February 19 – J R B Love

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.

James Robert Beattie (J.R.B.) Love, Christian pioneer

Presbyterian missionary to the Aborigines.

The fifth of 10 children born to the Rev George Clarke Love and his wife, Margaret Georgina, née Beattie, Bob Love’s Christian faith was nurtured in the Presbyterian manse at Strathalbyn, where his father ministered from 1892 to 1923. The family migrated to Australia when he was 5 months old and spent a short period in Vic before moving to SA. Experience gained in the bush around Strathalbyn as he grew helped prepare him for his future work in remote areas of Australia. Interest in a group of Aborigines who camped near their home for a short period kindled his missionary commitment. He taught as a student teacher at Strathalbyn in 1906-7 and was a student at the Pupil Teacher School in Adelaide and commenced study for a BA at University of Adelaide in 1908-9.

He was appointed head teacher of the Leigh Creek School, 500 km north of Adelaide. This environment stimulated his enquiring mind and his interest in exploring the bush. He sent specimens of rare birds to Edwin Ashby for showing at meetings of the Royal Society of SA. One identified as a new genus and species was named Ashbyia lovensis. He visited a nearby mission to learn more about the Aborigines.

In 1912 at the age of 23 he was asked by the Presbyterian Church to undertake an expedition ‘for the purpose of inquiring into the conditions of life among the Aborigines of the Interior’. He left Leigh Creek on 28 Dec 1912 with horses, a mule and two dogs. Accompanied for a short part of the journey by a brother, John, and a friend he travelled extensively in SA, the NT and Qld. He kept a diary and wrote a detailed report of the expedition and formed the habit of meticulous recording of observations, a feature of his later work.

Port George Mission had been established in the north-west of WA in 1912 by the Rev Robert Wilson and his wife Frances. Bob Love was asked to relieve the Wilsons to enable them to take leave. Following his arrival in Dec 1914 he undertook exploratory journeys to seek a new site for the mission. He embarked on a study of the Worora language. He left Port George on 14 July 1915. He enlisted in the AIF on 9 Nov 1915, joined a Light Horse Regiment in April 1916, and transferred to the Imperial Camel Corps in May. In August 1917 he was commissioned 2Lt and promoted Lt in Nov. He transferred to the 14th Light Horse in July 1918 and in Sept was one of the first of the allied troops to enter Damascus. He was wounded in the chest and hand and awarded the DCM and the MC ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’.

On his return to Australia he entered Ormond College, University of Melbourne to complete his BA and undertake theological studies. He was ordained in Adelaide in 1922 and appointed to Mapoon Mission in north Qld. He married Margaret Holinger, a teacher at Mapoon, on 5 Sept 1923. They had four children.

After five years of involvement in the evangelistic, administrative, pastoral, agricultural and training work at Mapoon, he heard of financial problems which threatened the closure of Kunmunya, the new site of the former Port George Mission where he had served briefly before the war. He applied to serve as superintendent at Kunmunya and arrived there on 24 Aug 1927.

His early Christian upbringing, knowledge of bushcraft,  academic training, studies in Aboriginal culture and language and experience in leadership contributed to his 13 years of effective service at Kunmunya, a remote community dependent on the mission’s lugger for communication and supplies. He repudiated paternalism and earlier mission policies of opposing traditional customs. He respected the authority of the older men and held regular camp meetings, encouraging the people to discuss problems and make decisions. He was actively involved in the varied tasks of the mission, medical work, education, gardening servicing and running of the lugger, and the cattle industry. He recognised that there were aspects of traditional culture which could be used in explaining the Christian faith. He saw the need of communicating the gospel in the language of the people and engaged in further study of Worora language and translated the Gospels of Mark and Luke. His thesis on Worora grammar earned him an MA from the University of Adelaide. He insisted that when English was spoken by the people they spoke it well. His ministry led to the first baptisms at Easter, 1929 and the further growth of the church at Kunmunya.

While on leave in 1937 he spent 3 months visiting the Pitjantjatjara region of the northwest of SA to advise and assist in the establishment of Ernabella Mission. After 3 more years at Kunmunya he was asked to take up the role as superintendent of Ernabella. Leaving Kunmunya in 1940 he arrived at Ernabella on 2 March 1941 and during the difficult war years administered the development of the sheep industry and assisted in the study of the language. Underlying his involvement in all aspects of the mission’s work was the conviction, as he wrote in 1944, that ‘Our Scriptural commission is to heal the sick and preach the Gospel’.

The Loves left Ernabella on 2 March 1946, to serve as moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Australia. He was called to the Adelaide Hills charge of Mt Barker-Lobethal-Woodside but ill-health limited his time in ministry. He was described as a model of manly Christianity. The policies he advocated and implemented in the period between the two World Wars, respect for Aboriginal cultures and languages, encouragement of Aboriginal decision making and holistic mission, were forerunners of policies accepted more widely in recent decades.

J R B Love, Stone-Age Bushmen of To-day (London, 1936); M McKenzie, The Road to Mowanjum, (Sydney, 1969)

Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004