Australia Day – the Good News amid bad news

Australia Day – the Good News amid bad news

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Australia Day – the Good News amid bad news

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They sailed into Sydney Cove on 26 January, 1788, bringing the Good News about Jesus Christ to Australia.

Amid the bad news of broken agreements and local wars, the Gospel of God’s everlasting Kingdom for all people took root in Australia. One of it’s strongest revivals occured among Aboriginal people.
See Australian Aboriginal Revival

Australia Day and Psalm 116:12-13

Article by Rev John Wyndham

At 11.00am Sunday 3 February, 1788, a young Church of England clergyman stood under “a great tree” beside Sydney Cove [probably near what is now the junction of Bridge & Pitt Streets]. His name was Richard Johnson.

He was sponsored by the Eclectic Society led by John Newton and John Venn (eventual founder of the Church Missionay Society) amongst others.  In 1786, Richard Johnson was appointed chaplain by Royal Charter of what was to become the settlement of New South Wales a year before the First
Fleet sailed for Botany Bay.

Seated before Richard Johnson as he led the service of Morning Prayer on that Sunday were
Governor Arthur Phillip and other leaders of the new settlement. Standing behind in ranks were the
convicts, the soldiers of the NSW Marine Corps, and the sailors, all spruced up, according to the
records. So began the first Christian service on Australian soil.

Richard Johnson took as his text, Psalm 116:12-13
What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?
I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.  [KJV]

It was particularly appropriate for the occasion as the verse reflects the experience of someone who has undergone severe and repeated sufferings but has survived to give thanks to God for his safe deliverance. From verses 1-9, it is obvious David had been through a time of great stress and danger that drove him to despair. But, as he cried out to the Lord, God delivered him.

1 I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
4 Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
6 The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.
7 Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.
8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
9 I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

So, eight days after the eleven ships of what we now call the First Fleet anchored in Sydney Cove
with everyone full of questions about the future, without a church or a pulpit, Richard Johnson
offered thanksgiving to God for their safe delivery from the tempestuous seas.

The largest ship, HMS Sirius, at 464 tonnes was less than half the size of the old Manly ferry South Steyne.  The eight-and-a-half-month voyage had been a tough one with wild seas and strong winds. The ships had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, then south east across the same ocean to Cape Town. From Cape Town the route had been across the southern Indian Ocean with the wild Roaring Forties to south of Van Dieman’s Land [modern Tasmania], up the east coast of the mainland to Botany Bay and then on to Port Jackson. Richard Johnson’s wife Mary became so sick it was feared she would die. Her unborn child did. Yet, 96% of the nearly 1500 passengers and crews survived.

Johnson would very likely have drawn his congregation’s attention to the way in which the
experience of those who had arrived in the First Fleet was parallel to the experience of the psalmist. His passion for souls would have urged them to respond to God’s benefits in the way David did as he answered the question of verse 12 with verse 13 –
I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.

Marine officer and future author Watkin Tench wrote that the behaviour of both the troops and
convicts was “equally regular and attentive”. He further wrote that “at the conclusion of the service,
the entire congregation knelt and dedicated the new colony to God in prayer.”
So, what does this all mean for us?  Despite the distress many are feeling, despite the mess that the world is in and the instability around us, despite the fact that some of us are struggling with health and family issues, we are so blessed by the Lord. Surely, our response should be that of the Psalmist – “I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.“

To take the cup of salvation is an act of worship and so in further worship, like David, we are to call
upon the name of the LORD. We should utter praise, thanksgivings and prayers, and drink of the
cup which the Lord has filled with his saving grace. On His table of infinite love stands a cup full of blessing. It is ours to take in our hand by faith, to make it our own, to partake of it, and then with joyful hearts to praise and magnify the gracious One who has filled it for our sakes that we may drink and be refreshed.

We can do this figuratively at the Lord’s Table as we partake of Holy Communion. We can do it
spiritually every time we grasp the golden chalice of the covenant, realising the fulness of blessing
which it contains, and by faith receiving its divine contents into our inmost soul.

As verses 16-19 of the Psalm say,
O LORD, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD – in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD.

Beloved, let us take a long and deep draught from the cup which Jesus filled, and then with devout
hearts let us worship God afresh.
Let us call upon the name of the Lord
And, let us rededicate our nation in prayer.



The Australian flag from Federation in 1901 includes four crosses: three in the Union Jack plus stars of the Southern Cross. The Union Jack has:
The red St George’s Cross of England
The white diagonal St Andrew’s Cross of Scotland
The red diagonal St Patrick’s Cross of Ireland

See also

Australian Aboriginal Revival


Eternity – Arthur Stace


From Hatred to Love: 10 guns to kill Billy Graham in Melbourne
How God transformed a brutal Australian gang leader


The Life of Jesus – Blog
The Life of Jesus – free PDF eBook













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Australian Aboriginal Revival from 1979

1979 Elcho Island Revival (Australia)

From Beautiful Feet

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Australian Aboriginal Revival from 1979

See Pentecost in Arnhem Land, Australia, by Djiniyini Gondarra

Renewal Journal – a chronicle of renewal and revival:

This revival occurred mainly among the Aboriginal people living in the north and west areas of Australia. The revival continued into the 1990s and beyond as Aboriginal teams would travel from place to place throughout the nation conducting meetings.

Pastor Djiniyini Gondarra
of Galiwini’ku Church

Challenges Among the Aboriginals
The Galiwin’ku church on Elcho Island in 1979 was experiencing many challenges.
► There was persecution.
► Many people left the church and were speaking against it, wanting to shut it down.
► The government was bringing money and other things into the community, causing material possessions to capture the people’s attention (cars, televisions, boats, nicer homes, etc.).
► Alcohol was a major problem, leading to many fights, domestic violence, and deaths.
► Vandalism was common.
► Polygamy was part of the culture.
► Young people were sniffing fuel and drinking a mixture of acetone and methylated spirits.
► Entire communities were in confusion and had no direction.
► Satan had his hand on everything.

In the 1960s there were some very powerful revivals that had caught the attention of the world. These included:
 1960 Charismatic Movement
► 1965 Timor Revival (occurring in a relatively short distance to the northwest of Australia)
 1967 Catholic Charismatic Renewal
► 1967 Jesus Movement

With this news, missionaries on Elcho Island and beyond began to experience this reviving influence, and the experiences transferred to Aboriginal people in the Galiwin’ku church.
► Miracles began to occur in the local clinic as the workers prayed for healing.
► Demonic powers were broken as the people came into contact with teachings from Derek Prince and others like him.

Beginning in the Uniting Church (denomination), the revival spread throughout Australia among the Aboriginal peoples. With its Pentecostal features, it caused much concern among the conservative missionaries that were associated with the Uniting Church.

Northern part of Australia

Planning of Special Meetings
To help the Galiwin’ku church take steps forward, after August of 1978 the leaders of the church asked the Pentecostal evangelist Dan Armstrong, of Sydney, Australia, to come and conduct a series of meetings, which were to be held in May the following year.

Extraordinary Prayer
Two Decades of Revival Praying: A small Aboriginal community of about 30 adults with their children, living in the far northern end of Elcho Island, for 20 years had been praying daily for revival in Australia and the world. They met for prayer every morning, during the day, and again each evening.

Prayer in Preparation for the Dan Armstrong Meetings: About six months prior to the meetings that Dan Armstrong was scheduled to hold at the Galiwin’ku church in 1979, prayer groups of 4 people or less were set up throughout the community in preparation for the meetings. Some of them met 3 times per week, some of them met every day at lunch, as well as after church services on Sundays.

Prayer Meeting

Immediate Changes Were Witnessed
The enhanced time commitment to prayer was immediately responded to by the Lord, as He placed in His people a hunger for the Word of God.

The desire to fellowship also grew, so much so, that the church could no longer contain the people, so they began to meet on the basketball court.

A “spirit of love” began to flow between the members of the church.

