Life in the remote Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) Community in the Northern Territory centres around their deep faith in God and their community.
BY Annette Loughlin-Smith
For the Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) Community of Eastern Arrernte People in the Northern Territory, Reconciliation Week was not only about bridging the differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, says Good Samaritan Sister Liz Wiemers, it was also about building understanding and respect for the differences between all peoples, cultures and religions.
The all-Catholic community lies about 90 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs and swells to about 500 people when “everyone is home”. The site was originally established as the Santa Teresa Catholic Mission by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 1953. The parish is served by a parish council, and ministered to by Divine Word Missionary Fr Prakash Menezes and Sister Liz. The Marist Brothers have also been working in the community for many years.
“The Catholic faith is very important to the community here,” says Liz who has been the pastoral assistant for over 10 years and “does a bit of everything” from finances to immersion groups and working closely with the women at the Spirituality Centre.
“When we invited the community to be involved in the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation, they took it very seriously,” she said. “Families gather at home each night for prayer and respect and understanding of differences in people would have been in their prayer that week.”
“As an Aboriginal community, some of the issues experienced in the cities are not as significant here, so we broadened the focus of the Week of Prayer to include an understanding and respect for the differences within our own community and the wider global community.
“Recent events in Christchurch, for example, show us that we need to look more broadly at reconciliation with people from different cultures and religions,” she says.
Despite being small and remote, the community of Santa Teresa is vibrant and active, recently winning a number of 2019 Tidy Town Awards including the overall National Sustainable Communities award, Litter Prevention, Environmental Communication and Engagement, Community Health, Wellbeing and Interest, and Young Legend categories.
Santa Teresa is the first Northern Territory Aboriginal community to win the national award and it’s further evidence of the sense of pride within the community.
In another first, Santa Teresa locals Jason MacMillan and Terrence Conway were the first Aboriginal men to take part in the challenging Tatts Finke Desert Race last year. The Finke is known as one of the most difficult off-road, multi-terrain courses in one of the most remote places in the world. The two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads runs through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community and back – about 229 km each way.
Jason and Terrence competed in the race for a second time over the June long weekend earlier this month, which is a source of enormous pride for the community. The fellas have done all the preparations on their own without major sponsors, but secured support from local businesses to get their bikes ready.
As part of their preparations, the parish gathered for Mass and the men took their Honda bikes and gear into the church where parish priest, Fr Prakash, led the community in a blessing:
“May the God be with you at home and in the race.
May He be with you when you start:
May he help to keep your eyes focused in front of you and bless you with patience;
May God give you the wisdom to take the right way, keep all your riding safe and protect you from dangers.”
A student immersion group Mt Maria College in Mitchelton, Queensland was present at the blessing with one of the group saying, “the parish helps life to be real” meaning “they bring real life into the church”.
“We couldn’t do this without the help of our families and lots of people,” said Terrence after the blessing. “Since we finished the race last year we’ve been getting ready and practising for this year. We’re not in it to be in the top four – we are just happy for get there and back safely and to do our families and community proud.”
“All the people in Santa Teresa are behind us and we hope that the young ones can look at us and see what you can do when you really try hard,” he says.
On Sunday many of the community waited at Finke to wave in Terrence and Jason. Others waited at the Deep Well checkpoint and along the track looking out for bikes 545 and 546 to cheer them on.
“My grandsons are very happy and proud that Terrence and Jason are representing our community,” Josette Young said before the race. “The whole community is proud of what they are doing.”
That Sunday there was no Mass in the Parish church – almost all the community was at the race. So, as has been the case for the past 10 years, Mass was celebrated trackside at Deep Well after the bikes had gone through on their way to Finke.
Jason and Terrence did themselves, and all in the community proud, by completing the course which was described by a professional rider as “brutal”.
It seems for the small, remote Catholic community of Ltyentye Apurte, there’s an enormous spirit, enriched by a deep faith and a vibrant heart.