A listening pilgrimage across these lands now called Australia

Lisa Wriley, New South Wales Regional Meeting

May the gum tree from its roots to its branches remind us to dig deep and reach high in our action for justice.
(from an Aboriginal Blessing on Country by Brooke Prentis, Wakka Wakka woman.)


The Wellspring Community Listening Pilgrimage across these lands now called Australia aimed to nurture peace and healing of communities and creation. The Pilgrimage took place in a tumultuous time for the nation of Australia. In the very middle of the Pilgrimage was the Referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.  The Pilgrimage experienced the Australian nation approaching this Referendum and seeing misinformation and disinformation and racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as well as experiencing the Australian nation after the result and facing the open wound that is the ongoing injustices for First Nations peoples. Let us remember the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ voices and leadership, and that nearly 6 million Australians voted YES.

The day before the Referendum in Naarm/Melbourne – I was glad to join the vigil

The Pilgrimage team was led by Ruth Harvey (Iona Community Leader and Quaker) from Scotland, Nick Austin, Ruth’s partner, Brooke Prentis (Aboriginal Christian Leader), Joy Connor (Co-leader of Wellspring) and myself, Lisa Wriley (Wellspring co-leader and Quaker) from NSWRM and Central Coast Worshipping Group. Brooke also advised on cultural protocols and led with Acknowledgements of Country, prayers, blessings and stories and Nick supported with recording, photography and video and provided a visual record of the Pilgrimage.

The Pilgrimage involved 27 events and two place-based live-in Pilgrimages (in Arrernte Country, Central Australia and Gunai-Kurnai Country, East Gippsland Victoria) across seven states and territories over 5 weeks. At least 30 First Nations peoples were listened to and were part of leading conversations across the country.  Feedback from participants indicated that the Pilgrimage did nurture peacemaking and justice for Creation and First Nations peoples. Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and later comers reported that they felt energised and affirmed in their work for Reconciliation and caring for creation. Brooke taught us the importance of using the original (“Aboriginal”) place names wherever possible, focussing participants’ minds on place and story – the stories that have been with Aboriginal peoples for millennia and the shared story of the last 250 years.  We believe that the Pilgrimage did deepen awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ perspectives. At several events, especially in Meanjin (Brisbane), participants mentioned how little they knew of Australia’s history around First Nations peoples and of the quality of their spiritual relationship with Country. The Referendum showed us that there is a lot of work to do in building understanding of the true history of these lands now called Australia and the impact of colonisation on the oldest living continuing cultures on earth. We hope to build on the relationships we began.

I joined the Wellspring Community in about 1995 and have been a member ever since, feeling at home with the peace and social justice, interfaith, fair trade and environmental interests and efforts of other ecumenical members.  Wellspring members have supported me in prayer for all this time. Pre-Covid Wellspring Gatherings have fed my soul, much as Quaker Yearly meetings have since 2011. I love having time with kindred spirits, living in community and being re-inspired and encouraged to work for the common good for my fellow humans, other species, and this sacred earth.

Wellspring Community is a dispersed community with a few hundred current members across Australia. We are linked together through a Prayer Diary and shared Areas of Concern.  We could not have done the Creation Care Listening Pilgrimage on our own and are so grateful to the Quaker Thanksgiving Fund, the Peace & Social Justice Fund and the Jan de Voogd Peace Fund for their support. We acknowledged the support of Quakers at every event or gathering.

Two years ago, Joy Connor convinced me to accept nomination as Co-Leader of the Wellspring Community with her.  As Wellspring Community is inspired by the Iona Community in Scotland, it has been our practice over the years to invite the leader of Iona to come to Australia.  Some links between Iona and Wellspring have been very significant.  One especially so was Peter Millar (past Warden of the Abbey on the Island of Iona and our Wellspring member in Edinburgh) and his wife Dorothy Millar who spent 12 months living in Australia around 2000 and much of that time in western Sydney in Bidwill, involved in a community ministry with Wellspring leader Anne McPherson, working with local people including Aboriginal peoples.  I remember going to see a musical the community put on in Bidwill, The Song Sings – on the life and legacy of Maria Locke, when I was very pregnant with James. 

