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The Australian Catholic Church

Twenty-five of the Best!

The Arts

KHOA DO - Boat person, film maker and humanitarian 

(1979-   )                 

When Khoa Do (pronounced Kwa Doh) was two years old, he left Vietnam on a fishing boat with his parents, who risked their lives to find a future for their children in another country. Khoa and his family arrived in Sydney and settled in the city’s west. They moved from suburb to suburb wherever the rents were cheapest and finally settled in Yagoona. After primary school Khoa received a scholarship to St Aloysius College, a life changing experience.                                                                  

What the school taught me was that it doesn’t matter what your background is, what you look like, whether your name is sold on mugs in stationery stores – what really matters is the way you live your life. And one lesson stayed with me till today – ‘be men for others’. 

So after leaving school, while he explored his love for theatre, film, and comedy, Khoa worked as a volunteer, teaching English and job-seeking skills. In 2001, Khoa was nominated for an AFI Award for his screenplay for the short film Delivery Day. The film tells the story of a girl’s struggle to balance the demands of school, her mother and the family's backyard sweatshop. It is based primarilyon Khoa's own experience growing up in Sydney’s Vietnamese community.

A year later, Khoa commenced voluntary work with disadvantaged young adults at Cabramatta's Open Family Welfare Centre. He was asked to teach film-making to these ‘at risk' young people. He decided to take the hands-on approach and to actually make a film with them. They developed a script based on the experiences of those in the class: drug addiction, homelessness and crime. All the major cast members werefirst-time actors. The result is the now internationally acclaimed The Finished People. A further film was Footy Legends based again on Khoa’s experiences in the suburbs. His latest film is Mother Fish which explores the experience of being a ‘boat person’.

Film is Khoa’s main medium to educate, to challenge and to change people’s values but he also speaks to all sorts of groups around the country. When Khoa was nominated as 2005 Young Australian of the Year, Fr Ross Jones, Rector of St Aloysius College commented:

St Aloysius College rejoices in Khoa’s nomination. It endorses all that we esteem in our graduates: a reflective life, a strong sense of justice, and a recognition that God’s Kingdom is extended when one’s gifts and talents are placed in the service of those found on its margins.

You can listen to Khoa tell his story here.

Reflection/Discussion

  • What aspects of Khoa’s life demonstrate self-reflection, a sense of justice and service of those on the margins?
  • What do you think of Khoa’s idea that ‘the moment you encounter your biggest obstacle is the moment of your greatest opportunity’? Have you found this to be true?

AARON McMILLAN - Musician

(1977- 2007)

Aaron McMillan was a successful 24-year-old Sydney musician whose life was turned upside down in 2002 when he discovered that he had a brain tumour the size of a tennis ball. After successful surgery by Dr Charlie Teo, the next years of his life saw him engaged in a most courageous battle to do as much as he could to live life to the full and to use his musical talents for the good of others. He not only continued to prepare for and present concerts at the Opera House and in the hospital ward, but he was also generous in mentoring and encouraging other young musicians.

Dr Teo described him as ‘wanting to heal the world through music’. Self-pity was never an option for Aaron but his appreciation for what t was good and beautiful about life and also his search for what really mattered, led him to a rediscovery of faith during the years between his first operation and his final illness. His movement towards explicit faith is described in the eulogy given at his requiem Mass in St Mary’s Sydney. Watch the Australian Story editions that document Aaron’s story or read the transcript of Playing for Time.

For reflection/discussion

Aaron’s courage and good humour in the face of illness and death and the search for meaning which led him to faith spoke powerfully to those who knew him personally and to the thousands who followed his story over the last years of his life.

  • What led Aaron to faith?
  • What is life all about, especially life cut short like Aaron’s was?
  • How might you face death?

GEORGE MUNG MUNG - Community leader, teacher and artist

(1921-1991)

George Mung Mung (c. 1920 – 1991), a visual artist, was a great cultural leader, artist and teacher of the Warmun community [Turkey Creek], East Kimberley in Western Australia. A respected elder, Mung began painting in the early 1980s. Prior to this he had worked as a stockman for many years on stations in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Using local ochres mixed with natural gums he painted the inseparable relationship between land and life. Many of his works embody both Kija and Christian beliefs.

