Adelaide Anglicans

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160 years of Aboriginal Ministry

By The Rt Rev’d Chris McLeod – Assistant Bishop

With the Diocese of Adelaide celebrating 160 years of synodal government, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on what the diocese has achieved over a similar time frame in its ministry alongside the Aboriginal people of South Australia. There have been some significant moments along the way, and whilst the achievements may be regarded as small, their influence has been long lasting.



The mission was founded in 1850 by Archdeacon Matthew Hale, north of Port Lincoln at Poonindie. It followed a separationist/protectionist approach, and whilst it was extremely paternalistic, it had some measure of success. In 1852 eighteen Aboriginal children were taken from the ‘Adelaide Native School’ to Poonindie. Some degree of Aboriginal leadership was fostered at Poonindie: Samuel Conwillan, who is famous for his portrait by J.M Crossland, became a Christian leader, whilst others led morning and evening prayer. James Wanganeen went from Poonindie to work at Raukkan (Point McLeay) as a teacher. At its height, Poonindie had a population of around 80 adults, and was self-sufficient with industry involving wool and wheat. The Poonindie men were highly regarded as shearers with Tom Adams being considered the best shearer in the district. In 1800 several Poonindie men won top prizes in a district ploughing competition. Unfortunately, Poonindie's success led ultimately to its closure. The land was highly coveted by local landowners, who put pressure on the Government in 1894 for the mission’s closure. Archdeacon Hale had left the mission in 1856 to become the Bishop of Perth. The trustees (Poonindie had no formal connection with the diocesan Synod) capitulated to the pressure and closed the mission. There was disappointment expressed by many who thought the trustees folded too easily. What many failed to realize was that Poonindie’s success was built upon the hard work and commitment of its Aboriginal residents.


Point Pearce

With the closure of Poonindie, the residents were dispersed to Point Pearce (the majority), and to Raukkan. Point Pearce was a government mission to the local Narungga people, but with church influence. The first superintendent was a Moravian Missionary, the Reverend Julius Wilhelm Kuhn. For many years Anglican ministry was provided by the priest at Maitland, but in the 1960’s and early 1970’s the assistant curates lived at Point Pearce and offered residential ministry to the people. Many people in the diocese will remember the Reverend Neil Forgie and the late Reverend Andrew King, with their spouses Lorraine and Suzanne, who are held in fond affection for their time at Point Pearce. The Point Pearce ministry has once again returned to the Parish of Maitland, and a small, but faithful, congregation is emerging, centered on the ‘The Holy Trinity’ Chapel, which has been recently restored through the help of Anglicare.


St Francis House

St Francis House was founded by Fr Percy McDonald Smith in 1946 at Glanville House, Semaphore, as a residence for Aboriginal school age boys. Fr Smith’s contact with the boys, and their families, began at the ‘Bungalow’, the government institution for Aboriginal children of mixed descent, near Alice Springs where he was parish priest. In 1945 Fr Smith and his wife Isabel moved to Adelaide bringing, with the consent of their mothers, six Aboriginal boys. St Francis House was purchased with the help of the Australian Board of Missions. Within a few years, the number of residents had grown to 30. Many of the St Francis boys went on to make significant contributions to the Aboriginal and wider community through Aboriginal affairs, sport, religion, and art, with the most notable being Charles Perkins, Ken Hampton, and John Moriarty. St Francis House closed in 1959. Fr Percy returned to Alice Springs in 1949 to become the first Archdeacon of the Northern Territory.

Fr Smith also arranged for a small number of Aboriginal girls to come to Adelaide. The girls lived at ‘St Mary’s Mission of Hope’, Halifax St, Adelaide until 16 years of age, when they were encouraged to board with Anglican families. My mother, Margaret McLeod (nee Gorey), was one of them.


The Anglican Nunga Ministry

The new era of Anglican Aboriginal ministry began with the appointment of Ken Hampton, former St Francis House boy, as lay-chaplain among Aboriginal people. Ken brought with him a wealth of experience in Aboriginal affairs. In 1986, Ken was ordained deacon in a moving celebration in St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide. Sadly, Ken died of cancer in 1987 before the ministry could reach fruition. However, the foundations were laid. The Reverend Peter Smith with his spouse, Raelene Smith (nee Graham) and former resident of Point Pearce succeeded Ken in the ministry. With Peter and Raelene’s retirement, Sid Graham (Raelene’s brother) and I gave oversight to the ministry in 1990. Jack Harradine, originally from Point Pearce, was commissioned as chaplain in charge of the Nunga Ministry in 1991. I followed Jack from 1994 – 1999, and Sid Graham succeeded me until 2007.

In all, there have been three Aboriginal people ordained in the Diocese of Adelaide: Ken Hampton (1986), Sid Graham (1997), and me (1991). My ordination to the episcopate earlier this year weaves together a number of the strands of this history. These moments in a journey of over 160 years continue to bear fruit in the present. This, together with the current contribution of Anglicare, particularly its energetic and creative Aboriginal leadership and staff, offers a future of hope and promise.


Note: the basis of this article comes from an exhibition held at Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute in 1997 to celebrate the sesquicentenary of the Diocese of Adelaide. The exhibition was called ‘Strangers in a Strange Land: 150 years of Anglican engagement with the Aboriginal people of South Australia’. The exhibition was curated by the Rev’d Andrew Mintern, Ms. Alison Russell, and myself.