Sister finds Tiwi women have 'stickability'

Sr Anne Gardiner in the Tiwi Islands (David Hancock)

Supporting Indigenous women in a remote Australian island community was the topic of a talk held in Rome yesterday to mark International Women’s Day. Source: Vatican News.

Tiwi Islands missionary Sr Anne Gardiner, Australia's Senior Australian of the Year for 2017, was the guest speaker at the event, sponsored by Australia’s embassy to the Holy See.

Sr Anne, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, first travelled to the Tiwi islands in 1953.

Since then, she has devoted her life to the community, as school principle, setting up support groups and founding a museum to showcase indigenous history and culture.

Her experience in the Tiwi Islands fits in with the theme of this year's International Women's Day, “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Sr Anne spoke about the two islands, Melville and Bathurst, located about 20 minutes by plane or two hours on a ferry, north of Darwin.

She recounted the history of the mission there, started by Frenchman Francis Xavier Gsell, who arrived in 1911 and learned the local language to be able to teach the locals about Christianity.

It remained a Catholic mission until 1970, when the Tiwi people were given self-determination, but, unlike other parts of Australia, they asked the sisters and the priest to remain on islands. “We missionaries could be blamed for many things”, Sr Anne said, “but I believe that the foundation set by the early missionaries has helped that place to be as strong as it is today.”

Sr Anne spoke of the challenges of mentoring Tiwi women into leadership positions, first in the school and also in the museum which she set up and has now handed over to the local community. While the women initially resisted the idea of running the museum, she says they have had “remarkable" results.

Women, she says, “have more stickability than the men do, and I want to see those women succeed”.


Australian sister recognised for work with indigenous women (Vatican News)


Signs suggest a turning point on the role of women in the Church (Crux)

International Women’s Day: Young mother living in regional Queensland found blessings and strength in isolation (The Catholic Leader)

International Women’s Day 2018: a chance to reflect, consider and promote change (Melbourne Catholic)

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