ABORIGINAL MADONNA, NATIVE ART AND A CATHEDRAL
A special shrine in the north transept of the Darwin cathedral is designed for a strikingly original religious oil painting of "Our Lady of the Aborigines," depicting the Holy Mother and Divine Child with characteristic Australian aboriginal features.
The picture - simply set in a frame of stained moranti, 50 inches high and 38 inches wide - is the work of a visiting European artist, Karel Kupka, of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. . . . Bishop O'Loughlin, who commissioned the painting, says of it: "The shrine of the Aboriginal Madonna will be a focal point for natives in the new cathedral and will also be a reminder to worshippers and visitors of the European and other races that the message of Christianity is universal. . . . The depicting of the Holy Mother and Child as aborigines may appear to some people as strangely novel, but it is in conformity with the practice of the Catholic Church throughout the world to bring religion to the people in terms of local understanding."
The figures, slightly larger man me-size, are in simple white garments bordered with colourful aboriginal designs. The Mother's face is not that of any native woman in particular, but rather a composite creation the result of many sketches of different women, who sat as models for the artist during his tour of mission stations throughout the Territory. The Holy Child is seated in typical native fashion on the Mother's shoulder, with one leg about her neck and one hand resting on her head - in just the natural pose that countless piccaninnies adopt. Large golden haloes, rendered in the fiat manner of the Byzantine period with edgings of aboriginal designs in reds and yellows, circle the heads of both Mother and Child.
Karel Kupka came to Australia to study native arts and crafts for documentary purposes on behalf of the Swiss Museum at Basle. We granted him permission to visit our missions, at the same time asking him to keep an eye out to see if the idea of painting an aboriginal Madonna would appeal to him. He understood what we wanted - something along similar lines to the Japanese and Chinese Madonnas. He began planning the painting immediately. While on the missions he made many sketches of aboriginal women, who sat as models with their infants. He brought the sketches back with him to Darwin and set up an improvised studio in one of the school rooms at St. Mary's Convent.
The result of Karel- Kupka's work is a beautiful and inspiring masterpiece of religious art. He has succeeded brilliantly in a task that presented unusual difficulties and problems.
The accepted tradition of representing aborigines in art is one of caricature; whereas here we have something at once serious and sympathetic. Viewed from afar the face of the Madonna attracts with its appealing lines, inviting closer scrutiny. Drawing nearer, you become aware of deep spiritual qualities, hitherto unrevealed. The dominant expression that prevails is, I think, one of a sensitive compassion.
For weeks while painting the picture, Karel Kupka was at a loss to find a suitable background for his finished figures. He experimented with a variety of tropical landscapes featuring ghost gums, pandanus palms, and such like. But he was not satisfied with any of these. He told me of this difficulty one day when I was in the studio with him after lunch. Around the walls he had hundreds of examples of native art displayed, which he was classifying during the moments when he rested from painting. I cast my eye around these bark paintings and other specimens of native art and with a sweep of my hand I said: "Karel, you have the material for your background right here."
I went on to suggest to the artist that a selection of designs from this very wide variety of tribal areas would aptly represent the Christian dedication of the entire native peoples along with their new cultural aspirations. The idea appealed to Karel Kupka very much. He went ahead with it immediately and I think the final effect is more perfect and apt than I could ever have imagined.
This latter feature of the painting, though carefully subdued by the artist to harmonise with the whole picture, has a fascination all its own. Summing up centuries of native tradition and mythology, the background presents a composite pattern of aboriginal designs accurately adapted from specimens of native art in Central Australia, the Kimberleys and the Northern Territory. Interwoven in its intricate pattern, giving the effect of a tapestried backdrop, are symbolic and decorative pieces selected from bark paintings, cave-drawings, painted bark baskets, ceremonial spears, carved corroboree poles and sacred churinga.
The composition would rightly be called a work of realism, though the figures are idealised to some extent and their pose has been delicately stylised to give the desired grace and serenity. Thus the masterpiece presents a pleasing and unusual synthesis of contemporary and traditional art forms with aboriginal designs. Karel Kupka aptly chose a typical native pose, with the Divine Child seated on the Mother's shoulder. This is a very restful and effortless manner of carrying an infant and can be maintained over a walk of many miles. The mother does not always need to support the child with her arms - as she does in the painting. She can tell he is secure by the tension of his hand on her head and hair.
