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From Adelaide to the small remote Greek Orthodox communities and towns of Tennant Creek, Mount Isa, Katherine and Kununurra

With the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia, His Grace Bishop Silouan of Sinope has embarked on a trans-continental visit of the vast District of Adelaide with a small group of travellers. The first leg of this journey included Coober Pedy and Alice Springs, culminating in the Divine Liturgy at Alice Springs on Sunday 26th of November. From there, the travellers continued the trip onward on the next leg of the journey.

Towns of reasonable size are few and far between in the Territory, and so on the transcontinental trek to Darwin it is almost obligatory to stay at Tennant Creek. Tennant Creek is on the Stuart Highway, nearly in the centre of the Northern Territory (500km North of Alice Springs and 1,000km South of Darwin), and its population of 3,000 makes it the fourth-largest settlement in the NT after the Darwin metropolitan area (behind Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy). It historically has been a mining town (at one time being the third-largest gold producer in Australia) and a station on the Overland Telegraph, and while mining is still important it has diversified into an NT government service centre, tourism, and a service hub for the local pastoral leases. Significantly, 1,700 (more than half) of the residents identified as indigenous at the 2021 census.

Tennant Creek has not been known for a significant Greek community, but the group did manage to make contact with one Greek man named George who has been a resident there for decades. Thus it was arranged to celebrate the Divine Liturgy there at the local Roman Catholic Church (which had a claim-to-fame that Mother Theresa once visited and worshipped there) on Monday 27th of November 2023. This was quite possibly the first ever Orthodox Divine Liturgy celebrated in the town – a historic milestone. The service was attended by Mr George and a small handful of other locals (along with the local Roman Catholic priest), and there would quite possibly have been others if it had not been a weekday. His Grace conveyed the paternal blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Makarios to all. After a visit to the cemetery, Mr George invited the travellers to visit his expansive home which looked like it had been physically transplanted from Greece. After a brief tour, and a promise to visit again on the return leg, the travellers finally made their way.

Tennant Creek is also significant in that it is close to the turn-off to the Barkly Highway, which runs East into Queensland across the Barkly Tablelands and all the way to Cloncurry. The group knew of one Greek ex-Adelaidean who resided in Mt Isa and was also able to contact a few Greek families. Having come so close (“only” 660km) and knowing that Mt Isa was very isolated (1,800km from Brisbane and 900km from Townsville), it was decided to take the “small” detour to perform a rare Divine Liturgy (as far as we were told the first time in twenty-six years).

Divine Liturgy held in Mount Isa

With a population of 18,000 in the 2021 census, Mt Isa is one of the larger towns in the region. Its economy is dominated by the large mining and smelting operations which mine many different metals (including copper, zinc, lead, silver). It also hosts a famous rodeo and has some interesting historical buildings such as an underground hospital/bomb shelter that was built during World War II (a precaution after the bombing of Darwin). The Liturgy was held on 28th of November 2023 at the local Roman Catholic parish, and despite the 40-degree temperature and the fact that the parish’s air conditioning was down for maintenance that day, a dozen locals braved the heat to celebrate the Liturgy and receive Holy Communion. His Grace addressed the people, conveying the prayers and love of His Eminence to all, and spoke about the difficulties an Orthodox Christian faces when they are isolated from daily communal worship. After the service, one of the local families (who lived less than 100m from the Church) invited everyone to their (air-conditioned!) home for refreshments, and from there the group proceeded to the cemetery and conducted the Trisagion service for dozens of Greeks and Greek-Cypriots who had been buried there – many of whom had not had a trisagion service for years (if at all) or even an Orthodox funeral service. The detour had been well worthwhile.

Departing from Mt Isa on the 29th, the travellers returned to Tennant Creek to resume the trans-continental journey and to spend the evening meal with Mr George and a small gathering. His Grace took the opportunity to run a small, simple Bible study to give the people some spiritual strength, while Mrs Pauline (George’s wife) opened her kitchen to allow for the travellers to prepare additional prosphora for the coming days.

The next major town North on this route is Katherine, named after the river on which it is situated. It is the third-largest town in the Territory (after Darwin and Alice Springs), with a population of around 6,500. As with many towns on the Stuart Highway, it began life as an outpost on the Overland Telegraph Line but has since developed into a transport hub and service centre for local industries, including mining, and services the strategically important RAAF base (Tindal) nearby. It is hot and wet, with an average annual rainfall of 1,100mm (most of which falls during the wet season) and an average maximum of 34.2°C.

There is not a large Greek community in Katherine, and so a Divine Liturgy was organised for the town knowing that perhaps only the travelling party would be attending (along with the unseen Angels and the Saints). It was with great joy then that they were able to also receive a young Kalymnian man named Nikolaos, who had learned of the service in Katherine through his connections to the Darwin community. The local priest from the host Roman Catholic Parish, Fr Augustine, also attended, and His Grace was able to convey to them both the love and prayers of our Archbishop. Nikolaos not only enthusiastically participated in the service, but even took on the role of host – arranging plentiful refreshments for everyone after the service.

Divine Liturgy held in Katherine

Having reached within a 3-hour journey of its northernmost destination, the group found itself with a day to spare. Having grown somewhat in confidence along the journey and travelling long distances, it was decided to try another “small” detour. This time the (rather ambitious) plan was to head 500km West from Katherine along the Victoria Highway (National Highway 1), crossing 45km into Western Australia’s Eastern Kimberly region, to another isolated town called Kununurra.

With an official population of 4,500 in the 2021 census, Kununurra is the largest town in Western Australia to the North of Broome. It is over 3,000km from Perth and over 800km from Darwin by road. It was originally built to service the extensive Ord River Irrigation Scheme. The road between Katherine and Kununurra comprised scenery of much natural beauty, but Kununurra is very hot and humid during November-March period, and so the population is seasonally transient (with even some tourism-based businesses closing down during this oppressive period).

Again enlisting the help of the local Roman Catholic parish, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Saturday 2nd of December (St Porphyrios) 2023 – almost certainly the first ever Orthodox Divine Liturgy in the town. With sunrise at 4:45am, the locals typically organise their work early in the morning before the full heat of the day sets in, and so too at the parish they had a working bee that morning which only finished at around 9:00am – which meant that the service had to start at 9:30am, by which time it was already over 35°C (heading for a top of 43°C) and very humid. The parish had no air conditioning, but it seems that one of the lovely local parishioners had hired a portable air conditioner for the day (even though it failed to cool the church much).

Of all the stops on the tour, Kununurra was the greatest leap of faith. The group had no pre-existing connections to any locals in the area. However, Mr Nikolaos (whom we had met at Katherine) decided to come for the service with his wife Stephania (a Filipino convert to Orthodoxy), and a callout on the Kununurra Community Facebook page also drew a local enquirer to come and experience the Divine Liturgy too. Together with a couple of the local Roman Catholic parishioners who stayed after the working bee, a half-dozen people were present – considering the oppressive conditions, this was a huge blessing and a tribute to the faith of those in attendance. Glory to God! His Grace again passed on a message of love and prayers from Archbishop Makarios and spoke to them about St Porphyrios and his gift of spiritual fatherhood from a young age, and encouraged those present to follow his example in his love for his fellow human being.

After having lunch with the locals, the group finally prepared to head off on the third and final leg of the trip, heading back towards Darwin.