Thursday, 21 November 2019

Remembering Bill Hollingsworth

Former National Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Pastor Bill Hollingsworth is being laid to rest at a funeral service in Cairns today. As we remember Bill and send our condolences to his family, friends and former colleagues, we’re  sharing some archival material from Bill’s amazing life.

The following is a Minute of Appreciation prepared for the Queensland Synod ahead of Bill’s retirement in 2002. The Minute was compiled by John Adams, Lurleen Blackman and Andy King – and captures his unique ministry.

Minute for Pastor Bill Hollingsworth — Retiring 31.12.2002 for UCA Synod 2002

Bill’s early life

Bill Hollingsworth was born in Mossman, Queensland, in 1933.

His mother Matilda was born on Batavia Downs Station, a cattle station m Cape York Peninsula. Her father was the station manager and her mother Annie, a Kaandju woman, lived on the station. Bill has never seen either of his grandparents on that side of the family His father was born on Forbes Island to the east of the mouth of the Pascoe River near the Lockhart River community. There was a pearling station there and Bill's grandfather came out direct from England and married into the local Aboriginal tribe in the Pascoe River area.

Bill says, "My mother was taken away from Batavia Downs when she was about six years of age.” “There was a big round up by the police of the half-caste children and they had a sort of mustering or staging camp, at Coen.”

“They brought them in from all the various areas and then took them down to Port Stewart. From there they loaded them on the Melbidir [a state government boat]. Mum and some others were taken to Yarrabah and others to Palm Island.”

Bill's mother was raised at Yarrabah. "My Grandad Clarke was a matchmaker. He insisted that my Mum marry John Hollingsworth. It was almost an arranged marriage. John Hollingsworth was working on the trochus shell boats and used to call into Cairns and Yarrabah.”

After they were married, he and Mum lived in Cairns for a short time and then they moved to Mossman, where Bill was born. Bill started school in Miallo just outside Mossman.

When he was eight the family moved down to Harvey Creek where the Clarke family had a block of land and a house.

Bill said, "It was like the clan headquarters — all the relatives would visit there at some time or other.” “We would go there for Christmas and school holidays and we would all go camping down the beach. It was easily accessible, being on the road, and the train line ran almost past the front door.

“It was unfortunate, but there were some fairly racist guards on the trains in those days, and they referred to Harvey Creek as the `Boong Stop'."

In 1943 Bill's father was asked to go out to Miriwinni to cook for a gang of cane cutters. He stopped on the way at Babinda and decided to help a chap whose wife had left him. He talked the man into going to Innisfail with him to try to get the wife to come back.

Bill said, "They went to catch the rail motor to Innisfail and waited over at the shop opposite the Babinda crossing. It was drizzling rain at the time. They suddenly noticed the train pulling out of the station. So they raced across to the crossing to jump on the rail motor as it passed by. The other chap got on all right, but Dad slipped and went under the wheel and had both his legs chopped off.”

“We got a message at five o'clock that afternoon about the accident. We all went out to Babinda with Dad's brother, but at around eight o'clock he passed away in Babinda hospital.” “I was 10 years old. So Mum was left a widow for a second time, and like the previous occasion, with a babe in her arms. “There were five of us boys and the Welfare Department wanted to put us all into a state home. Mum refused point blank. The fortunate thing was that Bert had left school — he was about 16.

“He decided to go out to work and cut cane. His pay helped Mum to keep us and allow us to go to school."

Bill goes on, "One of the things I remember so clearly was Mum's insistence that while there were some regrets about her experience in life, she was never bitter — even having been taken away, not knowing her mother or ever seeing her again.”

