A History of the Churches in Australasia  By Ian Breward (Oxford History of the Christian Churches Series)  Clarendon Press Oxford  2001; 474 pp; 67.00 pounds hardcover.

Church history is invariably written as the history of the dead, its storytellers   eulogisers, and historical figures more like cartoon characters.

What European Christians used to celebrate as "the coming of the light"  to the Pacific Rim, is now frequently  referred to by the indigenous population as "invasion and colonisation". In fact the 1988 Bicentennial Australia Day Celebration was seen not as a reason to rejoice, but as the start of the destruction of  350,000 indigenous people and 500 native languages, as well as establishing a subtropical prison.

Breward painstakingly covers the Christian enculturation  of  Australia, New Zealand, and  hundreds of islands in the Pacific Rim. The newcomers did not see themselves primarily as "colonists" as in North America, referring to themselves as "white" so they could re-align themselves from a theological to a chromatic stance.

One of the most difficult areas in Australia  was in law: Aborigines were not allowed to give evidence in Court "under oath" as they were not Christian, though they could be lashed or hanged by Christians. In fact  Aborigines were regarded little better than the flora or fauna.

Each country presented different opportunities and difficulties to the missionaries who were drawn from  most European denominations, though the Orthodox were late arrivals.   "Dealing with the natives" was seen chromatically, though the 1847 judgement of Justice Chapman ruled that in New Zealand "native title" was not extinguished except by the consent of the occupants, a state of mind that did not form jurisprudential thinking in Australia till 1992.

There were a lot of other prevalent issues facing missionaries, from schooling to erection of places for public worship. Bible translation had strange results, eg the Maori identified themselves with the Jews of the Old Testament because of its cultural resonance;  they did not become mere English Christians but developed their own brand of Christianity.

This is the first comprehensive history of Christianity in the whole Pacific, with special attention to Melanesia and Polynesia. The author is Emeritus Professor of History in Melbourne.

Breward shows that the Churches in Australasia are not just living museums of the past; instead  history lets us "search for the life of the authentic disciple" in their ways of living, loving and dying.