A woman of influence: Mary Belshaw

This International Women’s Day, Revive asked three Uniting Church leaders to share their stories of the women who have influenced their lives. Rev Dr Alison Longworth writes:

My childhood recollection of Great-Aunt Mary Belshaw is of an old woman who was losing her memory. Ironically, I almost forgot Aunt Mary, and yet her influence in my life has grown since 1986 when my Mother showed me an article describing the unveiling of a memorial stone at the site of the former Badjaling Mission. The plaque commemorated two missionaries, Mary Belshaw and May McRidge and the thirty-nine Nyungar families who lived at Badjaling from 1930 – 1954. The following year I visited the site with my family. It was the beginning of my research in Australian religious history, focused initially on Belshaw and her encounters with Nyungar people.

Remembering was important to Belshaw. Before she migrated from Ireland to Australia in 1913, Belshaw tended the family graves in the ancient Movilla Cemetery. On several visits to Northern Ireland I have paid my respects at the ancestor’s graves. When I saw the ruins of the sixth-century Abbey of Saint Ninian within the cemetery grounds I was in awe, realising Saint Columba studied at this Abbey prior to his journey to Iona in Scotland. Remembering Mary Belshaw has brought an additional bonus of discovering my Scots-Irish heritage within Celtic Christianity.

Belshaw left monthly reports of her 38 years of service. In 1916 she wrote of the debt non-Aboriginal Australians owe to the Aboriginal people whose ancestors owned this land long before European settlement. My research has led me to visit most communities where Belshaw once lived, listening to stories of dispossession and separation of Aboriginal families and hearing the cry for justice. Remembering Mary Belshaw, her commitment to mission and her understanding of the importance of family and place, has influenced my faith journey, including my commitment to the covenanting process between the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and the Uniting Church.

 Alison Longworth

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