15th – 20th October 2023. Naarm, Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Country (Melbourne), GunaiKurnai Country (Gippsland)
The emotional and political fall-out of the Voice Referendum hit hard this week in Australia. It’s not straightforward. Boarding a flight pre Referendum to Mparntwe/Alice Springs with a ‘vote yes’ banner one of our team was confronted by an Arrente Aboriginal woman. She was offended by the banner. A ‘yes’ vote in her opinion was buying in to the (unsubstantiated) story that the United Nations would, with a ‘yes’ result, take back land from local custodians. Misinformation, rumour, and fear-mongering have been rife in this process. The ‘no’ result was not a surprise. The scale of the no vote, however, is a reminder of the deep divisions and levels of racism still at play here.
[You can hear the pilgrims process their respond to the referendum outcome as part of the Iona Community 2024 Lecture]
Despite the shock of the result there have been tender moments. Worshipping with the congregation at Wesley Uniting Church in Melbourne on the day after the referendum was one of these. There were many tears and a sense of shock. There was also a sense of regrouping under the banner of the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ – and a renewed energy for voice, truth and treaty. After worship I met with members of the Dayspring and Benedictus communities. It was also great to catch up with past staff member Deborah Pike, and Associate Member Kevin Hurd who had travelled from Tasmania to join us.
As we tried to move through Melbourne to catch our bus east, towards Gragin/Raymond Island, we were stopped by a mass protest – plenty of Aboriginal flags, mixed in with Palestinian flags too – people hurting by years of oppression, with little political voice. All protesting against violence. We missed our bus – a gentle reminder of the violent disruption to daily lives felt by millions in the face of war around the globe.
Disruption and discomfort have been a grieving theme as we have travelled. Arriving on Raymond/Gragin Island later that evening, we were transported, perhaps most fully since the pilgrimage began, into the theme of Creation Care. This island the size of Iona, within the Lake District of Gippsland is home to hundreds of Koalas, Kangaroos and Kookaburras.
We learned from the local rangers and church folk of the developing plantations of native trees to sustain the Koala population, along with a regular care programme which removes many of the Koalas annually to be re-housed. We learned of the concerns about island erosion and the delicate balance here between eco-system and tourism. Off-island, we visited The Keeping Place, a cultural centre in Bairnsdale set alongside an education and a health centre for local Aboriginal peoples, where the story of some of Australian’s bloodiest massacres is told. We heard of the destruction of an ancient tree nearby in 1987 by neighbours intent in keeping Aboriginal groups off the land,
We heard from Bishop Richard Treloar, from Rev. Canon Aunty Phyllis Andy, and from Rev. Kathy Dalton about the attempts by the Anglican Diocese to reach out to local young people. And Cath Connelly, Warden of The Abbey on Gragin, where we were staying, told us about the revival of this youth centre as a place for hospitality, spirituality and environment – a familiar story given the focus in the Iona Community right now in retrofitting the MacLeod Centre.
Living together in community both at Campfire in the Heart (see postcard 3 ) and here at The Abbey on Gragin has allowed us to share deeply with one another. We’ve laughed and swum and sung, cooked and swapped stories. We’ve also been able through these times of living in community to share some of the hard, uncomfortable conversations: how the interruption of a continuous First Nations culture and society destroyed so much wisdom, language and lore; how the violent massacres and ripping apart of families has left generational trauma; how the binary language of indigenous/non indigenous feels dehumanising to some; how the cry for Creation Care sits uncomfortably alongside ongoing reliance on, even addiction to carbon consumption in the form of flights and massive ongoing coal extraction in Australia.
In the renovated chapel at The Abbey on Gragin we shared these concerns in worship. Over meals and on walks we learned about eco projects to save wildlife and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and we talked about building new alliances and partnerships. In all this we can continue to ‘Learn, Pray, Act.’
All the while, our hearts and minds were deeply, and rightly ‘disrupted’ by the reels of horrific news from Israel and Gaza. News last week of the deaths in Gaza of over 30 members of the family of Ahmed Alnaouq, co-leader of our I/P week on Iona in September has shaken us to our core. Our Common Concern Network on Israel/Palestine has been working hard to disseminate our Position Statement, and continues to ‘Learn, Pray, Act’ for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. I’m reminded of the words of John Paul Lederach, Mennonite mediator, that a just peace will only come when the flourishing of our grandchildren is intimately bound up with the flourishing of our enemies’ grandchildren. I pray for peace for all the children and grandchildren in Israel and Palestine, and for wisdom among the elders.