Beginnings of Outback Patrol
It's the story of OP from the beginning, printed in a booklet in the 60's, and only retreived and rekeyed in the last year or so. Beginnings of Outback Patrol—from the 1960's ...... Les
"God sifted the whole nation that he might send choice grain into the wilderness"
Beginning of Outback Patrol in the 1960's
These are a few of the leaves from the 1960's workbook of Australia's Musical Nixons. (pictured below) In the 1990's it reads like a pioneering adventure which of course at the time, it was. Outback Patrol was beginning!
Martha and Les Nixon
An Old Plane—The Gospel Always New
In 1962, White Wings the plane, was a thirty-year-old flying lady. It was an eight passenger, box cabin, fabric covered twin-engine bi-plane with two Gypsy Major GM 120hp motors, and many inbuilt vices and bad habits. It was a left-over from World War II, as an Air Force navigational trainer. Then it went to Qantas Airlines, the Flying Doctor, and private use. In 1961 it came to Les Nixon for the princely sum of twelve hundred pounds! Her most admirable qualities were graceful looks in the air and low fuel consumption in flight. The ugliest part of her existence was the name given by the De Havilland Aircraft company, The Dragon. And how she waddled like a lame duck taxiing, and squatted when she stopped! Uniquely though, The Dragon was a rare bird.
Unusual Lifting Ability
She could lift more than her own weight in payload that made her the most economical air transport of the day. But she flew painfully slowly. Just eighty-eight knots 'on the step', otherwise eighty-two knots climb, cruise and descent! That kind of airspeed did not advance the journey speedily into a forty-knot headwind! Poet David Stanfield at Cunnamulla wrote the moment he set eyes on her: "She's painted white and yellow and is anything but spruce; she travels very slowly and chews a lot of juice!"
See Her Coming!
She could be seen far and wide and was known east to west as the Padre's plane. And of course, like all inland aircraft, was on call for medical evacuations, mail and food delivery, a passenger every now and again, and the work she was dedicated to do, carrying Christian workers all over Australia; from the coast to the centre and all the way around. White Wings flew the Bass straight several times for service to Tasmania with the teams. From 1961 to 1975, every one outback knew her as White Wings, and she made a moving shadow of The Cross whenever she passed overhead.One day between Bourke and Tibooburra, pilot Les Nixon felt there was time to change course and track north for an introduction to the people of Thargomindah. He'd not been there before. By the time he'd landed, townsfolks gathered at the dirt strip for a welcome. "How in the world did you know I was coming here"? he enquired, to be told, "When White Wings changed course near Wanaaring, everyone on the radio called to let us know you were on the way."
Here's the record of one of the Nixon's 1963 missionary projects, as written in an out-of-print booklet of the day with the title, "White Wings over the Inland". The team at the time included recent widow and musician Bonnie Plint from Toowoomba and Les and Martha Nixon from Sydney. Bonnie had left her two children with her mother and the Nixon's their eight-year old David with the Nixons' senior. These three then went in search of people to win to Jesus Christ. (Bonnie is now director of Melbourne's Mill Valley Ranch (1969) with husband Arthur Bartlett, and a keen supporter of the many years of Outback Patrol since ...).
That First Exciting Adventure
"Departed Toowoomba at 7.30 am on the crisp winter morning of July 5th. Toowoomba airfield is all grass and 2400' from fence to fence which could provide a problem for a fully laden Dragon. She needs at least 2100' take-off length to gain 50' height. "Loaded with full fuel, Bonnie's Lowrey electronic organ, PA gear, accordion and musical instruments, suitcases, boxes of books and literature, survival gear, maps, baggage, and Bonnie's boxes for her Tupperware parties, hopefully to sell, (with it's mandatory ladies false leg exposed hilariously through the cabin window). We were ready to go. Les had his aerial camera, darkroom chemicals, box of photographic paper and enlarger on board also, for those inland photos that helped pay for the avgas! "Cleared the fence easily, as I'd taken a test circuit alone to check it out. Bonnie's mother was there to see her daughter off on the adventure of her life, and stood aghast that the pilot had to test the plane first to check if it would fly? She would not admit it was Bonnies organ and Tupperware supplies that were being tested ... "Set course to Roma 180 nautical miles west. Here we taxied to the pumps for avgas only to find the cabin door tightly locked from the outside. Our happy Toowoomba helpers had really sent us off with a chuckle. Took half an hour to manoeuvre the lock open and alight, before we could even refuel the plane.
Itinerary to Come
"Then a ninety minute flight to Charleville. We were on our way to the real inland. "First on the list for the next couple of months were invitations from Longreach, Julia Creek, Cloncurry, Mary Kathleen and Mt. Isa. Meetings were planned with isolated people there as well as Camooweal, Brunette Downs, Daly Waters, Katherine and Darwin. Then we planned to return south through Newcastle Waters, Warrabri, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, Oodnadatta, Leigh Creek, Broken Hill and Dubbo. (Note: Yulara and Ayers Rock were not popular tourist places in those days.) "We knew we had a big job to do, and we were grateful for the skills and dedication of the team to do it. That's why our musical mission was a little different to the ordinary. I'd spend much of '62 inland alone, often driving long distances, sometimes by train, bus or airliner. And when we obtained "White Wings", we knew we could return speedily to
remote places with the Christian message of hope in Jesus Christ. "I'd already been to special missions in a few outback towns. We'd been contacted by scores of folk out there who'd heard something was going on. They'd read what David Stanfield wrote in our Cunnamulla meetings last year:
"Let me put some words together in a crude and humble style,
For my heart is far less bitter and my face can wear a smile.
And the reason for my story is how a man can change,
When he meets those Christian people who live across the range.
When I met her in the kitchen and saw her sitting there, I gathered she was special and something very rare. And when I met her husband with his happy smiling face, I knew that he and I were running in a different race.
Now I've said enough about them in person, I'll admit;
So gather from my story the words and make them knit.
Their transport was a wagon mounted on a pair of wings; Two motors and a headlight and a lot of other things. It was painted white and yellow and was anything but spruce; It travelled very slowly and chewed a lot of juice.
But the main thing in my story is not about their ship, But how their short stay with us from my shoulder moved a chip. He spoke of Jesus Christ the Lord and preachers mostly do, Who sometimes find it very hard to get the message through.
I know you won't take credit but you made me stop and see, And I think that you were sent by Him to come and see to me. Then the morn of your departure we smiled and said goodbye, And my eyes were filled with tears and we waved you in the sky.
And as the dust had settled from that noisy aeroplane I was sad and yet rejoicing, I had severed through the chain. I had severed through that rusty chain that still was strong and hard.
And I thank the Lord Almighty that He dealt you out my card.
And now we were on our way inland again. At Charleville we had a refreshing luncheon meeting with the people at the Salvation Army. They brought unchurched women and Martha and Bonnie prayed with several who faced family problems. "Captain Bernie Kuiper was our host; (Crossroads Presbyterian, Colorado Springs, Co in the 1990's), and we were ready to continue flying when Revd. Tom Hood the Church of England Minister arrived. He said he'd just left a family whom he had led to a personal decision for Christ. He was jubilant. All joined in prayer of thanks. The family was now reconciled and he felt confident that they were ready to begin again, this time as serious believers in Jesus Christ. That's the difference.
It boyed our spirits that the Gospel was working in the hearts of people who live in remote places, and gave optimism for our work too. We looked forward to what lay ahead. "Martha and Bonnie left the room to prepare for the trip, but before I rose Tom Hood reached across and said: "You're the Nixons?" He extended a warm handshake. "We want to talk to you more. You see, Bernie and I feel we must bring a Christian crusade here. It's about the best way to win these people to Christ. Now", he asked cautiously, "when can we plan for you to be here for at least a month?"
