland, and formed congregations in these cities.
HEADQUARTERS OFFICE AND PRINTERY
A branch office of the Bible Students was established in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1904, to care for the work in Australia and New Zealand. At an assembly in Melbourne in 1915, 250 were in attendance and 14 were baptized. By 1935, 30 radio broadcasting stations were reaching the remote parts of Australia, as well as the populated centers, with Bible truth.
The headquarters office was moved from Melbourne to Sydney in March 1929. It was enlarged in 1932. Then a large printery was erected on the site in 1972, to publish the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. At the present time the facilities are being further expanded. Some 60 men and women serve at this branch office.
It has taken much effort and the enduring of hardships to reach the people in remote parts. Even today, only one road links the east of the country with the west—a distance of some 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers). Apart from the most populated east coast region, the only links between the north and the south are a route through the heart of the continent and a very isolated road up the mineral-rich west coast.
“ROUGHING IT” IN THE “OUTBACK”
The late Bert Horton began to associate with the Bible Students in 1921, in the mining town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. Horton related: “I sent in my application to be a ‘pioneer’ (as a full-time proclaimer of the Kingdom is called). Back came my assignment—the entire state of Western Australia!” Horton, along with Frank Rice and two other men, equipped a two-bedded van with cooking facilities and other necessities for life on the road. They brought their van across the immense Nullarbor Plain, visiting all the outlying towns in the state. One of the men recounts: “There were no roads then, so we got some blueprints from an oil company and traveled from tank to tank (isolated places where water was available). We carried two 44-gallon drums of petrol and supplies of water and food. We called at the stations on the way and spoke to them about the Bible.”
Another “pioneer” who spent much of his time in the outback is Arthur Willis. He set out with two companions in 1933, to cover the remote north of Western Australia, across the top of the country. Willis reports: “In those days the traveler was entitled to free meat. Into whatever station we went we could take our choice. Among the station people and the towns we found some who heard and accepted the truth.” Leaving Darwin in the extreme north, they traveled south to Katherine and then turned east for Queensland and the coast. “At that time there were no bitumen roads in the area,” he recalls, “and I remember coming across western Queensland, where we were three days going 100 miles [160 kilometers] through the black soil. The mud would accumulate on the wheels until they just wouldn’t turn. Then we had to take off the mudguards [fenders] in order to travel at all.”
Arthur Willis and Bill Newlands undertook an even longer trip in 1936, to reach the outback areas of the country. In a 30-hundredweight truck they set off from Sydney on a journey that was to cover 12,000 miles (19,300 kilometers) and take more than a year to complete. Driving due west from Sydney, they eventually reached the center of the country and turned north for Darwin, then down the west coast to Perth. While on this journey, 500 miles (800 kilometers) inland and to the north of Adelaide in South Australia, they met Charles Bernhardt. This man had come in contact with the Kingdom message about three years earlier, when two “pioneers” endured the heat and isolation to journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs and return. When Willis and Newlands came through, Bernhardt wished to be baptized. He owned two hotels at Coward Springs and William Creek, and many were the ones who learned of the “good news” through him from that time forward. At the age of 85 years, Bernhardt still serves as a “pioneer,” making several trips in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the remote areas of South Australia each year.
This same spirit is shown in the following experience of another of these “outback pioneers,” Joe Bell. Having an assignment 300 miles (480 kilometers) northwest of Brisbane at the time, Bell cycled to outlying “stations.” It was rough, hot work, he says. “I had to carry my bicycle in many places because I ran into continuous banks of sand where there was practically no roadway. Some of these journeys were very perilous. In the open country the only living creatures to be seen were roving herds of bullocks. They could be dangerous under some circumstances, as they are very curious and would come to see what was approaching them. It was necessary on a number of occasions to take refuge in a tree and wait for hours until they grazed away, giving me the opportunity to continue my journey.”
Another “pioneer,” Aubrey Baxter, cycled thousands of miles through central and northern Queensland. He recalls his experience: “We encountered some interesting situations. I was guest for a night at a big cattle station and spent the next night miles away with a kangaroo hunter, sleeping on the dirt floor of his little hut surrounded by hundreds of odorous kangaroo hides. Trying to sleep with packs of howling dingoes [native wild dogs] around was not easy, either.”