Services had to be held outside the church building

Offensively Confronting Demonic Powers
Demonic powers recognized what was occurring and they began immediately attacking the leaders with various types of sicknesses. As concentrated prayers were made, praying in homes where demonic manifestations were occurring, the powers of Satan were broken, and things really began to change.

On March 13, 1979, an aboriginal man named Wirriyi, had a dream of a fire on Elcho Island. In the dream he saw a fire coming down from the northern end of the island and traveling along its length, burning up everything on the island.

He saw the fire coming towards himself and he wanted to run away and jump into the ocean to escape the flames, but he heard a voice speaking to him from out of the fire:

That fire is the life of Yolngu [Aborigines]. That is for the end, for the future. If the Yolngu live like that fire – if your life is like the fire, burnt up – then, after it grows new life, it will be really good.

In the dream the fire burned the entire body of Wirriyi so completely that he became nothing but ashes. After the fire passed, the ashes of everything that was burned turned into new plants that were fully grown with fruit on them. At one moment Wirriyi was burned up, and then the next he was fully alive. The fire was the word of God.

The Revival Starts
Following that dream, the very next day, March 14, 1979, which many say was the start of the Elcho Island Revival, the fire in Wirriyi’s dream was ignited.

Pastor Djiniyini Gondarra, of the Elcho Church in the town of Galiwin’ku, had been on vacation for 4 weeks, and when he came back, having had a long day traveling, with three connecting flights, he was ready for rest.

Upon his arrival at the airstrip there was a large welcoming party that wanted to greet him. Because God had been doing so many things while he had been away, they wanted to tell him about them with a meeting at his home that night.

After the evening dinner, they held hands and began to pray.

Suddenly, we began to feel God’s Spirit moving in our hearts and the whole form of prayer life suddenly changed and everybody began to pray in the Spirit and in harmony.

One elder said:

That was the first time I felt like I was floating.

Some of the people said that God was visiting them to establish His kingdom on earth, breaking free those who had been for so long in bondage to Satan.

On that same evening the word of what God was doing spread like flames of fire and reached the whole community. Djiniyini explained what happened beginning on the next morning:

The love of Jesus was being shared and many expressions of forgiveness were taking place in the families and in the tribes. Wherever I went I could hear people singing and humming Christian choruses and hymns! Before then I would have expected to hear only fighting and swearing and many other troublesome things that would hurt your feelings and make you feel sad.

Open-air meeting

Singing on the Beach
Toward the end of March 1979, Djiniyini assembled the choir on the beach to practice for the Sunday service. With 15 people present, it turned into a very powerful time of worship which they had never experienced before, and it continued from 7 p.m. till midnight.

From that night on, this worship on the beach was held every night, and the numbers grew so rapidly, that by the end of April there were 150 to 200 people meeting every night of the week for 4-5 hours.

As people would pray for lost family members or others, the people prayed for would frequently turn to Christ within a few days.

Many had visions during this time.
► Some saw fireballs coming down from the sky.
► Some saw the church on fire.
► Some saw flames of fire resting on the heads of the people (Acts 2:3).

Dan Armstrong, Gelung & Djiniyini Gondarra

The Crow and the Dove
It was around April 1979, that the pastor of the Galiwin’ku church (Djiniyini) had his Bible attacked by a crow, tearing it to pieces. This was very meaningful for them, because the crow was associated with the totem for their clan. That night and the following day, Djiniyini and his wife, Gelung, were very disturbed. It led to prayer with a group of others, cleansing their home and property of all unclean spirits.

During the following days the crow would come to their home and would peck on their door. When they would open the door, the crow would fly away, and as it flew away another bird came, a white dove, chasing it and fighting with it as they were flying away together.

Dan Armstrong

Dan & Sue Armstrong Meetings
On Saturday evening, May 1, 1979, the small aircraft carrying Dan Armstrong and his team landed at the Galiwin’ku airstrip, where they were greeted by a group of young men running alongside the plane as it taxied to a stop. There was tremendous anticipation among the people, as they had been praying for this event for 6 months.

The night of their arrival was to be a time for the main leaders and those involved in the preparation for the meetings to meet and become acquainted with the Armstrong team. A feast was planned to be held on the beach for this fellowship time.

As they were sitting on the beach singing songs, people began coming out of the dark, and one by one they came close to the group, kneeling and weeping. Hands were laid on these people, and following prayer, many were slain in the Holy Spirit. For several hours this praising and prayer continued.

Following the first night, word spread throughout Elcho Island and hundreds began coming to the meetings. Never having been exposed to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they were amazed when the manifestations of the Spirit of God began to occur.
► Conviction of sin was very pronounced, as one of the most sin-hardened men in the community came forward, kneeled, and cried like a baby. This man was born again and became a health worker.
► Repentance of some of the most prideful and hardened people
► Deliverance from demonization
► Speaking in tongues
► Joy of the Lord: with laughter and giggling
► Prostrations (slain in the Spirit)
► Crying
► Overwhelming peace
► Healings

Open-air meeting

The News Spread
As word of what God was doing spread, and reached neighboring islands and towns, people began coming from those distant locations, and the numbers grew every night.

Daily Bible Studies
Not willing to leave the people to experience emotions without grounding them in the Word of God, they had Bible studies every day to ensure the revival had biblical roots. As the days went on, these daily Bible studies also grew in the number of attendees.


Ministry of Deliverance
As historic revivals are read and studied, it is often found that they were preceded by offensive attacks against the powers of darkness—specifically using the ministry of deliverance.  Many of these revival accounts have been rewritten, intentionally omitting those occurrences. But if one looks deeply enough, it will be found that demonic manifestations were often seen and dealt with, prior to or during the revival itself. And this wasn’t only in jungles or among the “heathen”; it also occurred in revivals taking place in Europe and North America in the 1990s and later.

The ministry of deliverance was utilized during this revival as well, and it was what turned the page and opened the door for the power of God to flow.

Discerning of Spirits
The Holy Spirit identified several strong spirits affecting the area and He directed the people to renounce those spirits as they prayed. The main spirits were pride and unbelief. After those spirits were renounced, there was a tangible change in the atmosphere.
► The gift of discernment became profound, enabling believers to recognize what spirit was at work. When these spirits were called out and commanded to leave, there were immediate changes that were recognized in the people of the community.
► The aboriginal ancestral belief in god was shown in reality to be an antichrist spirit. When that spirit was exposed and rebuked, the fire of the Gospel spread even more intensely.

During the Dan Armstrong meetings, the manifestations of demonic powers were pronounced:
► As people were set free from demonization, the shackles holding back revival were no longer in place.
► Demonic manifestations came whenever the services started.
► Dogs throughout the town would begin howling and fighting. The dogs would even come into the center of the open-air meeting area and begin fighting among themselves.
► Demons would begin to manifest through people (like in the Bible).
► Those with serious mental illnesses became much worse and would throw stones at the people during services, giving evidence that the mental illnesses were misdiagnosed, and these were really cases of demonization.

Meeting at the Ceremonial Grounds
The church scheduled a special meeting with Dan Armstrong to be conducted at the ceremonial grounds, where demonic activity was known to be very strong.

Before they got there, the entire team began to experience severe stomach cramps. Even though they were feeling sick, they went anyways, walking into that area singing the song, “In the Name of Jesus.”

Many strange manifestations began occurring with those who were demonized at this time (plus the howling, barking, and fighting of the dogs). But the Holy Spirit came and cleansed the area. Following this, many lukewarm Christians were revived, and many others came to Christ.

Some of the locations where the revival spread

Vision During Men’s Gathering
There was a special prayer gathering of about 50 men, and during their time together, a passage from the Bible was read—1 Corinthians 1:26-29. Following that, the men began to cheer, shout, leap, and run around, saying:

God choose us!

Some heard angels singing.

A unifying feature of the Holy Spirit manifested itself, as the men began singing in tongues, uniting them all together as one.

An older man then shared a vision:

I saw all of us have a stick in our hand. We put the stick in the fire and the end of the stick was ignited. We all then began running, and wherever we ran, we were able to start fires.

