A picture tells ...

September 13, 2017

Giving a prisoner an old family photo was an emotional experience for Tatura Uniting Church minister Brian Spencer .

You know you are getting old when you are introduced to someone in their 30s and you say ‘‘I knew your father’’.

So it was when on a visit to HM Dhurringile Prison, I met a young man, who I’ll call ‘Max’ for the purposes of this article.

Max is an Aboriginal man from Mildura who was painting in the art room.

HM Dhurringile Prison is a low security prison where people serve out the final months or years of their sentence and prepare for life on the outside.

The prison’s Aboriginal arts program focuses on the role of culture and cultural identity in the rehabilitation processes for indigenous prisoners.

The program aims to reduce indigenous recidivism by increasing participation and confidence in the arts industry by offering offenders social, cultural and skill development opportunities.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was the minister in the town of Dareton on the NSW side of the Murray River near Mildura, in the Coomealla Irrigation area.

It’s a region of vineyards and citrus surrounded by vast sheep and cattle stations. The town and surrounds have a significant Aboriginal population.

I became deeply involved with the Aboriginal community and was instrumental in helping it establish its own football team in the local Millewa league.

I was even the first captain/coach of the club.

Thirty-five years later this background still provides a bridge to building relationships at times.

So as we explored what ‘from Mildura’ meant, I discovered Max was the son of someone I had coached, played football with and had known and loved as a great character and fine man.

I was saddened to learn that Max’s father had died in 2004.

I told Max I thought I may have a team photo with his father in it and offered to bring it in if he would like to see it. Max said he would.

So I went back through my slide collection (I had to find and fix an old slide projector first in order to be able to do so) and found not only the team photo but an action shot and some photos of a wedding at which Max’s father had been best man.

My search for slides of Max’s father took place during the week I was sorting through my own family photos as I prepared the slideshow for my mother’s funeral service.

Different family members sent me their photos of Mum and I ended up having far more photos than I could use.

The photos spanned the 96 years of her life and prompted so many memories of her activities and relationships.

On my next visit to the prison, I gave Max the photos.

In the team photo he recognised uncles and other people he had grown up with but it was the photo of his father as best man at the wedding which moved him. Dressed in a suit, standing proud with his resplendent afro, his father looked young and strong.

Max went silent as he touched the photo. He was too young to remember his father like this.

After a few moments he said ‘‘Mum’s going to love this’’.

It was a moment that took my breath away as I realised that this family had few such precious photographic memories.

I felt decadent at the riches of our own family photos and humbled and grateful that I had been able to give such a gift to another family.

Preparing to leave prison is a time of hope and resolution. Everyone says that they are never coming back.

The gospel of Jesus is the gospel of the second chance. The chance to begin again.

Go well, Max, and may the memory of your father and his dreams for you strengthen you.

This is the gospel, and its good news.

— Brian Spencer, minister,

Tatura Uniting Church

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