Prayer Paved the Way
"When Martha and Bonnie returned to hurry me up they found three men on bended knees pleading in prayer for guidance and leading for a mission to Charleville. We prayed on during the tour and the story of that 1964 event is a mighty story in itself. "Headwinds to Longreach; ground speed 70 knots. We could have made it almost as quickly by fast car, except that the roads wouldn't let us. Anyway we don't miss the choking red dust of road travel. Flying at 4500' and an interval of 130 minutes. A DC3 passed us abeam Langlo Downs. Flying with the setting sun makes it difficult to pick out references on the ground. So, I tuned our portable radio direction finder on to Longreach NDB beacon on 348 KC's. Then a double check by tuning to 4QL on 540 and 4LG on 1100. We're right on track but behind time. After a radio position report with ETA to Longreach, eventually flew over the town to alert our hosts. "Toowoomba to Longreach on the first day, with a noon meeting, discussions and another meeting to come. Six hundred and fifty miles in seven hours and ten minutes in the air. Yes, we were travel, heat and noise weary that night.
Another Flying Padre
"Rev. C. Seymour the Presbyterian and Rev. Len Forrest the Methodist men met us. We'd been here a couple of months before and it was good to yarn over a cuppa and a scone. Here also is Pastor Esrom Morse and Charles Gray, the flying missioners with the Open Brethren Assemblies. Larger inland towns are great centres for Christian activity. Since WW2 Christian families moved in from the coast. Like Ken Harwood who works in the Post Office. Others teach in schools or earn keep as nurses, pastures protection people, pilots, stock agents, radio or newspaper and DCA and construction companies and Dept. of Main Roads. They know that their Christian witness is vital to support the locals, and they gain much acceptance in return. The inland needs more people like these.
"Saturday, July 6th; We plan to depart at 1pm for our first target town, Julia Creek. It's three hours away. But more headwinds face us. Had we been three days later we'd have had a whopping 30 knots tailwinds to speed us on our way, but we had to be there for our first meeting anyway. So, first duty is a close study of the maps. To drivers the Shell maps advise; 'Do not proceed from main roads. Take every precaution. Carry ample food and water for several days'. Aviation maps shows why the need for caution. This is where the inland becomes desolate and forbidding. In the aeroplane, we carry first aid, survival gear and gallons of water. Our cross-country flights are listed on a flight plan under the surveillance of the Department of Civil Aviation with a SARTIME, search and rescue time, nominated. If we do not arrive at our destination, they begin an exhaustive search.
Es and Charlie brought their friends to see the plane and all climbed on board to see it for themselves. Pilots, mechanics, ground crew, etc., One was a retired pilot and recalled his flying the Dragons in the 40's, and filled the air with wild adventures and exciting yarns. His boldest claim was that one notorious pilot could handle things best in a cross wind when he was suitably strengthened with a strong Scotch, which he carried next to the pilot's seat! The stories got bolder and the men more adventurous. Happy laughter filled the cabin and everyone felt good about our plans. Someone called for a circuit. Not much room as all the luggage and equipment was tied down. Charlie wanted to hand start the engines, and he did it with a flare. Es shut the door, and even though the noon temperature was high, we taxied for what was to be a memorable fifteen minutes in the life of the Dragon and this bush pilot.
Low Slow Circuit
"The tail seemed too sluggish to lift, and the forward speed painfully slow but eventually, the old girl eventually unstuck from the dirt strip and laboured to gain a few feet height. I was so busy engaged to maintain control, it was a few minutes before I glanced over my shoulder to see that every spare inch of the floor was taken by grinning passengers who thought I was giving them a low look at the town. I knew then why my hands were wet on the yoke, and I was awash with sweat! Fact was, it simply would not climb because we had too many bodies on board. We were grossly overweight with uninvited adventurers who said they'd not miss it for quids!
"It took the plane five miles straight ahead to gain 50' height and a twenty mile circle to execute a slow low turn, careful to track between the trees to avoid intimate contact. Fifteen minutes later we'd completed the longest, slowest and most daring circuit ever and were on short final to land, with both engines still at full rev's to keep forward movement acceptable. Upon contact with the runway, eight full sized men slapped each other on the back, hail fella well met, and erupted with shouts of congratulations for the ride of a lifetime. "I've often wondered if it could have been their last. And mine!
"With flight details completed and lodged with the officers at the Longreach Briefing Office we three boarded, taxied and executed cockpit checks, and paused for that mandatory prayer for safety, while the engines idled happily away. Mid-winter, it's 95F outside, and stiflingly hot in the cabin. "Throttles full bore, wooden props biting into the thin air, and we're rolling. Tail up, wait for 55 knots airspeed, yoke back and transfer the weight from the wheels to the wings, rotate and, we're ff. And
considerably cooler, this time, with less sweat ... too .... "That's the way it should be", I thought. "Climb to 500', clearing turn and we're on our way. Set heading, levelled at 3000', power reduced to 1850 rpm, lean the mixture, check switches, temps, pressures, charge, etc., and all seems normal. Next, the passengers. Woops, they're both asleep!
The Remote Wilderness
"Gained wonderful lift from heat thermals and at one point just
north of Winton, our two tons of aeroplane was helped upwards in a thermal at the rate of 2000' in four minutes. From 5000' the view is magnificent.The Diamentina River begins up in this country fifteen miles to port. Here it carries the great floods in the wet through SW Queensland into South Australia to drain into Lake Eyre 600 miles away. July, the river bed is dry. Perhaps in January the wet may descend from the gulf, and does its work for the stations. Kynuna is lost in the scrub to the west. "Julia Creek came into view just in time. Could miss it very easily in the late afternoon sun. Only 700 population. After a radio call to Cloncurry Airadio we lined up on the runway and in a very few minutes was parked near the small hut that served as a terminal building. Not a soul to be seen anywhere.
Where did it gain such a name? Students of early history recall that explorer Edmund Burke named the place after his actress acquaintance
in Melbourne, in the hope they would marry after his south-to-north trip
was over. History records he never made it. Year? 1861. Remember the meetings here last year? I played a borrowed accordion in a store for half-an-hour to advertise the three meetings. We remembered the event for a better reason! We were enabled at the time, to lead over forty people to decide for Jesus Christ. Col Brady, the store owner had his taxi waiting to take me to Gannon's Hotel to clean up for the night meeting. Mrs. Heally the publican promised to come and she did. The staff were rostered so that they could attend. We were delighted to see the impact of last year still going on. Later that night in the Blue Bird Cafe, a number of teens were bouncing around a juke box trying to keep up with Elvis Presley.
We bought them a soda and talked salvation. They were eager listeners. Next day, they turned up at the hotel. And so, out came the tape recorder for gospel music, and out came the brief case with tracts. Out came a copy of the Bible. Don't attend church. Afraid. The Gospel message was quite new. Sad that some learned dance at church, and went in search for brighter lights to put it into practice; but didn't know of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sad that some clergy are eager to teach youth how to adjust socially, but don't teach them how to live! We remember St. Paul's Words: "For to me to live, is Christ...."
People We Meet
Here we met George E., a salesman. Stayed at Gannon's. The meetings caught his attention and the Gospel caught his heart. He had to hear about it again at Mt. Isa. Then he surprised us by turning up in our meetings at Darwin and Katherine. Then met him on the street at Tennant Creek. I sat in his car very late one night showing a clear way of Salvation in Christ. Then, he received the message with gladness. Smilingly admitted: "God wouldn't let me get away!"
Rev. Les McKay is patrol padre on the Burke and Wills Patrol with the Australian Inland Mission. His brother, Rev. Fred Mackay also a patrol padre became Superintendent of the AIM, successor to the noted Rev.
John Flynn, the founder of the Flying Doctor Service. Les spent many years in outback Australia. He was a guest in two Julia Creek meetings before he packed up his land Rover to drive on to meet men along the side of the roads. He thanked Martha and Bonnie for the sweet music. "It's such a blessing to those of us who rarely visit towns and hear this music." I enjoyed his Packsaddle Commentary published by the AIM. It's specially written for outback people.
Then we met the Casey Fixis! Came from Brisbane and made their home in Julia Creek. Even their children were singing with the other youngsters in that town, their own rendition of the famous chorus:
"Wide, wide as the Desert,
High as the Heavens above,
Deep, deep as the deepest bore,
Is my Saviour's Love!"
"For out here, most youngsters have never seen the ocean and
wouldn't know how big it is. And the bore has to be so deep out here to
strike water. It's their lifeline.
