Adventist unveils We of the Never Never statues

Florence Peters and Roper Gulf Mayor Judy MacFarlane with the statues of Jeanie and Aeneas Gunn.

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Local Seventh-day Adventist representatives have attended the unveiling of statues dedicated to a classic Australian novel with Adventist connections.

The We of the Never Never statues were unveiled by Roper Gulf Mayor Judy MacFarlane and Adventist Florence Peters, daughter of Dolly Bonson, on whom the book was based, in Stan Martin Park at the Never Never Festival in Mataranka, Northern Territory, held May 14-23.

The ceremony was well attended and included Darwin Mayor Konstantine Vatskalis, Darwin Adventist Church pastor Esava Koro and lifelong literature evangelists and global mission volunteers Andrew and Jeanette Johnson.

To celebrate the special occasion, organisers distributed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Ministries (ATSIM) book The Girl Who Talked to the Stars and 200 copies of Pastor Gary Kent’s Incredible Journey DVD of the same name. The Johnsons also set up a booth where they were able to sell Adventist literature.

Roper Gulf Mayor Judy MacFarlane and Florence Peters with the statue of “Bett Bett”.

We of the Never Never and The Little Black Princess are famous novels written by Jeanie Gunn in the 1900s about her time spent in the outback at Elsey Station. The books talk about a little Indigenous Australian girl called “Bett Bett” and refer to her as the little black princess. Her notoriety around Australia and the world had many people wanting to know the true identity of the girl in the novels.

Over half a century later, it was revealed that the little black princess was Dolly Bonson, who was introduced to God by Jeanie Gunn and, over the years, held on to what she had been taught.

In her later years, Dolly and her daughter, Florence Peters, attended an evangelistic meeting run by Pastor Billy Otto in Darwin, where she saw a picture of the second coming, something she had dreamt about, and knew she was in the right place when she saw it. 

Dolly and Florence went on to study the Bible with Pastor Tom Ludowici and decided to become Seventh-day Adventists. At her baptism, Dolly was able to finally tell the world her hidden identity, and since then, Florence has helped to tell the story of her mother who passed away in 1988. 

“[The unveiling of the statues] was an exciting event for Seventh-day Adventists, especially Aboriginal Seventh-day Adventists,” explained Pastor Don Fehlberg, remote area senior pastor for ATSIM at the Australian Union Conference (AUC). 

“For a whole generation, We of the Never Never was a reading textbook at school. Many people grew up knowing about this book, and many people have travelled to see the statues.”

“The characters from We of the Never Never allowed people to gain insight into what the outback was like back then,” said AUC ATSIM director Pastor Darren Garlett. “It romanticised Australia and the First People and left readers wanting to know more about us and the outback. 

“Many people I visit from that generation still remember the book and ‘Bett Bett’, and it is great to have that connection when introducing them to ATSIM and Seventh-day Adventists,” added Pastor Garlett.

Florence is the only living child of Dolly and, at 89 years old, was honoured to be at the unveiling of the statues. She shares the same passion as her mother, to see people ready for the second coming of Christ. Nick Creta from Faith FM had the opportunity to interview Florence at the event and will share her story in his “In the Footsteps of Jesus” podcast on the Faith FM website by the end of the month. 

If you would like to know more about “Bett Bett” and how she came to know God, The Girl Who Talked to the Stars is available at Adventist Book Centres and you can watch Gary Kent’s Incredible Journey video here

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