Friday, June 11, 2010

Sweet Heart of Jesus

Unhappily, I wasn't able to make it to Mass to-day, being out in remote parts of Australia – passing from the extreme south coast of New South Wales around to easternmost Gippsland in Victoria.  I did see some curious things, however.

Eden has, not a whaling museum, but a killer whale museum – because the pod of killer whales that lived in the bay there, from the second half of the nineteenth century until 1930, were uniquely beloved of the locals, who were whalers, in that the orcas would obligingly herd other whales, their prey, close into shore, coöperating with the harpooners in their whaleboats to slay the beasts: first they would feast, and then leave the remainder for the men to harvest the valuable blubber and so forth.  The largest whale harpooned off Eden was a blue whale some 97 feet (30 metres) long, thanks to those friendly killers.

All good things must come to an end: in 1930, as the Great Depression struck, Old Tom, last of the orcas to assist the whalers, himself died, he who had been so remarkably helpful as to warn the whalers when good prey approached, and who in his doglike eagerness even caught the ropes of the whaling boats to drag them at speed to the combat; thereafter (perhaps because the hunting had petered out, a victim of the joint efforts of man and killer whale) the hitherto resident pods moved off in search of food elsewhere.  

The locals lost their shore-based whaling industry, which had supported them since after the gold rush, but in gratitude they built a museum as a memorial to their flippered, sharp-toothed allies, and put the bones of Old Tom (suitably flensed) on permanent display, along with some remaining bones of slaughtered whales that they both had hunted.  (I was also able to touch a vertebra of that 97 foot behemoth caught in 1910.)

Old Tom, the whalers' faithful fellow-predator

Eden is also graced with a new Catholic church; what a pity the whaling industry inspired this most bizarre altar:

Our Lady Star of the Sea, Eden: please explain!

The old church is now a museum of local Catholic history; as Bl Mary MacKillop once visited, it is also a memorial to her and her sisters, some of whom are still based in Eden.

Lo! displayed on the old choirloft are the old altar, dressed for Mass, with a dummy priest in Roman vestments and lace alb – to think that was exactly the Mass I assisted at on Wednesday in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, with the priest in similar attire.  I doubt the locals would credit that what to them is a pious memory of fifty years ago is still very much alive and kicking!  (And there still remain teaching orders of nuns properly attired, even in Australia, such as the Ganmain Dominicans...)

I recommend this altar be put into the new church, and the rest of it too!

Having reached my destination for to-day, Lakes Entrance, I went over to the local church, St Brendan's, to find if perchance there would be a Mass this evening.  No, apparently there was a morning Mass instead, and no Mass to-morrow morning either.  Well, to be honest I was glad, because the sanctuary at St Brendan's is so revoltingly kitsch and foul I found the only prayer I could make was of apology to the Lord: it repulsed me forcibly.

Unbeatable for kitsch foulness: St Brendan's, Lakes Entrance

Yes, the cabin of the fishing boat – St Brendan's coracle updated – is the tabernacle, and its sail is the overhead projector screen!  The altar is faux stone, with a flat part concealed behind for putting the sacred vessels on; there is even a built-in bookrest.  Note that, behind the table with the holy oils on permanent display, the lectern is also fake rock, with a "streambed" of pebbles running down and across and under the altar, over to... the Paschal candlestick and font (also in fake stone) out of sight to the left.

Who will fix this mess?  Yuck.

1 comment:

Quasi Seminarian said...

The 70's called. They want their Kitsch back.

I think that wins for all of its ilk in Australia.

It really must be a fascinating driving holiday through the east part of Australia.