Not Much on Pretty Speeches
With the meetings over, we loaded "White Wings" to the bilges
again, and were ready to climb aboard when Allan hurried over: "Les, you know we ain't much on pretty speeches! Don't think we haven't enjoyed your meetings. We sure have. If our invitation means much to your people down south, please come back again, and as often as you like. We need your Gospel out here! Wednesday, July 10, 4.00 pm. Arrived Cloncurry after a bumpy hour long (just follow the road) flight . Landed on runway 16 of this famous outback 'drome.
Here Qantas operated in its earliest history. This is the first Royal Flying Doctor Base back in the early 1930's. Aviation history was born and bred here, but now local aviation is slowly dying. Eighty miles away, Mt. Isa boom town is drawing glory to itself. Shame that Cloncurry is dwindling. This dusty unswept mining town is reminiscent of the 40s. The people there are so wonderful and our first meeting was to a full Methodist Church, with decisions for Christ. Last year's results were thrilling too.
Like Claudia Lynn, wife of an American Engineer. Martha counselled her and led her to Christ. Today she is in Kuala Rompin Pahang, Malaysia. Her husband is on construction there. She sent us a message to the 'Curry saying she was praying for others there to find Christ as Lord and Saviour, too. Some did.
Stan Collard is an engine driver. Works at nights. Should sleep days. But not today. He wanted to drive us with our gear to Mary Kathleen
for the four days of meetings there.
It's Thursday, July 11th and with the ladies in Ken Higgins VW and our gear on Stan's ute, we arrived at the Mary K. cafeteria. Max McIntyre handed us meal tickets and the key to a company house. Max is the Orderly. You see, Mary K. (as it's known locally) is a company town. Owned and operated by Rio Tinto. When you drive into town, a large sign advises there is no overnight accommodation to travellers and advises return to Cloncurry or Mt. Isa.
And so, we were given a lovely house to use for the time of our meetings. The town was due to close in a matter of weeks as the uranium contract expired, but another was expected, and the town is to be kept in moth balls until such a time. We were glad to get among the men and women there. After all, that is the mission in our minds. As the meetings were held in the Cafeteria in the evening, the organ was set up for all to hear.
At one meal, we encouraged Bonnie to play the Lowrey. It was well received by the hundreds eating their meal. The men called for another. And another. Soon the screen partitions were rolled back for all to see, and Bonnie's Dinner music became the order of the day. The General Manager arrived from Melbourne on his monthly visit and he asked for his favourite just like the rest. Our advertising program was going well. But how are we to get them into the actual meetings? That's the problem.
Religion's Taboo Here
One tough guy called to me one day in the company store; "Religion's taboo around here. You'll never succeed", The Junior Policeofficer came too. He told one of the Christian people: "Those Nixon's, they really get you in. Must be the Gospel. You don't notice it when you're there, but after you leave, you just can't forget it!" Forget it? Of course not. That's not our work. That's the work of the Holy Spirit and that was obvious, for we knew that believers everywhere were praying for these meetings. Him? He'll never be able to forget it! In all eternity.
Nineteen-year-old Hans Volk was converted at Mary K. last year. Wanting to avoid his Christian home life in Holland he jumped ship and worked around the world. Eventually he entered Australia illegally. After roughing around the cities for some time, he found his way north and took a cleaning job at Mary Kathleen. Like the rest, he could fill up on riotous living with no limit, except the memory of his Mother's prayer. In June 1962 he was converted to Jesus Christ in one of our meetings, and immediately changed his ways. Then he came to Len Forrest, the Methodist Minister there last year to tell his story. He was advised to contact immigration authorities, and tell his story, including the fact of his conversion to Christ. He did. What he did not know was that Immigration officials had traced him to Mary K. months before, and were keeping a close watch. They noted his attendance at Church and the changed habits, and when he appeared before them in Sydney in December 1962, he was handed a full set of documents permitting him to remain in Australia. Thank God for Mother's prayers.
Now, a strange change has occurred in Hans. After his conversion he found that he wanted quickly to return to Holland to share the joy of his conversion with his Godly parents. He is working to save money to return to Holland for that purpose. Hans' witness all year long at Mary K. paid off. His closest friend has now been won to Christ. That all began during our visit to the RSL Club during a farewell celebration. They wanted music. We had music. But we also had a heavy heart for the great need in the lives of the patrons. We were praying. Of course, our presence embarrassed some of the gayest men and women. Turning to drink, some tried to drown their sorrows.
We reminded them smilingly they couldn't drown their troubles, only float them! After a good deal of drinking, the whole place took on a pseudo-religious air with one and all vie-ing for the most sanctimonious look. Were it not so alarmingly tragic, it could have been almost funny! They yelled for Harold to sing. They wanted to help. And they did, all the way through all the verses and choruses with, "We're poor little lambs
that have gone astray, Bah, Bah, Bah!" How true. Is a nice confession, to be sure, but a confession of the wrong kind. Their need is to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
These kinds of people often try to shock you with their dogmatic arguments. Anything to bring a look of dismay or disgust to your face. You must learn never to react with a shocked look. Sometimes it's hard to do, but do it you must. Rather, treat them just as candidly and frankly as you can.
More Guts or More of God?
The Senior Police Officer had watched closely. Later he introduced himself and shook hands. Blinking through bleary eyes he admitted that he didn't have the guts that we had! "Congratulations," he offered, "You've got more courage than I've got! We replied, "We've got more God than you've got!" That was the same officer who was arrested for a major crime a year later, and served out his sentence in a Brisbane jail.
When they asked for autographs, we included our favourite Bible verses with them. And they sincerely promised to look up John 16, Phillipians 1.21 and Romans 12.1- 2. Believe it or not, that night at RSL broke the ice at Mary Kathleen. Then they came to the meetings. Some came to question, but all came to consider the claims of Christ. One night the meeting turned into at real public forum. With opinions passing one side to the other. Actually, only the preached Word of God was the factual argument as the others had no one to quote. I had the Bible. It did its work of conviction.
"I'm from Algeria", a cook told me, "I'm a moslem. Tonight, I learned for the first time that my god is dead and that only the Almighty God is the One who is alive. I've must re-think my religion and read he Bible through". That night, the men not only asked many questions, but finally answered them for themselves. Some found Christ as Saviour.
Barney and Bonnie!
Barney thanked Bonnie for the meetings. "You must have untold
wealth" he suggested. When she told him that we had less than five pounds between the three of us, and that we depended upon Christian people down south to help us pay our bills he handed her a five pound note, 'to help you along!'
Geoff. Parrish is Superintendent. "You must return", was his farewell comment. "I'll be here all the time, and when we re-open, please get in early with your Gospel next time". We told him we'd try. The Lanhams live at Mary K. too. Cliff has flown light aircraft all over the island for many years. As a Christian man he took great interest not only in the meetings, but in White Wings and our flying Mission. He spent some hours with me over my maps giving me hints about inland flying that makes for safe travel. Cliff regrets that the Church did not pick up the challenge of aviation over the inland years ago. So do we.
It's Sunday, July 14th. 11.00 a.m. service for the Methodists at St. Augustines Church at Mary K. Spoke on the 23rd Psalm. That afternoon we loaded all up on Wally Clark's VW Combi to return for the evening service at the Cloncurry Methodist Church. But 20 miles out on that lonely road the engine seized up and the vehicle came to a jerky stop. A quick prayer was made. Wally reached for a cigarette. We had thirty minutes to get to the church. We flagged the first driver. Thank the Lord, we breathed. It was David Cochrane and his wife. I'd met David last year when he was a PMG technician inland. What a remarkable delivery. We piled in, and left Wally with his vehicle, promising to sent a 'ute back to tow him into town, and to get the organ to the Church for the service. And in the confusion of that "back to front" service (had to preach the message first, and bring the music last) decisions were made by some which brought Salvation to their lives. That night, we three paused to thank God for both wonderfully facilitating our delivery after the breakdown and working in the hearts of some and bringing
them to the Cross of our Lord.
Mining Capital of the West
Monday, July 15th. Arrived Mt. Isa after a pleasant one-hour flight from the 'Curry. The low hills offer a pleasant change from the endless deserts everywhere else. Made photos on the aerial camera over Mary Kathleen on the way. That's the camera I use to 'shoot' the inland, sell the black and white blow-ups to pay for the avgas. The huge open cut uranium mine surely is a striking view from 3000 feet up. They call it the "forty million pound hole in the ground."
