Alice Easter 88 years after the altar arrived


p2425 Easter Catholic mass OK
“Due to the fact that his portable altar had been misplaced on the journey north, it was another two weeks before Fr James Long could celebrate the first mass.”
Father Long was the first resident Catholic priest in Alice Springs. He arrived on May 26, 1929, and initially “resided in the Stuart Arms Hotel. There were about two hundred Europeans along with mixed races and Aborigines,” the online history of the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish reports.
He travelled from South Australia to Rumbalara by train from where he caught a lift on a truck for the remainder of the journey because the Ghan railway line was still under construction.
In the 88 years until this Easter the parish grew from a small spiritual outpost which – occasionally to the displeasure of some – provided assistance for Aboriginal people, to be a major supplier of education – the OLSH Schools – and social assistance (Catholic Care).
It is now also a hub for people of many races and nationalities.
Along the way the parish was closely linked with the political and business forces of the growing town.
Although many of its parishioners were close to the founding of the Country Liberal Party in The Alice, the church didn’t hesitate to make its point.
For example, parish priest Adrian Meaney, during mass, told Chief Minister Paul Everingham, who was in the congregation, that Alice Springs should not be getting a casino. Nevertheless, Mr Everingham permitted Australia’s first mainland casino to be built.
Retired Telstra employee Fred Twohig has been an active member of the parish for five decades, and is a member of the parish council.
He says its work underscores the transformation of the church from being under the control of the priests, to being run by the congregation, “although the Bishop still has the final say”.
p2425 Fred Twohig 1Mr Twohig (at left) says the down-to-earth approach of Pope Francis, expressed in his encyclicals, is a guide for the parish: “Last year was the year of mercy.
“This year it’s getting the family right, and rest of the world will fall in line.
“For a long time the church has been against divorce. Pope Francis trying to change this, open doors, not close them.”
The names of the parish council sub-committees, called ministries, indicate their focus: Social justice, Indigenous issues, hospitality, prayer and adult education.
Mr Twohig says he’s grown up with the Catholic Church. He was an altar boy. He says while the church elsewhere has been rocked by pedophilia, he has never seen any evidence of that in Alice Springs.
From a solid Irish and Anglo-Saxon stock the local church has gradually diversified, over the past 10 to 15 years, to now take in people from Asia, Africa and Polynesia. Many local Aborigines are also devout Catholics.
“Aranda Catholics are amazingly spiritual,” says Mr Twohig. “That cannot be emphasised enough.”
Their Ngkarte Mikwekenhe community have their own church in South Terrace, but after careful negotiations, says Mr Twohig, there will be a move by them to the main OLSH church. The South Terrace church will be closed. The 11am Sunday service will still be held in Aranda.
In recent times some African parishioners have gone over to the Desert Life Church, “attracted by the charismatic singing and dancing,” says Mr Twohig.
“The attendance by overseas people started with the early Vietnamese refugees. More and more foreign looking people came to our church.”
It was a battle against prejudice in some quarters, he says, well back, after the initial boat people arrived from Vietnam, but now a substantial portion of the congregation is of Indian descent, “some of them professional people working here”.
The parish priest, Fr Asaeli Raass, is from Fiji. The assistant priest, Fr Prakash Menezes, is Indian, and Fr Olivier Noclam, a Vanuatan, is the Aboriginal chaplain. Fr Jim Knight is the Resident Priest.
“Father Olly” travels to Yuendumu and Harts Range to say mass, as well as small outstations such as Black Tank and Sandy Bore, and town camps in Alice Springs.
A highlight of the parish calendar is its Multicultural Mass, in June or July, “with people in traditional costumes, cooking their native meals.
“I do the Australian cuisine. I call them multicultural sausages, white bread and sauce,” says Mr Twohig.
Easter was, of course, the year’s biggest occasion, taking the church into the town.
The 14 Stations of the Cross were commemorated not only in the church, but also along the Todd River.
And at 3pm on Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, worshippers filled the church, in somber darkness, the statues covered.
The Easter candle, symbolising new life, was the focal point at the 9:30am mass yesterday (pictured), one of three services on the day.


  1. I was at the mass when Fr Adrian Meaney took Chief Minister Paul Everingham to task over the prospect of a casino being established in Alice Springs. This happened one Sunday in 1979 as I recall, and Everingham was in the congregation.
    Fr Meaney was a staunch opponent of the casino and didn’t hold back his criticism during his sermon; however, Everingham was having none of this and stood up and gave as good as he got.
    The argument raged to and fro for several minutes until someone else had enough and yelled out to shut up and get on with the mass.
    That would have to be one of the most memorable church services I’ve ever attended.

