Know thy Friend

Diana Pittock, Victoria RegionalMeeting

Pelicans! The beginning of my river of life. My life ahead was not planned but evolved, perhaps from an awareness which began at 5, when I saw for the first time the pelicans on the Coorong at the River Murray mouth. My view was from the front seat, sitting on a cushion between my grandparents, in their small car, luggage on the back seat. Birds, reeds, clouds seen in the water. Ngarrindjeri country, as I now know. The road to Robe a dusty, sandy track then. It was a beginning of my interest in the environment and the Murray River.

I had left Port Pirie, my 1939 birthplace, after my mother’s death in 1944. I left behind my fear of the planes flying over which could bomb me! Was that the beginning of an interest in peace?

Peace and Nonviolence

A stepfamily became a reality when I was nine and thanks to a wise stepmother, came lessons in learning to adjust to others and trying to deal with tensions. Her wisdom resulted in the five children still being family now as ageing adults. Dealing with various tensions became a thread of my life. Sunday school was a learning environment, being asked to be the Sunday School kindergarten leader, then having roles in the Presbyterian youth group (PFA). One thing flowed into another leading to my becoming an infant teacher.

An interest in knowing how to deal with organisational tensions led me to nonviolence social change training in USA where we lived with our three sons in the late 1970’s. From 1980, working in nonviolence back here involved me in assisting community organisations to become more efficient and more effective in dealing with conflict. Nonviolence training for campaigns, such as the Franklin River dam blockade, was important to me as well as mediating in organisational disputes.

Mediating in conflicts and training mediators developed too, together with awareness of cultural differences needing varied approaches. Quaker mentors assisted these opportunities.


In my student days and early teaching years I met up with Indonesian students and Herb and Betty Feith. They had the vision of a volunteer graduate scheme to assist after the war when Australian graduates could get jobs in Indonesia at local salaries. It is now the Australian Volunteers International. Many connections eventuated, leading me to go to Indonesia in 1961 at 21 by myself to find out more. Travelling was to take items to students’ families in Sumatra and to meet my friend Sophy Patty from Ambon who worked with the Indonesian Council of Churches in Jakarta.  Sadly, Sophy is on longer with us, having worked in West Papua for some years, as did her brother.

In 1962 I returned to Indonesia in a delegation of the Australian Council of Churches at the invitation of the Indonesian Council of Churches. In both journeys I stayed at a maternity and baby hospital in Surabaya. It was such a shock to see the poverty and malnutrition of some babies and of women lining up outside for hours. The doctor in charge and the care was impressive. Some of us established a ‘Friends’ of the hospital group of which I was secretary, I was sending medicines and money we collected.

 A lifelong love of Indonesian friends and culture continues. Distress at some political matters worries me.

Indigenous awareness

My first experience of being with Aborigines had been when at 18 I had a holiday job in Alice Springs. A friend and I boarded the old Ghan train in Adelaide and during the journey got to know some of the Albrecht family members who were returning to Alice Springs for a family wedding. “We are going to the places where we grew up. Would you like to come with us?” So began our trip in the back of a truck to the APY lands: Hermansberg, Haast’s Bluff, Areyonga, Yuendumu and Papunya. Sleeping in swags in the dry creek beds, eating kangaroo cooked all night in the earth oven and having a glimpse of this wonderful culture was overwhelming to a naïve city girl. However, there were my concerns at seeing the government intrusions into their lives.

Another turn in my life’s flow led to my being on the Australian Christian Youth Council, and who should also be there but Barrie Pittock, representing Quakers. A serious young man belonging to a group I didn’t know! At Easter 1965, when I was an observer from PFA at the Federal Council of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in Canberra, he turned up again! This time he was the speaker.  Newly back from climate and land rights research in USA, he was comparing Aboriginal, Native American and Maori land rights. We spoke, connected well and were married in September that year. He talked of ‘that of God in everyone’, which met me at that time of my spiritual life.

Back in Dec 1964 at the Asian Christian Youth Assembly in the Philippines I met Joyce and Colin Clague. Joyce is a Yaegl woman from NSW. They were often also at the FCAATSI conferences and we kept in touch at times when Joyce and Colin were social workers in the NT, and stood for parliament there. They worked to get native title rights for Ulgundahi Island in the Clarence River, her birthplace. Some of their family is now a part of our family.

Knowing Joyce was another turning point in my Indigenous awareness. Living with Barrie as he worked on land rights for years together with First Nations people was a key to further understanding. Living in BoonWurrung country led to my being on the Indigenous Affairs Advisory Committee of Bayside Council. It resulted in the Council’s acknowledgement of the BoonWurrung in Council statements, us organising the Indigenous sections of the four libraries and setting up displays for Reconciliation and NAIDOC weeks there.

Along the way I did an art degree and yearn to use my metalwork tools again and to complete ideas I had. Art is still a major part of my journey.

My heart is with our children and grandchildren. They carry the future like so many of their generations. Their awareness of people, environment, being humane and being positive is a part of my hope. Our Quaker Meeting sustains me, as does living with Barrie.

So many tributaries in a life. A life guided by the spirit, I hope, and sometimes, no doubt, by determination! And now, my river of life is happily winding to slower flows. Simplicity in activity results.


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