Retta Long

Retta Jane Long (1878-1956), missionary, was born in Sydney on 5 April 1878, oldest of three children of Matilda (born Brown) and Matthew Dixon, masterbuilder. She attended Chippendale Methodist church and in 1890 was received into membership of the Petersham Baptist church. Following a Christian Endeavour Society picnic at La Perouse she began regular Sunday visits and later was resident missionary to the La Perouse Aboriginal Settlement. From there she made contact with Aboriginal communities on the north and south coast. In 1905 she resigned from the work at La Perouse and moved to Singleton; she resumed missionary activities at nearby St Clair.

In August 1905 she established the Aborigines Inland Mission of Australia as a 'faith' mission: no collection was to be taken up nor funds solicited. On 11 January 1906 Retta married Leonard William Long, who was appointed co-director of the Mission. It was inter-denominational; where there were sufficient converts to form a church its members were free to adopt 'the form of Church government they considered most scriptural'. This rule conferred on Aboriginal converts a right to participate at a level of decision making not then generally extended to them.

Churches were formed at Singleton and Karuah. The Longs lived at Singleton until 1910 when mission headquarters moved to Sydney. Five of seven children born to the marriage survived infancy; William Arnold, Retta Grace and Egerton Charles became mission workers and Margaret Olive became her mother's private secretary. In 1907, in addition to her domestic responsibilities and a large correspondence, often written in the early hours of the morning, Mrs Long started the mission's monthly magazine, Our AIM. Leonard organised meetings in other centres in northern New South Wales and in 1909 they travelled to Queensland to obtain government permission to extend their work to government-run Aboriginal Reserves in that State.

Though under attack in 1920-21 the Mission gained strength in the 1920s assisted by the AIM auxiliaries which Mrs Long succeeded in forming in many Australian cities. Missionaries were resident at Barambah (later Cherbourg) in 1921 and at Palm Island in 1923 and the work extended inland and across into Victoria. By the 1930s the Mission claimed spiritual care of 11,000 Aborigines with 36 full-time 'native workers'. A children's home had been established in Darwin and congregations formed in all three eastern states. Leonard Long died in 1928.

In 1938 the Mission opened a Native Workers Training College (later AIM Bible Training Institute), at 'Pindimar', Port Stephens, which transferred to Dalwood, near Branxton, and in l945 to 'Minimbah' House, Singleton. Established in the period when in some country towns Aboriginal children were excluded from the State's schools, and few Aboriginal children secured any secondary education, this provision of further education for mission purposes had wider importance: many who trained at 'Minimbah House' became leaders in secular Aboriginal organisations as well as mission workers.

Mrs Long published Providential Channels (1935) and In the Way of His Steps (1936). She attended the Keswick Convention in England in 1937. She travelled widely to maintain contact with members of the Mission, its workers and support groups. In her last years she suffered from glaucoma. She retired as director in 1953 and died on 18 October 1956. Her favourite hymn, sung at her funeral service in Central Baptist Church, Sydney, was 'All the way my Saviour leads me'.

Heather Radi