  2. The annual St Patricks Day Ball was a memorable part of Sacred Heart Parish events, directly behind Sacred Heart in the 1960s and early 70s.
    Religiously attended by all us dedicated Roaming Carflick young lads and lassies, and others, from Melanka Hostel.
    It was eld out in the open on the cement courtyard, in beautiful crisp night air, Milky Way blazing in the Central Desert night sky, a ritual symbolic gate crash invasion by the Orange Men at a suitably hazy stage of proceedings.
    Wonderful Irish music, Pride of Erin, Barn Dance, rock n roll, imported big bottles of Melbourne Bitter from Down South.
    Beyond the Mexican border, on our table, ripping the sleeve of the only suit coat owned climbing over the courtyard fence at 3am.
    Then quiet reflection on indiscretions at Mass on Sunday. Good memory.

  3. Is Adrian Meaney still alive (Alex Nelson Posted April 17, 2017 at 10:07 pm)? He deserves recognition for his principled and courageous stand.

  4. @ Careful with that $, Eugene (Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:18 pm): As far as I know, Fr Meaney is still going strong. The last time I saw him he was a co-celebrant of the state funeral for Bernie Kilgariff in April 2010.

  5. I believe the Aboriginal community and the wider Christian community would be well served if Pat Dodson were to return to the Sacred Heart parish and talk to the people about his time as a priest in the Alice.
    I am sure that his reflections on the faith and difficulties and internal politics of those times would be enlightening and welcomed by all.

  6. Just to keep the record straight re Alex Nelson’s comment which is entirely ficticious.
    Firstly the casino was already in operation for sometime and the argument was about the introduction of poker machines.
    On the Sunday before Fr Meaney, in the presence of Paul Everingham, had lectured the congregation on the evils of gambling.
    During the week I considered this and said to myself if he says this again this Sunday I am going to object.
    I used to take up the collection of a Sunday morning, and afterwards, when taking the plates, back I said loudly: I object to the pulpit being used for political purposes.
    Fr Meaney replied to me in a loud voice, objecting to my comments, and claimed it was his right to say what he thought.
    The congregation clapped and that was it. Paul Everyham made no comment at all.

  7. @ Jim Brown (Posted April 22, 2017 at 12:10 pm): You must be referring to another occasion, Jim. The event I witnessed was long before the casino was operating, and what I described is what occurred. You were not the person to speak out on the occasion I witnessed.
    Here are some facts: Fr Adrian Meaney departed Alice Springs on Sunday, March 15, 1981; the Alice Springs Federal Casino was officially opened on Thursday, July 9, 1981, and amongst its attractions on offer were the first poker machines in the town.
    This shows your claim that “the casino was already in operation for some time” when Fr Meaney lectured the congregation on the evils of gambling cannot possibly be correct.
    On the day prior to the casino’s opening a letter from the local Ministers Fraternal was published in the newspaper entitled “Casino will hurt many families” and amongst the signatories were three Catholic priests, they were Fr Kingston Summerhayes, Fr Pat Dodson (now a senator for WA), and Fr Dennis Murphy (who replaced Fr Meaney earlier that year).
    There was much opposition to the introduction of pokies in Alice Springs including from the Town Council (notably Mayor George Smith, who feared their spread to other clubs in town); and a citizen at the time who also strongly opposed their introduction was Fran Kilgariff.

  8. I was a lay-missionary from ’76 to ’78 assigned to the parish by Fr Meaney and Fr Summerhase.
    My initial role was to co-ordinate the establishment and running of a Night Shelter as an alternative to goal for people under the influence of alcohol. The NT had decriminalised “drunkeness”.
    The whole process was a total fiasco due to the lack of support of the local police and community in general and so I moved on to manage the Santa Theresa Town Base on the banks of the beautiful Todd River.
    Fred Twohig was very supportive and helped establish a radio contact between the Town Base and the Mission. I also attempted to learn Eastern Aruntja at the Language Institute under the tutelage Margaret Turner.
    I have very fond memories of my time in Alice Springs as a Catholic lay-missionary and the support extended to me by Fred Twohig, and Fathers Meaney and Summerhase.
    I was also enriched by the contact I had with the Arente people and remember them with deep affection.
    I am now retired and live in Dorrigo, NSW.


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