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Gumbuli of Ngukurr: Aboriginal Elder in Arnhem Land

"TWO stories overlap and interweave in this tale."

So begins Murray Seiffert's award-winning telling of the personal faith journey of Gumbuli, the first Aboriginal Anglican priest from Arnhem Land, and the history of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Missions of Groote Eylandt and Ngukurr (Roper River) which have shaped and been shaped by this remarkable Aboriginal Christian Leader.

Mr Seiffert, a former Academic Dean at Nungalinya and regular visitor to Ngukurr, uses archival documents and photos as well as personal interviews, to paint a fascinating picture of Gumbuli and his communities' lives.

You can almost see the community at Ngukurr shaped before you as you read of the withdrawal of the CMS and the government takeover in the late 1960s, the rise of the land rights movement and establishment of Aboriginal Christian Leaders in the 1970s.

Particularly disquieting is the history of governments, and in some cases the churches, to refuse to properly consult with Aboriginal leaders about decisions that will affect their community.

This history of Ngukurr and Gumbuli's role as both a community and church leader since the 1970s brings this cycle of shallow consultation and imposition of solutions into sharp relief.

Within this context Seiffert has produced a rich picture of Gumbuli's personal faith journey, from his boyhood, his transition to priest and rector of St Matthews and Aboriginal Christian leader in Arnhem Land.

Particularly interesting is Gumbuli's understanding of Scripture and traditional ceremony which is often contrasted with the author's view of the understanding of Uniting Church Aboriginal leaders.

A standout story is Gumbuli's role in producing the Kriol translation of the Bible (Holy Baibul) – the first full translation of the Bible into an Indigenous language.

Through Gumbuli's leadership Kriol, a dismissed lingua franca of the area, was given new status through use in worship and in the translation work done through the local people themselves.

One way of assessing a biography is to ask yourself: "Would I want to meet this person?"

From reading Mr Seiffert's 2012 Australian Christian Book of the Year, I can say that I would love to meet Gumbuli.

He is a man who is living and exhorting others to live according to John 10:10 which in Kriol is Aiban kaman blanga meigin yumob abum det brabli gudwan laif.