Following the Dan Armstrong meetings, these men formed teams, and wherever these teams went, the revival fires would spread to all of those locations.

Though this church numbered about 200, filled with relatively poor people, they paid their own ways and travelled by boat, plane, or bus, to the entire region, and throughout Australia, spreading the revival’s fire.

Open-air meeting

The Revival Continued
By the end of 1979 the Elcho Islanders received numerous invitations from many parts of Australia to come and conduct or participate in meetings. Beginning in mid-1979, those ministry trips began, and they continued into the 1990s and beyond, igniting revival fires wherever they went. That ongoing story can be read in John Blacket’s book: Fire in the Outback.

Results of the Revival
► During the 6 weeks prior to Dan Armstrong’s arrival at Elcho Island, 200 adults had committed their lives to Christ.
► During the Armstrong meetings, another 200 made that commitment.
► During a short period of time after Armstrong left, another 50 converted to Christ.
► It wasn’t only Aboriginals that were being saved; it was also whites who made commitments to Christ.
► This was a total of at least 450 new Christians out of a total of around 1,200 living on the island, and this was in only 4 months.
► Marriages were restored.
► There was a love for everyone, and not just for those within their own tribes.
► The community was clean, as people disposed of their trash appropriately and began planting gardens.
► Alcohol use dropped.
► Gambling became almost non-existent.
► Relationships were healed.
► Marriages were reconciled and healed.
► Divisions in the culture began to be healed.
► People were happy.
► People in the community were singing, not just at night, but also during the day in their homes and along the streets.
► Just hearing the stories of what was happening in one place sparked the revival in the location where it was told.
► The health center reported far fewer than normal sicknesses. This was caused by
• Elders praying for the sick, resulting in healings.
• Reduction in substance abuse.
• Inner healing of the mind by the Holy Spirit producing physical healing to the bodies.

Djijiyini Gondarra

► Arnhem Land Witnesses Controversial Revival by Anne Lim
► Dianne Ethelle Buchanan, Christian Pioneer by Mark the Evangelist
► Early Evangelical Revivals in Australia by Sue Tinworth
► Fire in the Outback by John Blacket
► Fire in the Outback by John Blacket (free Ebook)
► God’s Firestorm by
► Local Revivals in Australia by Stuart Piggin
► Transformation – Revival – God’s Wild Firestorm & Indigenous Tears by John Blacket
► Pentecost in Arnhem Land by Djiniyini Gondarra

► Free downloads from Christian History Research
► God’s Firestorm 1 – Elcho Island: by John Blacket
► God’s Firestorm 2 by John Blacket
► Twelve Free Videos: by Khesed

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Australian Aboriginal Revival from 1979

See Pentecost in Arnhem Land, Australia, by Djiniyini Gondarra

Renewal Journal – a chronicle of renewal and revival:

Pinnacle Pocket Revival, North Queensland, Australia

Pinnacle Pocket Revival

I asked my colleague Melissa Haigh, Events Coordinator for the National Day of Prayer & Fasting, to share some stories about the power of prayer on video.

Melissa chose to share the amazing story of the Pinnacle Pocket Revival, which occurred primarily among the Aboriginal people and the Kanakas in a remote part of the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland in the 1930’s. Interestingly the Pinnacle Pocket Revival had a direct connection to the 1904 Welsh Revival.

Pinnacle Pocket Revival - Melissa Haigh

Pinnacle Pocket Revival – Melissa Haigh

My wife and I have personally met and worked with many of those Christian leaders who were saved either during that revival period at Pinnacle Pocket, or were saved in the years that followed. Many of those Aboriginal Christian leaders saw thousands come to Christ, many churches were planted and many extraordinary miracles occurred under their ministry.

I can personally vouch for the effect of this amazing revival that occurred in Pinnacle Pocket because I worked closely with Indigenous Ps Peter Morgan who came to Christ directly as a result of the Pinnacle Pocket Revival. See John Blackett’s in-depth video to get the full story. Peter Morgan was the leader of the Jezariah Band and a father in the faith to both Melissa and myself.

Aboriginal Elder and Leader Ps Peter Morgan was deeply touched through the heritage of the Pinnacle Pocket Revival. Peter Morgan preached the gospel all over Australia and even in Parliament House. He saw many signs and wonders as he preached the good news of Christ’s love and prayed for people. In his ministry, mainly in remote aboriginal communities in northern Australia, he saw six people raised from the dead.

You should not be surprised to hear this because Jesus raised several people from the dead as did Paul the Apostle (Acts 20: 7-12). Jesus said in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”.

My wife and I and our musical family have ministered several times at Pinnacle Pocket with Aboriginal Ps Eddie Turpin who is the still the pastor at this amazing but small influential church. You can see a photo of Ps Eddie Turpin in the above video.

The purpose of telling the Pinnacle Pocket Revival story is not to live in the past, but to affirm the future and the truth of Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and forever”. The man of God prayed in Habakkuk 3:2, “I have heard all about you, LORD. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy”.

Pinnacle Pocket mao
Pinnacale Pocket, near Malanda
Warwick Marsh
National Day of Prayer & Fasting
PO Box 378
Unanderra NSW, 2526
Melissa’s mobile: 0439 352 465
Warwick’s mobile: 0418 225 212
See also

Revival Fires – updated to 2019
Revival Fires – PDF

New Christian’s Guide – Blog
New Christian’s Guide – PDF










Pentecost in Arnhem Land, by Djiniyini Gondarra

Pentecost in Arnhem Land, Australia

Djiniyini Gondarra

See Australian Aboriginal Revival from 1979

Great Revival StoriesPentecost in Arnhem Land is a chapter in Great Revival Stories 

Great Revival Stories – PDF

See Great Revival Stories on Amazon and Kindle and The Book Depository

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Pentecost in Arnhem Land, by Djiniyini Gondarra:

Article in Renewal Journal 1: Revival
Renewal Journal 1: Revival – PDF

Also in Renewal Journals, Bound Volume 1, Issues 1-5
Renewal Journal Vol 1 (1-5) – PDF

Revivals Index – revivals into the 21st century


Djiniyini Gondarra

The Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra is a Uniting Church minister and former Moderator of the Northern Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia.


mission is to include every aspect of the work

which the church is sent into the world to do


This is a very brief outline of the revival which took place in Arnhem Land in the Uniting Church parishes, beginning in Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island, 400 miles east of Darwin, with a population of 1500 to 1600.

In the early years, Galiwin’ku Community was the mission station established by the Methodist Overseas Mission back in 1942 under the leadership of Rev. Harold Shepherdson. He was accepted by the Methodist Mission Board in 1927 as a lay missionary, engineer and saw-miller. Because of his long outstanding Christian leadership and humility he was ordained at Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island, on 19th October, 1954. He and his wife Ella Shepherdson would have been the last pioneer missionaries to leave their beloved home and people in Arnhem Land.

The missionary movement in Arnhem Land has taken as its mandate the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 which says: ‘Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.’

I understand that mission is to include every aspect of the work which the church is sent into the world to do, and I understand evangelism in a different sense which is called holistic evangelism. It is a means of communication of the good news about Jesus Christ as it affects the whole of life.

You will remember very well the story in Acts 1:68 when Jesus and his disciples met together before the ascension took place. The disciples asked whether God’s reign was now come in full. Jesus told them it was not their business to worry about that, but they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be his witnesses beginning in Jerusalem and going outwards into Judea, Samaria and on to the ends of the earth.

There is something quite unpredictable, unexpected and mysterious about the way that God’s rule is realized in communities and in the lives of individuals. So the disciples were told to wait for the Holy Spirit and then they would be witnesses when Pentecost came. Something quite unplanned and unexpected happened. They began to babble in other strange languages and people asked what is this that is happening? What is going on?

Difficult times

Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island, experienced the revival on 14th March, 1979. That year was a very hard year because the churches in Arnhem Land were going through very difficult times. There was suffering, hardship and even persecution.

