My brother the hero

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 17th August 2012

PATRICK Redlich has no memories of his half-broth¬er Vivian.
With 27 years between them, he was just a child when the An¬glican reverend headed overseas from England, first to Australia and then to Papua New Guinea.
He would never return and was long thought to have been killed by the Japanese in World War II.
But as the truth of his murder emerged almost 50 years later, it inspired a journey of discovery now captured in a book called simply, My Brother Vivian (and the Christian martyrs of Papua New Guinea).
Patrick visited Rockhampton this week to launch the book in recognition of his brother’s time here.
He said the journey of pen and paper began with a 2003 letter from Sir David Hand, the late Archbishop of New Guinea, who had learned the truth about the murder.
“David told me how it hap¬pened was one of the killers ad¬mitted it to him because he had become a Christian,” he said.
He further suggested Patrick travel to Papua New Guinea for a reconciliation service with descendants of the confessed killers.
Many believed a curse lay over the tribe from the evil of 60 years earlier.
“I thought about Bishop Da¬vid’s suggestion and my mind went back to my father,” Patrick recalled.
“He had preached on forgive¬ness when he heard Vivian had been killed. But I believed the people or the clan who had done the deed would never know or believe my father had forgiven them unless I went to tell them.
“I was certain that I had to go.”
For complicated reasons the service did not happen until 2009.
In the meantime Patrick had dived headfirst into his book, devoting significant pages to his brother’s time as a member of the Bush Brotherhood of St Andrew in the diocese of Rock¬hampton.
Arriving in 1935, Vivian’s headquarters were in Wowan, which at the time “consisted of two hotels, three churches, a few shops and a butter factory”.
However, with a locality as big as England’s four most northern counties to cover, he spent plenty of time on the road.
“At the beginning of each month he would load up his Model T Ford, which some sources say was called Ermin-trude, with his portable altar (designed by himself) and with which he could turn a veranda or front parlour into a chapel,” Patrick wrote.
“He also carried vestments and church linen, a crowbar, pick, shovel and an axe as well as a complete kit of car tools.
“With two canvas bags at¬tached to the front fender and a supply of iron rations, he was ready to start his rounds.”
With a wage of 30 pounds a year and a requirement not to marry, Vivian’s achievements and influence were wide, par¬ticularly with young people.
He was well respected, never more so than in 1940, when he eschewed long-service leave and instead headed for New Guinea, which was desperate for Chris¬tian workers.
Moved around by the church, Vivian was eventually named priest in charge at Sangara and became engaged to a nurse called May Hayman.
When Japanese forces in¬vaded, he was away with illness, but walked more than 35 miles home to return to his commu¬nity.
They built him a hideout/ shelter on the side of a hill, with final memories including a mass he held, knowing full well attack could come at any time from the Japanese troops in the area.
Next day he realised it was time to move on, but fate had other plans and he was speared to death by six Orokaivan tribesmen while walking to safety with his guide, Kipling.
An edited extract on the account follows, drawn chiefly from an investigation conducted by Bishop Philip Strong of New Guinea.
“Shortly after, as they moved on, they met men with spears and fighting geans (sic) coming towards them down the track.
“This, I am certain, would not have been abnormal, and in any case, missionaries would surely have been used to facing up to such men.
“This group, however, was different and soon after they met, they sprang at Vivian, speared and knocked him down, and killed him.
“They did not bury him on the spot but carried his body some distance and placed his remains in a cave.”
Decades later the clan re¬vealed the location of the grave site.
And in 2009, Patrick finally travelled to PNG for reconcili¬ation, with hundreds of people coming forward to seek forgive¬ness.
He also had a chance to meet all the leaders of the group who had investigated the death and shed light on the reasons for it.
“It seemed as I listened that the Orokaivans, who had not been reached by the (Christian) Mission and had hardly any contact with white people, were confused by the events sur¬rounding the invasion,” Patrick said.
“Not knowing much, if any¬thing, about the very few white people they had seen but rarely, and feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous numbers of the then apparently powerful Japanese, it was easy to imag-ine how they had bowed to the deeds required by what must have seemed to them to be the greater authority.
“Then suddenly in doubt, they buried the evidence, but an increasing sense of guilt must have overcome the tribe.”
With the truth of his brother’s life finally solved, I ask Patrick if he felt conflicted about Viv¬ian’s killers going unpunished.
“Funnily enough it never crossed my mind,” he said.
Proceeds from booksales will go to construction of an Anglican Teachers College in Papua New Guinea. — www.
From The Central Daily Tele¬graph, Biloela, Queensland