Mission established at the Sackville Reach Reserve

Saturday August 10. A mission station under the NSW Aborigines Mission, controlled by Miss Retta Dixon, is established at the Sackville Reach Reserve. Some Christian effort is made there in July 1899 when a missionary under the auspices of The United Aborigines’ Mission visits the reserve. Its missionary aims to “take the Gospel to the dark people of Australia”. In 1901, Dixon with T E Colebrook, President and G E Bodley journey by train to Hawkesbury River station, then up the river to Sackville Reach by steamer. Alfred Barber ferries them to the reserve where 20 to 30 Aborigines are waiting. The leaf band welcomes them. On entering the church, mission members see the walls and roof decorated with “much taste”. Over the pulpit is a “nicely designed ‘Welcome’” After a prayer and address, the leaf band consisting of seven or eight young men plays music with leaves from a lemon tree.

The next day, about 50 Aborigines living on the reserve turn out, the church is almost full for the morning service. During the afternoon service, the lady missionary devotes her address to the children and teaches them some hymns. That evening Aboriginal people fill the church for another service, including 20 young men. About 16 young men hold up their hands in “token of their desire to lead a Christian life”. Work has commenced on a house for Miss Dixon.

At 2am Monday, Alfred Barber pulls down the river in the dark foggy morning to collect a sulky and drive the missionaries to Windsor to return to Sydney.

The local newspaper writes of this missionary visit: “A Model Aboriginal Village: A visit to the Aboriginal village…at Sackville Reach, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, will well repay the philanthropist, who can see at a glance what taste of civilisation has done for the dusky denizens…In a picturesque nook [are] some 30 or 40 habitations of the villagers…As a rule every cot has a plot of land attached to it, which the bread winner tills to perfection, and when not hoeing his own row he can be found working for his white neighbours. The little colony is the personification of happiness, and the reunions the blacks have among themselves, though not of [research] character, are none the less enjoyable. Most of them can play the violin or concertina, and they imitate their white brethren in every manner and custom. They can nearly all read and write; they have a place of worship of their own contiguous to the village; and on the whole lead moral and industrious lives. It is only when some straggler comes among them from some other district that there is any semblance of the orgy so characteristic of blacks’ camp generally. Many of them have horses and traps, and a boat supplied by the Government, it is…used for fishing, and not infrequently when they catch a surplus they hawk the fish around the towns, and the money they procure for it goes towards finding food and raiment for the ‘colony’. They dress well and live well, and are infinitely better off and more circumspect than many of the so called superior white race. A visit to the village at Sackville Reach will provide food for thought for those who are prone to aver that the Australian black cannot be civilised”. (Windsor and Richmond Gazette, in Brook, 1st edit, 34).