In the 1970s he set up the Ngalangangpum bicultural Christian school with his friend, fellow artist and elder, Hector Jandany. Both men taught the stories and songs of their country to the children in the school. His statue of Mary of Warmun was made to replace the community’s plaster statue of Our Lady which had been accidentally knocked off a table and broken. Mary of Warmun is one of the most beautiful pieces of Australian Christian art and forms the frontispiece of the Australian edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Rosemary Crumlin describes how she discovered this work of art, and others like it, on a journey in north Western Australia. In 1990 George Mung Mung won the 1990 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. He died the following year.

Elizabeth Pike, an indigenous writer from Melbourne offers this appreciation of Mung’s achievement:

Little Mary of Warmun
So small in stature,
Yet within your heart
Lies the greatest love
Given for the whole world.


Aboriginal man
So filled with the Spirit
Of your own beloved Creator
You have so generously given us
A woman of our own people.

Reflection/ Discussion

George Mung Mung’s vision of Mary is both unique and universal. Find four or five pieces of art depicting Mary as mother and identify similarities and differences with George’s vision of Mary, Mother of God.

DAMIEN PARER - Photographer

(1912 – 1944)

Damien Parer was a brilliant photographer during World War II. He was a courageous, light-hearted, humorous man who accompanied Australian troops into the front lines in North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. He grew up in a large family and went to Catholic schools where both his faith and his interest in photography were fostered. After leaving school he became a professional photographer and also worked with Australian film-maker Charles Chauvel. When World War II began he was appointed as official movie photographer to the second Australian Imperial Force.

Whereas photographers were usually at the back of troops in action, Damien always wanted to get up in front of the soldiers to film. Consequently he was often involved in helping retrieve wounded men from the battlefield. His Academy award-winning documentary film Kokoda Frontline is still available, now on DVD. This iconic war photograph is a still from his film Assault on Salamaua. His faith was the wellspring of his bravery, compassion and good humour. He had a tremendously vivid awareness of the presence of God and risked the mockery of his mates in praying regularly and unconcernedly in front of them. They soon respected and were comforted by his faith, as well as cheered up by his often irreverent humour. He married Elizabeth Marie Cotter in 1944 but was killed in action not long before his first son was born.

Reflection/Discussion

  • What’s the relationship between faith and everyday life?
  • Why do so many people feel uncomfortable expressing their faith openly? How did Damien approach this?
  • How do you handle fear?

MIRIAM ROSE UNGUNMERR BAUMANN - Teacher and Artist

(1950 -     )

Ungunmerr Baumann was born in the great Australian bush near Daly River in the Northern Territory in 1950. Raised by her aunt and uncle she enjoyed a wonderful bush childhood learning the deep lore of the land as well as attending schools at Adelaide River, Pine Creek and Mataranka. When she was 15 she was baptised a Catholic at Daly River taking the Christian names Miriam and Rose. Her Aboriginal name is Ungunmerr. She became a teacher’s aide at St Francis Xavier school in Daly River before undertaking further studies and discovering a passion for art. Many Australian Catholics are familiar with her Stations of the Cross.

She recognised the possibilities of using art with Aboriginal children to engage them and to encourage self-expression and self-confidence. In 1975 she became the first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher in Australia.Since then she has accumulated several post-graduate degrees and honours. She has been a great advocate of Aboriginal teachers. She has encouraged many to undertake the necessary studies to go back into the schools so that Aboriginal children can benefit from both traditional and western learning.

A similar quiet enthusiasm for the value of traditional Aboriginal practices in deepening Christian prayer and spirituality has seen Miriam Rose travel all around Australia speaking about the Aboriginal practice Dadirri which approximates to Christian contemplation. She is profoundly moved by the Word of the Gospel spoken into the silence of her own native heritage:

In recent times we have come to listen to a most sacred word that comes to us from God, our Father. This new Word is Jesus. I have said how dadirri, which is the deep listening and quiet stillness, can make us whole and revive us. This is a special quality in our lives. It is born in our culture. The Word of God finds a home here. Jesus enriches and renews our culture. He gently stirs our inner stillness, but he does not take away our peace. We like to hear words of peace, like Jesus spoke. We want to listen and to pass on words that are true and good – like the words that have come to us through our culture and traditions; and like the words that come to us in the Gospel of Jesus. This is what I long for: that with these words to guide us, everyone will come to listen to the Sound of God. We all have to try to listen – to the God within us – to our own country – and to one another.

Reflection/Discussion

  • Miriam Rose, like most Aboriginal Australians has a deep sense of the significance of the land and how it mediates a sense of God. How do you relate to the land and the natural world?
  • Use this simple method to practise Dadirri with your classmates.