The first Indigenous Australian church elder

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Paddy Cannon is significant in Australian Adventist Church history as reportedly the first Indigenous Australian to be ordained as a local church elder. Born on March 17, 1903, Cannon’s journey with Adventism began when he arrived at the Mona Mona Mission in March 1916 at 13 years of age. Shortly after arriving at Mona Mona, Cannon was influenced by the Adventist message and the mission became his permanent home.

For the rest of his life he spent much of his time spreading the gospel, faithfully witnessing for his Lord wherever he went, and always took part in the “Appeal for Missions”, an annual campaign where church members voluntarily went door-to-door, collecting donations from the public for the church mission program in the Pacific Islands. Cannon’s huge grin and friendly manner never failed to impress tourists to whom he demonstrated the art of boomerang throwing. 

In 1956, Cannon was ordained as an associate elder of the Mona Mona church by Pastor Norman Ferris. In the Australasian Record on November 12, 1956, Ferris wrote: 

”Last Sabbath it was my privilege to ordain Paddy Cannon as associate elder of the Mona Mona church. I understand that Paddy is the first Australian aborigine* to be ordained to such a position, and his appointment to this office will bring satisfaction to many who have been associated with this mission in the past. Paddy is greatly loved and honoured by his people and is a tower of strength to the community. He loves the advent message and his face just beams with joy as he talks of the coming Christ and of the ’good home’, using his own expression, that we will have one day soon in His kingdom.”

Little is known about Cannon’s personal life. He married twice, first on April 8, 1923, and then on July 12, 1931. Though details about his wives are scarce, we do know that he had five daughters and two sons. In 1959, three years after his ordination, Cannon’s leadership extended beyond the church and he became an influence on those living in the Kuranda area.

Cannon died suddenly of a heart attack early on the morning of Sabbath, May 7, 1960. The Australasian Record on June 20, 1960 reported “A familiar and well-loved brother is no longer with us at Mona Mona Mission. Paddy Cannon, one of the most widely known and respected natives* in Australia, passed away very suddenly during the early hours of Sabbath, May 7. The death occurred at the North Queensland camp-meeting at Townsville. The news of Paddy’s passing brought sadness to the hearts of many, for he had endeared himself to all who met him, by his wide, beaming smile, which was but the reflection of his inner rejoicing in ’the blessed hope’. He left behind an elderly mother, Mary Ann Lawrence, two sisters, and his seven children.“

After his death, he was honoured by having the new kitchen and amenities block on the North Queensland campground named the “Paddy Cannon Amenities Block”. Paddy Cannon was laid to rest at the Mona Mona Mission, the place that had been central to his life and work. His story is a testament to his faith, dedication and the profound influence he had on those around him.

*In these instances, we have chosen not to modify the historical record by updating these phrases, instead, using this opportunity to acknowledge how times have changed and remind all readers of the importance of using language with Christian care to avoid offence.

ESDA/Adventist Record

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