Of course, this is not the only method the native women use to hold their infants. Besides the conventional way of nursing practised by European mothers, they use the native coolamon, or bark cradle, tucked under their arm. Supporting the child astride the hip is another common method when travelling. The posture adopted in the picture is just typical of aboriginal mothers, as the one-legged "Four-o'clock stance” or "Brolga pose" is typical of native men when standing at ease.
Besides exercising a powerful stimulus to the piety and devotion of the natives who make up an important section of the Darwin Diocese and the Cathedral congregation, the painting also has a significant message for all Australians who may be privileged to view it. Breaking completely from the trammels of caricature, it brings to the fore, with keen insight, a new appreciation of the nobility and natural dignity that characterise our native people when not degraded by a corrupt environment. No doubt, too, this important work of art will help to win for them a rightful status in our Australian way of life, throughout the Commonwealth.
The refreshingly original picture, fashioned as it is with accomplished craftsmanship and a refinement of technique, has aroused considerable interest in the art world, not only in Australia but also in Europe. While black and white prints of the picture utterly fail to do it justice; happily, excellent reproductions in colour have succeeded in capturing much of the beauty and appeal of the original masterpiece. It has a far-reaching implication. Reproductions have sold throughout the world. Last year a columnist in the Melbourne "Herald" wrote: "This year's Christmas stamp, we notice, is to be a representation of a 16th century sculpture of the Madonna and Child. The original is in our National Gallery. But this is the Madonna and Child we'd like to see on a stamp, ..." (Here the writer ran a small photo of the Aboriginal Madonna.) . . . "This is a real Australian Madonna and Child. . . . How about it for next year's Christmas stamp?"
Blended with the religious message, the Madonna and background symbolise the rich and varied art of the aboriginal people, the origins of which are lost in antiquity. The Church encourages the continuance of these arts among the natives. They help to keep the cohesiveness of tribal life, the feeling of "belonging," which is so necessary in this early stage of their assimilation into the Australian community. Almost all the old aboriginal paintings, on bark or on the walls of caves, had deep ritual significance. This art developed during a known period of more than 12,000 years, and maybe as much as 50,000 years, when the race were nomadic hunters, fishermen and collectors of plant food. It covered the whole continent and was applied generally to their rituals and to decoration of weapons and utensils.
ANCIENT ART FORMS SURVIVE
Much of this cultural heritage is lost forever. But in Arnhem Land and the area around Port Keats mission - places where white settlement took so much longer to penetrate - the ancient art forms survive. The number of active painters is few; maybe fifty, or even less. And not many of these measure up to the standard of men like Punduk of Port Keats, or Mawalan, the Rirajingo tribal elder of Yirrkala. Punduk is leader of an art colony which flourishes among the Murinbata people, who live in the aboriginal reserve, centred at Port Keats. Almost all their work is done in a special bark hut at the Mission. Punduk's greatest achievement to date is a primitive tapestry in the form of a reredos, which covers the entire wall behind the altar in the mission church. Painted in sections and then meshed together, it blends and balances perfectly into a masterpiece of symbolic art, every line and curve of which holds deep meaning for the aboriginal congregation. It vividly depicts the dedication of their entire tribal territory with its mountains, caves, lagoons and billabongs, its natural foods of berries, and game - everything they treasure - to the Glory of God.
The altar itself is decorated with a mixture of symbolic and near-European-style figure painting. This latter work was done by Simon, chief disciple of Punduk and in many ways the most interesting of the Port Keats artists. Simon, who is a nephew of the notorious old tribal killer, Nemarluk, is untrained, but has great natural ability. Some of his work, though perhaps a little too ambitious for his talent at this stage, breaks right away from the traditional. He is the first Port Keats native to bring realism into the task of depicting ancient legends on bark.
Father Leary is helping to foster this talent, which mayi one day open up a bright future for Simon in the art world. The painting of Punduk and Simon, which has given the altar its striking and unusual setting, has clear parallels with the Aboriginal Madonna. Like the Madonna, it uses recognisable native art forms, giving the people a sense of belonging, a proud knowledge that here, in the mission church, is something truly their own. The effect is heightened by the altar candles, the stands for which have been formed out of ceremonial spearheads.
