And for my final song before I leave England before returning to Australia's settler colonialism? Why, something more upbeat: Maggie Holland’s anthem sung by June Tabor: inspired by Christopher Hill’s ’The World Turned Upside Down’, Leon Rosselson’s song, Naomi Michelson’s ‘Sea Green Ribbons’, William Cobbett and other (modern day) English radicals, Jean Giorno’s ‘The Man That Planted Trees’, and the canny Scot Dick Gaughan (‘The first place to be colonised in the British Empire was England’) - about what might be, and what some (in little and subversive ways) still make happen. It also resonates with my recent journey (albeit on a duller December morning) and, of course, my heart…
I’ve always so loved this song (see below) - though it always makes me cry - and it, above all, with some others, has accompanied me in the last few weeks. The tender, lyrical and even elegiac, tone fits my mood as I prepare to leave England, maybe never to return, or certainly never with so many of the deep intimate connections of parents, home,and particular place which have so shaped me. Laura Marling wrote this at 18 and says she always feels about 8 years old when she sings it - I know the feeling just in listening .
It’s about childhood memories (one in particular) and the ones who created them and about the particularity of place in this extraordinary land which I, like Laura, love so very very much, and from all of which separation is so very poignant. There hasn’t been any literal snow on my winter’s journey but enough in other ways - yet the warmth of love persists, like a beautiful garment in the cold…
“You were so smart then
In your jacket and coat.
My softest red scarf was warming your throat.
Winter was on us,
At the end of my nose,
But I never love England more than when covered in snow.”
Another beautiful English winter’s morning along the old woodland paths. Sometimes it feels as if the land itself breathes through me as much, or more, than I breathe in its own character, textures and sensations at this special time of year. In grief as in other things, 'the land knows you even when you are lost'. #mulchforthesoul #earthtoearth #forestbathing #lincolnshirelandscapes
How do you relate to your landscape? At so many turns of my native roads, I’m reminded of the spirits of forebears who trod, tilled, prayed, and sought life and the sacred in these otherwise ‘ordinary’ features of the land. Today this, for example, is ‘just’ a farm. Yet for centuries a double monastery (i.e of women and men) stood here at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds during the Middle Ages (from c.1150 to 1538) - one of a number of houses of the Gilbertines (the only completely English monastic order - founded by a Lincolnshire man). Gwaldys, daughter of the last native Prince of Wales, spent her final years here and its priests served our local communities until the Reformation. Subsequently all such land became secularised, with the greatest shift of power and wealth since the Conquest and the coming of the Norman ‘Yoke’, followed by the further deprivations of common land with the enclosures and the ravages of modern industrial agriculture. Of course we can’t simply return, even if we wished, to a sacred medieval understanding of land and creation, but perhaps such remembrances in the land reminds us that there are still alternatives open to us today
It was a delight, in our strange times, to meet the trees on Pitt Street again this week - though, sadly, it’s not hard to find our wonderful church building as they are the only trees left on Pitt Street: like the building and its community they are natural resisters and witnesses to a better, more loving, sustainable way of life. The trees touch, and are enwombed, in Gadigal land and in the hope of a different kind of Sydney. May we see, work for, and be signs of, that in days to come, and not a mere new ‘normal’
Recently I spoke in a sermon about how, as I grew up, I saw the devastation of the English landscape in Lincolnshire, as industrialised ideas of agriculture ripped out hedgerows in the search of short-term profit (see here). A fellow member of Milton Anglicans then shared with me a recent book by her brother, historian and writer, James Boyce. Writing of their ancestral lands, this is entitled Imperial Mud: the Fight for the Fens (Icon Books, London, 2020). It tells of the thousands of years of resistance by the fen peoples of eastern England to the seizing, enclosing, draining, and 'improving' of their lands. It is another part of English history which has buried for too long, a 'home-grown' example of the growth of imperial attitudes and policies which were exported overseas...
It was a delight recently to read the Revd Glenn Loughrey's latest book On Being Blackfella's Young Fella and to contribute to our diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan Working discussions to highlight this valuable work. For the four contributions (including Aunty Sandra King OAM - as pictured above) check out the article in. Anglican Focus here. Still better do get a copy of the book and share it with others. Here below is my own reflection on one particular chapter...