At Isa we were handed several weeks back mail. How good to hear from home and to read the scribbled scrawl from our children. Our David aged seven, wrote from Sydney, and Bonnie's children, Donald aged nine and Debbie aged 6 from Toowoomba. We reckon that Martha planned her sinus trouble at Mt. Isa, so that she would have plenty of time to read all the mail. That distressing sinus really puts her out of the meetings. Seems it's aggravated by the heavy acrid air from the smoke stack at the smelters. She took several days to really recover.
Thursday, July 18th. The mail has been answered together with scores of letters to prayer groups in forty towns. Friday, July 19th and our meeting are at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. A united service with co-operation from Rev. Wal Gregory, Methodist, Rev. R.J.Painton, Presbyterian, Kevin Bull, Salvation Army and Max Koffall, Assembly of God. During his welcome, Wal Gregory said, "We are old friends. Because last year we had ten wonderful days together. As I look over those who are gathered here tonight, it gives me a great thrill to see some who for the very first time, came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour at those meetings last year. It gives me a very warm feeling inside, something I can praise God for and I am sure it does Les and Martha and Bonnie to know that so many of those, all of those who gave their hearts to Christ in those meetings last year, have come along the way with Christ and have integrated themselves in His church,
whom we love so much. They are here tonight and we are all thankful to God for the witness that they present. So you are most welcome, and we do look to God with great expectancy for much from this meeting tonight and we know that we will not look in vain, for this is His Work and Will indeed."
Prepare for the Next Trip
I had to spend time working on White Wings getting her ready for the flight to Darwin next week. I called for a taxi to go to the airport. The driver told me of his exploits around the world on a recent trip boasting of his own prowess. He was a self-made man. I told him that I thought that the greatest love that had been shown to man in Christ hadn't touched him yet. Invited him to the meeting. He laughed. Back in town Bonnie needed a taxi and he was the driver. She invited him to St. Andrews that night. He was startled! "Oh, help! No. it can't be!" he complained. "They're everywhere! Just can't get away from them!" Well, he did come for a portion of the meeting, but a call on his taxi radio called him away.
How we all prayed that the brief message of Christ he received that day will sink deep into his heart. Hans Volk from Mary K. drove to Mt. Isa on Friday night after work and brought others with him. Another car was to come, but when it did not arrive he was really disappointed until we learned that they rolled the car on the treacherous bull-dust road. Not injured but all shaken. The effect on the occupants was just about the same as a good dose of a Gospel message. So Hans had some good work to do with those fellows when we returned to Mary K. on Sunday night.
Yes, it is true that one 35-year-old man was taken by the challenge of the Gospel. Never heard in all his life. Even though he was not converted when we left he prepared to come to Church Sunday mornings in Mt. Isa by cutting his hair for the first time in over a year, and he went and purchased a new white shirt and tie. Never worn one until that day when he came to our Church service. That simple deed was more of a revolution in his life than greater acts in yours or ours. Wally Clark was orphaned early. Much like a ship without rudder he heeled through life aimlessly. He owned the VW that broke down on the way to Cloncurry that night. At the fellowship hour after the Isa meeting he came with us over to Mrs. Cornwell's home for a snack. Not a word of our conversation went unheeded. Listened to every syllable. When we were ready to leave he asked for a Bible. Bonnie gave him hers wanting it returned on Sunday.
Knowing his mind for heavy drinking she slipped a cutting in the pages of the 23rd Psalm that he wanted to read. It started: "Strong Drink is my shepherd, I will want, it maketh me to lie down in a drunken stupor ... etc., etc." Wally read both versions and more, for when he came to Church that Sunday, his eyes were heavy from lack of sleep. He had read and re-read that book all night long. This was the beginning. We long to know of his eventual conversion to Christ. During the Sunday services, we asked the people to pray with us about a tail wind on Monday. We hoped to get to Darwin, and could only do it with favourable winds. Yes, they prayed. We had a 35-knot tail wind all the way. But it seems they just kept praying, for two weeks later when we had to fly back south, that same 35 knot wind was still blowing. But now it was a tail wind! Just what we needed.
North by Northwest
A good crowd of friends waved us away as we lifted from runway 16 at Mt. Isa on Monday, July 22nd. It was first light at 6.40 a.m. and we flew 296 degrees magnetic course. Over Camooweal at 8.03 a.m. and landed at Brunette Downs at 9.20 a.m. Here we turned out watches back thirty minutes to put us on Central Australia time. After meeting the manager and workmen and re-fueling we departed (with our tail wind really blowing now).
Flying so low over road crews working on the new beef roads we saw many hearty waves from lonely men. Over Eva Downs at 11.00 a.m. and on to Uncharonidge and Elliott. We chose to fly this route as this placed us over good airstrips on stations every 100 miles or so.Yes, that tail wind is giving us a ground speed of 140 mph or so. Then 248 degrees magnetic course to Daly Waters. The whole day till now had been over open downs, with almost no vegetation.
Actually, an emergency landing could have been easily made almost anywhere. But from Daly Waters north, the terrain becomes hilly with heavy scrub country and, at this time of the year, numerous bush fires. The smell of burning bush penetrated the cabin of White Wings even at 4000 feet. Checking our fuel and distance, we found that we could overfly Daly Waters for Katherine and save an hour of time on the ground. And so for the first time since Cloncurry, we were in radio range of DCA airadio. I tuned the VHF set to 122.1 Kc's and pulled the ear-phones over my ears to call Katherine.
They were expecting my call just about that time, and replied: "Sierra November Bravo, this is Katherine. Go Ahead". "I have a flight plan amendment. Sierra November Bravo flight details delete RFL (refuel) 60 minutes at Daly Waters. Over Daly Waters at 0216 (time) visual at flight level 40 (altitude) Daly Waters to Katherine interval 70 (minutes) endurance 120 (minutes) estimating Katherine 0326 (time) Sierra November Bravo" That decision was a mistake.
Weather Turned Around
The tailwinds at this latitude changed into headwinds mid-flight,
slowing us down considerably. We landed at Katherine two hours later instead of seventy minutes, with little reserve fuel in the tanks. As we held our breath, one motor coughed to a stop upon landing, and the other was ready to also. Not enough gas to taxi to the tie downs. Mmmmm. When we left Mt. Isa that morning, we were all rugged in woollens, and heavy coats. Now were in the territory and many miles further north and off came the coats and jumpers.
We were met at Katherine by Territorians wearing shorts and cotton shirts. "Welcome to Katherine again! We phoned DCA an hour ago and they told us you had just called. They said you'd be in an hour ago". I was surprised to see nuggetty Dick Stretton of Aborigines Inland Mission there, for he used to despise aeroplanes. He remembered the Japanese Zero's bombing Darwin and strafing Katherine in the 1940's. Bullet holes are easily seen in the rock outcrops around the Katherine aerodrome. But rejection has now turned to admiration. Why, he even lives in a caravan made form the fuselage of and ex-wartime bomber! And he thought our White Wings was just miraculous. "I've ridden over much of the Territory by truck and jeep and upon a camel and it usually takes months to cover our patrol. But you have come so far in such a short time. Marvellous", he exploded.
Major Vic Pedeson of the Salvation Army drove up in his 'ute. "You've got a great old bus there, Les", he called as he walked over. "I've flown them and they sure do carry the load cheaper than any other". Vic flies an Auster all through the Territory and is known all over as the Flying Padre. The local people were exited about the two nights of special meeting we planned for later on in the week. Some time was taken in prayer and preparation during the couple of hours with them that day.
We'd covered seven-hundred-and-fifty miles before lunch and only had one-hundred-and-sixty to get to Darwin. As last light was about 7pm we had ample time to make it there. With flight details all complete we left Katherine flying through the smoke of fires all around the 'drome. Because Darwin is both a civil and RAAF military base, it came under stricter flying limitations.
