28 September 2023

‘I thought it was going to happen all my life, and it took till my 60s’

Rosemary Ruddell awarding a training certificate to Rachel Borneman at Nungalinya College. Picture: supplied 

By Stephen Cauchi

24 January 2022

Mission work was the fulfilment of a long-term plan for Rosemary Ruddell. But it looked quite different to what she pictured during her previous working life. 

Ms Ruddell spent several months of 2021 as a teacher’s aid at Darwin’s multi-denominational Nungalinya College. 

She and her late husband had always planned to work as missionaries after their retirement. But Ms Ruddell found herself at Nungalinya alone, after her husband’s death several years earlier. 

A speaker at the 2022 Church Missionary Society Victoria conference Summer Under the Son, Ms Ruddell said she had been inspired by a previous conference. 

“I went to a CMS conference a couple of years ago and I heard [Nungalinya College principal] Jude Long speak and I got encouragement from that. I thought, ‘Gee, I think I can see a role for myself’,” Ms Ruddell told The Melbourne Anglican

“During 2020 lockdown I had time to reflect and pray on what I might be doing and started to make some enquiries and things fell together. 

“I thought it was going to happen all my life, and it took till my 60s.” 

An adult education facility for Indigenous Australians, Nungalinya College caters mostly for students coming in from remote Northern Territory communities. Students come to study for blocks of two or four weeks. 

Ms Ruddell said she served in 2021 at Nungalinya for three months, working largely as a teacher’s aide in the classroom and assisting at a camp for Indigenous church leaders. 

She said language was among her main challenges, as English was often not the first language of Indigenous Australians. It made the complexity of languages hit home for her. 

She did learn to speak what is called Plain English, to make communication easier. She said this was English, but structured more like Indigenous languages. 

Ms Ruddell said another challenge was that values, priorities and ways of thinking were quite different to her own among Indigenous Australians.  

Read more: Repent of colonialism, missionary conference told

This required patience and listening from her, she said. 

She also had to adjust to other differences, including new tastes in music. 

“I’m a fairly conservative person and I’ve never been big on action songs and I’ve never been big on repetitive choruses,” she said. 

“All those things are very big in the Indigenous church because language is an issue.” 

The songs also had to cater for the fact that there are many Indigenous languages which students might speak. 

“They often have choruses that get repeated, and in Nungalinya in particular they’ll repeat songs and give everyone a turn to sing in their particular language,” Ms Ruddell said. 

Ms Ruddell said spending one-on-one time with people was among the highlights of her time at Nungalinya.  

She said her background in social work had been good preparation for her work there.  

In 2022, she plans to return to the Northern Territory to assist Indigenous students at the Marrara Christian College, which caters for primary and secondary schooling. 

“It will be much like my work that I did in my working life.” 

Ms Ruddell said her late husband, a doctor, had done a lot of work with Indigenous people in remote locations, including the Northern Territory, Papua New Guinea, and South Gippsland. 

The couple never went to those places as missionaries – although they considered it – instead her husband was employed as a medical officer. 

But with a long-time involvement with CMS and missionary organization Interserve, Ms Ruddell and her husband had always intended to do missionary work later in life. 

Sadly her husband died suddenly seven years ago. For Ms Ruddell the work meant reshaping that plan. 

“We’d always thought that we’d do something perhaps once we’d retired and I guess I’m doing that now on my own,” she said. 

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