National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

A return to hope

July 2014

by Rosie Schefe

It remains one of the most remote of Lutheran parishes in Australia and New Zealand; they don’t call this part of the world ‘Far North’ Queensland for nothing. But Hope Vale’s history is rich and unique.

Sunday, 17 May 1942, was one of the worst days in the history of the interaction between the Guugu Yimidhirr people and European Australia. But the people have chosen to remember a different event instead.

On Sunday, 18 May this year, LCA Bishop Rev John Henderson unveiled a memorial outside St John’s Lutheran Church in Hope Vale. It carries the names of 36 men who ‘returned from Woorabinda to help build Hope Vale’ over a six-month period from April to September 1949. This is what they choose to remember.

In 1942 the Cape Bedford Mission (as it was then known) was a very different place than it is today. Established by missionary Johannes Flierl and lay helper Johann Biar in 1886, the mission was led by Rev Georg Schwarz from 1887. Schwarz was known as Muni (the Guugu Yimidhirr word for ‘black’, as the people couldn’t pronounce his surname).

The people of the mission lived in four small settlements: Elim and Hope Valley on Cape Bedford itself, Wayarego on the McIvor River to the north and Spring Hill, closer to Cooktown. On Sunday, 17 May 1942, the people gathered for worship at Spring Hill.

As worship ended, the church was surrounded by armed soldiers, who forced everyone onto American army trucks and took them to Cooktown. The people were held at the wharf for 24 hours before being loaded onto a steamship for the trip down the coast to Cairns. At Cairns they were loaded onto a train for the long journey south.

By the time the train reached Townsville, the Lutherans in the north were aware of what was happening. When the train stopped in the station, members from the congregation went there with food and water; this was the first proper meal the people had received since leaving Spring Hill.

The train continued through to Rockhampton in central Queensland and from there the people were trucked again to a mission station at Woorabinda, under the watchful eyes of soldiers with fixed bayonets. They were mostly welcomed by the people there, but were deeply troubled by the cold climate, especially as they had left Spring Hill with virtually nothing beyond the clothes they were wearing.