Prof. Hoeksema is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Dear Readers of The Standard Bearer:
Although I am on leave of absence as a regular Staff writer during the current volume-year, before I left home I promised that I would write a few lines from Tasmania during our year’s sojourn here. In this letter I will try to furnish you a few early impressions.
The other day my wife and I began listing things which are different here. And after we had each mentioned a few items, we ended by agreeing, “Everything is different!”
First of all, of course, the place is different. We are living a half world away from you in the U.S. and in the far southern portion of the Southern Hemisphere. If some of our teachers wish to give their pupils a rather practical geography lesson involving the whereabouts of our churches’ activities, they could get out the globe or a world map and have the children locate Australia. Follow this by getting out a large map of Australia—a country and continent as large in area as the U.S. Then locate the province, or state, of Queensland and the large city of Brisbane. The latter is the location of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church where Professor and Mrs. Hanko visited during their brief stay in Australia and where Prof. Hanko lectured and preached. A few hundred miles to the north is Rockhampton, the location of another E.P.C. And another several hundred miles north, in Cairns, the E.P.C. has a preaching station. Cairns is in the tropics and in the area of the Great Barrier Reef. West of Brisbane and on the edge of the “outback” is Chinchilla, where there is another preaching station, or branch church. Brisbane and Chinchilla are the charge of Pastor Chris Coleborn. Rockhampton and Cairns are the charge of Pastor R.A. (Tony) Fisk. These churches make up the Queensland Presbytery (classis) of the E.P.C. We have been urgently invited to visit there sometime during our sojourn in Australia, something which we would very much like to do.
Now move all the way south on your map of Australia, and you will see the city of Melbourne, on the south coast of Victoria province. From Melbourne move straight south about 250 miles, and you will be on the north coast of the island province of Tasmania. The city of Burnie (around 23,000 population) is located toward the western end of the north coast. On the 18th of August at 5:30 in the afternoon, one hour behind schedule, we landed at the Wynyard-Burnie airport and had a warm welcome from many of the folk from both Burnie and Launceston. But let me finish the geography lesson. About one hundred miles to the east, and slightly inland, is the city of Launceston. Another 60 miles from Launceston is Winnaleah, where Pastor Philip Burley serves. He is the only pastor in the Tasmania Presbytery. Mr. Burley and his wife were in the welcome party at Wynyard-Burnie airport when we arrived. Tasmania is as far south as you can get in Australia. If you stand on the southern end of the island, there is nothing but the Southern Ocean between you and the South Pole!
So the geography is different!
This means, too, that the time is different. We crossed the International Dateline, which means we are one day ahead of you. But we also lost 10 hours in our flight, which means that right now our 7 o’clock on Saturday morning is 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon in Michigan. After a while, when we change to fast time and you change back to slow time, there will be a 12-hour difference.
The skies are different, too. In daytime the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. At night the Southern Cross is the outstanding feature of the skies here in the Southern Hemisphere.
The seasons, of course, are the opposite of those in the north. When we arrived, it was winter, comparable to February at home. And now it is spring (they date spring here from September 1). You might expect it would be very cold and raw. But when we arrived, it was very spring-like. Daffodils and magnolias were in full bloom. Other shrubs and flowers and trees were and are also blossoming. Many of these are strange and new to us. In our yard here on Bird Street, for example, we have flowers, shrubs, and trees such as the following: Protea, Christmas Rose, Azalea, Camellia (pink & red), Bottle Brush, Ornamental Black Currant (which attracts numerous little birds called “honey eaters”), Daphne, Fuschia, Pelagoniums, and Passion Fruit.
The landscape is different, too. Tasmania is a beautiful country of rolling hills, green paddocks (pastures), low mountains (somewhat similar to our Appalachians), rugged bush-lands (forests), and rushing mountain streams. The second Saturday after our arrival, we went for a picnic some 50 miles from Burnie into the bush. Part of the purpose of the picnic (which involved both Burnie and Launceston people) was to investigate the facilities of a camp at the site, with a view to an Easter-time “family camp” for all the Tasmania churches at which I have been asked to speak. In this connection, by the way, I was asked by the young people here to extend a special invitation to our Protestant Reformed young people to spend their holiday (vacation) in beautiful Tasmania at the time of our Easter camp. I can assure you of a friendly reception and of an enjoyable stay and interesting sightseeing. If you need confirmation of this, just ask the three young ladies from Hope (Walker) Church who recently visited here and who were escorted all over the island by, shall I say, personal tour guides. Thus far we have been kept so busy here that we have not yet had time for much sightseeing; but, especially when summer arrives, we hope to have some free time to see some of the beauty spots along both the east and the west coasts of the island.
