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Story of Aboriginal leader wins Christian book award

On Tuesday, November 28, 1786 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge presented the First Fleet chaplain, Rev Richard Johnson, with about 4000 books and tracts, effectively establishing the first library on Australian shores. It's unclear what the original Australians would have made of this collection of white pages and humans, with their very different approach to collating knowledge and ideas.

Now the story has come full circle (some painful detours along the way) with the biography of an Aboriginal leader winning the 2012 Australian Christian Book of the Year, presented this month by SPCKA at the Australian Christian Literature Awards in Melbourne.

Murray Seiffert's Gumbuli of Ngukurr: Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land (Acorn Press) was announced the winner ahead of 40 titles and was joined by runner-up A Short History of Christianity (Viking-Penguin) by Geoffrey Blainey and third placed Love, Tears and Autism: An Australian mother's journey from heartbreak to hope (Ark House) by Cecily Paterson.

The Australian Christian Literature Awards also include prizes for unpublished manuscripts by young writers. Faith Like a Mushroom earned Claire van Ryn the Young Christian Writer Award. Daniel Li was awarded the Australian Christian Teen Writer Award for his work: A Short Walk

The story of a man, mission and a people

Aboriginal elder, Michael Gumbuli Wurramara, whose early life was spent on remote islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria moved as a teenager to the historic Roper River Mission, which became known as Ngukurr when the government assumed control. Gumbuli came to be one of the community leaders who fought hard to achieve local decision-making at this time of dramatic change.

He was later the first Aboriginal Anglican priest in the Northern Territory and ‘architect’ of the Kriol Bible Translation Project. Gumbuli faced many of the challenges arising from traditional Aboriginal ways meeting Western culture and the Christian faith.

As Seiffert's book tells Gumbuli's story, it also is a "new history of the Roper River Mission" as described by reviewer Kara Martin and seeks to correct in this case the rather bleak view of missionary history often accepted without question.

Finally, in the view of the SPCKA, Gumbuli of Ngukurr is a "singular story of indigenous protagonism, self-determination and leadership in the face of overwhelming obstacles—hostile opposition, blind ignorance and numbing indifference" showing a "way forward for the peoples of this continent."

For more about the book, listen to Open House's interview with Murray Seiffert.

Encouraging Christian writing

The SPCKA says its reason for existence is to "stimulate life-changing Christian writing" and The Australian Christian Book of the Year Award are a part of this mission It is given annually to an original book written by an Australian and published by an Australian publisher.

The Award recognises and celebrates excellence in Australian Christian writing and carries a prize of $2,500. Entries are judged for the original nature of the work, literary style, suitability for the target audience, competence and expertise displayed by the author, design and layout and contribution that the book makes in meeting a need for Christian writing in Australia.

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