Northern Gateway to Australia
At Pine Creek we talk to Darwin Airadio on 122.1 to gain air traffic clearance to proceed. Again called at Southport Road and was transferred to Darwin Tower on 118.1. It seems to me that Darwin ATC is more like the American method that any I have used around the major cities in Australia. When we landed, we saw numerous US planes who use it as a training base.
Upon arrival we were met by Stan and Connie Eldridge of the Darwin A.I.M Community Church. There were a couple of dozen folks who'd taken the long drive there to greet us. We stopped on the tarmac and stepped out and paused to pray as usual. Really felt we'd had a great deal to be thankful for. Mt. Isa to Darwin in one flying day. A thousand miles. And all these Christians here expecting something special to happen. Bonnie was guest of Miss Shankleton at Retta Dixon Homes. Good to meet friends, and to see again Miss Olwyn Nelson from Sydney. Bonnie spent a good deal more time than she intended at Retta Dixon as the tropical heat and body weariness aggravated a foot infection she had developed.
Here in the Territory, it takes illness and infection twice as long to overcome, than down south. Bonnie was bed ridden a couple of days. Martha and I stayed with Stan and Connie and their son Brian. Also John Robson of the Father and Son Welfare Movement was there, as was Jim Kime, the missionary from Hooker Creek Settlement. Grand reunion. Of course, the most notable member of the Eldridge house is Charlie, the pet kangaroo. Our meetings at Retta Dixon was overwhelming. The youngsters thrilled us with their singing and their clear memory of my message last year.
That was the night we fellowshipped with Jack Langford of Church Missionary Society. He brought some of the missionaries from the field to the service, and we were so thrilled to know of the blessing they enjoyed in the music and message of the team. A recording of the evening was made and taken back to the mission stations in Arnhem land to encourage those on duty there. On Friday, July 26th, we left for the short hop across the harbour to Delissaville Native Settlement. Over Darwin City made a few aerial photographs. (How beautiful it is over the harbour now wholly recovered after the Japanese bombing raids in 1944).
Air or Road?
The long trip around by road to Delissaville is rough and dusty. Most uncomfortable and four hours long. By air, it is fourteen minutes. Max and Heather Schank of the AIM took us to their modest mission home. Imagine what kind of dwellings they have in the hot northern part of Australia? Some are on high stilts to offer cooling ventilation. Others, like the mission houses are on a cement floor, also for coolness. The large style shutter windows, hinge at the top and open out. While we chatted, the aboriginal children who were fascinated by the aeroplane kept sneaking up to their open windows to peer inside.
Bonnie and Martha were the subjects of numerous peeking eyes and open mouths that smiled spontaneously showing white teeth in black faces. Real open house. Bonnie asked them all: "You coming to meeting tonight?"to which the youngsters answered in chorus: YUSS!" Then a giggle and they were gone.
Ten mile drive into the scrub. We found the aboriginals camping along a billabong boasting of the Mia Mia's (bush lean-too's) built by their own hand, cooking in the open fire (a kangaroo had just been baked and was now being disembowelled, ready for eating). Strange twist to this primitive scene was the transistor radios hung from the trees playing modern beat music. We moved among them for an hour or so, gathering them together beside the billabong in the shade from the burning sun. They remembered my visit last year, and I had to report to them that I did take the joey kangaroo all the way to Sydney last year for my boy. When I said it finished up in Red Harpers movie at Teen Ranch they laughed loudly with glee.
They had made me a ceremonial presentation. I just had to go through with it. Then, out came the piano accordion and we sang together with them the Gospel choruses. I really didn't appreciate the words of this chorus until I listened and watched a full blood native sing the words: "My heart was black with sin, till I let Jesus in...."
Back at Delissaville that night we set up for the meeting and turned the tape recorder on, playing some of their own singing. They came from every quarter. They just loved to hear their own singing. And the meeting was a special treat, more for us than them. Some of the corroboree music recorded there that night will be included in our prayer groups tape recordings in the next months.
Off to Hospital
When we arrived back in Darwin on Saturday afternoon, Bonnie's
infected foot was so painful she went straight to the hospital. Within an hour they had removed a toe nail and prepared to admit her. By her own protests she was released, played the organ right through the meeting, bouncing that foot on the base keys without as much as a murmur. Beneath that smile was a nagging pain. Only determination and God's Grace kept her going.
Sunday at the Community Church was day of special delight for us. Stan Eldridge pastored his work since inception and for us to return to the 'army barrack' church in Stuart Park was a pleasure. It was Missionary Day and our interest was focussed on the Borneo Evangelical Mission. If it is true that a colour bar exists in the Churches in the north it is not true of the Community Church. All worship there in unity and as a result there is a real oneness amongst the believers.
Another pilot! Phil Hartnell, a Christian man came from New Zealand to fly in Australia. Fly he does well. His machine is the Muir Aviation Comanche and he has logged an average of one-hundred hours' per month for the last year covering the north of Australia. He also flies the De Havilland Dragon from Victoria River Downs to Darwin and back daily hauling meat for export.
As I fellowshipped with Phil and his wife Pat, Phil admitted, "The Lord brought us over the Tasman to use our talents for Him. I know that I have a place somewhere in the plan of things for the Australian inland, and we both are waiting anxiously to know His Perfect Will." We prayed together till three in the morning and when I left, I felt quite sure that the Lord is hearing their plea for guidance, and will place that capable family Christian aviation in Australia soon.
The work of the Gospel throughout Australia needs that kind of ability and competence to be used snatching perishing multitudes from spiritual death, and lift them up to Jesus Christ, to gain Eternal Life. Padre George Ashworth is chaplain at the RAAF base. We spoke to the service personnel in their worship service. This was our last meeting, as we had to depart on Monday. There were so many meetings we just could not fit in.
Jim Kime's wife planned for a night at Hooker Creek and she pleaded for a mission meeting. Would have been wonderful to have accepted the invitation to Oenpelli, Rose River and Roper River and Groote Eylandt too, with OMS. Then the Methodist Overseas Mission stations at Millingimbi and Elcho Island as well as Yirrkala would have been very worthwhile. But this visit was an advance sortie to see the available opportunities. And we had commitments to meet on our way south, so we could not stay longer this time. Perhaps next year. "Sierra November Bravo, this is Darwin Tower, You are cleared direct to Katherine Magnetic 142 degrees at flight level 30. Report departing Southport Road and at Pine Creek. Darwin Tower."
Martha and I led the first meetings at Katherine as Bonnie was far too ill with that infected foot. We put her to bed. On Tuesday night August the 6th, she came to the meeting and had played one song at the organ when phhhhttttt.......out went all the lights, and off went the organ—power failure. Out came all the candles and old lanterns and flashlights and Bonnie sat all through it as Martha and I had the accordion only for the music, again!
Rev. T. Verrier of the United Church participated with Major Vic Pedersen. Tom is a patrol padre, moving out into the Territory for much of the year. He thinks an intensive Gospel-Crusade could occur amongst the young folk in Katherine and areas in the wet season (January to March) when they come in from the stations, and simply consume their time in waiting until monsoon is over.
Wednesday, August 7th, we were ready to depart for Tennant Creek, when the first run of troubles began. A spark plug fouled and caused an RPM drop on a magneto on the starboard motor. It had to be rectified. We called on Paul, the Connellan Airways engineer and he was most helpful. Could not replace it, so he pulled the offending spark plug. He'd simply renew it. We had no replacements as our small supply had been used on a repair a couple of weeks before. By the time the motor was running smoothly again it was too late in the day to make Tennant Creek. And so, we had to telegram and advise that the meetings would have to be cancelled. I don't know anything I dislike more than cancelling a meeting, particularly in a place like Tennant Creek, where a Gospel meeting is a rarity.
August 8th, and we are flying at dawn. Refuel at Daly Waters. Of course, you know that many of these inland places are simply refuel stops. Half a dozen homes at the most on the side of the road and that's all. Simply hundreds of miles between houses in this country.
Remember that tail wind our friends at Mt. Isa prayed for? Well, it's a head wind today, and our ground speed is down to 70 knots, which means we must stop more often to re-fuel. That's why we stopped at Elliott. We had twenty extra gallons of fuel on board, and here we had to pour it all into the fuel tanks from a one-gallon can. The wind was so strong, it interfered with pouring the fuel. Martha did a magnificent job!
