By Eric Martin and Catherine Kolomyjec
The rich scriptural content of the Stations of the Cross have this year been combined with the cultural heritage of the world’s oldest people to produce a truly memorable message at Prendiville Catholic College, Ocean Reef.
Prendiville students, in conjunction with Catholic Education Western Australia Transforming Lives Engagement Officer and Aboriginal Artist Cheryl Lennox Bradley, created a series of 14 artistic renderings on 14 individual message sticks.
The message sticks each make up a stage of the Stations of the Cross with the project being unveiled last Friday for the 2019 Lenten Season.
Australian message sticks are traditionally small and finely engraved lengths of native timber, carried long distances by messengers of special status charged with the responsibility of conveying information across territorial boundaries.
“I believe the Stations of the Cross have never been portrayed utilising a 50,000-year-old tradition on Aboriginal Message Sticks,” Mrs Bradley explained.
“This was Principal Mark Antulov’s dream and he inspired key people to work together and make this dream a reality,” she said.
The Stations of the Cross are synonymous with Easter for Catholics and are a 14-step devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man.
The 14 stations focus on specific moments during Christ’s crucifixion, starting with His condemnation and ending with his death.
At each station, the individual recalls and meditates on scriptural verses.
“This is a wonderful project, giving a contemporary school like ours the ability to portray a sacred story through a 50,000-year-old tradition,” Mark Antulov, Prendiville College’s Principal explained.
“The project brought together the knowledge and support of the Aboriginal community with the scriptural significance of the Stations of the Cross through support from our Head of Religious Education Margaret Tavelli, and CEWA Catechist Services Consultant, Stephen Harris.
“Cheryl’s husband Geoffrey was also heavily involved sourcing and priming the wood, and varnishing each stick to protect the artwork.”
Prendiville’s Campus Minister Karen Rice said the message sticks will be displayed in the College’s Good Shepherd Chapel and available to the public for viewing and contemplative prayer.
She reflected that it “is often said that you must walk a mile in someone’s shoes to understand what they are going through. The goal of this devotion is to ‘walk’ in Jesus shoes by praying and meditating at each of the events [stations] that Jesus experienced”.
“Prendiville Catholic College looks forward to ‘walking’ with our school and the wider community in sharing these truly symbolic and cultural Stations of the Cross.”
The earliest record of message sticks dates from 1840 in the vicinity of Queanbeyan but it was not until the 1880s that message sticks became an object of curiosity for settlers, with 19th-century accounts showing that the message sticks and their markings had at least three functions.
The first was to identify the messenger as having the right to cross into a neighbouring country without fear of violence or rejection (much like a passport); the second was to lend authority to an oral message that he delivered (like a signature or royal seal); and the third was to help the messenger recall the details of an oral message by means of a visual prompt (like a knot in a handkerchief).
Beginning in the 1950s, message sticks began to be used for their political symbolism when the Bathurst and Melville islanders sent a message stick bearing their land-use grievance to the Australian Prime Minister in 1951.