Punduk is a man of influence and intelligence. He has visited Sydney, going down with an exhibition of his own and other aboriginal art. While in the south he went to Canberra, and later to Cooma (where he became the first Murinbata to see snow), and other places. The impressions that trip made on him are having a profound effect on the life and thinking of the Murinbatas, who are almost completely isolated from normal European contacts.
Under Punduk's direction the bark painters keep up a steady output, interrupted at times by the bush walkabouts which all the Port Keats people so love.
Outstanding among the younger traditional artists is Mardigan, aged about 35, whose work already is known and eagerly snapped up by experts in the southern States and overseas;.
In Arnhem Land, also, aboriginal art is very much alive. The master painter of this wild corner of the Northern Territory is Mawalan, about 65 years old now; one of the last custodians of the old culture myths. For in the bark painting of Arnhem Land there were the beginnings of a written language; something which the aboriginal, if he had been given the time, might eventually have developed along the lines of Egyptian hieroglyphic or picture writing.
In parts of Arnhem Land the work is deeply symbolic. Landscapes are not landscapes as we know them. Dots, dashes and squiggly lines might represent hills, trees, billa-bongs. To the initiated, every line and curve has a meaning as clear as the A.B.C. in a child's primer. These paintings were used often as primitive instruction manuals, when training the young men. They illustrated the history of the tribe and its heroes; and the Dreamtime stories, handed down over uncounted thousands of years.
Today the rituals are a dying thing. Truths that, when the aboriginal was lord of the bush, stood strong and imperishable as stone, are fading under the impact of a new civilisation. The concept of working regularly for money hits at the very existence of some of the more important ceremonials, which might take six months or longer to complete. Who these days but a remote Arnhem Lander or a Port Keats veteran could leave his job for so long?
And so the whole intricate pattern of aboriginal life and social organisation has gone into the melting-pot. This process is as inevitable as the sunset. And it seems equally symbolic form, will die also; perhaps with the present generation of men. .Unfortunately for the anthropologists, the great body of the work is lost already. Bark paintings, in their natural state, don't last. Insects eat the ochre and under the ravages of age and weather the bark itself flakes away. After a few months or a few years, nothing is left.
W. E. Boustead, Restorer at Sydney Art Gallery, has evolved a mixture which, when sprayed on the bark, preserves the painting indefinitely. This means at least that the work of Mawalan, Punduk, and the few remaining bush artists will be preserved. In addition the Port Keats painters have evolved their own primitive preservative, made from the gum of a tree.
The artist in bark and ochre has to be master of many skills. There is no one to provide him with canvases and easels. He has no equipment beyond his axe and his "brushes," generally little chewed-up twigs. Early in the wet season, when the sap is running and the bark strips off easily, he will take a walk through the bush, stopping at a likely tree to test the bark. If it comes away readily he uses his axe to ringbark the trunk at top and bottom. Some of the "canvases" are of heroic proportions, six or nine feet long, so he may have to shin up and down the tree like a monkey before he is satisfied.
Then, with a sharp, pointed stick, he makes a vertical cut from top to bottom so he can peel the bark off in one piece. This he dips in water and flattens with stones until after a couple of days it is dry and fiat. Then he gives it a surface by rubbing it with a mixture of ochre and orchid juice, or the sap of a tree. This done, he takes up his little twig brushes and begins to paint. The colours are yellow, red and sometimes pink ochre, black charcoal and white clay. The artist must have a deep and complete knowledge of the old stories and Dreamtime myths. For his models exist only in his mind and in the annals of his tribe, sometimes the result is a great bark tapestry in three or four sections. For instance it might tell the story of the culture hero, Djungwal - virtually a race memory of the black man's arrival in Australia. Whorls and figures on the bark show, to the initiated, how Djungwal came across the sea to the mainland, accompanied by the two Wauwilak sisters. Soon after they land Djungwal is killed, and a huge python. Yurlunggar - the Rainbow Snake of so much aboriginal mythology - swallows the sisters. The painting itself would show Djungwal and the sisters in their canoe, the python, and the turtles and fish they catch for food. The rest is mainly a lattice-work pattern, which the natives call "duiung," together with symbolic designs and marks - a series of curves for rivers, round circles for billabongs, and so on.
