One of the wonderful unexpected outcomes of our flag washing on Australia Day was a phone call I received from an active member of the Lock the Gate Alliance. This is a national coalition of people from across Australia, including farmers, traditional custodians, conservationists and urban residents, who are uniting to protect our common heritage - our land, water and communities - from unsafe or inappropriate mining for coal seam gas and other fossil fuels. The person who rang was unknown to me yet had felt moved to contact me by photos she had seen of our event. She expressed deep thanks for the gathering, telling me about her involvement with local people in Acland and further afield who had been so negatively impacted by unbridled mining development. She lives interstate but the photos of the event brought home to her the powerful mix of courage in adversity and deep distress in the people she had encountered. As a filmmaker trying to share such stories, she had frequently been torn, she said, by the need to encourage such people to tell of their experience whilst not seeking to make things worse. Initiatives like yours, she said, are so valuable as they provide people with something and somewhere to hold their grief, space for mourning, for healing and for hope beyond hope. She was, she said, today at best a non-observant Buddhist, yet she knew this was so needed.
It was a marvelous conversation, not just in justifying (if that were required) our gathering on Australia Day, but also in reminding me of the deep need we have in our contemporary world for meaningful community rituals to help hold share out common humanity and build solidarity in the midst of our pain and joy, our fears, hurts and hopes. For millenia the great spiritual and religious traditions of the world have offered this. They can still do much, if they are open to listen, to development and to creative partnership with others. We need also however, whatever out religious traditions or none, to respond afresh to the movements of challenge and grace in our own day. This has given me food for thought and, I hope, inspiration for further action. Indeed, my phone partner also reminded me of the work of another heroine of mine: Joanna Macy, an activist Buddhist who has so enriched us with her own creative community rituals, touching the depth of our hearts and the soul of our troubled yet astonishing world.
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 and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.