Many people left the church and the Christian gospel no longer had interest and value in their lives. Many began to speak against Christianity or even wanted to get rid of the church.

This attitude was affected by the changes that were happening. Money and other things were coming into the community from the government. The people became more rich and were handling lots of things such as motor cars, T.V., motorboats, and good houses. The responsibilities were in the hands of the Aboriginal people and no longer in the missionaries’ hands.

The earthly values became the centre of Aboriginal life. There was more liquor coming into the communities every day, and more fighting was going on. There were more families hurt, and more deaths and incidents happening which were caused by drinking.

Whole communities in Arnhem Land were in great chaos. The people were in confusion and without direction. The Aboriginal people were listening to many voices. The government was saying you are free people and you must have everything you want, just like the other Australians. And there were promises from one to another.

To me, the Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land were like the Israelites in Egypt being slaves in bondage because of all the changes that were brought into the community. They were like the vacuum suction which was sucking in everything that comes without knowing that many of the things that came into communities were really unpleasant and only destroyed the harmony and the good relationship with the people and the communities.

I thank God that I was being called back to serve my own people in Arnhem Land, especially to Galiwin’ku. In 1975 I had just completed my theological training in Papua New Guinea in Raronga Theological College and was appointed to Galiwin’ku parish. My ordination took place in 1976 in Galiwin’ku parish, and I was ordained by the Arnhem Land Presbytery. I was appointed then to Galiwin’ku parish as parish minister.

This celebration took place when there were lots of changes happening and when the church was challenged by the power of evil which clothes itself in greed, selfishness, drunkenness, and in wealth. As I went on my daily pastoral visitation around the camp I would hear the drunks swearing and bashing up their wives and throwing stones on the houses, and glass being broken in the houses. And sometimes the drunks would go into the church and smoke cigarettes in the holy house of God. This was really terrible. The whole of Arnhem Land was being held by the hands of satan.

I remember one day I woke up early in the morning and went for a walk down the beach and started talking to myself. I said, ‘Lord, why have you called me to the ministry? Why have you called me back to my own people? Why not to somewhere else, because there is so much suffering and hardship?’

I then returned to the manse where Gelung, my wife, and the children were. This was our last day before we left for our holidays to the south, visiting old missionary friends and also taking part in the lovely wedding held in Sydney for Barry and Barbara Bullick, one of our missionary workers still remaining in Galiwin’ku Community.

It was almost 6.30 am and it was my turn to lead the morning devotions. The bell had already rung and I had rushed into the church. When I got there, there were only four people inside the church. We used to have our morning devotions every day early in the morning because this system had been formed by the missionaries in the early years.

God had given me the Word to read and share with those four people who were present in the church with me. The reading I selected was from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 37:1-14, the valley of dry bones. Most of you know the story very well, how God Yahweh commanded the prophet Ezekiel to prophecy to the dry bones, and how that the dry bones represent the whole house of Israel, how they were just like bones dried up and their hope had perished. They were completely cut off.

After the morning prayers, Gelung, the children and I were ready to leave for Gove and then go on to Cairns in North Queensland. We were away for four weeks and returned on 14th March, 1979.

20th century Pentecost

To me and all the Galiwin’ku Community, both the Aboriginal Christians and the white Christians, these dates and the month were very important because this is the mark of the birth of the Pentecost experience in the Arnhem Land churches or the birth of the Arnhem Land churches. To us it was like Pentecost in this 20th Century.

It happened when Gelung, the children and I arrived very late in the afternoon from our holidays through Gove on the late Missionary Aviation Fellowship aircraft to Galiwin’ku. When we landed at Galiwin’ku airport we were welcomed and met by many crowds of people.

They all seemed to be saying to us, ‘We would like you to start the Bible Class fellowship once again.’ It seemed to me that God, after our leaving, had been walking on and preparing many people’s lives to wait upon the outpouring of his Holy Spirit that would soon come upon them. Gelung and I were so tired from the long trip from Cairns to Gove and then from Gove to Galiwin’ku that we expected to rest and sort out some of the things and unpack. But we just committed ourselves to the needs of our brothers and sisters who had welcomed and met us at the airport that afternoon.

After the evening dinner, we called our friends to come and join us in the Bible Class meeting. We just sang some hymns and choruses translated into Gupapuynu and into Djambarrpuynu. There were only seven or eight people who were involved or came to the Bible Class meeting, and many of our friends didn’t turn up. We didn’t get worried about it.

I began to talk to them that this was God’s will for us to get together this evening because God had planned this meeting through them so that we will see something of his great love which will be poured out on each one of them. I said a word of thanks to those few faithful Christians who had been praying for renewal in our church, and I shared with them that I too had been praying for the revival or the renewal for this church and for the whole of Arnhem Land churches, because to our heavenly Father everything is possible. He can do mighty things in our churches throughout our great land.

These were some of the words of challenge I gave to those of my beloved brothers and sisters. Gelung, my wife, also shared something of her experience of the power and miracles that she felt deep down in her heart when she was about to die in Darwin Hospital delivering our fourth child. It was God’s power that brought the healing and the wholeness in her body.

I then asked the group to hold each other’s hands and I began to pray for the people and for the church, that God would pour out his Holy Spirit to bring healing and renewal to the hearts of men and women, and to the children.

Suddenly we began to feel God’s Spirit moving in our hearts and the whole form of our prayer suddenly changed and everybody began to pray in the Spirit and in harmony. And there was a great noise going on in the room and we began to ask one another what was going on.

Some of us said that God had now visited us and once again established his kingdom among his people who have been bound for so long by the power of evil. Now the Lord is setting his church free and bringing us into the freedom of happiness and into reconciliation and to restoration.

In that same evening the word just spread like the flames of fire and reached the whole community in Galiwin’ku. Gelung and I couldn’t sleep at all that night because people were just coming for the ministry, bringing the sick to be prayed for, for healing. Others came to bring their problems. Even a husband and wife came to bring their marriage problem, so the Lord touched them and healed their marriage.

Next morning the Galiwin’ku Community once again became the new community. The love of Jesus was being shared and many expressions of forgiveness were taking place in the families and in the tribes. Wherever I went I could hear people singing and humming Christian choruses and hymns! Before then I would have expected to hear only fighting and swearing and many other troublesome things that would hurt your feelings and make you feel sad.

Many unplanned and unexpected things happened every time we went from camp to camp to meet with the people. The fellowship was held every night and more and more people gave their lives to Christ, and it went on and on until sometimes the fellowship meeting would end around about midnight. There was more singing, testimony, and ministry going on. People did not feel tired in the morning, but still went to work.

Many Christians were beginning to discover what their ministry was, and a few others had a strong sense of call to be trained to become Ministers of the Word. Now today these ministers who have done their training through Nungilinya College have been ordained. These are some of the results of the revival in Arnhem Land. Many others have been trained to take up a special ministry in the parish.

The spirit of revival has not only affected the Uniting Church communities and the parishes, but Anglican churches in Arnhem Land as well, such as in Angurugu, Umbakumba, Roper River, Numbulwar and Oenpelli. These all have experienced the revival, and have been touched by the joy and the happiness and the love of Christ.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Arnhem Land has swept further to the Centre in Pitjantjatjara and across the west into many Aboriginal settlements and communities. I remember when Rev. Rronang Garrawurra, Gelung and I were invited by the Warburton Ranges people and how we saw God’s Spirit move in the lives of many people. Five hundred people came to the Lord and were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There was a great revival that swept further west. I would describe these experiences like a wild bush fire burning from one side of Australia to the other side of our great land. The experience of revival in Arnhem Land is still active in many of our Aboriginal parishes and the churches.

We would like to share these experiences in many white churches where doors are closed to the power of the Holy Spirit. It has always been my humble prayer that the whole of Australian Christians, both black and white, will one day be touched by this great and mighty power of the living God.


(c) Djiniyini Gondarra’s, Let my people go. Published by Bethel Presbytery of the Northern Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia. Used with permission. 

