They Crossed a Continent – Margaret Somerville

Battle of Australia Medal (1991) – (1912-2014) This is the story of a wartime exodus from Crocker Island to Sydney. Crocker Island is situated off the North West Coast of Arnhem Land and was home to 95 mixed Aboriginal and white blood children who were abandoned by both Aboriginal and white parents and so were then gathered from government institutions and taken into the Methodist home. They were mainly girls, who were the responsibility of missionaries Margaret Somerville and two other white women. Boys were under the care of the male Superintendent.

With the Japanese advancing the War towards the Northern Territory the priority from December 1941 was to evacuate civilians. The three white women were ordered to leave the Island but they refused opting to remain to look after the children. Darwin was bombed and eventually in April 1942 the children and the women were transported from the Island on a small ship the Larrpan to the mainland. From there followed a six week journey living off the land with small supplies of mainly flour and rice, travelling by truck and trekking through heavy bushlands. They eventually arrived at the rail link in Pine Creek (150 Km south of Darwin). From there, they travelled by cattle train to Birdum and on to Katherine by military trucks to Alice Springs. More rail journeys were made to Adelaide, Melbourne, Albury and finally arriving at Oxford Homes in Sydney.

After the war Crocker Homes was renamed Somerville Homes after Margaret and many children returned there. The facility relocated to Darwin in December 1968. Margaret had returned to Sydney in 1965 to care for her aging parents.

Footnote. While many in BCUC may likely be conversant with this amazing story of courage commitment, determination and care, for me, not coming from Australia, this epic journey was unfamiliar until I saw the book on the Church Library shelf. Recommended reading.

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