One of the most life-giving parts of my ministry in Toowoomba was the installation of the Reconciliation Cross in St Luke's Anglican Church. Created by renowned Aboriginal artist Uncle Colin Isaacs, as a gift from Heather Johnston (a descendant of one of the original European settlers), this commemorates the great Aboriginal leader Multuggerah, the Battle of One Tree Hill, and Aboriginal resistance to invasion and dispossession. It was overseen with the guidance and leadership of the late Uncle Darby McCarthy and other local elders, with particularly notable support from Mark Copland (from the Social Justice Unit of the Catholic diocese of Toowoomba). It represents a vital visible step in Australian Reconciliation, affirming a continuing journey for recognition and justice. For, in these days of #BlackLIvesMatter and questions about 'white' history and memorials, it offers a tangible example of what can be done to renew our histories and nurture new symbolism and focal points for a better future together. In my view, as both an historian and a priest, it is undoubtedly appropriate that some, more offensive, statues and other historical artefacts are replaced and/or re-used in new ways. Others might have constructive adaptations or additions made. Both of these courses have indeed been employed, on church owned sites, as part of Church practice in addressing the legacy of, and memorials, to child abusers, and those who have colluded with them. Much much more important however is addressing living injustices and forging new pathways. Reclaiming Australia's 'black history' is a crucial aspect of this and Toowoomba's Reconciliation Cross is a living symbol.. It is therefore a cause of thanksgiving that it is placed in the centre of Toowoomba, in one of its oldest and most significant spiritual buildings, available for anyone to visit, to ponder and to encourage the next urgent steps in the journey of justice and healing...
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.
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 an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.