In the latter part of the 1940’s some graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, a missionary school of the Witnesses established in the United States, arrived to aid in spreading the “good news.” Two of those graduates were John Cutforth and Donald MacLean, from Canada. Both men served as traveling circuit overseers for many years. MacLean reminisces: “What a shock it was to learn that my first Australian circuit was located at the antipodes of Gilead School—southwestern Australia! I was being sent to the most distant part of the earth!” Relating one of his experiences MacLean said: “We newcomers experienced some fascinating moments while traveling through remote areas. My first encounter with a group of emus [huge, ostrichlike birds] was interesting but disconcerting. On my way through an outback area on the motorcycle, I met a family of emus blocking my passage. They are extremely curious birds and were apparently fascinated by the flashing of my chrome mirror and handlebars in the sunlight. Not knowing how to treat an emu, I felt hesitant to rush through the flock and possibly risk my life, so I stopped the vehicle. Having no intention of moving, the big birds stood there for some time, so I decided to make a move. I blew the horn and roared the engine. The emus only moved closer, their curiosity increasing. This was rather unnerving, to say the least! I decided to take my chance and charge through the flock, which only parted slightly to let me through. Then the birds began to give chase alongside the road and when I increased my pace to 35 miles [56 kilometers] an hour, I found that the emus continued to outpace me. It was only when I reached 40 miles [64 kilometers] an hour that I was able to leave them behind, much to my relief!”
MacLean recalls his first visit to the provision store and hotel of Charles Bernhardt, mentioned earlier: “Arriving at William Creek I found that the train stopped for a considerable time, while the men made a mad rush to get to the bar and obtain their supply of cold beer. On entering the bar, I was amazed to find a sign on the wall inviting the men to ‘Read The Watchtower announcing Jehovah’s kingdom, the hope of the world.’ A second sign urged ‘Read Awake!’ Magazines, booklets and bound volumes were available on the bar counter. When everyone had finally been served and satisfied, Bernhardt called for the men’s attention: ‘Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please? I invite you to have copies of the finest magazines on earth today.’ Each of the men thereupon accepted copies of The Watchtower and Awake!, contributing for them, placing them in his pocket, throwing a sack of beer over his shoulder, and returning to the train. While drinking at Bernhardt’s bar not one man used profanity or foul language, out of respect for the Christian reputation of the manager. Bernhardt would then present the ‘good news’ to all on the train, beginning with the engineer.”
Today, the whole of Australia hears the “good news” regularly through the efforts of 525 congregations. Traveling overseers visit all parts of the country, and there are more than 28,000 active witnesses of Jehovah in the land.
ABORIGINES HEAR THE “GOOD NEWS”
According to a census in 1971, there are only some 106,000 Aborigines (indigenous natives), living for the most part in the country and outback areas. Great efforts have been put forth to reach them. Ben Brickell, who spent 44 years in the full-time work until his death several years ago, covered many hundreds of thousands of miles by push-bike, motorcycle and car, speaking to Aborigines on stations and in settlements. In order to make clear the message, he used illustrations and charts. On one visit to the Wave Hill area in Northern Territory, Brickell spent about an hour with 80 aboriginal folk sitting cross-legged on the ground as he explained God’s purpose to them, with the aid of paintings depicting Bible events and promises. Brickell became well known in Australia for his work among the Aborigines and in the outback. On another occasion, a few miles from Alice Springs, in the heart of the country, he spoke with a group of Aborigines numbering over 100 persons. A few Aborigines have become faithful Kingdom proclaimers.
Australia, with its vast distances, largely inhospitable interior and sparse population, has presented a challenge, but the seeds of God’s Word scattered among its inhabitants over the years have borne fruit, sometimes in amazing ways.
From the densely populated and industrialized cities on the coast, to the “red heart” of the continent, the good news of God’s incoming world government is being preached. There was a ratio of Jehovah’s Witnesses to population of 1 to 2,764 about 1940. But now 1 out of 483 persons in Australia is an active witness of Jehovah. So here, in one of the most distant parts of the earth, Jesus’ command is being fulfilled.