Some photos from Australian Aboriginal Revival from 1979:


Prayer meeting in the church

Meetings outside the crowded church

Mission meetings

Renewal Journal 1: Revival(c) Renewal Journal 1: Revival (1993, 2011), pages 29-36
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Now available in updated book form (republished 2011)
Renewal Journal 1: Revival

Praying the Price, by Stuart Robinson

Prayer and Revival, by J Edwin Orr

Pentecost in Arnhem Land, by Djiniyini Gondarra

Power from on High: The Moravian Revival, by John Greenfield

Revival Fire, by Geoff Waugh


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Fire of God among Aborigines by John Blacket

Fire In the OutBack, by John BlacketChurch on FireFire of God among Aborigines
by John Blacket

Chapter 2 of Church on Fire

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The Rev. John Blacket, a Uniting Church minister is author of Fire in the Outback.

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Fire of God among Aborigines:

Soon after the arrival of the first European settlers in Australia some Christians started to take the gospel to Aborigines. Much of this early work was thwarted by aboriginal repulsion at the life style and cruelty of these strange new people.

Not that all Aborigines rejected foreigners. There had been contact with Macassans from Indonesia every year for hundreds of years. They came to gather trepang, a sea delicacy found in North Australia. Some Aborigines visited Indonesia with them, and the cultures and even families mixed together.

No, the clash between Europeans and Aborigines was a deep cultural issue of differing world views related to what is important in each culture. Europeans did not value highly the same things Aborigines did, especially family relationships. They seemed more interested in material things.

These Europeans spoke about God and his love. They tried to teach the ‘inferior, primitive’ Aborigines by rational, cerebral processes. Aborigines, however, ‘know’ things by a heart experience rather than abstractly in their minds. So Europeans tended to see mission as a very long process of teaching abstract Western concepts.

There was some success. This came mainly from the love and commitment of these Christian foreigners to total strangers at incredible personal sacrifice. That spoke more than words.

Ron Williams, an aboriginal evangelist, observed that those Christians were the kind of heroes the children ought to know about, people not ashamed to shed tears and love their black friends, pioneers who poured out love and healed the wounds of many sorrowing, suffering and dying Aborigines.

Aborigines were searching for something in this new teaching to catch hold of, but it didn’t seem to have any spiritual handles for them. It seemed to be ideas without answers to the struggles of life. Their world was full of very real spiritual powers, especially evil spirits and the power of ‘magic men’. If this God was like they said, he should be stronger than the evil spirits, and they would see evidence of this. They didn’t.

To the European, this world view was primitive superstition and was wrong. People just had to learn with their minds. Then they would understand. Even missionaries who did believe in satan and evil spirits did not seem to have the ability and power to deal with them.

Yet through it all God was at work. Seeds were sown which paved the way for the aboriginal revival.

Aborigines began finding a real relationship between their culture and the gospel. They rejected aspects of their culture which conflicted with God’s Word but came to see that their ‘law’ was like the Jewish law which Jesus came to fulfil, not destroy. They sensed that God had given Aborigines some revelation of his divine nature and purpose in their culture that needed to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Makarrwala (Harry) from Buckingham Bay in eastern Arnhem Land, North Australia was one. An early convert in the region, he committed his life to Christ at Milingimbi in 1940. His conversion resulted from God speaking to him in a dream, a way in which God speaks to many Aborigines still. That led to the beginnings of indigenous changes, submitting the culture to the gospel, not through missionary teaching but through personal conviction by the Holy Spirit.

God prepared the way for revival, in people like Harry, in visions and dreams, in personal sacrifices and teaching, in signs and wonders, in healings and struggles, in personal relationships, and in meetings where God’s power was clearly evident and many lives were changed.

Arnhem Land revival

It was not until 1979 at Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) that a really powerful community-changing move of the Holy Spirit occurred. It seems that most of the revival among aboriginal people has stemmed from this in some way.

Arnhem Land, the north east section of the Northern Territory, is an aboriginal reserve, so over 90% of the residents are Aborigines. The rest are called ‘balanda’ (non-aboriginal) who work in the region to assist the aboriginal communities. Galiwin’ku is one of the largest communities with over 1,000 people.

The Methodist Church (which became part of the Uniting Church in 1977) pioneered missionary work in this region in 1923. Rev. Harold and Ella Shepherdson worked at Galiwin’ku from 1942, spending 35 years there and 50 years altogether in the region. This gave Galiwin’ku great stability through their incredible practical wisdom.

The church and tribal elders carefully trained key young local Aborigines for leadership. Rrurrumbu Dhurrkay, the assistant school principal and an evangelist was one. Another was Rev. Djiniyini Gondarra who was placed in charge of the local church in 1977. God was preparing him for a wider and important national apostolic task. For both of them, this involved preparation in spiritual dimensions of family life which neither balanda nor aboriginal training had given them.

Yet the Holy Spirit began to move visibly in the community at the time Djiniyini and a number of other leaders, who were all praying expectantly for this move of God, went on holidays.

The first evidence of this special move of the Holy Spirit came with the wet season of 1978-79. People started to ask about God. At a social gathering on the beach Christians sensed God’s presence in a unity they had never before experienced. Only one or two balanda were present. People wanted to spend more time together, and with God. Many fellowship meetings began to happen spontaneously, every night and at other times.

The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit started to be experienced in new ways. Non-Christians felt God’s presence, came to join in, were convicted of sin and repented. Even some who were sceptical and opposed to what was happening were drawn to come and sit on the side-lines and mock, but were brought to repentance by God.

While Djiniyini was on holiday he prayed for God’s leading about what should be planned for the church for 1979. He listed many things.

On the day of his return in March some people said they wanted a fellowship meeting at his house that night. Tired after his journey, his spirits fell. But it turned out to be an exceptional night. During the night people began crowding into the lounge room. Many of them were people he had never seen at church. They began telling what had been going on while their pastor had been away. As Djiniyini and his wife Gelung listened, tears filled their eyes. Everything on that list had already happened, or was beginning to happen.

A visit by the Rev. Dan Armstrong, a Uniting Church minister and evangelist, had previously been planned for May. He arrived with a small team and found a people prepared by God. The church had more than doubled that year already. The team discovered they had come on the crest of a wave of God’s Spirit moving among the people.

Dan Armstrong tells the story of their visit to that revival.

‘The first day when we arrived there was such a sense of expectation. It was tremendous. We had a feast the first night, not a meeting. About 500 people arrived! They were gathered around the area, sitting at their little fires. Someone just started strumming a guitar. Others joined in and a few people started to sing.

‘Then out of the darkness more people started to come. They knelt down all round the area. Some started to weep. I hadn’t preached or anything at this point!

‘We started to gather around and pray with them. The incredible thing was that the Lord just ‘smote’ them. But then they would get up and join with us in praying for others.

‘There must have been fifty of them who came to Christ that night. Then the next day the word got out and the place was just jammed with people. We couldn’t fit in the building where we started and had to move out into a big open area.

The beautiful thing was that the first morning the old men came first and started weeping. Others gathered around them day after day and night after night. We saw miracles. Several people were totally delivered from demonic power. Some were healed of all kinds of physical ailments.   Particularly significant was the description that they gave again and again of a blanket of blackness being lifted and the light of Christ shining in.

One of the meetings was held on an old ceremonial ground. Through the worship and praise in that place that night the evil spiritual forces were at first aroused and then soundly defeated by the mighty power of God. Some dramatic manifestations were reported. This was another point of release for many people.

Each night after the team retired, others would remain singing and praying into the early hours of the morning. One night a country and western group held a concert in the big hall near the space where they held their meetings. Only 40 attended the concert while over 500 attended the meeting. For Aborigines, that is a miracle!

Aboriginal teams

This revival took teams from Galiwin’ku throughout Arnhem Land, into Queensland, Western Australia, and even to Canberra. They visited aboriginal communities in remote places but included some balanda churches in cities. The results showed powerful evidence of God’s ministry to receptive people. Mostly it was not as dramatic as at home, except for Warburton.

