Know Thy Friend

by | 6 Sep, 2020

Margaret Bywater, Tasmania Regional Meeting

I was born into an Anglican family during the dark days of World War Two, strongly influenced by my pacifist father, my gentle primary school teacher mother, and others in our extended family, including my grandmother who was a musician.  The belief in sharing one’s skills and working with those less fortunate was part of my experience growing up.  During the Depression my parents had become connected to the St John’s Fellowship, based on St John’s Anglican Church, in Latrobe Street, Melbourne. Dad was part of a group who supported “dirt poor families” in Fitzroy.  Through the Fellowship my parents worshipped with many like-minded Anglicans, including the parents of our Friend Bruce Henry (VRM).

Music, especially singing, has always been part of my life, at home, in school and at church. I  find singing either by oneself or with others to be a spiritual experience.  I have strong memories of our first singing teacher in primary school, Marion Heinemann, a Jewish refugee from Austria who still carried the tattooed numbers on her arm, a frightening souvenir of the Nazi regime.

My first awareness of Quakers was when I was 11.  My mother took me to purchase my Girl Guide uniform in a building built in 1860 that the Girl Guides had recently purchased from Melbourne Meeting.  At that time the lovely bluestone internal courtyard was still intact. My mother spoke warmly of Quakers she had met through the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) – I wonder who they would have been?  In the following year, the Lubbe family moved from Perth to Melbourne, and I became friends with Katie, and later her sister Margaret Lubbe, who was a few years ahead of me at the University High School.  Another Quaker connection was through the long running ABC Radio programme “Scope” broadcast from 1958 until the 70s; this was where I first encountered our Friend Bill Oats, who was a regular presenter of short segments on many different themes. His contributions always left me with new concepts to think about.

After high school, in 1961 I took up a library cadetship that offered three years of Library School as well as my first paid library job at the Box Hill City Library. Here I met my husband to be, Paul Bywater.  We were married in  March 1964 at Holy Trinity, Surrey Hills.  We took our honeymoon in Tasmania, and we were enchanted with Hobart ; I remember thinking I could live there. I joined Paul in Bairnsdale, where in 1963 he had been appointed Regional Librarian for East Gippsland.  I began attending the Anglican church in Bairnsdale, but it was not quite what I had experienced before and I was disappointed.  The Presbyterian minister was a close neighbour of ours, and I felt more at home there. Our eldest son Scott was born in Bairnsdale in March 1967.  In September of 1967 we moved to Hobart, as Paul accepted his dream job, Librarian in charge of the Film and Record Library at State Library of Tasmania.

We bought our first house in Lindisfarne, moving in December 1967; our second son Russell was born in 1969, followed by Philip in 1970.  Finally, in August 1974 our family was complete when Anna Tuyet arrived from war-torn Vietnam, a very tiny baby, almost 5 months old.

Through the Film and Music Library we met many Friends who came to borrow both 16 millimetre films and or browse in the music Library. One of those seeking films was Kenneth Brown, a Friend who taught at The Friends School.  Paul was an active projectionist and showed films for various groups, including the Vietnam Moratorium committee, where we met more Quakers.  And so, it was that I plucked up courage to begin attending Meetings for Worship, and immediately felt that I had found my spiritual home.

At that time my brother Bill was in Vietnam, the administrator for a medical team at a hospital in Vung Tau. His letters home spoke of the needless destruction and loss of life caused by the war.  Through Quakers I became part of a small committee supporting the Gordon Barclay Vietnam Fund (Tasmania)  with our Friend Ron Darvell.  GBVF had been established by Ratcliffe and Barking Monthly Meeting (UK) in 1968.  Small committees in Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne were raising funds to support the work in Vietnam.  GBVF established mobile toy libraries and provided play therapy in a number of orphanages in Saigon.  Jocelyn Bowling (later Bowden), a member of Hobart Meeting, went to Vietnam in early 1972 to be a member of the GBVF team. Part of my role was to speak to groups about the team’s work using slides and reports from Jocelyn and others.

Hobart Meeting became a central part of the life of our family, but I still had not become a member; sometime in 1973 I applied for membership, and became involved with the  Quaker Service Committee, and the Quaker Service Council Australia when that responsibility moved to Hobart in 1975. QSCA Convenor Val Nichols worked from her small office in her New Town home, and I began to spend time assisting her with her responsibilities.  Working beside Val was a wonderful learning experience and we became close friends.

