Bowraville Bell Tolls For Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Hope
27 April 2017
Having just read Mercy International Association E-News that on March 17th Bells would ring out in Ireland in Solidarity Against Racism has prompted me to tell story of the Bell with historic value in the little country town of Bowraville in New South Wales.
About six years ago, when I was the Pastoral Associate in the Catholic Parish of Nambucca Valley, of which Bowraville is a part, an old Church Bell clearly dated 1932 was found by the Principal. He had an idea to mount this bell on a brick plinth to recognise the Stolen Generation and the commitment to Catholic Education in the school by the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and the former Grafton Congregation. I applied and received money through the Institute for this project.
The story of the Bell:
This Bell holds significant memories for the Aboriginal People of Bowraville. This bell was rung for school, prayers, funerals, and in particular when the Government Protection Agency were coming to take the children away from their parents. Someone in the township of Bowra would let the Sisters know when the Protection Agency was arriving. The Sisters would ring the bell and this would be the indicator for the children to scatter in to the bush or down by the river and hide so that they would not be taken. The little children who could not run fast enough often hid under the Sisters’ habits. This scene has been beautifully depicted by an Aboriginal Artist under the title “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” In the Artists’ work a sister is portrayed ringing the bell with a government official trying to prevent her while several children are seen running into the bush….
In 2016 with help of the two former Principals and the current one the Historical Bell was mounted on a brick plinth with a special flag pole beside it for the Aboriginal flag and two memorial plaques.
On Monday 6th March 2017 the beginning of Catholic Schools Week a final ritual took place with the historical story being told. The Elders shared their memories and Fr Shelwin Fernandos blessed the Bell. At the end of this ritual the bell was sounded three times by Aunty Shirley, Aunty Sandra and myself.
The three tolls were for:
Morning Tea followed.
Messages to Fran Kuhn rsm.