As western society, in a few places, begins to admit (and hopefully address) some aspects of our own male violence and abuse, will we learn to recover old, and create new, stories and images of what matters? Among other aspects of the Songlines exhibition in Canberra, this came home to me again strongly as I was once more struck by the power of the female in ancient storytelling. The powerful moral and cosmological (Seven) Sisters stories for example are told in many ways in different places, including with strong resonances outside Australia (from where the number seven among the sisters may partly have arisen). In the west of Australia the sisters are thus called Minyipuru. As they travel east however, out of Marlu country into the lands of the Ngaanyatjarra and the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjarra, they become known as Kungkarrangkalpa and Kungkarangkalpa. The details profoundly matter of course, yet they also share so many common themes, not least those of women's survival, resilience and ingenuity in the face of male threat. For the sisters' journeys include pursuit by a male, also known in different places by different names. This man, to try to realise his lust and love, is a shape-shifter. So the story is partly a colourful battle of wits between the male and females, involving all kinds of subterfuges, adventures, and stratagems. Told as they have been for tens of thousands of years, these richly layered stories thus enable both men, and especially young women, to come to terms with our human needs and struggles: sharing a realistic portrayal of the interplay of desire and exploitation, power relationships and flexibility of action. Women are not idealised but their capabilities, and their weaknesses, are no longer buried. They, together with men, become active participants in their moral choices and aware nurturers of one another. As the Aboriginal women of the Songlines exhibition put it, in relation to the painting of Yaritji Young of Tjala Arts (above):
We are all kangaru pulka: big sisters to the young women. Like in the Seven Sisters story we must teach and protect our young sisters
This is so much more powerful when the story and its morality is enacted in so many different ways. For, as Tjunkara Ken, Yaritiji Young's sister, has said:
I hold my father's story. I hold my mothers' story... (it) doesn't come out of paper or out of a book. It's coming out of the ground here. (My way) is different. It comes from the inside out.
How will each of us make female dignity a grounded matter of 'inside out'? Such stories also of course have resonance in western traditions, not least in the Bible, where similar comparisons might be drawn to tricksters like Jacob and powerful women such as Deborah and Judith. Indeed, like any living and enduring spiritual stream, despite its deeply patriarchal traditional limitations, Christianity also has its own share of female stories of wisdom, resilience and empowerment. How often however do we hear, sing, dance and embody them, and create new ones? As, so painfully slowly, we come to terms with the damaged feminine in our culture - and above all with the brutal realities and 'hidden' denied abuse of so many women's lives - it is surely time, further prompted by the sisters and the ancient wisdom of the Songlines, to tell and live them.
This year is the bicentenary of the Bible Society in Australia and it was wonderful to be given a lovely gift by one of our students which marks the occasion - Our mob, God's story : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists share their faith. (researched and edited by Louise Sherman and Christobel Mattingley ; art selection by Max Conlon, Gail Naden, Glenny Naden and Inawantji Scales ; with foreword by distinguished Aboriginal artist and educator Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann)
Winner of the 2017 Australian Christian Book of the Year, Our Mob, God’s Story features the work of 66 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artists, well-known and unknown, from communities, towns and cities across Australia, from Tasmania to the Tiwi Islands, from Ceduna to Cairns, form Perth to Wonthaggi, sharing their faith in 115 paintings inspired by Bible verses and stories, many well loved, others not so well known, from Creation to the Crucifixion. All artists have generously given free use of their images, but retain copyright.
It is a powerful and beautiful witness to God’s love for the traditional custodians of this ancient continent which we now call Australia, and to the talent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Publication has been funded by a generous donor and all proceeds will go towards publication of Scripture in mother tongues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.
At the risk of sounding like The Big Bang Theory's Dr Sheldon Cooper, we have been having some appropriate 'fun with flags' at St Luke's Toowoomba over the last few days, as we have sought to honour the tragedy and courage of our broken Australian and international histories. Firstly we held our annual Remembrance Service, remembering the fallen and damaged of the great wars and conflicts in which Australians have been engaged, as well as praying for peace across the world. This involved armed services representatives, our mayor and local MPs, retired services organisations, Harlaxton RSL band, serving army chaplain the Revd David Snape, a fine sermon from the Revd Penny Jones, and display of the three services ensigns and main Australian flag. The collection from the service also once again went towards the maintenance of the Warriors Chapel in St Luke's, a space for our city which honours the fallen and damaged of various conflicts (including those of the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam) and which holds a number of banners from former times.
A new step this year however will be the addition to the Warriors Chapel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. These will be installed next Monday, 14 November, alongside a beautiful memorial cross to remember the Battle of One Tree Hill, one of the most significant local conflicts in the European invasion and settlement of the Toowoomba region. This is part of our Reconciliation journey together as we learn more about our shared histories and walk more closely together for healing and a better world. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait island flags are recognised national flags of Australia and are available free from MPs offices to recognised bodies. It was a delight therefore to receive these for St Luke's yesterday from the office of the Hon John McVeigh.