In Darwin now is Mrs. Dorothy Bennett who, with Mr. Michael Campbell, a Sydney businessman and at present lay worker at Port Keats mission, has set up a trust to find and preserve as much of the primitive art as possible. They market bark paintings, which are particularly popular overseas in the United States, Sweden, France and England. They take out expenses and hand the rest of the proceeds over to the missions, or to the artists themselves.
Mrs. Bennett became interested in the subject eight years ago, when she came to the Territory with a medical party who were studying the curious one-legged aboriginal resting posture known as the “Brolga Pose," or "Four-O'clock Stance." Later she went to Tokio with an exhibition of native art. Mrs. Bennett now handles a considerable flow of work from Port Keats, Milingimbi, Maningreda, Mainoru and Beswick and hopes soon to go to Groote Eylandt and the Roper and Rose River country. Prices have rocketed in recent years, as the rarity and primitive quality of the work become better known. You can still buy a good bark painting for ten to twelve guineas, but collectors in the south and overseas have paid up to 170 guineas for pieces by Mawalan and other top men.
Not surprisingly, when the isolation factor is considered, the Port Keats style differs somewhat from that seen east of Darwin. There is no "dulung."
The background is a brownish-red, and unlike other tribes they do not fill in all the bark. There might be a large area of background, with just a few designs painted boldly on it. Their style is deeply symbolic like the Arnhem Landers' work and the technique of large dots and concentric circles is extensively employed.
Mrs. Bennett is particularly interested in the work being done at Port Keats and predicts a boom in popularity, when it becomes better known in the south through the exhibitions she arranges. At Yirrkala the artists go in more for "dulung" or, as Mrs. Bennett calls it, cross-hatching. Milingimbi produces dramatic work, with the figure standing out starkly.
The most primitive style of all is seen at Maningreda, a Government native settlement opened only a few years ago. Painters here are fond of showing animals. They use a lot of symbolism, and some of their work might have nothing in it you would recognise. Maningreda is the occasional home of Mundarg, an old primitive and a true artist. With his family he lives as a nomad, wandering between Oenpelli and Maningreda. He is the last of the "X-ray" painters, a form that once flourished around Beswick and Oenpelli and elsewhere. On the walls of caves near these centres, you can see the figures of animals and men, showing what the aborigines believe to be the inside makeup of the body - the backbone, organs, etc. Some experts have estimated certain of these rock paintings to be at least 50,000 years old. Apart from Mundarg the X-ray art is dead now, but Mrs. Bennett has found two or three old men at Beswick who remember it and is trying to persuade them to resume painting on bark.
It is possible that one day traditional native art will have a place, along with the manufacture of "toy" spears and boomerangs, in earning an income from tourists. But the purpose, which once motivated it, will be gone. Most of the younger painters today are not going through all the ceremonies which would enable them to paint as their ancestors did (a notable exception to this is Mardigan of Port Keats). Time may bring a harmonious fusion of cultural streams in the minds of the artists and so offer a satisfactory solution to the present problem.
However, a lot of serious work is still being done by the older artists. Known as "Murrain," it is used to teach tribal legends to those of the corning generation who will listen, and is never shown to white men.
The symbolic art forms of the aboriginal have been used as background for the Aboriginal Madonna, which hangs in Darwin's new cathedral today. The wide diversity in the designs selected reflects all the more perfectly the growing Christian re-orientation of the native outlook and cultural aspirations. Superimposed on that background are the Holy Mother and Child, depicted as aboriginals; symbolic to white and native alike of this new faith which is replacing the discredited pagan rituals. For these reasons Karel Kupka's Aboriginal Madonna, blending the old with the new in a completely original way, and with such mastery of technique, must be considered a masterpiece.
A CATHEDRAL IS BUILT
On Sunday, August 19, 1962, it was a special joy for me to celebrate the first Mass at the magnificent high altar in Darwin's War Memorial Cathedral, after the solemn blessing by Bishop J. P. O'Loughlin. This, the first complete cathedral opened in Australia since 1908, represented the culmination of 20 years of designing, planning and organising, starting in the dark days of the war and ending with an opening ceremony which attracted more than 2000 people of all denominations and from all walks of life. It was the fulfilment of a dream held by many, and the climax of years of generous effort on the part of dozens of men and women, who had volunteered their help in a wide variety of ways.