Then, a long walk to the nearest house (an hour away) to phone DCA on our position. After a quick ride back with a Welfare officer in his land rover, we are away again, heading for Tennant Creek. Began our decent into Tennant Creek twenty miles north, as we wanted to be low enough to view the John Flynn Memorial at the intersection of the Main Northern Road and the Mt. Isa road from the east. Flynn's grand influence has spread right across the north of the continent and down through South Australia. It seems, though, that the inlander respects Flynn more than the Lord Jesus Christ of Flynn's sermons! I wonder why we must deify man, and humanise God? But this just isn't our day!
Flaps on Fire!
After refuel at Tennant Creek, we lined up on runway 12 to take off for Warrabri Native Settlement, where the meeting was planned for that night with Rev. Laurie Reece. After our usual prayer together, right hand on column and left hand on throttles, ready to go.
Now, when I opened full throttles for take off roll, I anticipated the usual surge forward. But no—a problem. Quickly power off, with brake on and open the window to determine what stopped our roll. "Oh, no. We have a flat tire.!" I picked up the microphone to talk to the flight office on the other side of the aerodrome. "Tennant Creek, this is Sierra November Bravo. Take off cancelled. I have a flat tire. Cannot move!". "Sierra November Bravo. Did you say your flap's on fire!" "Negative! I have a flat tire!" "Oh, thank goodness! I thought you said you were on fire. I had my hand on the alarm. You almost had the fire crew out there with you."
And so troubles! The officer was most helpful, with a man to work with me and the truck to aid. But it took till midnight to move White Wings from the strip ready to replace the innertube next day. A phone call to Darwin secured the spare tube and had it on the early mornings T.A.A. Viscount to us. Several hours next morning, changed wheel, adjust brakes and we were ready to proceed.
God's Incidents Don't Interfere with God's Business
But we have learned that any testing is sent at least to purify the saints we also know that often times, when delayed just that we might witness or counsel a person in need. If this was the case, well, there were a good number of folk who were dealt with at Tennant Creek.
As we had to stay in the hotel overnight, people were introduced to Jesus Christ, right in the dining room. On the way to the hospital so that Bonnie's foot dressing could be changed, the taxi driver was challenged. He told them that he had just returned from a 200 mile fare to Warrabri and that there were "hundreds of folks there waiting for your Mission!" At that dining table we engaged the local S.P. bookmaker in conversation. We had challenged him about his own need of Christ, before he knew that he was talking to a Gospel team. And he heard the message, and received it with an open mind. Never heard of it like that before. When we went to pay the hotel bill we were told that a collector for the "appeal for mission" of the Seventh Day Adventist sect had asked for donations and had mentioned our names, giving the illusion that the money would aid our inland ministry.
The clerk smiled as he admitted that he had given. He showed me the receipt for Five Pounds! He was taken aback some when we informed him that we were in no way involved with the S.D.A., could not support their doctrine or their missions and that we make no appeal to the general public for our work. We explained (as we had to do to Barney at Mary Kathleen) that we look to the Lord, and the Lord's people. It was at Tennant Creek also that we three took ill from the food at the hotel! And so those days will live long in our memory.
The children at far-off Warrabri heard the throb of aeroplane engines first. They rushed for the strip a mile away and when we parked were flocked round by the hundreds. One excited native girl took Martha by the hand with words tumbling out so fast she really got confused: "We worry for you yesterday! You did not come tomorrow!!!" Minutes later we heard the commanding voice of the school teacher! They had fled school at the sound of the 'plane. We watched them line up and return to the school house for some measure of friendly discipline.
Warrabri, Delissaville, Yuendumu, Hooker Creek, Maningrida and others are Aboriginal establishments of the Northern Territory Administration. This was one of them. Much of the territory depends largely upon government aid through NTA to survive. Of the 40,000 population about half are government employed to run the state. It is Australia's socially dependent state. Most essential services have to be subsidised. The reason is simple. Large area, small population. Great distances. Tropical climate, useless land.
Christian missionaries usually go to these settlements from the larger denominations. At Warrabri, Rev. Laurie Reece was sent by the Baptist Church from down south. Our meetings here were full house every time. Advertising was simple. Send a native around on the back of the 'ute, tell him what to say, and ask him to yell. It works.
Berry Anderson, the welfare officer showed particular interest in our projects, and was most amiable. He helped me service the engines on White Wings on Saturday afternoon. We chatted about the ministry of the Gospel and the place the missionary plays in the welfare of the aborigine. We three met the welfare staff at luncheon that day and felt it appropriate to press the cause of the Gospel upon them, in their social work. We were so glad to be there for their Sunday morning service also. Wished the welfare people were in the Church also.
"Had a good service at night, after you left," wrote Laurie Reece. "One of the boys came to say he had let the Lord Jesus into His heart during the day. That makes eight decisions during your stay. There have been eight more since. I feel your visit has given a fresh interest in music also, and it could be that it will result in some type of orchestra being arranged to lead singing. It mightn't be quite the same as one would have in the city, but possibly will incorporate several native instruments like, boomerangs, sticks and didgeridoo, etc. We want to say a big thank you for your visit which has meant so much to us personally."
"On Saturday Airradio at Alice Springs received this memo from us through the Flying Doctor Radio base at Warrabri. Our flight plan message read: "SNB etd Warrabri 110100 (time and date) landing Alice Springs via Barrow Creek interval 150 endurance 220 minutes B05 VHF radio emergency provisions will report Bond Springs Sartime 110436 pilot Nixon.
"And so August 11th, thirty minutes flying at 5000 feet to Barrow Creek Telegraph office then change heading to 86 degrees magnetic. In ten more minutes we were over open, endless deserts again. No ranges hills, creeks. Nothing but dunes of sand. Then another hour and a half and we were abeam Mt. Pfitzner to starboard and the trip became uncomfortable through the rough air of the low mountains we'd reached. With Bond Springs our final reference before coming in sight of Alice I tuned our RDF radio to Alice Springs NDB on 224kc's. Right on course. Oh, how sweet that assurance after almost two hours flying. Tune to Airadio on 122.1 and we called in our position and arrival time.
At the Dead Centre
The striking things about flying into Alice Springs are the sheer cliffs of the MacDonnell Ranges south of the town. The Gap is quite a picture to view from 3000' and we were over it just at peak level. 'Drome in sight now and with no traffic but White Wings, we were cleared for a straight in approach on runway 09 and our trip from Warrabri was over. (The trip takes six hours hard driving by road). We are in the centre of Australia!
At the heart of a nation, bringing the heart of the Gospel to the hearts of the people. Alice Springs meetings were to the white people. Sadly a colour bar exists. Not in the schools. Not in the cafe's. Not in the busses or taxis. Not in the hotels. But in the Churches. Tragic but true. Frank Dowd, manager of Commonwealth Hostel invited Bonnie to play the organ for 150 folks during the evening meal. A Mr. Dawson walked in, heard the music and exclaimed: "Nicest thing the NTA has done all year!" and congratulated Bonnie. She invited him to the meeting in the CWA hall opposite. He came. So did Frank Hill. And others. This was God's time for Alice Springs.
Even in spite of our weary bodies (and we were thoroughly worn out before we began) we saw fine decisions for Christ at every invitation. Unusual difference at Alice was the greater number of men than women in the meetings. Frank Hill is chief stocktaker for NTA. Lost his wife five years ago from cancer. Said: "Les, I feel like dying!" Bonnie replied: "Only if you know where you're going." He answered: "I don't know where I'd go but I am trying very hard!" To this Martha quickly encouraged: "Frank quit trying and start trusting Christ." That did it. During the invitation in the meeting, Frank walked down in the aisle to the front. I took his hand and asked why he had come out. "Les, I am going to start trusting Christ as my personal Saviour."
In the first meeting in Alice on Sunday, Arnold Long was there and reminded us all that even though Alice at the heart of the nation was a tough town, the secret of spiritual success in the crusade was revival at the heart of the Christian. Our challenge for that place is Psalm 126.6. That is always a challenge to the believer. Because many people prayed we saw an unprecedented level of conviction. But no emotion.
