It isn’t possible to get much farther north in Australia than the township of Kununurra without paddling in the Timor Sea. The town is a remote farming and mining community of three thousand people—just one of them a Latter-day Saint.
Except for Margaret Lawson, there isn’t another member of the Church within 700 kilometers. Her ability to stay fully “active” for the past fourteen years has set an example that might be emulated by other isolated Church members.
Born in England, Sister Lawson emigrated to Australia in 1966 at the age of 30. She suffers from acute arthritic and bronchial conditions, so her doctor had recommended a warmer climate.
First settling in Perth, a major city on the Indian Ocean shoreline of western Australia, Sister Lawson encountered Latter-day Saints in a local theater group. When she took on the job of stage manager, both the manager of the group and the leading male actor were Latter-day Saints.
Every time the group started or finished rehearsals, the manager called them together for prayer, Sister Lawson recalls. “Even though the rest of us were not members, it gave me a very warm feeling—I always used to quietly pray before I went on stage, and this seemed right, somehow.”
An invitation to attend Church meetings followed, and Sister Lawson was soon baptized. Naturally cheerful and enthusiastic, she served as ward and stake drama director in Perth and became thoroughly involved in the Church.
But her health continued to deteriorate. When she finally needed a cane to walk, her doctor told her she should go to the north of Australia, where the climate is distinctly warmer and much more humid. Ever since then, her home has been in Kununurra, where she works as a medical laboratory technician.
In order to maintain her commitment to the gospel and build her spirituality, Sister Lawson set some standards for herself when she moved to Kununurra that she has maintained ever since. She reads two or three chapters from the standard works daily, systematically working her way through each of them. She also reads every piece of Church literature she can get. “I subscribe to all the Church magazines,” she says.
Twice each month, she receives a phone call from the Relief Society president in the city of Darwin, 700 kilometers away—the center of Church activity in Australia’s vast Northern Territory. The phone calls are a welcome morale booster, as are the photocopies of lessons from the Relief Society and Sunday School manuals which are also sent.
Normally, Sister Lawson has an opportunity to take the sacrament only once every six months. When she can get the time off work, she travels to Darwin for district conference—a weekend trip that costs her an average of [U.S.] $350 for air fares. Occasionally, the mission president or another priesthood holder travels through the town, and Sister Lawson often takes that opportunity to ask for a blessing.
Sometimes, because employees in the mining industry tend to be mobile, other members will take up temporary residence in Kununurra. Even one more member is enough for Sister Lawson to consider it a “branch.”
Her advice to people in isolated circumstances is to “make a friend of Heavenly Father.
“You have to study regularly, talk to him as if he is a real friend, and then try to make a friend of others around you. You don’t have to change your standards just because you associate with nonmembers who feel and behave differently.”
Sister Lawson says it’s especially important to become involved in the community. She is president of the local theater group, treasurer of the local Progress Association, and vice-president of the town’s Cultural Coordinating Committee.
Endowed in the London Temple while on leave, Sister Lawson is 3,200 kilometers from the Sydney Temple—too far to travel regularly. However, she recently established Kununurra’s only genealogical society. Her eventual aim: to serve a temple mission in one of the tropical-climate temples.