Warburton, with a population of 400, lies in the Central Desert area 250 kilometres west of the junction of the Northern Territory, South Australian and Western Australian borders.

The United Aborigines Mission has worked there for many years but it was hard going. Fighting, drunkness and despair filled the town. In 1980, the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs described it as the worst aboriginal community in Australia.

In September 1981, Rrurrumbu led a team from Galiwin’ku to Alice Springs, and the Pitjantjatara area south of Ayer’s Rock, and finally to Warburton. They flew almost 3,000 kilometres, mainly by light aircraft, to conduct the meetings.

One man commented about Warburton: ‘We knew things couldn’t get worse, so God was our only hope.’ There was real expectancy in spite of disruptions.

A group travelling to a men’s tribal ceremony arrived in town at the same time as the mission team. They intended to take all the men with them on to the ceremony.

One of their truck drivers said, ‘I want to stay and listen to what these strangers have to say.’ So they all stayed!

Drunkenness and petrol sniffing caused disruptions. The old warehouse community store made of corrugated iron used for the meetings echoed with every dog fight or disturbance, despite being packed out. Young people hurled rocks onto the roof or rattled sticks along the corrugated iron walls.

Yet, somehow God moved sovereignly that weekend. Hundreds came to new life. A change took place in the spiritual realms over that place.

A couple of months later, Djiniyini led a smaller team from Galiwin’ku to Warburton in response to another request for help. Once again the Holy Spirit moved in power. Hundreds had prayer for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, receiving supernatural signs of his answer and a real sense that God was anointing people for ministry.

The first test of this change came through a horrible car accident where six young people were shockingly burned. Instead of plunging into ceremonial grieving, wailing, injuring themselves and seeking revenge, the Christian leaders went to the hospital to pray for the young people, some of whom were dying. Christians went around comforting and praying with the families and ministering to them.

Within a few weeks a team went out from Warburton to share what they had received. In 1982 the team had up to seventy on the road for months at a time, preaching the gospel all over Western Australia. Their teams picked up new members from each community they visited. No outside church group supported them. Basically it was a tribal movement.

The revivals of Arnhem Land and the Central Desert resulted in thousands of aboriginal people having their lives changed from misery to new life in Christ. Families were re-united and many family relationships healed. The misery of alcohol was exchanged for joy and hope. Over 1,000 people were baptised. In one small town 150 were baptised. Even non-aboriginals, seeing the changes, made their own commitments to Jesus Christ.

Sometimes God worked through unusual events to deal with social evils and sins. A group of gamblers were mocking Christians who were praising God in the front yard of a house in one aboriginal community in South Australia. Suddenly one of the gambler’s vehicles started up, drove into a ditch, and burst into flames and the cards in the gambler’s hands caught on fire. That is a true story! The people who told it gave the moral: ‘Don’t mock God.’

I have concentrated here on Galiwin’ku and Warburton. The Holy Spirit has moved strongly in other places as well, especially the Kimberleys, Fitzroy Crossing, and Roeburn in Western Australia, and in rural and urban areas of northern New South Wales. The details I have given portray some of the overall picture.

Results of revival

Has it lasted? The gatherings of 100 to 200 every night at Galiwin’ku gradually diminished. By August 1979, weekly Bible studies were established to nurture new Christians, and have continued. Five years after the revival began a core group of 30 to 50 people still met three nights a week for fellowship, with attendances sometimes as high as 100. In the nineties a strong core group is still meeting.

When I revisited Warburton and the whole region late in 1989 I saw that many had fallen away from the Lord and a lot of the fire had gone. I asked about the changes that remained. Even non-Christian European staff acknowledged that conditions were enormously better than before the revival.

Similarly I have seen some of the highs and lows of spiritual life at Galiwin’ku in several recent visits. Many have fallen away, and some still have an active faith but are not involved with the organised church.

However, conversions still happen, lives are changed, relationships healed, and there are miracles, physical healings, signs, wonders, dreams and visions among them. Many who did not know Jesus before the revival and had been real problem people now follow him with a strong commitment. Some still reach out to groups beyond the normal family responsibilities, including ministry to outcast groups.

There is a deep desire to work through the relationship between the gospel and their own culture, rather than sweeping it under the carpet or trying to deny their roots by rejecting all their culture. This process will take time, prayer and hard work with the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, guidance and strength. It requires prayerful support, not the misguided intervention of well meaning non-aboriginals.

Most of all they have a growing expectation of a further wave or move of the Holy Spirit. There is a new earnest calling out to God. I believe that what has happened is just a foretaste of an ingathering that is far greater than most of us have dreamed possible. Certainly the vision regarding Aborigines that God has given to many people, even before the revival, has only just begun.

The Lord gave Dan Armstrong a vision on the last day of his 1979 mission at Galiwin’ku. He saw the young men going out in groups and landing in other spots. Everywhere they went, a fire came up. He shared this with them and the Lord gave them the word from 1 Corinthians 1:26-29,

Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were
powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is
foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in
the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised
in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that
are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

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Australian Reports – Aboriginal Revivals

Australian Reports

Pilbra region of Western Australia,

Faith Comes Alive in the Pilbara

by Craig Siggins

Renewal Journal 12: Harvest PDF

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Australian Reports – Aboriginal Revivals:
An article in Renewal Journal 12: Harvest


The closure of a pub through lack of customers is big news in Australia.  This is what drew the media to a small town called Nullagine in the far north of Western Australia.  But the media didn’t know quite how to report the religious revival that is keeping people out of the pubs‑as well as the jails and hospitals.  Aboriginal church worker Craig Siggins wrote this account of the spiritual awakening that is changing Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

“Kuurti yarrarni kuwarri ngangka mungkangka” (“Holy Spirit, we welcome you in this place tonight”) is the first line of a song being sung at many Aboriginal communities around the Pilbara.  It was composed by Len “Nyaparu” Brooks, also known as Kurutakurru, one of the many leaders God has raised up among the Martu Wangka, Nyangumarta and other peoples of the Pilbara.

A spiritual awakening took place in many communities last year, in 1997.  Things started at Warralong, where many became Christians and were baptised after being influenced by three Christian Aboriginal leaders.  Then just before Christmas, Kurutakurru joined two other leaders at Nullagine, and many from Nullagine and other communities became Christians and came across to the dam at Newman to be baptised.

Many communities started having meetings almost every night and prayer meetings every day.  Leaders travelled to different communities for the meetings and to encourage people, sometimes holding meetings at night after a funeral service when hundreds of people were gathered.  Some meetings went on for eight hours or more as people shared in song, testimony, prayer, Bible reading and preaching.

When Franklin Graham visited Perth in early February, over 200 Martu people travelled the 1150 km for his meetings.  It was like one long church service all the way there and back.  Everyone was bursting to sing and witness to the people in Perth.

When we got back there were more meetings and baptisms, even from communities that had previously rejected Christianity.  Old people, Aboriginal elders, were turning to Christ and being baptised.  Four hundred people gathered at the Coongan River near Marble Bar for three days of meetings, with many more being baptised.

Police, hospitals and others have noticed a decrease in alcohol-related incidents.  The media has begun to take notice.  Nullagine, which had the record of being the arrest capital of Australia, became news when the pub went broke, apparently because so many had given up the grog.  ‘A Current Affair’ came up and did a television spot at Nullagine.

Amazingly, a simultaneous and apparently quite separate revival began at about the same time among the Pintubi people and others across the border in the Northern Territory.  A team from Kiwirrkura, just on the WA side of the border, travelled across the desert and joined up with the Pilbara meetings, arriving early for our Easter Convention held in a wide dry river bed near Newman.  More than 1000 people from different communities and Christian traditions came together to celebrate.

