Walt Secord meets Darwin Jewry

July 16, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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NSW Labor frontbencher and deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, Walt Secord recently met with members of Darwin’s tiny informal Jewish community.

Walt Secord, Dr Ashley Freeman and Dr Jordan Kolsky

Walt Secord was on a study tour of remote and indigenous health in the Northern Territory.

It is believed that there are around 100 Jews in the Northern Territory and among them are academics at Charles Darwin University, experts in the mining industry, doctors, lawyers, dentists and other dental and medical professionals – as well as passing Israelis and tourists.

While not a formalised community, they use social media to gather for Rosh Hashanah and the occasional Shabbat.

They also get a rare visit from a rabbi with the Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia (RARA).

Earlier this year, Litchfield Council approved the development of a small Jewish section at Thorak Regional Cemetery – 20 kilometres south of Darwin. Initially, it has scope for 20 plots with an option of another 20.

Mr Secord met with Dr Ashley Freeman, a dentist from Melbourne, who is also president of the Australian Dental Association (ADA) – Northern Territory branch; Dr Jordan Kolsky, a dentist from Caulfield and a councillor with the ADA NT; and Ms Tabitha Acret, a NSW-trained dental hygienist, who is national vice-president of the Dental Hygienists Association of Australia and its NT president.

Dr Kolsky, 27, who is a vegetarian came to the Northern Territory in January 2017, is the informal contact for visiting Jews.

Walt Secord at Frank Jacques’ grave

Mr Secord said: “It was an extraordinary dinner. They all strongly identified as Jewish and were senior figures in their professions.”

“They had all moved to Darwin for professional reasons, but were willing to open their homes to visiting Jews.”

“They were also deeply committed to social justice in their fields and wanted to find ways to increase the number of Aboriginal people in dentistry,” Mr Secord said.

Mr Secord also told them about the wonderful work at the Jewish community sponsored and University of NSW-based Shalom Gamarada Indigenous Residential Scholarship Program, which assists Australian Indigenous students to pursue university study, particularly in the field of medicine.

In addition, Mr Secord visited the Adelaide River War Cemetery, 120 kilometres south of Darwin – and its commonwealth war graves, which included two known Jewish soldiers. They were Frank Arnold Jacques, who was in the Royal Australian Air Force and died on January 18, 1945 at the age 22 in an aircraft accident and Sergeant Maurice Morris of the Royal Australian Artillery who was buried on March 16, 1945 at 34.

Mr Secord who is also shadow health minister and shadow arts minister was in the Northern Territory as part of a study visit on remote and isolated health issues including tele-health, renal health services, foetal alcohol syndrome, remote and mobile vaccination services dental, indigenous health and aboriginal health practitioners.

He also visited Royal Darwin Hospital, Katherine District Hospital and the Menzies School of Health Research at Charles Darwin University, one of the nation’s leaders in Indigenous and tropical health research which is headed by its director Professor Alan Cass – son of respected UNSW Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass and the late-Dr Cecil Cass.

Mr Secord said there has always been an informal Jewish presence in the Northern Territory – but never a formal community with a synagogue.

A Jewish presence stretches back to the colonial era – especially in politics – and it includes Vaiben Louis Solomon – an influential Northern Territory businessman who became Premier of South Australia in 1899.  He was also owner and editor of the weekly Northern Territory Times. The federal electorate of Solomon is named after him.

The Australian Labor Party’s first leader in the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly and the Territory’s first Opposition leader was Jon Isaacs from Sydney who served from 1977 to 1981.

When Mr Secord was a journalist at the Australian Jewish News in 1991, he wrote a three-page feature profile in the Rosh Hashanah edition on the Jews who lived in the Northern Territory at the time.

In the first decade of the 1900s, there was a suggestion of either Northern Territory, Queensland or the Kimberley region in Western Australia as a possible place to establish a Jewish settlement in northern Australia, but it never came to fruition.

He also wrote a piece about a young British Jewish immigrant to Australia, Betty Simons, who moved to Darwin with her husband Phil and their baby during the bombing of Darwin in 1942.

Earlier this year, Mr Secord also visited Broken Hill in western NSW where he visited its historic synagogue.

“As part of my visits around Australia and overseas, I always make a point of visiting the local Jewish community and sites of Jewish interest, whether it is in Gibraltar, Spain, Portugal, Morocco or China,” Mr Secord said.

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