Francis Xavier Gsell (1872–1960) autobiographer, missionary, bishop
Gsell lived and worked on Bathurst Island. He understood Aboriginal life, spiritual values and rituals and sought the people’s advancement; at this time even some anthropologists believed that they would become extinct.
Gsell persuaded the South Australian government to grant him 10,000 acres (4047 ha) for an Aboriginal mission on Bathurst Island in 1910. He studied the intricate laws and customs of the local Aboriginals and carefully chose for his central site an area which none of them claimed. In 1912 the island was proclaimed an Aboriginal reserve, and Gsell lived and worked here, apart from a visit to Europe in 1920, until 1938. He understood Aboriginal life, spiritual values and rituals and sought the people’s advancement; at this time even some anthropologists believed that they would become extinct. He worked patiently: during fifteen years the mission performed only 113 baptisms; after thirty years he did not claim a single adult convert.
He was concerned to alter the polygamous nature of Tiwi society. Once, to save a girl from having to live unwillingly with an old man to whom she had been promised at birth, Gsell was inspired to ‘buy’ her. Thereafter he ‘bought’ 150 wives and, through their education and marriage to young men who accepted the Christian concept of marriage, he spread his religion. However he knew the Tiwi too well to entertain illusions. Their comprehension of the new marriage pattern probably represented a modification of traditional ways, but not a fundamental break.
In 1936 Gsell was appointed O.B.E. Two years later he left Bathurst Island to be consecrated bishop of Darwin. He established a mission at Arltunga in Central Australia, and a settlement for part-Aboriginals at Garden Point, Melville Island. His imperturbability belied his tenacity and forcefulness. In 1946 the Commonwealth government sought to resume all freehold land in Darwin and to remove the Catholic cathedral and school to another site. He fought the move—and won.
Source : http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gsell-francis-xavier-6502
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