Former BCA Field Staff Bob and Phyllis Collie have been fantastic champions for BCA. They served for six years in Wilcannia and have continued to support BCA ever since. Phyllis was promoted to glory last year, and here Bob recalls their ministry with BCA.
Phyllis and I were married in 1956. Two years later I studied for the Anglican Ministry. We ministered in the parishes of Ferntree Gully, Forest Hill and Greythorn. We offered to CMS to go to Nepal but we didn't pass the medical tests. We then offered to go out with BCA. We were accepted and sent to outback NSW to the town of Wilcannia.
Phyllis was a country girl and often suggested that we get a parish in the country. So this was her dream coming true. The parish of Wilcannia was about 80 per cent the size of England. There were four small towns, Wilcannia, White Cliffs, Tilpa and Tibooburra and 300 sheep stations.
Wilcannia was our home and base. There were 900 people there, 600 Aborigines and 300 white people. Nearly all of the Aborigines were baptised Catholics which limited our ministry to them. There was no Catholic priest there in our time. I was the only minister there for most of our si years.
We had to visit the stations if we were to have any contact. We drove a Nissan Navara 4WD which served us well for the six years. Phyllis shared the driving. We had to go together. For a man to arrive at a station, when the wife was alone, was not appreciated by her or her husband. When we later had a two-way radio, we always made contact before we arrived. The best part was that we both ministered together. We always had our lunch with us so if it was about lunch time we would radio in and ask if we could eat our lunch with them. This worked very well. Phyllis was very good with people. We used to sleep under the stars on stretchers. Later when the station people got to know us, many would invite us to stay the night. We would relax with them in the evening which gave us great opportunities to share. We visited around the stations four days a week most of the time.
Because we were the only ministry team visiting the stations for most of our time there, we went to every station regardless of their denomination or none. This was a great advantage as there were many Catholics and Lutherans and not many Anglicans. We listened to them and their many problems. It is a hard life in an arid country with frequent droughts. The live sheep sales to the Middle East were unpredictable. When a sale fell through, they were left with all the wethers and they had to shoot them to prevent overstocking. When their children finished 'School of the air', they had to go away to boarding school. The parents knew that they probably wouldn't be back permanently as the sons knew how hard it was. When they had poured out their woes, we offered to pray for them. It was great to be able to do that.
We weren't able to take Religion Instruction in the big school in Wilcannia as we were away for the week most of the time. But Phyllis was able to teach the children in the schools in White Cliffs and Tibooburra and occasionally on 'School of the air'. She was very good with children.
We held regular services in the towns – every Sunday in Wilcannia, once a month in White Cliffs and Tilpa and once every two months in Tibooburra. Phyllis would play the organ. We also had 13 homesteads who were willing to have us for Christmas and Easter and a few stations more often. The hosts would invite their neighbours which meant a good rollup. One year we had a total of 250 people for Christmas Services.
Phyllis would lead the singing with some action songs for the children and favourite hymns for the adults. Phyllis played on a portable key board. We were all sitting in a circle in their lounge room and followed a very simple service sheet. It was warm and ideal. We also had Holy Communion where appropriate.
It was a great privilege to live amongst Aboriginal people. They were very gentle and forgiving. A woman elder Ellsie Jones and her daughter Gloria King came to the church in Wilcannia. Nearly all the Aboriginal people were Catholic but there was no priest to serve them. There were some Catholic Sisters who taught in their little school but there was no priest available to come out from Broken Hill. They felt so isolated so we got together weekly to pray with them. One of them stayed for our Bible study group attended by some of the Christian teachers from the Central School which went to Year 10.
We were asked to take two funerals for Aboriginal people as no priest was available to take them. We were happy to help out. The Catholic Bishop heard of this and made sure it didn't happen again. Phyllis enjoyed seeing me all dressed up among the statues.
Phyllis had the great joy of visiting an elderly Aboriginal lady in the Wilcannia hospital. She was a Christian and used to go to Canberra to speak for her people. She was very ill and asked Phyllis if she would write down her story. Her name was Tibby Briar. She went to the hospital frequently to record Tibby's story. Phyllis put it all in order and was able to check it with Tibby before she died. She rejoiced that the white people had come to Australia and brought the Good News of Jesus with them.
Another blessing we had was to have an Aboriginal family Allen and Mahalia Mathieson join us for ministry among Aborigines in Wilcannia. But they found it very difficult. Mahalia had a close friendship with many of the women but Allen was and felt rejected. The problem was that he had no relatives in Wilcannia – they were all in Queensland. The locals said, 'Who is he ? Who is he related to ?' No one knew anybody. He said to me. 'When I see Aboriginals ahead of me, I cross the road to avoid them.' It was so sad to see. They went back to Queensland for a funeral and didn't return. It is a very cultural thing for them.
As for the 300 stations, we set a goal of going to every station at least twice in the six years. To those who were Christians and those who showed interest we went to many times. We only got to 290. The other 10 were too busy. It was a great adventure for us for the 6 years we were in Wilcannia with BCA.