We pray together that all the flags we will hold at St Luke's will bring renewed honour and dignity to all they represent. I did have a little wry chuckle yesterday however as I received the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island flags. They, like all our flags, are deeply sacramental of identity, visibility, connection and life. Yet in another sense, they can also be aspects of our human capacity for pompousness and far worse, if they are not regarded properly with humility and care for all. For, as Eddie Izzard put it memorably, especially for those of us with British backgrounds, flags are also very curious constructions...
It was a huge delight to be part of the launch of the Reconciliation Action Plan of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland (diocese of Brisbane) in St John's Cathedral Brisbane last Thursday. Together with a Welcome to Country, didgeridoo music, food, and audio-visual display of Reconciliation activities across the diocese, a particular highlight was also the performance of the Malu Kiai Mura Baui dance troupe and speeches from Archbishop Phillip Aspinall and our National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council diocesan leaders Canon Bruce Boase and Aunty Rose Elu. Almost 200 people attended the event, including the most prominent lay and ordained Anglican leaders in the diocese, local elders and representatives of leading organisations such as Reconciliation Queensland.
The RAP Launch was the culmination of four years work of awareness and relationship building across the diocese and represents a significant step forward. Indeed the ACSQ RAP is highly unusual for the sheer scale of its geographical and organisational extent, covering both such a large area of Australia with so many different Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples and involving every section of the diocese, including finance and service departments, as well as parishes, schools, St Francis College and Anglicare. May God bless all involved in making this next stage of shared commitment real in the days ahead.
Whilst the statistics and reality of many women's lives continue to highlight the pressing need for feminist change, the plight of many men is also often hidden. In addition to the terrible effects of abuse, male survivors also face particular male issues of shame and humiliation. This is further heightened by cultural issues among some communities. How good then to hear of projects like Living Well in Brisbane. One recent initiative, launched during NAIDOC Week, is a video entitled 'No More Silence: Healing from Sexual Abuse'. This aims 'to start a conversation about community' and involves members talking and working together to raise awareness, to offer support, encouragement and hope to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have been sexually abused in childhood.' Check out the resources available on the website and watch the video below...
At the heart of the community of Cunnamulla in western Queensland is the town swimming pool. As in many Indigenous, or Indigenous-majority, communities, it plays a central role in fostering community, health, connections and life of various kinds. In Cunnamulla this is certainly notable, not least through the marvellous work of Marianne Johnstone who not only manages the facilities, including the 50 metre olympic-style pool, but wonderfully trains and leads swimming, triathlon and other activities.
One of the highlights of our recent diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan initiative in Cunnamulla was therefore the Saturday afternoon swimming gala. The climax of this was the invitation relay race, led by the local mayor Lindsay Godfrey. Our group was encouraged to join in and bishop Cameron Venables and local Anglican Minister Steffan van Munster duly stepped forward to help form a team which came a very creditable third (the winners being an able relay of local Aboriginal young men). It was a powerful symbol of both Cameron and Steffan's ministry among local communities. Instead of simply sitting on the sidelines, or dispensing prizes (though bishop Cameron did that too!), they plunged right into the heart of community life, literally getting soaked in the process.
Plunging into the pool is a powerful metaphor for what Christians call the incarnation, the way of Jesus which involves plunging fully into all life has to offer and all of the human condition. Sometimes Christianity, and Christian theology, has been a bit of an, albeit usually kindly and well-intentioned, onlooker activity. Getting wet however is not a real option for genuine ministry and mission. Gustavo Gutierrez, the great Latin American pioneer of liberation theology, reflected that a truly incarnational theology is 'the second act', after the commiitment to life, justice, solidarity with the poor, peace and reconciliation. This is certainly true of the journey of Australian Reconciliation as well as faith development in general.
What of my involvement in the pool, you might ask? Well, being a water-challenged person on account of my very British and rural upbringing (far from the unwelcoming cold seas around the UK and at a distance from a pool like Cunnamulla's), I did not myself jump in that pool, although I did offer to join either the running or cycling leg of any similar triathlon. Yet I hope that, in other things I do, I also have the faith to keep plunging in the pool of life. We also have to reflect but active participation is vital. Jump in, as they say in Cunnamulla, the water is wonderful.
The second Toowoomba Range crossing should be called Multuggerah Way: such is the excellent suggestion of local elder, and Australian jockey great, Uncle Darby McCarthy (pictured here with Jagera leader Madonna Thomson and Dr Mark Copland at the Multuggerah lookout in J.E.Duggan park). What a great way to help redeem our shared history and honour the remarkable story of Indigenous resistance in the Toowoomba area! Fairly recently a major stretch of the Warrego Highway, between Toowoomba and Brisbane, was named after the great Rugby League footballer Darren Lockyer. The names, and stories, of local Indigenous achievers are very hard to find however. Indeed, Uncle Darby's suggestion comes on the back of the failure of Toowoomba Regional Council to improve the existing plaques on the Toowoomba Range which commemorate the Battle of One Trill Hill (Table Top mountain). Whilst Uncle Darby and Dr Mark Copland had had official conversations with Council figures towards ensuring the story was properly told, this very week the plaques were simply renewed in their imperfect state: hardly an appropriate way to mark today's 172nd anniversary.
Multuggerah's story is a part of the rich Indigenous story of our region and nation: full of life and courage, and of personal and community strength, as well as of pain and sorrow which demands full attention. It is part of the mixed memory of our land and peoples without which we are diminished and even disorientated. It is a potential source of learning, pride and healing. How powerful a reconciling sign it would therefore be to have Multuggerah recognised as Uncle Darby suggests. In the next little while it is hoped to explore the idea further. The recent experience with the lookout plaques indicates there is a journey to be made.
A wonderful recent new addition to the Toowoomba CBD is a peace mural on Neil Street. The Peace and Harmony mural concept was initiated by the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee of which I am currently chair and it was a delight to assist in the development of the mural, particularly through a fundraising meal at our All Saints centre. For the Goodwill Committee’s goal is to develop Toowoomba as a city of Peace and Harmony through interfaith and multicultural dialog and activities. There are a number of groups within the Toowoomba community working on violence prevention, community safety and social cohesion, social justice and helping people in need of support and assistance. Each of these organisations is helping to make Toowoomba a better place to live, work and raise families. The Goodwill Committee aims to help focus and harness this work together and to raise the profile of peace and harmony through a variety of creative means.
A working group which included representatives from the Goodwill Committee, Toowoomba Youth Service and the First Coat art festival decided on a theme of “One and the same” for a mural in Toowoomba. Internationally renowned Melbourne based artist Adnate (see above working on the project) was approached to see if he would be involved in doing a peace and harmony portrait for Toowoomba. The artist supported the concept and agreed to come to Toowoomba to do a mural. The artist also worked with Toowoomba youth agencies while he was in Toowoomba, engaged with young people during the completion of the mural and also attended some organised community engagements and youth workshops. Several young people from the Toowoomba Youth services “All Type” youth mentoring program supported the artist over the weekend and were tasked with recording the progress of the mural.
The artist decided to do a mural of an Aboriginal youth in recognition of aboriginal people for whom he has a great respect. He had spent time studying and associating with Aboriginal people in various places across Australia growing in his understanding of their culture. The connection of the mural to peace is in the beauty of the face, sky and land and recognising the Australian Aboriginal as the first people who have a rich cultural background. In some ways we are all different but in some ways we are the same.
We realise that one mural does not solve our social problems but it a positive step towards recognition of aboriginal people and their cultural history. Art is very subjective and people will inevitably interpret the mural in different ways. We hope people will accept it as a beautiful piece of art to be enjoyed by Toowoomba people and visitors alike.
Yesterday I finally made it to 'the Green House' in Buderim. It is a remarkable place, embodying a deeply-grounded commitment to walking with the Spirit in, through, and with the land (and the people closest to the land). Heather Johnson is the coordinator, alongside family members and others in the local community, not least Aboriginal elders. Over the last few years Heather's original family land at Buderim has been turned over to environmental, Reconciliation and other spiritual endeavours, to create a lasting and living symbol for this and future generations (read more here). Linked to the Community of Aidan & Hilda, the Anglican Church at Buderim and SAILS, this work is an inspiration to me and to many others. Long may it flourish! To walk the grounds of the Green House is certainly to be surprised and encouraged in wonderful and unexpected ways.
Yesterday was but one vital example of the creative and healing projects of the Green House. On the anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, two memorials were dedicated: one to those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who fought (here and overseas) in defence of their country, and one to South Sea Islanders (an important part of local history) who have fought in Australia's defence forces. This followed a lecture by Indigenous historian John Maynard earlier in the day. The dedication of the memorials was another moving step in Reconciliation, led by Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall and local elders. My hope and prayer is that it strengthens us all to similar further Spirit-led relationship and action in the days ahead.
Giving thanks today for the work of Indigenous historians, not least John Maynard (from the University of Newcastle) whom I heard speaking again yesterday at St Mark's Anglican Church Buderim. John came later than most to professional historical research and teaching, via family history enquiry, but he has nonetheless become one of the most lively and significant historians we have in Australia today. Grandson of Fred Maynard, the redoubtable political activist and the President of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA), and son of the noted jockey Merv Maynard, John's work has already done much to open up the buried, forgotten and often erased history of Australia and help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples find empowerment in the struggles and achievements of their ancestors, Australia's 'first peoples' in so many respects.
John was speaking in Buderim, on the anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations, as part of the remembrance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have fought for their country and the dedication of memorials. John spoke particularly, with his typical insight, challenge and informed passion, about Indigenous Australians who had served in the first world war: bringing their lives and contexts alive and moving us, at various points, with the notes of sadness, anger, frustration, solidarity and re-commitment to struggle which they evoke. This aspect of John's work is part of the national "Serving our Country' project, led by Prof Mick Dodson and others in Canberra, which will bring welcome light into neglected aspects of the history of Australia in this 100th anniversary year of the Gallipoli tragedy, and, most importantly, further enhance the identity of Indigenous Australians and the celebration of their lives by others too.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.