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Sr Anne Gardiner OLSH outside St Therese Church in the Tiwi Islands (ABC News/Pete Garnish)

Sr Anne Gardiner OLSH has one wish while she’s still alive – to see the first church where she served on the Tiwi Islands, off the coast of Darwin, restored to its former glory. Source: ABC News.

At 92, the retired sister looks to the run-down Catholic church, that sits on land overlooking the pristine waters of the Aspley Strait on Bathurst Island, with a mix of fondness and angst, fearing time is running out.

“At 92, I’m knocking on God’s door, and I guess I’m tempting God because I’m running around on my bike trying to get money to fix the church,” she said. “It worries me because I’d like to see it all done before God calls me.”

The Tiwi Islands icon and former Senior Australian of the Year recipient arrived on the Tiwis in 1953, from Gundagai in New South Wales, to serve with the Bathurst Island Mission when she was 22.

Her first posting when she arrived as a young nun was to teach local Aboriginal children beneath St Therese Church — a charming wooden church built in 1941 in the community now known as Wurrumiyanga. 

Sr Anne is now spearheading a campaign to restore the “old church”, as it’s known around town, to the way it looked when she arrived in the community 70 years ago.

Services at St Therese stopped in the early 2000s when a new church was built in Wurrumiyanga, but its affiliation with locals on the islands still runs deep.

Parish priest Fr Niran Veigas is helping with the fundraising effort and says he estimates $120,000 would be needed to restore the old church.

So far $19,000 has been raised locally, but Fr Veigas isn’t deterred, believing the spirit of the Tiwi people will prevail.

“It isn’t the structure, it isn’t the building, it is the hearts of the Tiwi people and their strong faith,” he said.


Campaign to save 80-year-old church on Tiwi Islands that fused Catholicism with Aboriginal spirituality (By Eleni Roussos, ABC News)