Postcard 6: 27th – 31st October: Darkinjung Country and GuriNgai Country (Central Coast), Awabakal Country : (Newcastle) and Meanjin, Yuggera and Turrabul Country (Brisbane)
This final leg of our travels in Australia took us from Eora/Sydney up the east coast, through Central Coast, Awabakal/Newcastle and Meanjin/Brisbane. Heavily populated, this coast is also home of huge sandy beaches, long stretches of surf, wide open skies, and heavy coal industry. Here are a few highlights:
Darkinjung Country and GuriNgai Country / Central Coast
Nick and I stayed for one night at the Narara Eco Village, a model village sitting on land once belonging to the Gosford Horticultural Institute. Set up in the early 2000s, with a vision for an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable world, their aim is to create a sustainable ecovillage as a demonstration of this vision. Having completed phase 1 with around 120 residents living in self-build eco homes, they’re now ready to launch phase 2. Narara are following a leadership and governance model of sociocracy, where circles of members make autonomous decisions within their sphere of influence. I have been reflecting on the 2019 governance changes within the Iona Community and asking: in what ways might our processes become even more democratic along these sociocracy lines?
Narara’s integrated approach to eco living, private gardens providing most fruit and vegetables for residents, and water being supplied from a local reservoir reminded me of the wisdom and experience poured into our Camas Centre over the years. How much is this way of life transferrable to our everyday lives? Can our vision for MacHouses model something of this sustainable life that is accessible to those without disposable income and is fit for purpose for our city living?
Equally inspirational, if on a smaller scale, was our one night in the wi-fi free hut-hermitage of John and Joy Connor, Wellspring Member and co-Leader, in the garden of their Blue Mountains home. A day spent walking on-country with Tim Sewall in and around Lisa Wriley’s eco-garden at Kariong was followed by a glorious weekend of hallowing celebrations in Awabakal Country/ Newcastle, NSW.
Awabakal Country / Newcastle
Helen Weavers has been a long-time Associate Member of the Iona Community. During COVID-19 Helen, an active Member of the Wellspring Community, joined the Iona Community’s New Members Programme. She has, along with her cohort, been surfing the wave of what it means to become a fully global and radically dispersed community. This Creation Care pilgrimage, and Helen’s enthusiasm and guidance, has meant that relations between Wellspring and Iona are strong and deepening. We are now working out how to support one another further, as parallel, values-aligned communities which remain distinct while also sensibly converging some of our structures to conserve and focus our energies.
Leaving Newcastle it’s hard to ignore either the huge coal-mounds, or the heavily industrialised port. Traversing these lands now called Australia, dependent on both the consumption and export of coal, where petrol costs half the price of that in the UK, while on a Creation Care pilgrimage, itself dependent on flying, throws up many uncomfortable paradoxes. There may be few simple answers to life’s perplexities. Living the questions and working our way towards a sustainable world is a start.
Arriving in Meanjin/Brisbane we were reunited with Brooke Prentis who introduced us to Aunty Jean Phillips. A senior Aboriginal Christian leader for decades, Aunty Jean is famous for her work on supporting those living in poverty, bringing to light the need for better housing and employment, as well as raising awareness about the truth of Australia’s history. Her work has made a significant contribution to building bridges between indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Aunty Jean, now in her 80s, spoke powerfully to a packed church gathering in Brisbane, about the need for leadership training programmes for young Aboriginal Christian leaders. Might there be a possible collaboration here with our Young Adults Group?
Our last full day in Australia meant an early start and a ferry from Victoria Point to Kutchi Mudlo/Coochiemudlow island. Home of Heather and David, Wellspring Members, this island has a chequered history. We were taken to the home and studio of Merrett Keech who had arranged a personal viewing of her powerful artwork for our Wellspring/Iona visit. Taking the flags of Australia, the Aboriginal peoples, and Torres Strait Islanders, her series of paintings blowing holes visually in the colonial notions of identity and belonging threw us into a deep conversation about flags, collective power, and the potency of symbols to encapsulate a sense of identity.
Coming from a land where the individual flags that together make up the Union Jack are themselves variously and individually used induce both powerful pride and vicious violence, I found it unsettling to see that Union Jack nestled so deeply within the colonial project. Being with our friends in community, some of whom had been with us for the previous five weeks, meant that the tears and the listening, the depth of sharing and, however small, the sense of collective strength, was profound. This has been the most remarkable experience of community on the move.
Final reflections from these lands now called Australia.
Throughout this pilgrimage we have felt the presence of (and been regaled with stories of) Members such as Peter Millar, Jan Sutch Pickard, Kathy Galloway, John Bell and others who have over, a number of decades, brought to Australia a powerful story of community building, inspirational living and a generous faith as a counterpoint to all that was deathly about the colonial period. A lasting image now as we travel onwards is of leaving Mary Pearson and Helen Weavers in the car park of Jesmond Park Uniting Church, one longstanding and one newly hallowed, both Members of this globally dispersed, locally rooted Iona Community. Surrounded by her family and friends, and by her Family Group, Helen is a beacon of light to all who seek the renewal of faith through community in these lands.
Next stop, Aotearoa and New Zealand.