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Fearless pioneer paved way in PNG

Fearless pioneer paved way in PNG

Fearless pioneer paved way in PNG

The mobile clinic, which Dorothy Elphick described as a ‘tank’, gets stuck halfway across a bridge in the Eastern Highlands.

By Lauren Martin

Sixty years ago this month, The Salvation Army’s Australia Eastern Territory officially began work in Papua New Guinea. That moment was the confirmation of a long-held promise God gave to a young New Zealand nursing sister, Dorothy Elphick, who initiated a powerful ministry.

“I had always known that I was going to be a missionary nurse somewhere in the world but it wasn’t until halfway through doing my midwifery course, which was the last nursing course that I did, ... I was in Christchurch and visiting with an officer and ... she said the word ‘New Guinea’ and it shot through me like a bullet,” she recalled during an interview in 2006.

“I had always known that I was going to be a missionary nurse somewhere in the world but it wasn’t until halfway through doing my midwifery course, which was the last nursing course that I did, ... I was in Christchurch and visiting with an officer and ... she said the word ‘New Guinea’ and it shot through me like a bullet,” she recalled during an interview in 2006.

Appointed in 1958 alongside Captain Ruby Dalrymple, the pair were tasked with infant and maternal welfare in the Eastern Highlands of PNG. The villages consisted of bamboo huts, and grass skirts and lap-laps was still the traditional dress. When the pair began, some tribes still practised forms of cannibalism. They were given a mobile clinic, a specially designed vehicle that was more “tank” than truck and proved to be “too long, too wide and far too heavy for the roads and certainly the bridges because sometimes it went through the bridges and not over them!” Despite the magnitude of the task, with a population of around 70,000 people in the Eastern Highlands without adequate access to medical services, Dorothy Elphick and Ruby Dalrymple could not ignore their higher calling. Within no time, they had started salvation meetings.

Dorothy Elphick (left) and Ruby Dalrymple standing alongside their mobile medical clinic in PNG.

By 1970, Dorothy Elphick had more than a decade of experience living and working in PNG and a good grasp of Pigeon English. She set out, by herself, to pioneer the Army’s work in a remote part of the Okapa District. She set up house in a small village hut on the edge of Misapi. She recalls: “It didn’t have any windows, just a dirt floor ... it didn’t have a kitchen, of course, but a few sticks of wood and a lean-to and a bit of grass thatch soon made an open-air kitchen – no windows to clean!”

Every morning began with a short time of prayer and a Bible talk. “Fortunately there was one man who seemed to understand Pigeon English – or my kind of Pigeon English – and he translated for me,” she said. From there, Dorothy walked further into the wilderness to bring medical services and Salvation meetings to other villages. She could be gone two or three days, tramping and camping along the way. “Witchcraft was very real and I think this was where the power of prayer came in,” she said. “The knowledge that I lived and worked for one who had overcome the power of Satan held me in good stead.”

In 2006, when The Salvation Army in PNG marked its 50th anniversary, the government released a set of memorial postage stamps for the occasion. One of them featured a young Lieutenant Dorothy Elphick holding a Highlands baby – such is the respect that the country has for the fearless women who brought medical services and the hope of Christ to their country.

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