Review by Janet Howie
On May 24, 1941, Joan exclaims in her diary: ‘Landed at Milingimbi!’
Joan Ellemor (formerly Joan Hooke), he
r Methodist minister husband, Arthur, and infant son, Michael, had just disembarked from the trusty mission lugger Larrpan at the mission station where Arthur had been appointed.
Immediately, they are immersed in busy daily routines, ministry, and unexpected events. Cheerio and love to all tells of their experience among the Yolngu people, on a remote Arnhem Land island, and later in Darwin.
The adventure unfolds largely through Joan’s letters to her mother. The letters and diary entries are a captivating and easy read. Joan writes naturally about everyday life as it happens, setting the scene as she describes the environment, its dwellings, excursions, picnics, ceremonies and wet and dry seasons.
She charts the growth and interests of her six children, records aspects of Arthur’s ministry, and has appreciative and observant insights into mission staff and helpers, providing readers with the unique perspective of a woman.
Her response is sympathetic to the concerns and contributions of the Aboriginal people, without interfering with their traditional culture.
The world of these letters lingers in the mind and a number of impressions emerge.
The strongest is that of faith at work. Understated, but present and practical, whether in church, Sunday school (where Joan sets up the kindergarten), or in education. She allows the Yolngu girls to use her precious treadle sewing machine, which she also uses to painstakingly make her family’s clothes. With the aid of radio contact she renders first aid and deals with a measles epidemic. We read about her family’s experience during the war, of evacuation, bombing and the faith that sustains in difficult times.
Above all, Joan is hospitable, and, often at short notice, supplying meals, morning and afternoon teas, a bed for the night, or welcoming a diverse range of people.
During their first stay in Darwin, in the early war years, the Ellemors offered fellowship and hospitality to many young soldiers stationed there.
Joan’s letters reveal an authentic slice of Australian family, missionary, and social history from 1940 -1960, a history that is valuable not only to her descendants, but to us all.
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