IN HER 20’s Heather Hewett, nee Hinch, found her self more than 3,000 kilometres from her hometown Horsham, in a paradise where she was isolated by language.
This isolation promoted a study of the indigenous language Maung, which lead to her becoming a valued member of the community, an author and an Order of Australia Medal recipient.
A nursing sister with the Methodist Overseas Mission, Mrs Hewett lived in the Goulburn Islands off the coast of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
“You could look up at the sky and it was absolutely shimmering with stars,” said Mrs Hewett.
“To see the moon rise over the water on the bay was an amazing experience, it was so beautiful.
“I definitely felt uncertain about being able to do my work and cope with it all, but I trusted God.”
Mrs Hewett now 85, said despite the beauty she was isolated by a language barrier.
“As a nurse I felt language was important,” she said.
“To really understand what you’re talking about you need to connect in someone’s own language.
“I began setting aside time to learn the language, the grammar and the alphabet and commencing to translate and I chose to translate the Gospel of Mark with the help of two others.
“Really it was about getting close to the Aboriginal people.
“I enjoyed learning the language and it gave me more of an understanding of the local people and their life.”
Mrs Hewett said the first missionary arrived in Goulburn Island in the 1920’s so the indigenous population were familiar with the gospel but had never read it in their own language.
“In English the words weren’t getting into their body or their blood,” she said. “You need your own language to feel. In English it felt like a part of colonisation, in Maung there was a feeling it was theirs.”
Mrs Hewett’s work included translation of electoral information and land rights legislation.
She married Raymond Hewett in 1975 and left Warrawi for Western Australia but remained in touch through the school’s bilingual education program by correspondence until 1986.
Mrs Hewett returned to Horsham after Raymond’s death in 2002. She said she was shocked and overwhelmed by the honour