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too much cabbage and jesus christ : the life of missionary annie lock.

Legendary missionary Annie Lock

This is a fascinating, in some ways disturbing biography of missionary Annie Lock, excellently written. Catherine Bishop’s research is extensive and she attempts to analyze the many conflicting sides of Lock and her controversial attitudes in a very fair manner. The book is divided into nineteen chapters  with maps, photos, an index and includes voluminous references that act as a bibliography. Also included is a table of contents, a note from Bishop , a list of abbreviations and a timeline.

We follow Lock’s extraordinary life full of harsh conditions, long treks and hard work.  Bishop attempts to portray the many sides of Lock’s character – she was very strong willed and quite divisive with some people  loving her and others disliking her. The title of the book comes from an Aboriginal person who left the Mission she was involved with. 

Bishop looks at Lock’s life and how she believed Aboriginal lives were important. Mentions are made of the Stolen Generations, massacres and Aboriginal Missions. A faith missionary, Lock argued with Daisy Bates, (their interactions were frostily civil), met the Duke of Gloucester and inspired R.M. Williams. Among other adventures Lock was shipwrecked in a pearling lugger, drove a buggy 200 miles across desert to escape drought, produced Christmas puddings in 40-degree heat, nursed sore-ridden children, made headlines for allegedly being ‘Happy to Marry a Black’, and held decided views on Aboriginal policy and culture; her letters erratically spelt but written with honest principle .

Born in South Australia, one of fourteen children, trapped by household chores with little education, Lock seemed set for a future of menial labour and poverty. She worked as a seamstress. But in 1901, aged 25, after receiving her vocational call, she attended a two-year missionary course which gave her the necessary skills to become a missionary. Lock was disappointed not to be allocated a challenging destination such as China but rather she was sent to NSW, where her 34-year career of ministering to Aboriginal peoples began.

One part of the book is devoted to the 1928 Coniston Massacre in Central Australia where a group of police murdered 100 Aboriginals. Lock was the whistleblower who led to the establishment of the Enquiry .

Lock’s first posting was to Sackville Reach, north west of Sydney. In some ways she was regarded as a maternal figure. In 1906 when sent to Forster she campaigned for the right of both white and Aboriginal children to attend school together. Lock arrived in Missions aiming to ‘save ‘and ‘civilise ‘ local Aboriginals yet had the established attitude of superiority to the ‘natives’ .

In 1909 Lock sailed to Western Australia to head an orphanage in Perth .The state was run paternally with excessive control and forced assimilation policies for Indigenous peoples. Racism was blatantly palpable. Missionaries acted according to what they thought were the best interest of Indigenous families and children but this meant in reality what we now know as the Stolen Generations – the disintegration of family life, major stress, loss of culture and language with often an ignoring of human rights. 

Lock busily recruited children for Dulhi Gunyah, the ‘home’ at Katanning, W.A. Often agreeing to disagree with detractors, Lock moved to Sunday Island and was there 1917-1923. Life was quite different in that isolated place. Lock had to work with another missionary,  a male, but there was never any hint of scandal. This is also the time of AO Neville and ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’.

We then follow Lock moving on further voyages – establishing a Mission at Oodnadatta in SA, then later Mer Ilpereny (Harding Soak) in NT , followed by a  mission camp at Rabbit Well near Ryan’s Well NT then Boxer’s Creek and Murchison Range NT. She came to understand the necessary significance of blending Aboriginal and Christian cultures.

Eventually Lock became worn out in her health by age and overwork,  growing a bit erratic  She gave talks in Melbourne and Sydney and investigated Mission school possible sights at Finnis Springs, South Australia, but retired and rather stunned everyone by marrying James Johansen , a retired bank manager,  at the age of sixty , and they travelled around the Lake Eyre country in a motor van preaching. Lock passed away in 1943 .

Bishop’s book presents the story of missionary work in the early part of the 20th century and how Lock represents the well- intentioned, zealous, sometimes misplaced beliefs and lives of those who gave their lives to their work, often for years, in terrible conditions and battling bad health. It details the battles and turmoil of Lock’s divisive and controversial life and how she was many things to many people in a fascinating balanced biography.


Original language English
Place of Publication Adelaide
Publisher Wakefield Press
Number of pages 327
ISBN (Print) 9781743058572
Publication status Published – 2021






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