The idea was first mooted by Australian and Allied troops in the area in 1942, after the old timber church of St. Mary's had been severely damaged in the air raids. . . . The old church did great service to the people of Darwin since it was erected in the 1880's by Chinese labour, when the Jesuit Fathers were stationed in Darwin. In 1897 the whole structure was blown down in a terrific monsoonal gale, but was soon restored more securely and braced with side struts. About twenty years later a sanctuary and transepts were added by Father P. Fanning, M.S.C. While the American troops were in Darwin, you will recall, a group from an engineers' unit moved out the walls of the nave on each side providing additional space.
On November 18th, 1946, a public meeting was held to inaugurate a nation-wide appeal to erect the St. Mary's Star of the Sea War Memorial Cathedral and Shrine of Thanksgiving.
On that occasion, outlining the purpose of the public appeal, I said: "Next year will mark the fifth anniversary of that significant date in Australian history - 19th February, 1942 - when Japanese planes dropped the first enemy bombs on Australian soil at Darwin.
"In that first air raid alone, 243 people were killed and 350 injured. The death roll included almost the entire staff of the completely shattered Post Office. Practically all the ships in the harbour were sunk. ... No longer is the clatter of tin hats a familiar sound in the battle-scarred church. No longer do fighter planes scream through the sky in combat. All that is over now. But in order to commemorate the bravery of our gallant men of the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force, and their British, American and Dutch comrades, who paid the supreme sacrifice while defending Australia's front line of defence in Darwin, it has been suggested that a public War Memorial Church and Shrine of Remembrance be erected here.
"The Shrine will also commemorate the numerous residents of Darwin who lost their lives during those air raids, when bombs rained down over the town. ... In this Shrine of Remembrance their memory will be perpetuated for all time and prayers will be offered in their honour. It will also be an expression of our gratitude for peace.
"It is especially fitting that a national memorial should be raised here at our Northern Gateway among the devastation and destruction which are grim reminders of the calamity that was so narrowly warded off the rest of Australia. . . ."
The meeting appointed officials for a public War Memorial fund, with subscriptions to be invited from all over Australia. At this stage, although some money had already been collected, it was not possible to make a start on building operations, because of the undecided situation in regard to church land tenure. Only comparatively recently did this reach finality. The site ultimately chosen for the cathedral was one which the Government made available to the Church in exchange for Church lands resumed in the old Cavenagh St. Hostel area. It is the site of the World War II United States Army Camp, and the adjoining section of McLachlan St.
Once the site was chosen, the real work began. In March, 1955, Mr. J. P. Donoghue, senior partner of the Brisbane firm of architects, Donoghue, Cusick and Edwards, was invited to Darwin to prepare plans for the cathedral. Mr. Carl Johansson was in charge of all building operations until the beginning of 1962. when Mr. John D'Arcy took over.
We leased from the Army a site for a quarry on the cliffs at Larrakeyah. White porcellanite stone from this has gone to make the walls of the cathedral. First, several feet of over-burden were bulldozed over the cliff face into the sea at Larrakeyah. Then, with compressors and jackhammers, the underlying rock was removed in large blocks. These were stockpiled in readiness for the mechanical saws set up on the quarry site. The stone is a kaolinised, leached shale, sufficiently soft, when removed from the rock face, to be dealt with by specially selected saws. But it is rapidly hardened by weathering into a tough and durable porcel-lanite-like material. It is white with a red grain coursing through it, and its weight-carrying properties were thoroughly tested.
To form the foundation stone Bishop O'Loughlin selected a massive block of grey marble from the Rum Jungle Mine. The stone expresses a rich symbolism, uniting as it does a most important centre of material progress - the open-cut uranium mine, from which it was extracted - with a vital centre of spiritual activity, the War Memorial Cathedral, of which it forms the foundation.