A Mrs. Brown sat through one invitation in great concern for her soul. She left with her family and next day came to tell that she had wanted to come out, but felt she was too emotional about it and wanted to rethink it through. She did. During the morning in her home she accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour. Then came to tell us. Her husband's prayer was answered. Tom Bird is the aviation fuel agent. Is a good church man. Yarned with him at the aerodrome in the afternoon. During the last night there, he was one of those who also confessed Christ as Lord and Saviour in the Youth Centre meetings. A wife's prayer was answered.
Now, he's a better church man. And so, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was doing the primary task for which it was sent. Souls were being won daily. We stayed with the John Bailes for some of our time there. John is the town administrator, or the town clerk, and a concern shows on his face for the people of the Alice. "Thanks for coming Les. You know that this is the first evangelistic mission in the town's history. Let's make sure it happens again next year," he suggested. During one sunny afternoon, we visited the Hospital and spoke to the patients gathered on the lawns.
Another occasion, we took a musical meeting to the Amoongana Native settlement. First time they have had such a musical Gospel meeting. A welfare officer looked us up and down as though we could not be exposed to their kind of life and claimed: "You know, there's a lot of ungodly practices around here that you wouldn't know about " Bonnie's reply; "Like hitting the bottle for instance!" "Oh, yes, yes, I didn't think you'd know about those things!" Later that night several souls were won to Christ and some ungodly practices will now cease in that place....
Ben Usher has the Methodist Youth Hostel and we went there for Sunday Dinner. A number of their young folk were converted in the meetings. Because Ben brought thirty-three people with him to the meeting one night he won Martha's LP record. Oh, how the youngsters love to play that sacred record. Good. Fill their hearts with good quality of music as well as the Gospel seed.
Saturday, August 17th both Martha and Bonnie told some of their life story with their testimonies. One old lady read a book all through the meeting and invitation. Sunday night, we discovered that she was first one to the building, even before the doors had been opened. Meeting time, and the book was forgotten. Invitation time, and she was in the aisle with others walking to the front to decide for Christ. Martha learned the 'why' of the book. She had been led astray by a cult and was trying to reconcile the message of the Gospel as she heard us proclaim it from the pages of the Bible, with her teachings and her books. During counselling, Martha was able to point her clearly to the Christ of the Cross alone, and she was wonderfully converted.
And then on a later night, Martha had a similar occasion to counsel an adult woman who had been confused by the JW's. Again, the matter at hand was to point her to Jesus Christ as sole Saviour and Lord, and the Bible alone as His Divine Word. She also decided for Christ. And so the work of winning souls continued night after night.
Twenty-five year old Jim Harris drives tourist busses around the inland. His word when we left: "Thanks for coming to Alice, Les. My parents were missionaries and I know Christ as Lord, but I haven't lived it the way I should. I have such a high standard to keep, and it's only the Lord working in me that gives me tremendous blessing." A contract painter was converted also. He told his counsellor: "I have learned more about the Bible and Jesus Christ in three days that I had learned in a whole life time."
This was the very first Evangelistic Mission to Alice Springs, ever. So they say. We're sure others have come, but they said this one reached the townspeople for the first time. Population 4500. There are 50 private clubs. Being a tourist resort, all kinds of people gravitate here. Because of this it is a tremendous challenge to preach the Gospel here. It reminds us of our Gold Coast Crusade Dec/Jan. 1958 when we were able to bring the news to many thousands from every corner of the nation. We thank God for the six public meetings in Alice this year. Forty people publicly accepted Christ as Saviour, and were introduced to their local churches.
Southeast on the Way
Monday, August 19th; mid-winter inland. We were blessed with good winds from the north. Fine weather all the way to Broken Hill seven hundred miles away. White Wings broke ground at first light, 6.40am, and we set our face toward Oodnadatta, one hundred and forty miles distant. We passed Finke at 7.55 and crossed the desert border into South Australia at 8.04 just south of Wall Creek. "Sorry friend," apologised the Oodnadatta fuel agent. "All those planes from Melbourne last week drained all my fuel and the supply has not come from the south yet." Oh boy, what next, eh? But he didn't know he had fifteen gallons in the bottom of his underground tank that last week's pilots would have killed for. I guess the Lord knew about it all the time. So, adding our own auxiliary fuel, we had just enough to make it to Leigh Creek.
Miss Ruth Bulpitt of the UAM came over to say hello, fighting off the flies. She works alone surrounded by a thousand miles of desert, aboriginal tribes, Afghan camel drivers and a few white settlers. Presbyterians have the Hospital here, too. About a hundred in town. One little boy by the name of Geoffrey handed a bouquet of brilliant red desert peas to Martha and Bonnie. It's the only colourful flower that blooms out in the desert and it's very striking. Opens up like a bloom and catches everyone's eye.
Talk about striking! So were we. Striking at the thousands of sticky little desert flies that crawl right across the eyes and seem to stick on. A casual brush aside never moves them. One must actually wipe them off with the hand or a cloth. Ugggg. The children wore nets over their hats and faces, tied under the chin. The only relief.
Dean, a scientist with a French oil company doing surveys there introduced himself. "I remember the Adelaide Crusade with Joe Blinco and Billy Graham, Mr. Nixon." He was thinking of '59 when we assisted Cliff Barrows with the music. "I was one of your 2000 voices in the choir at Wayville Showgrounds and the Cricket Ground, and I have really thanked God for those wonderful days". He is now a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. He is surely working in a needy place here.
After a report to DCA that we're tracking direct to Leigh Creek, we departed with that healthy tail wind giving a ground speed of 110 knots. That's eighteen free knots! Looking down, the terrain changes. The great inland rivers flow into Lake Eyre from the west and the north. Mostly dry in winter awaiting the northern monsoon deluge about January. We are now north of the Neales and we leave the road and railway as they wind away to the west. But flying is quite simple from here with the huge marble salty Lake Eyre to our port and no chance of mistaking the many inlets and rivers that feed it.
With the Neales under our port wing we crossed the Bligh and several tributaries. The dark green in the river beds was a pleasant relief after the glaring red of the northern sandy deserts. Passed the Douglas and over into Lake Eyre where the world's land speed record was attempted and aborted recently by speed ace, Sir. Donald Campbell. This day a heavy fog built up over the salt lake right up to our flight level of 4000'. Martha and Bonnie were both dozing in the warm afternoon sun with and the drone of the two motors. I woke them with a shout to look and see. Soon over Lake Bowman we hope, as it couldn't be seen for the fog. Across Lake Eyre South and down the Welcome River to the rail and road leading into Marree. Abeam of Marree about ten mile on the final fifty mile run to Leigh Creek Coalfields. Radio on 122.1 to listen for local traffic. At Farna I heard my call together with a TAA Friendship and Cessna 182. Routine traffic advice to which we responded.
On the ground talked with the air traffic controller and he joked: "Sure busy around here today. Some weeks we only have one plane through. Today, three!" Took on thirty gallons of eighty-octane avgas and four quarts of oils and within twenty minutes we were lined up for Broken Hill. Take a look at your map. You'll see the Flinders Ranges rising abruptly east of Leigh Creek and right across our flight path. And so, to gain altitude we tracked a few miles west first. You see, old White Wings might be a great performer but she's a very slow climber. Mt. Jack rises to 3548 feet and we were at 2400. Not enough. We're underneath looking up to the peaks.
Then, soon we were clear of those rugged mountains, and the turbulence created by the hills assisted our climb marginally, to avoid descending into those rugged peaks. Told the girls we were being held up by sheer will power—theirs! We proceeded over one-hundred-and-fifty miles of plains before Lake Frome passed under our starboard wing at 4.14pm, with Frome Downs station beneath. Forty miles out I tuned the RDF portable to Broken Hill on 376Khz and rotated it for direction. I'd rather listen to radio 2BH than those did-dah's but they were clearer. Closer it became clearer, so I was able to listen to news and music on 666 khz on the headphones for the last half-an-hour. Anything to kill the drone of those motors and the slap of the props.
