North Queensland rugby league legend Johnathan Thurston is helping to keep the Catholic faith alive in Cowboys country by providing free air travel for a priest to celebrate Mass in a remote Aboriginal community, The Catholic Leader reports.
The Queensland nominee for Australian of the Year, who co-owns Skytrans Aviation, has allowed Augustinian Father Robert Greenup free flights to the remote Aboriginal township of Coen during the wet season so he can conduct Mass.
“I’m overwhelmed by it, really,” Fr Greenup, who once a month drives six hours from Mareeba to Coen on the Cape York Peninsula, said.
For the past seven years he has made the regular 500km road trip along the partly-dirt Peninsula Developmental Road with indigenous Deacon Ralph Madigan.
That is during the dry season when the road is passable.
During the wet season conditions turn difficult and uncertain, and often the road is impassable. Fr Greenup is then forced to pay for expensive tickets to fly to Coen.
“If you walk in off the street the airfares are about $1200. So I thought I’d write to JT (Thurston) to explain what I need,” he said.
After receiving the priest’s request, the business manager of Thurston’s Skytrans Aviation contacted Fr Greenup and explained that the airline would be willing to let him travel free during the wet season.
“It’s just heartening when someone displays generosity like that,” Fr Greenup said.
Thurston, North Queensland Cowboys’ captain, received the 2018 Queenslander of the Year award, and a nomination for Australian of the Year at an awards function in Brisbane earlier this month, for his work as an indigenous mentor.
Coen is situated in the centre of Cape York Peninsula, and in the town’s Our Lady of the Way Church, Fr Greenup celebrates Mass with about 20 parishioners, although numbers can fluctuate.
Fr Greenup has received other generous offers of help so he can keep the faith alive in Coen. St Augustine’s College in Brookvale, Sydney, provided a Holden Colorado so he can make his dry-season road trips.
The town’s publican Barry Mulley also painted the church inside and out.