James Arthur Bowen Blanch was born at Coffs Harbour (NSW) on November 12, 1908.
During the Great Depression, searching for work, he moved north from Sydney. Travelling by horse and sulky he passed through the small town of Cooranbong and there made his first contact with Adventists when he was given some reading material.
Later, working in the Valla mines, he was influenced to think about spiritual things by another Adventist. His praying mother encouraged him to go to church and it was there, rather unwillingly, that he first heard Pastor Laurie Naden preach. Touched by what he had heard, he asked questions until 2am and after further studies and being influenced by the Adventist radio programs he listened to, he was baptised in 1937 by Pastor Battye.
Wishing to attend Avondale College, “Pat”, as he was commonly known, self-financed his education by cherry picking. Once enrolled in 1939, he worked hard right through to 1945 to support himself through his education.
That was quite a challenge.
Another obstacle for him was the reality that he had only a primary education. He thus found study quite difficult, eventually graduating from the building construction course. Here the accounts differ a little, with one saying he also graduated from the “shorter ministerial course” in 1944 and another, in his own handwriting, indicating that “my ministerial course was not completed” and that he was advised to complete the “constructional course and get into the active work because of my age, which was then 36”.
On April 5, 1945, Pat married Gwendoline Wright who had completed nursing training at Sydney Adventist Hospital. Shortly after, the couple took up their first appointment at the Mona Mona Aboriginal mission (near Cairns, Qld), working there six years. During that time their four children were born: (Pastor) David, Dawn, Adele and Robyn.
In 1951, the family moved to Wahroonga (NSW) and there gave 12 years of service, with Pat the caretaker at the Division office and also a courier—driving people to and from the airport particularly—and making many friends in the process.
With the closure of the Mona Mona mission in 1962, Pat returned to the north to once again assist the Aboriginal people he loved so much. He helped them in their move to the nearby village of Kuranda because their valley was to be flooded for a dam and, being uprooted, they needed a pastor they could look to for spiritual leadership, someone, “in tune with their needs”. Then there were two years of ministry to the Aboriginal people in the Armidale district (NSW) following which he pastored the Moree, Gunnedah and Coonabarabran churches. He was ordained to the gospel ministry at Tamworth in 1973.
“We loved Pastor Blanch. When we get to heaven we’re going to live next to him.”
At the age of 65 and having had a heart attack, Pat retired in July 1974 to a small farmlet near Lismore. But before long he sold the property so that he could once again minister to the Aboriginal people and this he continued to do until shortly before his death on September 28, 1982.
When he heard of Pat’s death, Mr P Killoran, director of Aboriginal and Island Advancement in Queensland, wrote, “The name of Pat Blanch will be remembered throughout North Queensland for the man he was, the work he did, his dedication, loyalty and devotion to Almighty God, and especially by the Aboriginal people of the Cairns hinterland, particularly in the Kuranda area. He is one of the few about whom it can honestly be said that he will not and cannot be replaced.”
When they learned that Pat Blanch’s life had come to an end, two senior Aboriginal people in Townsville commented, “We loved Pastor Blanch. When we get to heaven we’re going to live next to him.”
Lester Devine is director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre.