Thomas Sidney Dixon

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Thomas Sidney Dixon (1916 1993) was a Catholic Missionary known for his work with Indigenous peoples. Father Dixon took up the cause of Rupert Max Stuart, an Arrernte Aboriginal convicted of murder in 1959.

Catholic Church Christian church led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's "oldest continuously functioning international institution", it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Missionary member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism

A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to proselytize or perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin missionem, meaning "act of sending" or mittere, meaning "to send". The word was used in light of its biblical usage; in the Latin translation of the Bible, Christ uses the word when sending the disciples to preach The gospel in his name. The term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but can be used for any creed or ideology.

Rupert Maxwell (Max) Stuart was an Indigenous Australian who was convicted of murder in 1959. His conviction was subject to several appeals to higher courts, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and a Royal Commission, all of which upheld the verdict. Newspapers campaigned successfully against the death penalty being imposed. After serving his sentence, Stuart became an Arrernte elder and from 1998 till 2001 was the chairman of the Central Land Council. In 2002, a film was made about the Stuart case.


Early life

Thomas Dixon was born in Sydney, the 15th of 18 children born to Irish/English parents who had immigrated from Liverpool in England two years earlier.

Sydney City in New South Wales, Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

Liverpool City and Metropolitan borough in England

Liverpool is a city in North West England, with an estimated population of 491,500 within the Liverpool City Council local authority in 2017. Its metropolitan area is the fifth-largest in the UK, with a population of 2.24 million in 2011. The local authority is Liverpool City Council, the most populous local government district in the metropolitan county of Merseyside and the largest in the Liverpool City Region.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Dixon was schooled by nuns before entering Christian Brothers College. At the age of 12 he entered a seminary of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart where he eventually took his vows. In November 1941, he was appointed to run a mission in Rabaul in East New Britain. However, while en route Pearl Harbour was attacked and he was instead asked to travel to Palm Island, 65 km (40 mi) north-west of Townsville, on the east coast of Queensland to relieve an ill priest for three months. Dixon remained on the Island for seven years teaching.

Christian Brothers College, Burwood was a Catholic high school located in Burwood, Sydney Australia.

Seminary, school of theology, theological seminary, and divinity school are educational institutions for educating students in scripture, theology, generally to prepare them for ordination to server as clergy, in academics, or in Christian ministry. The English word is taken from the Latin seminarium, translated as seed-bed, an image taken from the Council of Trent document Cum adolescentium aetas which called for the first modern seminaries. In the West, the term now refers to Catholic educational institutes and has widened to include other Christian denominations and American Jewish institutions.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are a missionary congregation in the Catholic Church. It was founded in 1854 by Jules Chevalier at Issoudun, France, in the Diocese of Bourges.

In 1949, Dixon transferred to Toowoomba, Queensland where he taught English, French and Algebra at a Catholic school. At the end of the year he was appointed to the Thursday Island mission that also served Hammond Island. Here he taught the local population which was a mix of Australian Aboriginals, Papuans, Samoans, Filipinos, Malays and Sinhalese. On Hammond Island Dixon designed and built a mortarless stone church with stained glass windows made from beer bottles.

Algebra is one of the broad parts of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and analysis. In its most general form, algebra is the study of mathematical symbols and the rules for manipulating these symbols; it is a unifying thread of almost all of mathematics. It includes everything from elementary equation solving to the study of abstractions such as groups, rings, and fields. The more basic parts of algebra are called elementary algebra; the more abstract parts are called abstract algebra or modern algebra. Elementary algebra is generally considered to be essential for any study of mathematics, science, or engineering, as well as such applications as medicine and economics. Abstract algebra is a major area in advanced mathematics, studied primarily by professional mathematicians.

Hammond Island, Queensland Town in Queensland, Australia

Hammond Island is an island with a town of the same name, in the Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia, within the local government area of Torres Strait Island Region.

Samoans ethnic group

Samoans or Samoan people, are a Polynesian ethnic group native to the Samoan Islands, an archipelago in Polynesia, who speak the Samoan language. The group's home islands are politically and geographically divided between the Independent State of Samoa and American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. Though divided by political powers, the culture and language remains one and the same.

Santa Teresa

In 1954 Dixon was reassigned to a mission that M.S.C. had founded near Alice Springs, Santa Teresa (now Ltyentye Apurte Community). Founded to service the Arrernte Aboriginals, nuns ran the mission school and clinic while lay brothers worked as handymen. Dixon was responsible for the church and learnt to speak Arrernte in order to preach to them in their own language. He introduced not only Mass to local Aboriginals but also the Cabbage to their diet. The indigenous women and children were largely permanent residents at the mission while most of the men moved around following seasonal work. Almost all the children and many of the women were baptised as Catholics however, the men tended to be baptised Lutherans as they were more accustomed to attending the Hermannsburg Lutheran mission, 160 km (99 mi) east of Santa Teresa.

