Robert Warmington, guest writer
Robert Warmington was a young man searching for young man searching for answers back in the 1960s. He drifted into the Riverland and found more than than he bargained for, he found, a new life.
I worked on a lot of fruit blocks and farms just to see what it was like and found it was too hard and not enough money. I stopped for fuel at the Shell roadhouse Barmera S.A. early January 1965. The Italian proprietors were very friendly. The boss lady Renatta Mattachioni said, ‘you lika spaghetta bolognaise, all you can eat – 4/6 pence (at the time).’ For dessert she said, ‘you wanta the job picka the fruit?’.
What an experience, I learnt fruit drying, pruning vines & trees, how to kill & dress sheep. Met a lot of poor farm workers, Greek, German, Italian and Aussies; acquired a taste for rabbit skewered on a piece of fencing wire and cooked on an open fire.
I liked the upper Murray area, Berri, Barmera, Loxton, Renmark and last but not least Cobdogla. Obtained full board in a private home at Cobdogla. The lady of the house was a Lutheran and invited me to attend Cobdogla Lutheran Church one Sunday.
The church Pastor Ivan Wittwer preached – one thing he said stayed in my mind, ‘you are the salt of the earth, if the salt losses its savour it shall be cast aside’.
Talk about friendly persuasion – once God’s Holy Spirit starts to work on you there is no going back. I was led around like a bull with a ring in my nose; I simply had to have more of this stuff.
I looked in the local paper one Saturday morning under Church notices, and read – Christian Revival Crusade, meeting at Berri C.W.A. Hall, 7.30 Sunday night, great singing, hear the Gospel preached and stay for free coffee. So off to Berri that night and sneaked up to the C.W.A. Hall, I found the hall by following the sound of the singing, you could hear it all over the Berri shopping area. I peeked in the doorway to suss the place out, I’d heard they were a lot of weirdo’s so wasn’t taking any chances.
A bloke named Vince Hartwig grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me inside, I knew Vince and was astonished to see him here. I said Vince, ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ (This wasn’t the start of it all, it was purely the next step in the sequence of things).
Out the front of the room were two blokes in dark suits. Vince said the bloke standing was called Cliff Beard; the bloke sitting down was Dudley Cooper.
Cliff Beard, I found out was running the show, but when he got up to speak I realised this was no show, this bloke was fair dinkum.
Cliff preached like I’d never heard anyone preach before, so much so that at the end of the meeting I went up to him and I said I believe in what you are doing and want to help in any way I can.
Later when everyone had gone home we sat and talked in my car. Cliff asked, ‘are you a Christian and have you received the gift of the Holy Spirit?’
I said, ‘I guess I am.’ It was all very confusing and I went home a troubled young man. That night I woke screaming and my room mate John Martin said it was pretty scary and he had hidden under the blankets.
The next morning the landlady said, what was all that noise last night, I think you should find somewhere else to live.
A few days later I attended a house meeting at Bruce & Gwen Leane’s place at Barmera. I told Bruce what had happened, he seemed a bit baffled but rightly put it down to the work of the Holy Spirit sorting me out. These were heady days! I could go on and on forever telling of the experiences good and bad. Everything was new, my old world was passing away, I was a different person, what a life!
Cliff Beard went through life like a plough-shear on new ground, people’s lives were changed, some coped better than others, many were offended, many received new and abundant life. I was one who was saved.
Teenarama came to Barmera. I’d never seen anything like it in my life, young people dedicated to serving Christ, I wanted in. When I think back on those days, I wish they had never ended. Cliff Beard went through life like a plough-shear on new ground, people’s lives were changed, some coped better than others, many were offended, many received new and abundant life. I was one who was saved.
‘God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing. All you need is faith.’Joel 2: 25