andrew lennox

Rev Andrew Hunter Lennox was my grandfather. He was born in Victoria, Australia in 1874 and died on a visit to Adelaide, South Australia in 1962. From the 1920s until his death he lived in central Dunedin.

Andrew spent most of his life as a Presbyterian Home Missionary in New Zealand, relieving in a number in country parishes and working as a chaplain on railway construction camps. At one stage he was a grocer in Mosgiel.

There was nothing extraordinary about Andrew’s life in New Zealand – but as a young man he was involved in some amazing adventures.

In 1897 Andrew joined a pioneering Anglican mission on the remote Forrest River in Western Australia. In 1899, determined to set up his own mission, he walked from Oodnadatta, in South Australia, to Kakadu, close to Darwin. With his friend, Alex Gathercole, he set up an independent mission at Kapalga billabong near the South Alligator River. After a year, he rode a bicycle from Darwin to Adelaide to raise funds for the mission. The mission was abandoned in 1903.

Described by a journalist as a ‘self-appointed missionary’, Andrew struggled on among crocodiles, snakes and buffalo hunters in what is now Kakadu National Park. His two overland journeys across Australia were as extraordinary as they were unwise. He sailed small cutters around the coast from the South Alligator River to Darwin, often getting into difficulties and twice being shipwrecked. He was briefly famous, and occasionally infamous. Many of his adventures were perilous. He was a brave, committed and foolhardy young man. He survived great hardship, mostly self-imposed.

In 1958 Andrew wrote a memoir of his time as a missionary in Australia. It was never published. I was 16 when he died and inherited the memoir.

In 2008, I decided to look into Andrew’s adventures in Australia. I drove along his route across the continent, found the site of his South Alligator mission and got to know the indigenous family that now lives on the land (and whose ancestors probably had contact with Andrew).

The decision to take off after Andrew shaped five years of my life – I visited the NT every year over that period. I met the grandson of Andrew’s friend Alex Gathercole and academics who had researched aspects of Andrew’s life. I received a history grant from the NT Government and spent days in libraries and archives in Darwin researching the history of the billabong where the mission was established. I interviewed my friend Victor Cooper and members of his Minitja family who have title to the country round the Kapalga mission site. With Victor, I launched ‘After Andrew’ at a writers’ festival in Katherine and undertook a promotional tour of Australia, getting coverage on ABC radio and newspapers.

The whole experience led to four substantial writing projects:

·         ‘After Andrew’, published in 2009, is a travel book - I quote from Andrew’s memoir as I go to places he spent time.

·         In 2013 I published Andrew’s memoir – with my notes and commentary. It is available on this website and in libraries and archives in Australia.

·         I have almost completed the story of the Minitja family of Kapalga.

·         Later this year I will complete the story of the land at Kapalga billabong, an important place to indigenous people and then graziers, buffalo hunters, peanut farmers.