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Asylum seekers’ good Samaritans came from famous WA Catholic church

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Its gleaming white church with famous mother-of-pearl altar put Western Australia’s Beagle Bay community on the map.

Parishioners’ response to a group of stranded asylum seekers who wandered across it will keep it there.

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The remote Indigenous township near the Kimberley coastline, around 130km from Broome, was thrust into the media spotlight earlier this year when locals found two groups of men lost nearby on a searing hot morning in February.

The untold story is that Beagle Bay’s Sacred Heart Catholic parish and primary school took in the strangers thought to be from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and possibly saved their lives.

Two thirds of the 300-strong population are parishioners, some of them tourism operators who also showcase the famous 1918 church. Their priest, Fr John Bosco Thipparthi, was one of the first people on the scene on 16 February.

He also became the men’s interpreter before they were collected by Australian Border Force police the following day.

Photo supplied by Fr Thipparthi

“One of my parishioners spotted a group of them walking in the bush and as good Samaritans everyone in this community looks out for each other and so he put them in his ute and came knocking on my door,” he said.

“They had no English but I could speak Hindi to them. They said they had been travelling for five days, three days by boat from Indonesia.

“It was obvious they had come by boat but they were confused, anxious and dehydrated.

“So first things first, we told them to use our community bathrooms to have a shower and organised water and sandwiches for them and then we spoke together about informing the police.

“They carried no water with them, no food, nothing. They were wearing jeans and long shirts and obviously had no idea of what the Australian climate is like.

“They were fit young men but they could have died if they hadn’t been found.”

The men told Fr Thipparthi they had been travelling for five days, three days by boat from Indonesia.

Staff at the local health clinic treated their wounded legs and feet, the community store organised dinner and they were given blankets and pillows to camp out at the school for the night.

Beagle Bay chairperson and parishioner Henry Augustine had been scrolling through Facebook at his home when he saw a post from a neighbour about the unexpected influx of visitors in the normally quiet town.

“I thought I’d check it out and see everything was ok on behalf of the community, but all our mob here looked after them,” he said.

“I just said “Look, they are human beings, we’re human beings and we need to look after each other no matter who we are or where we’re from.’

“I think that’s the Catholic thing to do.

“I received a lot of phone calls all that weekend and the next from media and we did have a bit of a yarn and a laugh after Mass about it, but we just take it as it comes and it’s all experience.”

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