In the foundations are included a number of relics of the early days in various parts of the Territory ... a brick from Port Essington ... a musket ball from Fort Dundas ... a relic of the old Gap Police Station at Alice Springs . . . native relics, such as a stone axe, a stone knife and microliths. Microliths are small, sharp-edged, varied-shaped pieces of stone of aboriginal manufacture. Their age is uncertain but they may prudently be assumed to be several centuries old. The rnicroliths placed in the foundation stone were excavated in 1957 from beneath the eastern floor of a natural shelter on the western face of a hill known as Yarrar, within the territory of the Murinbata tribe. The stone knife is fashioned from a tough pink quartzite, found on an island off the north coast of Arnhem Land.
A striking feature of the cathedral is the main stained-glass window representing Our Lady, Star of the Sea, presented in memory of the Byrne Family of Tipperary Station. The artist, Mr. William Bustard of Brisbane, Queensland, has brought this out by placing a star on top of the window, from which rays radiate downwards. Immediately under the star is a representation of the Madonna and Child. Then there is an expanse of sky through which three seabirds are flying, and underneath a symbolic representation of the sea. with fish in red and waves in blue. Three cherubs decorate the apex of the window. One is black, to represent the native people among the congregation.
The tower of the cathedral is designed to take a peal of four bells. Bishop O'Loughlin ordered the first of them from Glockengieserei in Erding, Upper Bavaria. This firm is supplier of bells to Germany and Europe, including the memorial at Dachau and the shrine at Montserrat in Spain. The bells will be - "e," diameter 46", weight one ton; "g," diameter 40", weight 10 cwt; "a," diameter 36", weight 7 cwt.; "c," diameter 30", weight 5 cwt. So far only one bell - the "e," donated by Darwin's Italian community - has been purchased.
This first bell is inscribed in Italian and English: "This bell has been donated by the Italian community of Darwin.”
"My name is Mary.
Those whom I call to pray
May Mary our Heavenly Mother
Protect on their earthly way."
It is also inscribed with the Coat of Arms of Pope John XXIII and the Bishop of Darwin.
Beneath the sanctuary is a commodious crypt. In the south transept is the baptistry containing a carved font of stone from the Cathedral Quarry. Its cover of polished swamp mahogany was cut at Melville Island. A gallery runs the full length of the nave on either side linked at the back above the narthex. In the rear part of the gallery is a tri-manual, electrically controlled, 400-pipe organ.
The organ was bought some years before the cathedral was built, and operated in the old St. Mary's Church. Some people jokingly described the situation then by saying: "You have bought a magnificent new organ and now you are trying to build a new cathedral to put around it."
The organ has an interesting history which centres round the colourful figure of Johnnie Schombacher, proprietor of the Darwin Music House. When I met him at Alice Springs in 1942 he had been interned because of his German nationality, and was in an alien camp which formed a working party of the Allied Works Council. On his days off he used to tune the pianos at the convent school. After the war I met him in Darwin, where he set up in business.
As a youth he had worked in a Nuremberg organ factory. In the early thirties he came to Sydney where his business included the importing of organs, several of which he installed in churches. I remember a Sydney priest telling me of the sudden shock he received one morning on entering his church and seeing, in the dim light of dawn, Johnnie arising from a coffin-like packing case in which he had spent the night, during the installation of the organ.
Well, our particular organ arrived in Sydney at the end of 1939, when Johnnie had been interned and his business confiscated. He left the instrument in bond. The German firm heard no more about it and assumed it had been torpedoed. After the war Johnnie paid the necessary sum to clear it from Customs and had it sent to Darwin. The firm in Germany, surprised to find the organ still existed, were delighted to accept the pre-war price of about £2000. At this stage (1949) such an organ as this was quite unobtainable and in any case would have brought £10,000. When Johnnie unpacked his treasure from its zinc-lined crates he found it was in perfect condition except for the leather bellows, which he re-made with kangaroo hide, making them stronger than ever.
He set about installing it in the old church. He put together the main sections at his Music House and transported them down the main street one Saturday afternoon on a bomb carrier loaned by the R.A.A.F. Several panels of the wall of the church had to be removed to allow its entry. Then Johnnie installed it, again occasionally sleeping in one of the crates as he had in Sydney. But, unlike the Sydney priest, we were well prepared for early morning surprises. . . . When the cathedral was built Johnnie personally supervised the transfer of the instrument to its final position in the gallery.