After a Very Long Day
After that day long flight we flew over Broken Hill city mines at 5.18pm. Tired from the long day in the air Bonnie was still asleep as we lined up to land west on the dirt strip. She said she'd never land asleep like Martha could. We two chuckled a bit as the strip came closer. Careful on the turns, and slow reduction on power so she'd not notice. The gentle skid of tires on the gravel did it. We were on. And Bonnie was ready to abandon ship! With eyes as big as saucers she sat bolt upright stretching the lap belt to the limit. Was sure we were crashing and didn't know what to do next! Joined Martha's club.
We surprised our friend Mrs. Tremelling at South Broken Hill for we were a day ahead of our schedule. All that good northerly wind did it. No meetings arranged for tonight, but she rose to the occasion and bedded us down in a jiffy. Her granddaughter Margaret gathered her school friends around, and we had a delightful time. She's always there when we turn up. Margaret simply adores Bonnie and Martha's music, and if she keeps up her good studies, she'll make it with her music, too, I'm sure. To a cafe for a quick meal before an early night. But our plan went astray! Standing next awaiting were two handsome American lads dressed neatly from Utah. When Martha opened her mouth to say something (we take her accent for granted)—they spun around and extended hands in warm greetings and offered their introduction.
You guessed it; Mormons! Elder Paul and Elder Percy. That's all we needed to finish a bone weary day. But our memory of the methods they employ to gain friendship and members was still good. They'd work their way into our tent crusades in the fifties as concerned friends and devoted Christians. If they couldn't meet the people, they'd occupy all our time in fruitless discussions and pointless arguments. Remember, they are the people of endless determination and engaging misdirected zeal? But as we serve a Lord not a slave driver; a Saviour not a dictator, we avoided those meaningless occasions and tried to make them worthwhile encounters. (To keep friends, someone said, you sometime have to leave the room)! We hoped they'd get the message.
But there is a lesson here. That's the kind of zeal we ought to have for Christ and for perishing multitudes. But I also remember that I was tired. Tired. Too tired? Never. Especially when one must be a witness to the One who said: "I am the Way." So, the ensuing conversation in that cafe was interesting to say the least. They told us they are in a party of nine working in Broken Hill for their church. And what do they call themselves? "We are proselytising missionaries." That right; contact weak church people and inculcate mormon doctrines and then persuade them to transfer to the mormons. "American money is building a temple here and when we get a good congregation going, they will raise funds to build another mormon temple in another land." That, my friends, is how cults missionary program functions.
My reflection: Here we are spending our time and energies in outback towns where Jesus is not named; out of the way places where the Church does not exists. Because we have confidence the Church in larger towns will survive with the people they have. And while we are going where Christ is not named, cults undercut the work at home! They would only be pouring hundreds of proselytising missionaries into Australia where they know they will succeed. If the local Churches are weak, they'll snatch the people away. Yes, my head spun with ten hours of flying and a day of numbing drone, but my heart was on fire to stand and contend for the faith anyway. The discussion was amicable, Christ directed and biblical, but those lads left early knowing they'd make no progress with some who seemed interested in only one doctrine; Jesus!
Old Friends Again
Next day, a courtesy call to Pastor Bruce Thornton at the Baptist Church. I was here for two weeks in April for various meetings including the city council where the Mayor asked about my membership in a trade union. It's required in this labour stronghold. I dug deep for an answer as it'd been years since I worked in the furniture factory, and my trade membership had long lapsed. So, I told him I was a member of the Baptist Union, to which he innocently responded, "Good Oh!" The night we had there was to rekindle friendships, meet new people, and encourage the believers. Talked about Alan Neate's days there, too, and when we would return.
Tuesday, August 20th and meetings all over, work completed for now, and it's time to head home. School holidays were beginning and towns folk head for the coast for refreshment and to escape the deserts. We're on the last leg of our trip. Haven't been home since February 16th. And we miss our families deeply. It's a clear day with twenty knots of wind from the 300 degrees, just what we need. Set course at 108 magnetic and we were on our way. Over Lake Menindee at 10.06, change watches to EST, and head for Ivanhoe to refuel.
Crosswinds are doing us no good by now as we are slowing down to 90 knots over the ground. A TAA Viscount relayed our position and times to Dubbo Airadio and we we refuelled at Ivanhoe hoping to continue. Thirty gallons of avgas from four gallon drums is a slow tedious process. Martha and Bonnie watched the proceedings from under a blanket on the grass under the plane nose, munching chicken sandwiches and sipping team from a thermos. The wind brought the temperatures down, and it was getting very cold.
Bonnie dutifully entertained the curious folk who seemed always to turn up and take a look at 'that old fashioned plane'. What do you mean? It's only twenty years old! Looks a hundred, one fellow cracked! Tracts were handed all around. It's 12.33 and full throttle departure; abeam Roto at 1.17pm and over Lake Cargelligo at 1.50.
Here the Mobil agent is driving his truck out when we line up to land. That's good service. His name is Phil Paul. Didn't know till later but he is the man who took legal action against the Exclusive Brethren to get his family back. In all the papers last year. And he is bitter about it. As fuel poured into the tank, bitterness poured from his soul. "If you find one bad pound note," I explained, "You don't throw all your money away." There are counterfeits among Christians, who are trying to live the life in their own way, and use human methods to do it. It won't work. But they are the exception. Don't throw the good ones away because there's a fraud in the bunch. He quietened. Then complained; "I was in this whole thing alone. No help from anybody."
But I could not help but think, "Yes, Phil, you may feel alone. But what about Jesus' promises?" "I'll never leave you or forsake you". Do you know Him that well? His problem is that those people have succeeded in splitting his home and family and taken his children. That's the second time. We simply pointed him to our wonderful Lord and Saviour and he quietened. What else could we do when we don't know all the story. When we stepped to the plane to leave he handed us a big bag of fresh fruit to chew on the way. Oh, we thought; The presence of the Lord and passing friendship has blessed him just a bit. We'll write to him and not let him feel utterly alone again.
Last light at Bankstown Aerodrome in Sydney is 5.50pm. Time now is 2.45 and we have about three hours flight if the winds don't reverse. That gives us just fifteen minutes to spare. Our radio call went out as usual: "Any station. This is Sierra November Bravo. I have a message for Bankstown". Our old wartime fixed crystal ten channel VHF radio on board has a range of about thirty miles at the best of times. And Bankstown is 240 miles away. "Sierra November Bravo. This is Foxtrot November Gulf. Go ahead." It was an Ansett Friendship somewhere near. "Sierra November Bravo departed Lake Cargelligo 0445 for Bankstown direct visual at 4000 feet. Will report abeam Katoomba estimate 0701. S. N. B."
David our seven year old was quietly excited that Mother and Dad were coming home after all this time. Grandma kept flashing our photo at him. He knew. He talked Grandad into a rush drive to Bankstown, as they knew we were a day early. We'd be in about 5.30 by the phone call. Sydney was in a thin winter afternoon fog as we descended to 1500' over Liverpool and cleared for straight in to runway 05. Martha and Bonnie said they didn't see the 'drome till the wheels touched the wet grass and we taxied to the parking position.
"Bankstown Tower, Sierra November Bravo on the ground at 31. Cancel SAR". This was our final radio call on this trip and we were almost home. We'd stopped. No rush now. No people to see, no meetings to hold, no functions to attend. Just family. It's a relief. And our final prayer for the trip that day included David bouncing in the pilot's seat and Dad Nixon beaming with gratitude as we sat in the silenced cabin of the plane. There will be many more flights and meetings, and many more teams joining in, but this adventure in 1963 is another in a long history of service, as the Lord provides. And there's many others who will come to Christ and become part of His Church because "every generation needs regeneration." Scores of doors have been opened and invitations given. It's our duty to encourage the few Christians, and to win others to be part of the end-time harvest.
A New Thing in the Outback!
We are home for rest and recuperation. And reflection. Isaiah said: "Behold I will do a new thing. Shall ye not know it. Now it shall spring forth. I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert". That may have been written about Israel, but it applies to outback Australia as well. In a few weeks the Dragon, White Wings will head west again and be seen as an angel of light to people who live in remote places, too small for a church, too big to overlook. For now though, we're home, and that's a good feeling.
Christianity is a movement, not a condition; a voyage, not a destination!