When Ruth Harvey responded positively to our invitation, we began discussing the possibilities for a speaking tour but realised that wasn’t what was needed.  The most important issues we felt our nation was facing were First Nations justice and climate justice and it was more important to listen than speak. Care for Creation was a theme that brought these two injustices together.

We did struggle with the issue of travel and the irony of caring for creation and flying. I began the pilgrimage by taking the train to Broken Hill and then coach to Tarntanya (Adelaide) before flying to Boorloo (Perth). We did purchase “carbon offsets” and travelled by train when we could, but most of our travel was flying between WA, SA, NT and Victoria.

I contacted fellow Quaker Clare O’Leary in WA, from the First Nations Peoples Concerns committee and was thankful for her support and contacts with the Madjitil Moorna choir to which she belongs. I enjoyed the hospitality of Friends in Boorloo and Clare helped me prepare for a visit to Wadjemup (Rottnest Island) where we began the Pilgrimage with Whadjuk Nyungar/Noongar Elder Uncle Neville Collard who introduced us to the painful stories of Wadjemup. The next day we sang and danced on Nyungar/Noongar Country in Mooro Katta (Kings Park) led by Della Rae Morrison and the Madjitil Moorna Choir and shared a delicious morning tea catered by a local First Nations company. Brooke has listed many of the Aboriginal peoples who were our teachers over the five weeks in her article, so I won’t repeat them here.

Uncle Neville Collard led us in a Smoking Ceremony on Wadjemup/Rottnest Island

The Weeping Mother statue at Colebrook Reconciliation Site, Tarntanya/Adelaide

In Tarntanya/Adelaide, I stayed with Jo Jordan and attended the Eastern Suburbs Quaker Meeting before an afternoon at the Colebrook Reconciliation Site. In Naarm/Melbourne, I attended the Melbourne Quaker Centre the morning after the Referendum.  In Central Coast NSW Friends from our Worshipping group joined the time on Country with Tim Selwyn from Girri Girra and lunch at Kariong Eco Garden where we meet for worship twice a month. In Meanjin (Brisbane) we gathered at the beautiful Brisbane Meeting House and met Aunty Jean Phillips, a Senior Aboriginal Christian Leader with over 70 years of ministry who shared about her Ministry and work for Aboriginal Justice.  She spoke of her gratitude to Brisbane Quakers for their support. It was my first time there and I loved the forest!

It was important to engage ethically with all the First Nations peoples who agreed to take part in our Pilgrimage as sharers of stories, music, Welcoming us to Country, sharing smoking ceremonies, worship services, connecting with Country and culture, and taking part in forums. My role involved logistics and administration and offering a peace-making project to bring people together. 

The peace-making project became a banner that I created with eight trees in a circle with their roots intertwined in the centre.  People we met along the Pilgrimage were invited to write on cloth leaves “how” they care for creation/Country and to write in the pilgrimage journal “why” they care for creation/Country. These leaves were stitched onto the trees, and I wrote the “why” words into the roots and trunks of the trees. A visual reminder of the relationships built along the pilgrimage, the connections to Country, and the calls and actions to care for creation.  I will bring the Tree/Forest banner to Australian Yearly meeting in Tarntanya/Adelaide in July and look forward to sharing more stories and photos with you then.

The feedback from local woman, Celia Kemp, Mparntwe/Alice Springs Pilgrimage Co-ordinator is revealing: “just wanted to say that the time here was… very rich and good. It felt like many golden threads coming together and that something that mattered happened. It was a wildly diverse group and a wildly diverse range of input and so it crossed many of the fault lines of our time but, it held together and it was live, it was catalytic and very meaningful in so many ways. And it was a gift to here (this place) and the community here.”


Find out more here:

Wellspring Community Yarning Circle:

ABC Soul Search recorded an interview with Ruth while she was in Mparntwe (Alice Springs).

Ruth’s Postcards from the Pilgrimage and the 2024 Iona Community Lecture we recorded during the Pilgrimage can be seen here.

Polkinghorne Oration 2023 – Rev James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, presented “Oceans of Justice & Rivers of Fairness – A Pacific Voice in the Wilderness” when we were in Tarntanya/Adelaide and we were so glad to be there.


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