As part of McLachlan St. was closed to provide the site for the Cathedral, the remaining section of the street now leads directly up from the harbour cliffs, providing an uninterrupted view from the sea of the tower and main entrance.
In conjunction with the Bishop, and so many others, I had lived with and worked for the cathedral since those earliest days when it was only an idea and the future was fraught with much uncertainty. To see it on the day of the official opening brought to such glorious fruition, enriching the skyline of Darwin, gave me immense satisfaction; as it did, I am sure, to the hundreds of laymen who helped voluntarily in its construction.
The opening ceremony was one of solemn pageantry. . . . It may be of interest in passing to recall briefly a few details of that great day. ... In the official party with Bishop O'Loughlin were bishops from nearly every State; the Minister for Territories (Mr. Paul Hasluck); the Administrator (Mr. Roger Nott); Mr. Justice Bridge, Judge of the Northern Territory Supreme Court; the Federal Member for the Territory (Mr. Jock Nelson); and the Mayor of Darwin (Mr. Harold Cooper). Other guests included visiting priests from other States and all Territory missions; Service chiefs; U.S. Military Attaches from Canberra; Legislative and City Councillors; and leading citizens of Darwin.
The crowd gathered for the ceremony reflected the varied nature of the community which this cathedral will serve, with people of Asian. European and Aboriginal descent mingled as one congregation. On behalf of the native population Edmund, a Tiwi tribesman from Bathurst Island mission and a star footballer, said, "I would like to say how happy my people are to see the cathedral opened." He referred to the painting of the Aboriginal Madonna which hangs in the cathedral, saying his people regarded this as a symbol of how white and native could pray together in Christian fellowship. He thanked the Missionaries of 'he Sacred Heart for all they had done to help his people.
In replying to the welcoming address, Bishop T. Muldoon, auxiliary to His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy, of Sydney, said: "This is a unique occasion in the life of any generation. Several generations have passed by and never witnessed such a thrilling and historic occasion as the opening of a cathedral. , . ." He then expressed the hope that the cathedral - "a majestic basilica, broken delicately by a touch of modernity" - would be allowed to stand alone, and not be crowded out by a lot of other buildings, "I hope . . . that it will be set there in this square, isolated in its majesty, but warm in its welcome to all."
The Minister for Territories told the gathering: "This is something which all Australians can rejoice at. Apart from its national and religious significance, being a war memorial cathedral, it helps commemorate all our brothers, kindred, men of Allied Nations, who showed courage to the ultimate point of sacrifice.
"The cathedral is a great addition to the city and to Territory life, and a witness to the confidence of the people in the future of North Australia. No matter what changes might come in the future, the cathedral would stand for centuries as a monument to the sacrifice of brave men and a witness to the Christian Faith."
Bishop O'Loughlin, referring to the cosmopolitan nature of the congregation, and of Darwin's population, said: "Darwin has a spirit of tolerance not equalled in any other part of Australia, and perhaps the world ... a tolerance of race, language, colour and creed. Later in the evening Bishop O'Loughlin presided at Pontifical High Mass, with Bishop Gallagher celebrant, and Bishop Gleeson preacher. The week-end was among the busiest the church has known in Darwin. On the Saturday more than 1500 people massed in the Botanical Gardens to meet the visiting churchmen. The Mayor welcomed the Bishops at a civic reception, and the Administrator and Mrs. Nott held a reception in their honour at Government House on the Saturday night. Official celebrations closed on the Tuesday, when Father K. Morrison, O.B.E., Principal Air Chaplain of the R.A.A.F., celebrated a Solemn Requiem for those who died in two world wars. All the ministers and the preacher at this Mass were visiting ex-service chaplains.
FITTING DESIGN FOR VAST FRONTIER
Over the years Bishop O'Loughlin and I had many talks to clarify just what type of church building would be the ideal for Darwin. We did not want a plan borrowed from the past or copied from another period of history - not a museum piece that would be completely out of harmony with the atmosphere of a developing frontier city and the vast hinterland that, it serves. We looked for something that would fit into Darwin like a jewel in its natural setting.