Today is an opportunity for everyone to rejoice in the great historic achievement of the Mabo campaign in reclaiming title to land and self-determination, toppling the monstrous British and white Australian fiction of ‘terra nullius’ - and to be inspired to address continuing injustices, not least those of enduring violence and dispossession borne of colonialism. This should truly be one of Australia’s great public holi(holy)days, not just another day, and its messages should be developed every day...
It ill behoves an Englishman, and an Australian citizen, to advise Scots how to vote on their future. How exciting it is however that this debate is happening, both for the future of England (and Wales and Northern Ireland) as well as that of Scotland. Which ever way the vote goes, Britain as a whole will never be quite the same - thank God - as the Scots reflect on what it means to look to a post-Imperial future, and, hopefully, encourage the rest of the British to do likewise. For it is good that the British PM David Cameron tells us that he has a heart, at least for some things which have been good about the United Kingdom's structure. Even better though if he were to have a real heart for those things which are at the core of this debate: the longing of people everywhere to be taken seriously for who they truly are; to claim freedom and full responsibility for their lives, their land, and all that lives within it; and to seek a people's vision based on values of genuine democracy, justice and care for all, including free and fair partnership with the rest of the world. Generations of heartlessness by the English elites towards the poor and marginalised throughout Britain (not least to the Celtic so-called 'fringe'), have led us to this pass. A 'United Kingdom' which is still essentially a Union of ancient Crowns can never be enough. With the Scots, the English (the Welsh and maybe many Irish too) also deserve a forward-looking 'Community of Peoples'. My own Scottish friends remain divided on how that may best be immediately furthered: is full independence a help or a hindrance? I sympathise with them in their dilemma. Yet whatever the outcome, they agree that it at least begins to engage Britain's contemporary, post-imperial, identity. So may the spirit of my greatest Scottish hero, James Keir Hardie, thus prevail...
Despite the beauty of the 'Garden City', Toowoomba is not best known as a hotbed of ecological protest. So the level of recent popular agitation concerning Garnet Lehman park is quite unusual. As a nearby resident who often runs, cycles or walks a dog through the park, it is very heartening that others have a similar response to me.
The destruction of so many native trees and other proposed changes to the park are motivated by well-meaning but misconceived Council thinking. The idea is to provide a water detention basin to help mitigate flood dangers. As someone who was all but swamped in my car at the very edge of Garnet Lehmann park in the fateful afternoon of 10 January 2011, I have some sympathy. No one would like to see a repeat with the loss of life and upheaval to homes and families. Yet the proposals would only make a small contribution (allegedly protecting perhaps only 4 buildings at a cost of $4.59 million) and even the authorities themselves admit there are alternatives which can be considered. Why then rip up a deeply-loved park with a highly distinctive character? For, unlike the highly managed, and even manicured, parks elsewhere in Toowoomba, Garnet Lehmann was deliberately planted with native trees with a much wilder aspect than elsewhere. Such trees have been shaped by the climate, and dare I say it, the very spirit of the land, in a way not found elsewhere. Council plans for replacement trees, behind a huge wall and other fortifications, thus do little to delight the soul. Nearby 'Lake' Annand park may have its value for instance, but it is so conventionally tame and 'European'. Rarely in Toowomba City iitself is there an accessible piece of our environment which speaks from a deeper place and soul connections.
This controversy is connected to a wider issue in the Toowoomba region about development processes. For not all voices are equal and often especially not that of the land itself. 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' The divine cry in Isaiah (6:8) is not just for humans. As my friend and Toowoomba Catholic social justice colleague Mark Copland says, when he reflects on the CSG, mining and development struggles in Queensland today: yes, we hear much noise, vested interests and some wisdom from various sides, but who who will speak for the land itself? Perhaps we do well to learn something from the work of the 'engaged Buddhist' eco-philosopher and activist Joanna Macy and the Australian 'deep ecology' and rainforest campaigner John Seed, not least exercises such the Council of All Beings, which was first created in Australia in 1985. Thank God too for groups such as The Australian Network of Environmental Defenders. Sadly, these are all too often sidelined by unreflective and powerful development interests or drowned in an avalanche of unthinking industry propaganda and short-term government policy. Appropriate development will, and should, happen, but with grace and proportion and soul/mindfulness. Thank God therefore for the usually fairly complacent and conservative residents of Toowoomba. Who will speak for the trees? We will...
For more information, check out:
Council plans and viewpoints and the Lehmann Park Under Threat facebook page.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.