There are many other differences. Grocery shopping is different—with different terminology for many items. Meat cuts are different (try “scotch fillet” for a rib eye steak). The money is different. Prices are different—very high! Driving is different—left hand drive. And do you think Australians (especially Tasmanians) talk English? Guess again! I don’t know how many times I have had to say, “What did you say?” or “What does that mean?” We tease one another constantly about our language differences. The problem is not only one of a different accent, but also one of terminology and vocabulary. Fortunately, however, they seem to be able to understand our American accent better than we can catch their Tasmanian accent. My barber told me the other day that it would take 20 years to pick up a real Tasmanian accent!
The congregation has furnished us a very comfortable little bungalow and have done their utmost to see that our every need and desire are met. We have a lounge (living room), kitchen and dinette, bedroom, bath and toilet (separate rooms in Australia), and well-furnished office, complete with a brand new desk and chair, bookshelves, and computer. We live high up on the bluffs overlooking Bass Strait (which we can see from our kitchen window and our back yard). The kitchen cupboards and refrigerator were completely stocked with food when we arrived. And if we so much as mention a need or a wish or something we have in America that we do not have here, within a day that need or wish is filled. The people are overwhelming us with kindness and care and are determined that we shall not be homesick. In a word, we feel we are among friends and fellow saints. Central heat is a rarity here. We heat by means of a wood-burning fireplace which is equipped with a blower, and by means of portable electric heaters in other rooms. One of my chores is to keep the wood burner going and to fill the wood-box daily; I am learning the art of keeping the fire alive all night, so that I need not start a new fire every morning.
A couple blocks away from our home is the little church building of the Burnie E.P.C., which they purchased a few years ago. Incidentally, Burnie is like the Biblical “city on a hill” that cannot be hid. Almost all of the residential area is high up on the bluffs, while the business and industrial and harbor areas are in the narrow strip of land along the coast.
So much for our circumstances and lifestyle.
Our church life, except for the fact that we sing a capella and from the Scottish “Psalms in Metre,” is much like that at home. I am suddenly back in the pastoral ministry, and I am enjoying it. We have services at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. On Wednesday evening I have a Juniors Catechism Class in the Shorter Catechism. On Thursday evening there is a Seniors Class (16 yrs. and up) which is studying the Westminster Confession. On Friday night we have Adult Bible I Study in which we have begun studying the book of Judges. We’re also going to have a Question Hour once per month at the Adult Bible Study. Mrs. Hoeksema is giving the little children some New Testament instruction while we have Adult Bible Study. On Wednesday evening a Ladies Bible Study is planned, and they will meet at the Manse while I am teaching catechism at the church.
I preach as I do at home. Only now I can engage in some series preaching. I have begun a series, in the morning services, on Isaiah 40ff., and plan to get as far as I can in that section during this year. In the afternoon I am preaching from II Peter. The congregation is hungry for soundly Reformed and exegetical preaching and instruction; and that means all—old and young. The young people were asking for catechism instruction already the week after our arrival. I also must mention that the people are extremely happy and thankful to you, our Protestant Reformed Churches, for sending me to them. Already, as I write this, one-tenth of our time here has passed; but they do not even want to think of that.
Sundays are busy days for me. Except for our first Sunday here and for the one Sunday when Prof. Hanko preached there, I have also traveled the one hundred miles to Launceston to preach there at a 6:30 PM service. So far some of the young men have been my chauffeurs for that trip, thus giving me some chance to relax on the way. By the time we arrive home around 11 o’clock we have had a full day. But Launceston is very appreciative of the fact that their pulpit is filled with lively preaching instead of tape recordings.
I had intended to write about the visit of Prof. Hanko and me to the E.P.C. Synod. But that had better wait for a later letter and until we have first made our report to the Contact Committee.
Please remember us and the churches here in your prayers, even as we remember you.
With love in the Lord Jesus Christ, Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema.
P.S.: Our address is: 59 Bird St., Montello, Burnie, Tasmania, Australia 7320. Or phone us at: (004) 311-695