HERITAGE TREASURES (Number 81)

By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer

We are all familiar with images of Christ, Our Lady and the saints which have a white complexion and European features, but not so often do they have characteristics that are influenced by the culture from which they emanated.

One such example of the latter is the figure of Christ on a crucifix which was carved in Papua New Guinea in 1949, and had an important significance for its owner.

The crucifix was obtained by James McAuley (1917–1976), a major Australian poet and public intellectual, later to become Professor of English at the University of Tasmania, and founding editor of the conservative publication Quadrant. He is perhaps best known to Catholics as a writer of some sixteen hymns, many of which, like ‘Seek, O seek the Lord’, are still treasured and sung.

In the late 1990s this crucifix was given by his widow Norma to the parish church which he had attended. It had been obtained by him during a 1949 visit to Yule Island, a small island some 160km north-west of Port Moresby, in his capacity as a trainer of officers for service in the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea.

Here he encountered the Catholic mission which had been established there by French Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 1885. The visit is said to have had a “profound spiritual impression on him and contributed to his conversion of Catholicism” in 1952, hence the special meaning attached to the crucifix in the context of his life’s journey.

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