Captain Jack finally sets sail

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A book about Seventh-day Adventist mission boats that took 74 years to make has equalled sales records at its launch in Wahroonga.

Captain Jack Radley and the Heyday of the Fleet is primarily the work of Rose-Marie Radley, daughter of one of the fleet’s dominant figures. Jack Radley’s missionary stories, particularly from his experience as a medical boat captain in Papua New Guinea during World War II, first caught a publisher’s interest in 1944. Pacific Press, an Adventist Church entity in North America, expressed interest in a letter to the “mathematically gifted, self-taught engineer” that year. He retired in 1955 and intended to write about his seafaring years but never realised his dream.

So, with her father’s chapter headings, diaries and a scrapbook collection of photographs and stories, and with retirement beckoning, Rose-Marie began writing her version. It has become not only a history of the boats but also the story of the people who sailed them and the church they helped build.

“We have a friendly rivalry with Pacific Press, so I like the fact that we’ve beaten them to it, even though it’s taken as long as 74 years,” said Signs Publishing book editor Nathan Brown during the launch as part of Sydney Adventist Hospital’s Homecoming on August 18.

The book was a mission in its own right, taking 74 years to complete.

The book is one of the largest in pages Signs has published. This comprehensiveness—beginning with the Pitcairn’s launch from California in 1890—makes it “a valuable work of church history,” said Mr Brown. And it explains why Avondale Academic Press is, in a first for Signs, a co-publisher.

Captain Jack lists a large number of sources. Rose-Marie and friend Graham Wright, a former colleague who encouraged the writing of the book and helped with its research, searched libraries, including the Australian National Maritime Museum, and the Adventist Heritage Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education. They reviewed every issue of Adventist Record, the journal of the church in the South Pacific, from 1899 to 2013 and minutes of the Church’s executive committees. And they read other books such as Wooden Boats, Iron Men: The Halvorsen Story and followed-up with a visit to the two oldest surviving sons of Lars Halvorsen, founder of the eponymous company in Sydney that built many of the mission boats in the first half of the 20th century.

Rose-Marie credits “further indication of approaching mortality” as speeding up a “slow and erratic” progress. “I know my Dad could have done a much better job. But it has still been a joy and privilege to seek to follow in his footsteps.”

The launch of the book at the hospital where Rose-Marie was born, trained and worked until her retirement—she is the longest serving Director of Nursing—ensured a large audience. The number of books sold at the launch—176—equals a Signs sales record. Margaret Watts sold the same number of her book, Dearest Folks: Letters Home From a Missionary Wife and Mother.

“Remembering . . . provides a foundation for our identity,” said Dr Graeme Humble, Adventist Mission director for the Church in the South Pacific. “As an Adventist movement, we are who we are because of the dedication, the passion and the commitment of those missionaries of yesteryear.” Captain Jack Radley “fills a gap in the story of Adventist mission in the Pacific islands,” he added. “It’s a wonderful blend of history and story.”

Dr Graeme Humble, author Rose-Marie Radley, author’s associate Graham Wright, and Sydney Adventist Hospital CEO Brett Goods at the launch of Captain Jack Radley and the Heyday of the Fleet.
Author Rose-Marie Radley signing copies of her book at the launch on August 18.

But not a “whitewashed” history. “Missionaries on the front lines tend to be adventurous. They’re focused on quick action to get mission happening and are sometimes, or often, exasperated by the red tape of committees at headquarters . . . And so Rosemary shares with us the stories of success, failure, conflict, courage, as they battled huge seas, encountered enemy troops, contended with officialdom but resolutely continued to their ultimate commitment to Adventist mission in the Pacific islands. These stories remind us of the commitment of our seafaring pioneers. They challenge us to reexamine how we can be involved in mission.”

Captain Jack Radley and the Heyday of the Fleet is now available from Adventist Book Centres and hopeshop.com.

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