Rev Bill Edwards

Rev Dr William Howell Edwards AM BA BEd
7th June l929 - 24th July 2015

There must have been more than five hundred people at Pilgrim Church on Monday 3rd August for the funeral of the Rev Dr Bill Edwards. Many Pitjantjatjara people joined with family, friends and colleagues from Adelaide and elsewhere to celebrate the life of a much loved and respected man. 

When he was ordained as a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in 1958, Bill was appointed to the Presbyterian Mission at Ernabella in the north of South Australia, where he served as Superintendent until 1972. Founded as a mission to the Aboriginal people in 1937, at the initiative of Dr Charles Duguid, Ernabella was unique for its time in that there was no attempt to change the people’s traditional lifestyle but it offered employment as a sheep station, with education for the children and employment in handcrafts for the women. Language and culture were respected.

There was no pressure to adopt western ways or Christian beliefs and practices, but the worship and the lives of the mission staff were a powerful witness. In an interview for the Australian Rural History Project, Bill Edwards said, “Often the image is given that the missionaries went in and we kind of did away with their traditional things and we imposed, but in actual fact at Ernabella there was minimal interference and we spent a lot of time just talking to people.” 

Scots Church people will have heard many stories of Ernabella during the years that Bill was there. In particular, many will remember when he brought his choir to Adelaide. At his funeral we heard again that beautiful part singing in Pitjantjatjara. His work with the choir was a very special part of Bill’s ministry. Valerie Ramm was a nursing sister at Ernabella. She and Bill married and they had two sons. 

In 1972 the Presbyterian Church withdrew from the management of Ernabella to enable the people to control their own community. The Edwards family moved to Western Australia for a while, but Bill returned to be minister of the Pitjantjatjara Uniting Church Parish for some years. In Adelaide he lectured in Aboriginal studies, pioneered the teaching of Pitjantjatjara at the University of SA and interpreted for APY people in hospitals and courts. 

The Moderator of the Uniting Church in SA said of Bill, “He expressed an embodiment of the Gospel, that respected the culture and language of Indigenous people and worked in solidarity for justice and reconciliation.” We give thanks to God for the life of this great Christian man.

Rev Norah Norris

A 50-page book, “Mission in the Musgraves: Ernabella Mission 1937-73, A Place of Relationships” was published by the Uniting Church SA Historical Society in 2012. It is an expanded version of a lecture Bill presented for the Historical Society and paints a fascinating picture of the Pitjantjatjara people and the life of the mission. Copies are available from the Historical Society for $10 - see Norah Norris at Scots Church if you would like to purchase a copy. 

 

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