A trochus shell from One Arm Point, polished and in a black cloth bag with drawstring - A gift from Br. Nick Bilich years ago. From Tuesday March 21 2000 it will be treasured as a memento for me of the years we lived and worked throughout the Kimberley. It speaks of his reverence for creation, the land, its forms and story, the building materials it provides and the natural beauty he celebrated in photos, rock and mineral souvenirs and especially in his watercolour paintings

Each of his paintings brings together the elements of landscape and history, buildings and human story. He was fascinated by cloud and sky - the wet season and the dry - old and historic buildings and sites, pearling boats and sheds, and early church buildings. All, though, was in relation to people, the early missionaries, the John of God Sisters, the labouring Broome people in the pearling days, the generous people staffing and managing the schools and church works in the Kimberley. [Image on the right is from one of the small number of postcards that Nick treasured for many years]. 


The weathering and rusting buildings, the appealing or threatening cloud formations, the irregularity or symmetry of rock and crystal structure were all a parable of Kimberley life. Like recently graded or flooded and impassable roads, of plans supported or foiled by availability or quality of materials, Aboriginal celebrations and enjoyment of improved facilities and abilities, or the sorry times of hardship or loss. When Nick heard of death, imprisonment or hard luck stories involving any of his past students, it was as though they were family. He mourned for them, their problems were his own. He also rejoiced in their good fortune. Nick knew most of his former students by name and recognised them, seeing easily through the adult appearance to the younger person he had taught.

Nick was born on July 6 1930 in Perth. He had two sisters, Ella and Nicolene (Nicolene entered religious life as Sr. Nicolene about the same time as Nick) and two brothers, Tony and John He was still a young boy when his mother, Lucy, died in 1941. He decided to join the Christian Brothers when he was 14, completing his schooling in Sydney. About this same time, his father, Nicholai asked his family if they would let him travel to India to work as a carpenter for a Jesuit College in Kurseong.

In 1948, the same year that Nick entered his Novitiate year , his father, Nicholai, joined the Jesuit Order and began his Novitiate in Sitagarha, India. Father and son dedicated themselves to religious life at the same time. They were similar in their practical skills, their personal gifts their dedication to work, people and their God. The following quotation could be written of Nick, changing Hazaribag, India to the Kimberley region of West Australia.

"Here (Hazaribag, India) was a school to be built and equipped. Though now in his early sixties he set to work with zest. He went far and wide gathering building materials, often returning with harrowing tales (of) bad roads…. For (many) years he worked to supply all the needs of the mission with a quality of craftsmanship that was always masterly. With his keen sense of humour and great fund of stories from his early experiences he was always entertaining" (From the life of Br. Nicholai Bilich, SJ - Nick's father).

Nick taught in Dunedin, New Zealand for six years. It was here he studied manual arts and developed a lifetime gratitude to Mr. Gillies, one of his Dunedin teachers.

Then, between 1956 and 1970 he taught in southern West Australia at Fremantle, Bindoon and Collie and Geraldton.

Beagle Bay Church
Beagle Bay Church

Pearl shell sorting
Pearl Shell sorting, Broome

Corrugated iron shack
Corrugated iron shack along Roebuck Bay

Nick on the left
Nick

Nick's father, Nicholai