March 5 – Dianne Buchanan

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Dianne Ethelle Buchanan, Christian Pioneer

1945 – 1993

You may ask why should a Gympie grave in Queensland display words in an Aboriginal language of the Northern Territory that say, ‘Märr-ŋamathinyamirrnydja walal gi bala-räli’yunmirr yan” which translates as ‘Love one another’ from John’s gospel.[i] The answer lies in the life of Dianne Buchanan.

On the 18th October 1946, Dianne was born to Nils and Grace Buchanan. She was the only daughter, in a farming family of 4 children, whose livelihood came from growing delicious sweet pineapples in the district of Gympie.

In 1955, when Dianne was 9 years of age she decided to love and follow Jesus. After completing her teaching training and a couple of years teaching at Biloela Kindergarten in Queensland, she responded to the Methodist Overseas Mission’s appeal for teachers to help at the fast expanding school on Elcho Island in the Northern Territory.

She winged her way into Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island, as a pre-school teacher, in 1969, where she was welcomed not just as a teacher but as one of the community, receiving an Aboriginal subsection name ‘Galikali’.

“Deep down I knew it was where God wanted me,” Di said. “The children were delightful to teach. So accepting and uncritical of my attempts to communicate in their language. The Aboriginal people are a very gentle people … I’ve been ministered to in many ways.”[ii]

After five happy years in the Pre-school, she was drawn into Adult Literacy, which displayed her gift with languages. This led to another career change in 1977 when she was nominated to be translator of the Bible into Djambarrpuyŋu, the largest language group represented on Elcho Island and also used in the neighbouring Yolŋu communities of North East Arnhem land.

She continued to work on translating the New Testament for her Aboriginal family right up until her final days. Rev Djiṉiyiṉi Goṉḏarra said of Dianne that she was ‘a pioneer in her linguist work, and a strength for both Church and Community.’ ‘She saw many changes. She saw self-determination’ he said,[iii] and ‘was one of the few missionaries who was able to adapt to the changing circumstances of Aboriginal community life’.[iv] It was a privilege for Di in 1988 to be the first lady to lead 30 traditional Yolŋu Christians from Galiwin’ku to the Holy Land.”[v]

Di was a major prayer support and encourager in spiritual renewal and the revival at Elcho Island in the 1970’s and 1980’s.[vi] Her diaries were a significant contribution to the writing of the book ‘Fire in the Outback’ by John Blacket.

Of her own spiritual journey she writes: “With a renewal of my own commitment to a love-relationship with Jesus, came a release from an over-developed sense of responsibility for the church at Galiwin’ku.[vii] ‘Only in union with him will you find real complete freedom, unspeakable joy, the peace that passes understanding. So now take his yoke on you again, … for he promised to carry (his) share.’[viii]

Over 20 of her Aboriginal family from Elcho Island travelled to Gympie to join with Dianne’s family and friends to mourn her death, on the 5th March 1993. One could not help but also celebrate her rich and wonderful life, as one who loved and trusted in her Lord. She was only 47, but by God’s grace 7 months earlier she was able to stand with her translation colleagues and witness the dedication of a Mini-Bible, that included five-eighths of the New Testament, produced in Djambarrpuyŋu during Elcho Island’s Jubilee celebrations.

Di’s favourite writing of Mother Basilea of the Sister’s of Mary takes pride of place on the front page of Di’s Bible.

O none can be loved as is Jesus

None like him is found anywhere

‘Tis He whom I love, whom I long for

For no-one with Him can compare.

So all that I have I will give Him

I’ll sacrifice all I hold dear,

My whole life to Jesus belonging

My heart seeks my Lord to revere.

I’ll  follow now close in His footsteps

The path that He trod here below,

I only desire what He gives me

And only His way I will go.

My heart is at peace and so joyful

For all I desire He supplies

I look now for nothing but Jesus

Who all of my hopes satisfies.

 Margaret Miller and Dr Marilyn McLellan


[i]  In the writings of John these words are found in John 15:12, also John 13:34

[ii] ‘Profile. Di Buchanan: translator’ p11 in Journey, May 1992

[iii]  ‘Islanders mourn church worker’ p7 ‘Northern Sign’, a magazine of the Northern Synod, Uniting Church in Australia. Number 4. April 1993. Article also p5 of NT News 11 March 1993

[iv]  “Selfless devotion of mission worker, a newpaper article of ‘Gympie Times’ 11th March 1993

[v] ‘Dianne Ethel Buchanan, 1945-1993, A Tribute’ p8,9 in the Queensland Uniting Church Auxiliary for World Mission Newsletter May 1993

[vi] “Two Bible Translators Die” p7 Khesed Newsletter March 1993.

[vii] Di’s newletter dated ‘end of March’ year not stated, ca 1982

[viii] ‘Genesis 3’ –writing of Di Buchanan, 1991