When the Tasman Bridge disaster occurred in January 1975 we were living in Lindisfarne, and travel across the Derwent River was limited, so the small group of Friends on the Eastern Shore began to meet in each other’s homes on Sunday morning.  I learned to appreciate the value of small meetings for worship, and this helped me many years later with our small worship group in Cambodia.

In 1978 AYM was held in Perth, and the Bywater family drove all the way from Melbourne, camping along the journey of discovery of the vastness of Australia.  To pass the time I taught the boys to knit, and they each produced very long scarves.  At AYM the Backhouse Lecture was presented by Margaret Wilkinson of Hobart meeting: Wisdom: the inward teacher.  This posed some challenges for Margaret both in preparation and presentation. Margaret had had serious eye problems since childhood and eventually  became blind. I was  asked by Margaret to sit with her at the lecture, and to contribute by reading some of  writings that had inspired her in her spiritual search.  A much treasured memory.

Anna Bywater was 4 years old, when we returned to Hobart. Anna went back to Friends School, Sherwood, telling people, “I’ve been to Perth and we saw God.” On reflecting with Anna, we understood what she meant : the children at YM had met and spoken with Olaf Hodgkin of Perth meeting.  Olaf was then 99, a tall white haired figure with a warm and spiritual presence.  What intrigued me was, that I am sure we had never given our children the idea that God was an old man with white hair.

The situation of people in Kampuchea (now Cambodia) began to reach Australian news sources in mid 1979.  In September of that year, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (now ACFID), together with Austcare and other NGOs, launched the first appeal to raise funds principally for immediate food aid. The following month  QSCA received a report from American Friends’ Service Committee of Ed Snyder’s visit to Vietnam and Cambodia. QSCA immediately sent AFSC funds for the purchase of rice and medicines. So began a valuable opportunity for QSCA to assist AFSC’s work in Kampuchea. AFSC established an office in Phnom Penh early in 1980. QSCA was able to  continue providing assistance to Kampuchea through AFSC. After the UN declared emergency period ( 1979-1981) AFSC were unable to use US sourced funds for development or relief work.

All of these developments increased the workload for Val Nichols, together we began to share more tasks, especially reading reports and drafting proposals. As the guest of AFSC, Val  visited Kampuchea in 1984 accompanied by her daughter-in-law  Jennifer Ashton. She returned giving QSCA first-hand experience of the situation in the country. This followed a visit to Vietnam and Kampuchea in 1983 by a delegation headed by the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Hayden. We understand that during the visit, the Hayden delegation received a request for assistance with English language teaching.

QSA had continued to support a range of activities, in association with AFSC, often funded from the Australian Aid program.  We were beginning to have a greater understanding of needs, and consider how best Australian Quakers could respond.

In September 1984, I was in Canberra representing QSCA at the annual ACFOA gathering and the annual Australian Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB) consultation. During the 3-day event, I was approached by a senior ADAB officer who enquired “Would QSCA be interested in implementing an English Language teaching program in Kampuchea?” My careful reply was to suggest that AIDAB would need to formally ask QSCA. Then began arrangements for  AIDAB and QSCA to consider the request, beginning with a “conference call” between Bill Oats (on behalf of QSCA) and the AIDAB officer. This was just the beginning, after a need’s assessment (conducted by Jennifer Ashton) much deliberation consultation and planning, the Kampuchea English Language Training program was established in 1985.

In July 1986, I made my first project monitoring visit to Kampuchea, and in the following year returned to undertake a 3 month’s consultancy on behalf of KELT to develop a Library for the fledgling program at the Foreign Language Institute. The FLI was accommodated in the building that in 1988 became the University of Phnom Penh. With such modest beginnings the KELT program continued with valuable contributions of many others, in particular our Friend Mark Deasey (VRM). Later the program expanded to become CELT. Eventually in 1993, it devolved into a bi-lateral program administered by IDP and the University of Canberra.

Along the way I came to know what is now Cambodia as my second home. There is much more to be told about my experiences here, but that will have to wait for another occasion.

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