“And it was only after 50 years that she met her other sister. She claimed that in spite of it all, she coped because she came to know Christ as her Lord and Saviour — that is what helped her through — a faith that stood her in good stead through all those years of suffering and adversities and so on. "And that has been the amazing thing. That she and others like her accepted the fact that possibly the alternative to going to a mission was extermination — because that was the policy at that time. And it was only because the church stepped in and said: 'Give us some land and we will take these folk and look after them,' that she survived. “So that's one of the reasons why there was a debt of gratitude by her to the church, because possibly she wouldn't have been here if it wasn't for the church's participation back in those days. “That is the sort of thing that she passed onto us five boys. It wasn't easy on a widow's pension and she never went out to work." There was plenty of hard work in those days. He and his brothers used to go down half a mile to the creek with a kerosene bucket and carry water, feed the chooks, make up their beds, do the washing up and everything else before they went off to school.
After school, they had to cut reeds to make a broom and sweep the yard, or go down to the creek and light the fire and get the water boiling so his mother could go and do her washing down there. Bill said, "In all of those things you still enjoyed life. You made your fun. So my memory of life, in spite of it all, was that I enjoyed everything, and I am grateful today."

Bill's earliest ministry involvement

After his father died they went to live in Gordonvale, and Bill conducted his first church service when he was 11 years old. A young minister from Melbourne came to Gordonvale, and used to ride around on his bicycle. The minister would take services at a little Kanak church not far out of town on Sunday mornings. He would dink Bill down to attend the service and used to ask him to conduct them. The minister gave the message. Bill said, "My earliest memories are that I had a fear of God and a very deep interest. I'd read anything and everything that I could get my hands on, and particularly Bible stories, and later on the Bible. “And I would memorise things — whole passages of Scripture. It was just a deep interest I had." Bill went to fifth grade at school, because his mother didn't want to stay in town for too long. He started work in the sugar cane when he was 14. This was only seasonal work, but the family would sustain themselves with hunting and fishing. In 1950 he got a job on the railway and after that went back to the coast, did some cane cutting, more railways work, and had jobs with the Council at Innisfail. Bill said, "Up until that time in the 1950s, I had drifted away and got myself involved in all sorts of capers.” “I was a young man sowing wild oats and getting on the way to being an alcoholic. There were some hair-raising experiences. You look back and wonder how you survived. Only God knows." At the end of 1956, at a crusade in South Australia, Bill recommitted his life to Christ. “It was wintertime, and I went down and got baptised in the Murray River." After that Bill headed back to Queensland. As soon as he got back, his former ganger on the railways asked him if he wanted a job.
Bill never had a problem getting work. He said, "I always believed in a 'fair day's work for a fair day's pay.' “I used to try to do the best I could. So I got a job even when others found it hard to.”

Married Life  

In 1957, the railway gang was transferred to Kuranda. And it was there that he met his wife Ruth, a Tjabukai person. He and Ruth were married in 1960. He went back to cane cutting and in 1962 got a job with a harvester at Bellenden Ker, near Babinda, and worked on the farm there for 10 seasons. The farmer once gave him a block of land in lieu of wages, but he had to sell it back to the owner several years later to pay for mortgage repayments on his Cairns house. Bill said, "I tried to leave the farm during that period, time and time again.” “I kept arguing with the Lord about it, saying, 'I should be out preaching the gospel! What am I doing here, cane cutting?” “And I'd literally cry in the cane fields on hot days, sweating."

God's call on Bill's life

Then in July 1973, Bill and five others travelled by boat to Thursday Island. Whilst there, he was challenged by the Lord to make a decision. What should he do with his life? He told God he wanted to be a preacher, and God called Bill to go to people wherever they were: in the church or outside the church, to one or to a hundred people. “At that time I didn't accept that Christians should get involved in politics. That was the traditional view: the Church and State don't mix. I was very strong on that. “But I accepted that God could move me anywhere around the world. I was in His hands. I eventually went back to Cairns and ministered there for twelve months."