We asked our architects to go to work on such a plan and to make free and enthusiastic use of modern building techniques. There is much to be said for a design that has a directness and simplicity about it. Lots of ornament and decoration do not always appeal. Many will find them only distracting. Much better if the beauty flows directly from the pure lines of the building itself, thus representing simple, uncluttered truth with no unnecessary complications. Further, the simple unified design should aim to direct attention towards the natural focal point of the church - the sanctuary with the altar and tabernacle. Also, of course, in a tropical city a cathedral should aim to be cool and fresh with an abundance of controlled air-movement.
The architects have been signally successful in designing our Darwin Cathedral. A first glimpse will convince that it belongs to our own age, that it is quite at home in the city of Darwin and that it fits in with, and offers inspiration to, the developing Life of the whole Northern Territory.
It makes an immediate impact on those who view it, inviting passers-by to a closer and more thorough examination. I often speak to people who drop into the Cathedral and they tell me its beauty, dignity and majesty grow on them more and more as they view it from varying vantage points.
It would seem that its beauty is the result of a perfectly balanced blending of graceful curves with bold clear-cut straight lines. . . You appreciate this immediately when you first view the facade, where the powerful uninterrupted curve of the parabolic arch sweeps with assurance in hood-like fashion above the main entrance. In contrast, two strong straight mullions of concrete pass directly upwards within the hooded area framing the main doors and western window. This window, of stained-glass panels arranged in geometric pattern of offset rectangles, features the emblems of the Australian and American Armed Services. The massive memorial doors at the main entrance were presented by the Ex-Services' Club of the city of Orange, N.S.W. The harmony of the facade is completed by the powerful vertical lines of the tower, which soaring 86ft. into the tropical sky is surmounted by a large stainless steel cross presented by Captain S. H. K. Spurgeon, R.A.N., and Mrs. Spurgeon "in memory of those whose grave is the sea."
The same harmonious blending is taken up inside the Cathedral, which is 176ft. long and can seat 1000. The parabolic beauty in a series of twelve arches, 50ft. high by 40ft. at base, is carried throughout the entire length of the nave, across the transept of the chancel arch and barrel-vaulted sanctuary, till it terminates in the eastern wall of the sanctuary, which is made up almost entirely of the Star of the Sea stained glass window. The contours of both window and vaulted sanctuary take up and trace with perfect harmony the lines of the same graceful parabola featured in the arches. These arches, seeming to diminish in perspective, converge on the sanctuary, drawing the attention irresistibly towards the focal point of the Cathedral.
In contrast to the arches and uniting them horizontally, we have the broad lines of the balustrade running at gallery level the whole length of the nave, all combining to lead our gaze to the sanctuary. The clear-cut rectilineal treatment of the aisles, cloister and transepts offers further pleasing contrast to the parabolic beauty.
The parabolic arch - a distinctive feature of the design - was chosen because the parabola is the primary form of curve, which passes in a continuous sweep throughout its entire course. There is a directness and pleasing simplicity about it. From its base it curves immediately and uniformly to the point it aims to reach at the apex. In earlier times, before special reinforcing methods were known, the construction of lofty parabolic arches was not possible. Quite different is the situation today when techniques incorporating structural steel and reinforced concrete are at our disposal.
To cater for local tropical needs, the entire length of both side walls can be opened up to a height of ten feet, by a series of glass panel doors and immediately above a complete line of vertical louvres. Ventilation and cooling are further maintained by the circulation of natural convection currents kept in motion by a continuous row of hopper type windows set high up in the walls, and protected by the broad roof overhang and a screen of concrete ornamesh.
Missions throughout the Territory have added their distinctive touches. The terrazzo in the altar design and sanctuary incorporate pearl shell collected by divers from Bathurst and Melville Island Missions. Alluvial gold panned at Santa Teresa Mission in Central Australia was used to gild the stars of the Southern Cross in the distinctive tabernacle design. The sedilia in the sanctuary are upholstered with leather tanned from crocodile skins sent in by hunters from the Daly River Mission.
The Aboriginal Madonna painting in its special shrine gives further stress to the missionary character of the cathedral, while the memorial aspect is recalled by the Wounded Statue in its place of honour as a symbol of thanksgiving for peace.
These features all serve to emphasise that the cathedral is the headquarters of the church in the Northern Territory, which embraces a diversity of projects in a huge sprawling diocese of half a million square miles.
FR FRANK FLYNN M.S.C.