His usual introduction was ‘G’day! I’m Padre Strange,’ often adding with a grin, ‘Strange by name, strange by nature!’ Without doubt, Arthur Strange was unique --- a man of great compassion who was blessed with the faith and stamina which enabled him to transform visions into realities. Single-minded and a loner perhaps, but never strange!
He was born on 23rd August 1893 at Cherry Gardens in the Adelaide hills, the son of orchardist Henery Strange and his wife Charlotte Susannah (née Ricks). He contracted pneumonia in childhood but made a remarkable recovery and a few years later began his life’s work as a home missionary in the state’s remote areas. World War I saw him serving overseas in the Army Medical Corps. Having had personal experience of loneliness while in London, he vowed to minister to people suffering similarly. The emphasis on practical Christianity became the hallmark of his work for more than sixty years.
His marriage to Winifred Elizabeth Mealy took place in 1923 and they had two children, but Winifred died of cancer in 1936. Faced with the sole responsibility of bringing up his children, Arthur heeded the advice of his late wife and sought out Estella Janet Cooper, who had nursed her. Their fifty-year marriage began on 7th June 1937 and they had two daughters. Stella became a partner in every venture that Arthur undertook.
At North Adelaide Arthur Strange laid the foundations of the Helping Hand Centre, his lasting legacy to South Australians. Not discouraged by his struggling congregation, he set about using the substantial church property to meet urgent community needs. During a coal strike in the 1950s, he offered to find work for any unemployed men. He enlisted the help of radio stations 5KA and 5AD, and presented a weekly Sunday afternoon broadcast which continued for eleven years. Through the Helping Hand sessions, Padre Strange and his work became known throughout South Australia.
He believed the greatest human ills to be poverty, loneliness and lack of purpose. Whenever a need presented itself, he looked for a practical way to meet it. Homeless men, most of them living in the parklands, came seeking work. Strange converted a disused Sunday School hall into a fifty-bed hostel, with an employment service providing casual work. Country families needed accommodation for their children who were moving to the city, so he bought several large homes in North Adelaide and turned them into hostels too. There were many people lacking basic food and clothing and he channelled the gifts donated by people from across the state to those in need.
Today’s Helping Hand Aged Care programme had its genesis in the Padre’s recognition that loneliness and boredom increase with age. The programme required large amounts of money to maintain it and Arthur Strange gained a reputation as a fund-raiser. ‘Can you spare a few bob for the Helping Hand?’ he would ask as he walked into a workshop, rattling a collection tin. At eighteen stone and six feet two inches tall, with a disarming grin, the Padre could not be ignored.
As an Air Force chaplain in World War II, he organized hikes for servicemen and invited young women from local churches to serve as hostesses. After the war he and his wife opened their manse for Sunday teas and over a hundred people regularly packed the Archer Street house. Somehow they were all fed. When the tempo of migration increased, the Helping Hand Centre hosted ‘migrants’ teas’ each Sunday.
Arthur Strange was appointed O.B.E. in 1957. After he retired in 1964, he resolved to help the residents of nursing homes in the eastern suburbs. As a volunteer with the Hackney Mission, he arranged bus tours and entertainments, covering the $22,000 needed each year by collections at local shopping centres. He died on 18th September 1987 and was cremated.
Cockburn, S., The patriarchs (Adelaide: Ferguson Publications, 1983).