Frank Roberts (1899 – 1968) pastor
Land security and Aboriginal independence had been two of Pastor Frank Robert’s persistent aims. His achievement—the creation of a relatively autonomous Christian network across Bundjalung communities—underpinned their reassertion of land rights in the 1960s.
Frank Roberts, pastor, was born about 1899 at Blakebrook, near Lismore, New South Wales, eldest of fifteen children of Australian-born parents Lyle Roberts, labourer, and his wife Bella, née Davis. Lyle was a fully initiated Bundjalung who later converted to Christianity. Educated at the segregated school at Cabbage Tree Island station, near Wardell, which was maintained by the Board for Protection of Aborigines, Frank worked as a labourer. On 13 August 1918 at the Presbyterian manse, Ballina, he married Dorothy Hart. He took his family to Lismore, probably in 1925. Armed with character references and a solicitor’s letter, he succeeded in enrolling his children in a public school. When the segregation of students resumed in 1928, the Robertses returned to Cabbage Tree Island.
Following a ‘violent argument’ with the station’s manager, Roberts and his family moved in 1937 to the Aboriginal settlement at Tuncester, near Lismore, where there was no board-appointed manager. About 1933 he had committed himself to evangelism under the auspices of the United Aborigines Mission. Frank, his father and brothers held prayer meetings and ran the Tuncester settlement. In an effort to put pressure on families to move to supervised reserves, the Aborigines Protection Board had closed the school and threatened to remove children from their parents. Roberts campaigned against the board’s policies.
In 1940, with his eldest son, Roberts organized—independently of the U.A.M.—a convention at Cubawee ‘for the deepening of the spiritual life’. Hundreds participated in what became an annual event and a model for other gatherings. The U.A.M. listed Roberts as a ‘native helper’ and then as a ‘native evangelist’ before appointing him a ‘native pastor’ in 1947. The idea of an autonomous indigenous church gathered support within the mission and in 1950 it was proposed that Roberts work interstate to this end. Nothing came of the plan because of a lack of money. He retired from the U.A.M. in 1956, but remained a ‘prayer partner’.
Cubawee was crowded, dilapidated and without sanitation. Neither the Aborigines Welfare Board nor Lismore City Council met its needs. Roberts protested in vain. As official policy gradually came to favour assimilation, the buildings on Cubawee were bulldozed in 1964 to force the remaining residents to move. Land security and Aboriginal independence had been two of Roberts’s persistent aims. His achievement—the creation of a relatively autonomous Christian network across Bundjalung communities—underpinned their reassertion of land rights in the 1960s. Suffering from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, Roberts died of a coronary occlusion on 21 June 1968 at Lismore and was buried in the local lawn cemetery with the forms of the
Assemblies of God. (Refer comment below). His wife, and their three sons and two daughters survived him.
The death of Aboriginal elder Pastor Frank Roberts has left a void in the Bundjalung community on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. Mr Roberts, 73, died at home after a heart attack on June 7. Many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who knew him will remember his ready wit and quips, but few people outside the Aboriginal community will know the full extent of his work for his people. Last week, his brother Fletcher Roberts and Aboriginal community leader and Koori Mail director Charles Moran paid tribute to the tireless efforts of Pastor Roberts in strengthening Bundjalung self-esteem and preserving the culture for his people.
The son of Pastor Frank and Dorothy Roberts, the young Frank spent his childhood on Cabbage Tree Island and like Aboriginal children of the time, knew what it was like to be raised under the threats of the Aboriginal Protection Board. He decided to enter the church after attending a tent crusade in Lismore in his late teens. Mr Fletcher Roberts told, how after five years of bible studies, his brother travelled through through New South Wales and Victoria. He also travelled extensively in the United States with his evangelical work, and was pastor in a New Zealand church for six months. On his return to Australia Pastor Roberts served on the Anglican Board of Missions between 1968 and 1974.
Complete article: http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/koorimail/issues/pdf/028.pdf
The above image is of Rhoda Roberts, Frank Roberts daughter. Refer article : The power of creation : http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/power-of-creation/2008/12/29/1230399105174.html
Influential Australian aboriginal Christians
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