Why the revival?  It is nothing more or less more than a work of the Holy Spirit.  It has similarities to the revival that spread to many Aboriginal communities in the early ’80s, which reached the Pilbara but never really took hold.  Like that revival, people have had dreams and visions.  Recently Mitchell, a leader from Punmu, got up and read from Acts 2 about Joel’s prophecy and said it was being fulfilled.  Not long ago, people told me they had seen a cross in the sky one morning.  And like the ‘80s revival, it is the Aboriginal people taking the Wangka Kunyjunyu (Good News) to their own people in their own way and their own language.

Aboriginal leaders empowered by the Holy Spirit are leading the revival.  These leaders would like to see the revival reaching the wider Kartiya (non‑Aboriginal) society.  But for these shy desert people to reach out to Kartiya in these days of Mabo, Wik and the struggle for reconciliation will only be by the hand of God.

Reprinted with permission from On Being ALIVE Magazine, PO Box 434, Hawthorn Victoria,  3122,  Ph:  61 3 9819 4755, No. 5, June 1998, pages 8‑10.

Spiritual Awakening in the North-West

 Craig Siggins

Aborigines baptised with Dan Armstrong

Craig Siggins gives a more detailed account of the Pilbara revival in this article.

Beginnings at Elcho Island

Revival!  In some Christian circles it is like the Holy Grail – something to be sought after at all cost.  But perhaps few realise that a revival did come to Australia – or that there is again a revival happening right now.  Perhaps few realise this because both revivals began in remote areas among Aboriginal people.

In 1979 a revival began on Elcho Island off the Northern Territory.  In 1981 it came to the Warburton Ranges in Western Australia, and then spread to many Aboriginal communities around Australia.  I was privileged to have been a witness to that revival.

In 1981/82 at the height of the revival in Western Australia I was teaching at the Christian Aboriginal Parent-directed School at Coolgardie.  All of the students became Christians and there were prayer, praise and testimony meetings most nights.  My present work as a pastor/missionary is a direct result of that revival.  The revival has been well documented in Ian Lindsay’s Fire in the Spinifex and John Blacker’s Fire in the Outback.  The effect of that revival nearly 20 years on is still strong in many communities – Aboriginal Christian leaders, committed Aboriginal Christians and Gospel seeds sown in many places and many lives, including the Pilbara.

Resistant people respond

My wife, Lyn, and I came to the Pilbara in 1993, settling in the town of Newman.  Our vision was to see a strong, indigenous Aboriginal church raised up amongst the Martu Aboriginal people of this area.  But we had not expected to see it so soon.  We had expected a long, slow struggle before anything of significance developed.

Some communities were strongly anti-Christian.  At one community we were told by some white Christians not to be too overt in our Christian witness.  Two years later Aboriginal leaders from our Parnpajinya Church at Newman baptised many from that community.  At another community a clause against teaching Christianity was written into the school constitution.  Two years later we were having Christian meetings on the school verandah.  Aboriginal people told me how some of the old men had threatened Christians with spears.  Some of these same old men have now accepted Christ.

Against all expectations we found the Martu people to be really open to the Gospel.  The seeds were sown by the 1981 revival, by the witness of the Apostolic Church and by the work of the late Jim Marsh, a gifted linguist with a pastoral heart, much respected by the people.

Winter rains refreshing

We began our own language efforts modestly, by walking up to Aboriginal people and speaking a few words we had picked up in the Goldfields and then, with practice, gradually expanding our vocabulary.  Church also began slowly, but some believed and then were baptised.  We thought things were happening too quickly, even then, so we didn’t rush to baptise anyone.

Teams of Aboriginal Christian men from the Plibara Aboriginal Church of Roebourne (Apostolic) came over from time to time and helped.  Leaders developed.  More were baptised.  I became committed to taking teams from Parnpajinya (Newman) to various communities.  Gifts were developed.  More and more became Christians and were baptised, but the revival hadn’t really come as yet.  It was like the winter rains refreshing us before the main summer rains came.  Communities – too many to cope with – were crying out for visits.

One of our leaders – Kerry Kelly (KK) – had gone to Warralong and teamed up with a couple of other strong Christians.  Warralong has a community that had been opposed to Christianity.  But the Spirit moved there and many were baptised.  We had Christian meetings (the first ever).  At one meeting nearly the whole community came forward to dedicate or re-dedicate their lives to Christ.  KK, less than two years old as a Christian, became one of the main leaders at Warralong and for the revival.  In 1996 I had taken KK over to a Men’s Training Camp in the Northern Territory.  This interaction helped solidify KK in his Christian walk.  KK often leads at the Lord’s Supper, and when many communities come together this has been a unifying factor.

At Parnpajinya (Newman), just before and after Christmas 1997, many people were coming to the Lord and we were having multiple baptisms at the Ophthalmia Dam.  This was about the time the revival really took off.  People from Jigalong and other communities were also coming to be baptised, including some of the old men.  Many nights we were having meetings that went to early in the morning.  Some communities were having meetings every night and prayer meetings every day!  Some still are.

The ‘arrest capital’ of Australia

Nullagine, which had the dubious distinction of being called “the arrest capital” of Australia, asked us to come there, which we did.  Len (Nyaparu*) Brooks, known as Kurutakururru, Walter Crusoe (Wari) and Billy (Nyaparu*) Landy took up the leadership at Nullagine.  Many people there who had become Christians were asking to be baptised.

So one weekend I drove the old church bus to Nullagine, picked up as many people as could be squashed into the bus and, two flat tyres later, drove back to Newman.  Many were baptised.  Our practice is to have two doing the baptising together – usually one who knows the words to say and another who might be a learner.  For cultural reasons, we have men baptising men and women baptising women.  So we picked out two men and two women from each community.  When the baptisms finished, we found out the lady leader from Nullagine doing the baptisms hadn’t been baptised herself, so we turned around and baptised her!

After that we travelled again to Nullagine and baptised a number of people there, including people from remote communities and some more of the old men.   Parnpajinya, Nullagine, Punmu and Warralong, with some from Jigalong and Parnngurr, were spearheading the revival.  I travelled around with leaders such as Alistair (Jaliku) Sammy, Chrissie Sailor, Clarrie Robinson and Lizzie Jones to different communities encouraging the believers and holding meetings that at times went for hours.  Sometimes hundreds would stay on after a funeral and all join together for a Christian meeting.  In October 1997 1 had taken Clarrie Robinson and Willie Bennett to a Men’s Training Camp in the Northern Territory.  The topic was ‘Preaching’.  Clarrie came back and began preaching for the first time.  Willie went back to Kiwirrkurra near the Western Australia / Northern Territory border.  Incredibly, a revival had sprung up at Kiwirrkurra and other Pintubi communities in the Northern Territory at about the same time as the Western Australia revival, but quite unconnected.  Willie Bennett became a leader of that revival.

A week-long revival

Someone heard that Franklin Graham was coming to Perth for a Festival, and the Aboriginal Christian leaders decided it would be good to go to hear him.  The only thing was, Perth was 1150 kilometres away!  But people chucked in money and somehow over 200 people crammed into 4 coaster buses, 2 mini-buses and a motley fleet of assorted 4WDs and other vehicles and got to Perth (and back!).

We were there for a week, but it was like one long revival meeting.  We sang and prayed all the way down and had meetings every morning and night where we were camped (when we weren’t listening to Franklin!) Kurutakurru, a gifted singer and songwriter himself, had the idea of singing outside to the crowds waiting to get in the Burswood Dome where Franklin was speaking.  So we arrived early each night, gathered in a group and sang away in English and Martu Wangka to the kartiyakaja (white people).  They seemed to appreciate it.  The style was a bit different to the precision programming that happened inside the Dome, though!

When we got back, some communities had the idea of holding a mini-convention before our main Easter Convention.  After some hesitation (over finding a place with enough water for baptisms!) a gorge near Warralong was chosen.  Over 50 people were baptised including some old men who had been opposed to Christianity previously.  Two old men and an old lady, too crippled to enter the water, knelt down while water was poured over them with a cup (this was after some discussion as to whether such a baptism was okay).  It was a stirring witness! Meetings went on morning and night.  Even a rain storm and lightning strike one night didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.

