Friends and relatives all over New Zealand have been glad to welcome Robert Kingi, who is home for a year after 10 years in Australia.
Robert was born at Wainui, near Kaeo in Northland, and drifted to Auckland as a young teenager. Challenged by open-air Christian services, he made a commitment to God at the age of 17, and became active in the United Maori Mission. After a visit to Australia with a group of young Maoris at the end of the 1950s he was so troubled by the condition and needs of the Australian Aborigines that he returned there in 1961, following brief training in Auckland.
Working under the auspices of the Aboriginal Inland Mission in Aborigine reservations in eastern Australia, he travelled up to 40,000 miles annually in his first few years. Six years ago he married Darlene, an American girl nursing at one of the outback stations he visited regularly. They now have three children. Robert, Marleen, and Alexander.
For the last three years Mr and Mrs Kingi have worked on Palm Island, a prison community for Aborigines 40 miles north of Townsville and inside Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Its only inhabitants are the Australian administrators, the 1,500 Aborigine inmates, and ministers representing the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and the Australian Inland Mission. Many of the prisoners are there because of incidents involving alcohol. They found that Aborigines, normally a retiring people, seemed to get into trouble when old tribal passions or their feelings against European administration were stirred by the influence of alcohol. Other inmates included those who just could not cope with the white man's world, or half-castes accepted by neither race. Mr and Mrs Kingi found themselves involved in educating these people to accept and adjust to the modern world. This was difficult, as the Aborigines could not leave the island, and on it there was not enough contact with Europeans for effective training in living in civilised surroundings on the mainland. They were often called on to help with dangerous situations, and Robert found, as he had in his earlier years of travelling, that he was accepted and trusted because he was Maori. His brown skin and his Maori concepts of life matched those of the Aborigines but he found that he had to encourage them to be proud of their racial heritage. This too was difficult, as for so many generations Aborigines and their way of life have been scorned and regarded as of no value.
Robert and Darlene intend settling in Sydney when they return to their work in Australia.