Early 1980s

Bill then worked in alcohol rehabilitation at Douglas House in Cairns, during which time he was Project Officer for the Cape York Peninsula region. This took Bill into a wider field of regional and statewide work. Bill said, "When I was working for Douglas House and flying around the Cape with the Flying Doctor, we landed at Batavia Downs Station.” “It was just an unusual sort of feeling, you know. As the plane came down and we were running along the airstrip, I felt, 'This is it, after all these years. At last, this is what Mum was talking about — her birthplace.' "I'm not sad or angry that I don't have a strong connection with my mother's land or a strong cultural heritage. “I don't feel this way as much as a lot of people who have missed out on many things. “As I said, in our childhood, we never felt that we had been hard done by — even with the loss of my father at 10 years of age. “I had such a joyful childhood. The only thing that I can remember was occasions when I'd hear Mum crying at night, and I'd go and ask her what was wrong. She would say that she was thinking about things and was feeling lonely, and had all the cares. "We were never kicked from pillar to post. We were always surrounded with a loving, caring mother and relatives. Maybe if we had had it as hard as most have had, it may have led to a bitterness, and we would have thought back to what we had been done out of, and had a legitimate reason for being sad and angry."

National Aboriginal Conference – (Four years service)

At the end of three years he was asked to run for the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC). This was the first attempt by the Commonwealth Government and Indigenous people to set up a nationally elected Indigenous body, somewhat like an Indigenous parliament. The NAC was dismantled in 1985, and replaced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Bill said, "I dismissed this offer at the time but Scriptures were telling me that the church had ignored its mandate to be 'the salt of the earth and the light of the world.'” “There was a time when governments wouldn't legislate without the advice of the church. We have a responsibility to the nation.

"I asked God, 'What of the Christians? What will they think if I run for politics?' And God said, 'You don't have to answer to Christians; you have to answer to me.' So I said, 'OK, Lord, you take care of the Christians and I'll run.' “And I nominated the day before the nominations closed. I ran a three weeks campaign and I was elected! “I was in the NAC from 1981 until it was dismantled in 1985." Bill was Deputy Chair of the Queensland NAC Branch with the portfolio for Religious Affairs. This gave him the chance to visit places around Australia and go to conventions and conferences. Bill said, "On the day that the NAC was dismantled, I was in Seoul, attending a meeting of the Christian Conference of Asia. “All the things that the Lord had said to me at Thursday Island were happening. “God said, 'I'll give you a ministry to the wider body of Christ.' And He did. “I worked at local, state and national levels. I have no regrets."

Australian Council for Reconciliation

Bill was a founding member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, now superseded by Reconciliation Australia.


Uniting Aboriginal & Islander Christian Congress

The Congress, through its leaders like Bill and Djiniyini Gondarra has played a significant leadership role in the national reconciliation movement in Australia.
Bill has been the National Chair of the Elders Council of the UAICC since 1985.

Shalom Community - Bill has been a Board member of CCDEU for 11 years. The Company that runs; Shalom Christian College, Shalom Elders Village, Stagpole St. Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, Crystal Creek Conference centre, and Yalga-Binbi Centre for Community Development. To the UAICC Bill has offered outstanding leadership by providing theological, pastoral and developmental direction and support.

Bill has been a Pastor in the Cairns and Gordonvale area of North Queensland since 1985, where he has particularly offered outstanding leadership at a local level in the Gordonvale region. There he has played his role in building up a community of faith, and encouraging and supporting this community to reach out to local people in practical ways. Bill has approached the Pastor role living out the spirit of one of his sayings "shepherds do not bear lambs, sheep do." Not long ago Bill read in Hebrews that although we have fathers of the flesh, we should also respect the Father of our spirit. He said, "It hit me so clear that we have two fathers: one of the spirit and one of the flesh.” “I realised that God had a stake in me, that even when I lost my earthly father He took over and He looked after me. It is all I can attribute it to. That He cared for us.” “When people ask me, 'How can you cope with life so easily? You don't seem to have the anger and the bitterness that so many of your people have? What is the difference?' I say, 'I'll answer that in two words — Jesus Christ'. "My one desire, I suppose, is what I can do to help others. I can see so much potential. I can see so much opportunity there for our people, if we can only break this power of the hold of money. The currency of the Kingdom is faith not finance." To you Uncle Bill, we give thanks for all your graces and gifts, for sharing them with so many of us, at so many levels of life in the UAICC, the Uniting Church, and in various communities in North Queensland, particularly Gordonvale. We say, well-done good and faithful servant.