“I reckon this was meant to be the promised land. Christopher Columbus must have gotten off course when he discovered America,” said Murray Peate laughing, as he dashed across the white sand beach and dived into a huge incoming blue-green wave.
Murray is one of a group of young Latter-day Saints from Perth, Australia, who met at the beach for an outing together. Because these young Australians attend many different schools they often plan activities so they can be around other members of the Church.
“We love getting together like this,” said Janice McMeechan. “I’m the only member out of 1,000 at my school.”
“We’re the only members out of 3,000 in our school,” said Lynn Hicks, referring to her twin sister Kerri, who was also on the outing.
Perth is a long way from anywhere. Nestled on the western coast of Australia, this beautiful city is blessed with a benevolent Mediterranean-like climate. The warm waters of the southern Indian Ocean lap hundreds of miles of beautiful white sand beaches that are rarely disturbed by commercial development or even people. Western Australia’s population density of 1.4 people per square mile contrasts with California’s 154. This abundance of beach and scarcity of people make most of the beaches seem downright lonely.
Inland mining has made Perth a wealthy city that serves regally as the capital of Western Australia, a state covering 975,920 square miles, almost one-third of the whole land of Australia. This one state is equal to the combined land areas of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.
With this vastness comes a certain anonymity for Perthites. They often refer to their cousins in Sydney as “T’other siders.” And, in turn, people from Melbourne and Sydney joke about people from Perth being from the “back end of beyond.”
“It’s true that we are the most isolated city in the world,” said Paul Lekias. “It is also true that we live in one of the cleanest and most beautiful cities in all the world.”
During the school year they see each other at early-morning seminary. Strong, lasting bonds are formed when you have to get up and be at seminary clear across town by 6:00 A.M. After seminary it’s back to your own school and a day of intense studies. “Seminary helps us to gain testimonies of the gospel,” they said. “It helps prepare us for work and missions, this getting up early, but it does make it hard to go jogging before seminary.”
Living the gospel in Perth presents unusual challenges. These young people are learning to confront their problems head-on and are building their characters in the process.
“My biggest challenge is being around people who swear or put me down. It’s hard not to be angry with them,” said Janice.
“One of my mates said, ‘You can’t be a Mormon; you’re not an American,’ said Murray. “I told him I was a Mormon and he said, ‘You’re mad then.’”
“Of course some of the questions they routinely ask are more humorous than challenging,” Lynn said. “Many people here still have strange ideas about us. some of my friends asked if we believe in bikes, because the missionaries always ride them. I couldn’t convince them otherwise, even though Dad has a car.”
Dating was one topic they all wanted to talk about, but they are evenly divided on the question of dating nonmembers. Some said they had dated nonmembers but, like Janice, said when they swore or broke other commandments, “it really puts you off.”
“It is not worth it to get serious with a nonmember. I don’t want anyone going to church for me. They need to gain a testimony for themselves,” Janice added.
“Of course we meet people who seem like one of us. I was what we call a dry member. I had perfect attendance at seminary for four years and then was baptized on the last day of class. My parents thought I was mad to go to church six days a week,” Janet Olney said.
“We are involved with the Church all week,” Jay Simmons said. “Most of our friends can’t believe we stay as busy as we do. To them church is just a Sunday thing.”
“Our dances and other activities are great. And here where activity is a problem, being busy in the Church helps us keep the commitment we have to stay active and live the gospel,” said Paul Lekias.
“I’m sure our members here are as good and devoted as you can find anywhere,” Murray said. “I reckon you can live the standards and still have a good time.”
“We want everyone to know that we love the gospel and we love living in Australia. We think it is the best place in the world,” Janice said.
Then with a twinkle in her eye she added, “I wonder if Columbus could have made a mistake.”