Alice Springs Town in the Northern Territory, Australia

Alice Springs is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", Alice Springs is situated roughly in Australia's geographic centre.

Ltyentye Apurte Community the Northern Territory, Australia

The Ltyentye Apurte Community, also known as Santa Teresa, is an Arrernte indigenous community in the Northern Territory, Australia, located about 80 kilometres (50 mi) south-east of Alice Springs. .

Arrernte people Aboriginal Australian people

The Arrernte people, sometimes referred to as the Aranda, Arunta, or Arrarnta are an Aboriginal Australian people who live in the Arrernte lands, at Mparntwe and surrounding areas of the Central Australia region of the Northern Territory. Some Aranda live in other areas far from their homeland, including the major Australian cities and overseas.

As many of the Aboriginals lived in huts made from corrugated iron, Dixon organised the local men to build houses to replace them. Local stone was chipped by hand with the locals given rations while they worked on their own home with an additional cash allowance when they worked on some one else's. Within two years every family lived in a stone house.

In 1956, Dixon moved to Adelaide where he was appointed as Curate for the Hindmarsh Parish that M.S.C. had begun after receiving permission from the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Adelaide City in South Australia

Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia, and the fifth-most populous city of Australia. In June 2017, Adelaide had an estimated resident population of 1,333,927. Adelaide is home to more than 75 percent of the South Australian population, making it the most centralised population of any state in Australia.

Curate person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish

A curate is a person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish. In this sense, "curate" correctly means a parish priest; but in English-speaking countries the term curate is commonly used to describe clergy who are assistants to the parish priest. The duties or office of a curate are called a curacy.

Hindmarsh, South Australia Suburb of Adelaide, South Australia

Hindmarsh is an inner suburb of Adelaide, South Australia. It is located in the City of Charles Sturt.

Max Stuart

In 1959 Rupert Max Stuart was on death row awaiting execution for the murder of Mary Hattam. Stuart had already visited with a Salvation Army officer and a Lutheran pastor when Father John O’Loughlin, the Adelaide Goal's junior Catholic Chaplain met him. Stuart was not very communicative due to his limited English and O’Loughlin mentioned this to his friend, Father Tom Dixon who lived in a presbytery in nearby Hindmarsh. As he could speak Stuart's native language, Dixon decided to visit and help prepare Stuart for death.

Stuart insisted he had not killed the girl and Dixon initially suspected he was looking for sympathy. By 14 May the execution was eight days away and Dixon had become convinced that Stuart was telling the truth. He contacted J. D. O'Sullivan, Stuart's solicitor who gave him a copy of Stuart's confession. After reading it, he concluded that Stuart could not have dictated it. Dixon had read a book on Arrernte grammar written by T.G.H. Strehlow and asked him to check Stuart's language for comparison with the confession. [1] Strehlow had been born at the Hermannsburg Lutheran mission where his father was the pastor and had spoken Arrente before being taught English. As it turned out, Strehlow had grown up with Stuart and knew his parents well. Strehlow visited Stuart on 18 May, and for the first time his alibi was heard in English after being translated. On the matter of the police confession, Strehlow wrote:

"In my ten years of varied experience of evidence given by Aboriginals, part Aboriginals, police officers and white residents of the Northern Territory, I had never seen a document even faintly resembling the one I was now looking at. Far from bearing any resemblance to any statement ever made by an Aboriginal or part Aboriginal person....(the document) could have been composed only by some person who was well versed in legal procedure and in the practice of giving court evidence."

On 20 May Stuart applied for leave to appeal to the High Court based on Strehlow's findings and Justice Reed granted a stay of execution with a new date of 19 June set. On 18 June a further extension to 7 July was granted to allow time for a decision, which was handed down on 19 June. Leave to appeal was denied.

The Stuart Campaign

On 22 June Dixon contacted Dr. Charles Duguid, who ran the Aborigines’ Advancement League, to discuss Stuart's situation. On 27 June a meeting of the League, university teachers, clergymen and representatives of the Howard League for Penal Reform was held in Duguid's Magill home where Dixon and Strehlow gave a talk. It was decided to mount a campaign to keep Stuart alive and the distribution of petitions for commutation were arranged.

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  1. Father Dixon was later to comment: Thank goodness Stuart was not a Catholic. If he had been, Stuart denying the murder would have been regarded as a confession and Dixon would not have been able to mention his doubts over Stuart's guilt with anyone. The church holds that the seal of confession would be inviolable even with Stuart's life at stake.