A pub with few patrons

Our Easter Convention (1998) was a wonderful time of celebrating Jesus.  Over 1000 people came, including many new Christians from communities that had never come before.  The meetings went nearly non-stop over the Easter period.  Singing is a prominent feature of the revival.  There is a real sense of joy that comes out in song.  Many new songs have been written and many old songs translated into Martu Wangka, Nyangurnartu and other languages.  Everywhere you go you bear kids singing and tapes playing songs of the revival.

So many people were becoming Christians and giving up the grog that the pub in Nuilagine lost a lot of its business and went into receivership.  The story made news around Australia.  Nyaparu Landy and I were interviewed on Perth radio!  A Current Affair went to Nuilagine.

But the revival has not stopped.  The Martu people themselves are reaching out to other Martu people.  Neilie Bidu from Yandeyarra came back, fired up from

hearing Franklin Graham, to reach out to his own community.  He began a small prayer meeting and then invited Kurutakurru and other leaders from Warralong and Punmu to help him.  So they went to Warralong and many there became Christians.  Yandeyarra people in turn have reached out to Banjima people near Tom Price.  Other communities have also been reached, including some that were closed to Christianity.  Some of these communities had turned away Crusade teams from the 1981 revival.  Now they have turned to the Lord.

Why revival, and why now?

Only the power of the Holy Spirit can explain this revival.  It is a miracle, an incredible revival happening.  Mitchell Biljabu, a leader from Punmu, has likened it to the prophecy of Joel in Acts 2.

I asked Milton Chapman, another leader from Punmu what, apart from the Holy Spirit, is bringing about the revival.  He replied that it was Aboriginal leaders bringing the message of Good News to their own people.  Many have responded to the powerful witness of changed lives.  Alistair and Chrissie wrote their testimony for Today magazine and said: “For a long time we were drinking and gambling…  We started to think about Mama (Father) Godwe gave our hearts to the Lord.  We have kept following Mama God right up to now.”  

The example has had a strong impact on their extended families, nearly all of whom have become Christians.  Prayer has been another major factor in the revival.  The Martu pray simple and sincere prayers for all sorts of things.  The prayer meeting at Nullagine every morning helped keep the believers strong.

Some excesses and difficulties

But there have also been some excesses and difficulties in the revival.  Some still struggle with alcoholism and some have gone back to the drink.  Many are new Christians with little knowledge of Christianity.  Even the leaders are in the main untrained.  Some are illiterate.  And other groups have come in with different ideas and practices that have caused division even within families and have led to much debate and argument, some of it bitter.  One is a legalistic group that stresses the keeping of the 10 commandments, especially the fourth (keeping the Sabbath).  Another is a fairly extreme charismatic group.

Then there are issues of a more cultural nature.  Some couples who have become Christians are married the wrong way in a tribal (though not biblical) sense, including some leaders.  What to do?  What to do about some of the tribal laws and ceremonies?  Reject them all?  Keep some?  These are big issues to be worked through.

We are encouraging the leaders to read the Bible for themselves and to come to solid biblical conclusions as they struggle through these issues with the help of the Holy Spirit, but it will take time.  Pray for the people and the revival!

Used with permission from Vision, the magazine of the Australian Baptist Missionary Society, July 1998, pages 12-15.

Grog replaced by Gospel

 Reports by Mairi Barton

 Mairi Barton is a reporter with The West Australian newspaper in Perth.  These reports were written in April 1998.

A religious revival among Aboriginal people in the remote North‑West town of Nullagine ‑ once labelled the arrest capital of Australia ‑ has drastically reduced the number of arrests and jailings.

Police in Nullagine, 184 km north of Newman (in WA), claim drunken domestic fights which once dogged the community have virtually disappeared and the residents seem happier and healthier.

The only sufferer is the local pub, the Conglomerate Hotel, which once kept six staff busy.  Last month the lessee went into receivership after the town’s 100 to 150 Aboriginal people turned to Christianity in November.

Since then, the Aboriginal community has reduced the number of arrests to just a handful and there have been no jailings.  They gave up alcohol and labelled the hotel “the devil’s place”.

Instead of going to the bar each night to drink, they sit happily in circles under the stars, pray and sing gospel songs at the Yirrangkaji community on the outskirts of the town.

When The West Australian visited last week, they were eager to share their new‑found love of God and talk about the positive changes they have made to their lives.

Gary Marshall, who leased the hotel and adjoining shop for 2 years, said the arrival of religion spelt disaster for his business, but he did not hold it against the Aboriginal people.

“I couldn’t sit here and say it was a bad thing,” he said.  “If they are better off, then it’s a wonderful thing.”  …

The two men believed responsible for their religious conversion ‑ local Aboriginal men who left town a couple of years ago and returned late last year as changed men, keen to share the Christian message ‑ were out of town.

Senior Constable Mal Kay, the officer in charge at Nullagine, said the drop in crime could be explained in part by the fact that the population dropped every time big groups from the community left town to attend religious meetings around the Pilbara and in Northam.

Most arrests in town in the past have been assaults and woundings stemming from alcohol.

Mother sees her life in a new light

Mother‑of‑two Lisa Dalbin used to be a weekly visitor to the Nullagine police lockup for assault, anti‑social behaviour or just to sober up.  The 26‑year‑old would spend her pension on alcohol, get jealous over her man and find herself in punch‑ups with women who were her friends when she was sober.  That was before she found Christianity and gave up drinking last November.

“We pray and sing every morning and every night,” she said.  “We have church meetings every Wednesday and Saturday.”

Miss Dalbiii has worked off her fines through community work, picking up rubbish and working in the children’s kitchen ‑ where the children have breakfast, shower and change into their uniforms before school.

Her favourite drink used to he port and she freely admits that it made her act mad.  She does not miss it.  She is happier, has money in her pocket to go shopping and takes better care of her sons, aged five and eight, now she is sober.  She is even studying to get her driver’s license, a privilege which seemed out of reach to her a few months ago.  The only time she sees the police now is when they stop to say hello in the street.

Her cousin Phillip Bennell, 39, who spent much of his youth behind bars because of alcohol‑related strife, has also been sober for about four months since “he saw the light”.

God is his master now, not grog, he says.  “To follow the Lord is good, you know.  It keeps you away from trouble.  Alcohol is a killer for anybody, but especially the Aboriginal people.  I was one of the worst blokes, locked up all the time away from my kids.  I spent 21 years of my life in and out of prison.”

Mr Bennell said it would be easy for him to turn back to drink, but he did not want to because he had realised the damage it could do.  “I had two feet in the grave and what I was doing was adding a final nail in the coffin,” he said.  “But when I found the Lord I gave it all away.  I didn’t want to die a young bloke.”

He said he no longer wanted to drink because he had a 12‑year‑old daughter and her life was more important to him than alcohol.

Mr Bennell said the footpath outside the Conglomerate Hotel had been the site of many arguments and brawls, but now the community held prayer meetings across the road.  If they ventured into the pub, it was only to get a cool drink.

“There used to be a lot of tough drinkers at the reserve,” he said.  “They gave it away because they found a bit of peace and a better way of life.  A lot of people here want their health, and their children brought up in a good environment.

The West Australian.  Used with permission.

(c) Renewal Journal 12: Harvest, 1998, 2011.

Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

See also Pentecost in Arnhem Land, by Djiniyini Gondarra

See also Fire of God Among Aboriginies by John Blacket

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6  Worship,   7  Blessing,   8  Awakening,   9  Mission,   10  Evangelism,
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Contents: Renewal Journal 12: Harvest

The Spirit told us what to do, by Carl Lawrence

Argentine Revival, by Guido Kuwas

Baltimore Revival, by Elizabeth Moll Stalcup

Smithton Revival, by Joel Kilpatrick

Mobile Revival, by Joel Kilpatrick

Australian Reports – Aboriginal Revivals

Global Reports

Book Review: 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, by Eddie Hyatt

Renewal Journal 12: Harvest – PDF

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