ON MARCH 26, 1937, two travel-weary men slowly drove their dusty truck into Sydney, Australia. Since leaving the city a year earlier, they had traveled more than 12,000 miles (19,300 km) through some of the most remote and rugged regions of the continent. The men were not explorers or adventurers. Arthur Willis and Bill Newlands were just two of the zealous pioneers determined to take the good news of God’s Kingdom to the vast Australian outback.
Up until the late 1920’s, the small number of Bible Students* in Australia had preached mostly in and around the coastal cities and towns. Inland lay the sparsely populated outback, an arid region over half the size of the United States. The brothers, however, were keenly aware that Jesus’ followers were to bear witness about him “to the most distant part of the earth,” including the remote Australian outback. (Acts 1:8) But how could they accomplish such an enormous task? With full faith that Jehovah would bless their efforts, they were determined to do their best.
PIONEERS PAVE THE WAY
In 1929, congregations in Queensland and Western Australia built several well-equipped motor vans to cover their inland regions. The vans were manned by hardy pioneers who could handle the rough conditions and repair the vehicles when they broke down. These pioneers visited many places that had never before received a witness.
Pioneers who could not afford a vehicle headed into the outback on bicycle. For example, in 1932, 23-year-old Bennett Brickell set out from Rockhampton, Queensland, on a five-month preaching trip through the remote northern part of that state. On his heavy-laden bicycle, he carried blankets, clothing, food, and a large number of books. When his bicycle tires wore out, he pressed on, confident that Jehovah would guide him. He pushed his bicycle the final 200 miles (320 km) through areas where men had previously perished from thirst. Over the next 30 years, Brother Brickell traveled hundreds of thousands of miles throughout Australia by bicycle, motorcycle, and car. He opened up the preaching work among the Aborigines and helped to establish new congregations, becoming well-known and respected throughout the outback.
Australia has one of the lowest population densities in the world, and especially is the outback sparsely populated. Thus, Jehovah’s people have shown determination to find individuals in remote parts of the continent.
Pioneers Stuart Keltie and William Torrington demonstrated that sort of determination. In 1933, they crossed the Simpson Desert, a vast sand dune desert, to preach in the town of Alice Springs, in the heart of the continent. When their small car broke down and had to be abandoned, Brother Keltie—who had a wooden leg—continued his preaching trip, but now using a camel! The pioneers’ efforts bore fruit when they met a hotelkeeper at William Creek, a remote railway stop. The hotelkeeper, Charles Bernhardt, later accepted the truth, sold his hotel, and pioneered alone for 15 years in some of the driest and most isolated parts of Australia.
The early pioneers certainly needed courage and tenacity to overcome the many challenges they faced. On their preaching expedition in the Australian outback, Arthur Willis and Bill Newlands, mentioned in the introduction, once labored for two weeks to travel 20 miles (32 km) because heavy rains had turned the desert into a sea of mud. At times, sweating and straining in blazing heat to push their truck over huge dunes, they went through rocky valleys and across sandy riverbeds. When their truck broke down, which happened often, they walked or cycled for days to the nearest town and then waited for weeks for replacement parts to arrive. Despite such adversities, a positive spirit was maintained. Arthur Willis, in paraphrasing a statement once made in The Golden Age magazine, later declared: “No road too rough or too long for His witnesses.”
Longtime pioneer Charles Harris explained that the isolation and physical hardships of the outback actually drew him closer to Jehovah. He added: “Life is far better traversed with as little baggage as possible. If Jesus was willing to sleep under the stars when necessary, then we should be happy to do the same if our assignment requires it.” And that is what many pioneers did. Thanks to their tireless efforts, the good news penetrated every corner of the continent, helping countless individuals to take their stand for God’s Kingdom.
The Bible Students adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931.—Isa. 43:10.