Stories of the outback: the tale of two stones

Most Australians would know John Flynn as the minister who founded what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world’s first air ambulance (if you ever visit Alice Springs, recommend checking out the tourist facility:

What they might not know about is the story of the stone on Flynn’s grave in the NT*:

In 1952, a year after Flynn’s death, a large round stone was transported from south of Tennant Creek to be used as a market for his grave. It was taken from the highly sacred women’s site of Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles) which is tied to many of their stories, personal names and cultural beliefs, and for over 20 years its owners, the Warumungu and Kaytej people pressed for the return of this stone.

During the long and sensitive negotiations between these traditional owners and the European custodians of Flynn’s grave, the local Arrernte people assumed the role of peacemakers, eventually supplying a replacement grave stone from a sacred Caterpillar site. Arrernte people acknowledged, by the exchange of the stone that John Flynn’s life work was for all people living in Central Australia.
On 4 September 1999, the two sacred stones were exchanged at Flynn’s Grave. The following day, the original grave marker was returned to its original site at Karlu Karlu.

“people were happy to replace the rock. We’d like people who hear about it to recognise it as goodwill to all people…” (Arrernte custodian)

At this site the new grave stone was dedicated and blessed with a Christian service. At the Karlu Karlu site Warumungu and Kaytej women danced to celebrate the return of their stone.

*above is paraphrased from information at the grave site.

Liked this? Check out the rest of this series:

Stories of the outback: the climb

Stories of the outback: The Ghan

Stories of the outback: Hermannsburg


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