Ann Zubrick, West Australia Regional Meeting

Recently, while I was visiting friends and colleagues in Hong Kong, I was described as “one of the generation of children of the British Empire”. I’d not previously thought of myself in quite those terms although I understood why I might be described that way.

My New Zealand father and Australian mother were missionary doctors—a decision they made in their twenties.  Between 1944 and 1958 they established and staffed Salvation Army hospitals—in southern Africa (Northern Rhodesia), southern India (Tamil Nadu) and Indonesia (east Java). In 1958, the military delivered notice to leave Indonesia within 48 hours. Just as I started secondary school, my parents came to Perth to live.  Thereafter life was very different for all of us!

I went to Christian (mostly Methodist) boarding schools for almost all my primary years. School was safe place given the political and economic turmoil in both India and Indonesia. I remember very caring house mothers, good teachers, easy friendships, awful food, and being envied for the number of letters I received each week from home.  My mother later passed on to me every letter I wrote home from the age of four. As a family we remained faithful, regular correspondents throughout my own and my parents’ peripatetic lives.

After leaving school I went to Melbourne to study speech therapy. I loved this course which combined health science, linguistics, psychology and clinical practice. Most of all I enjoyed working with adults with acquired brain injury—an interest I retain to this day. In 1972 I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to do postgraduate study in the USA while working as a therapist in a slow stream residential neuro-rehabilitation program. Several participants were young men recently returned from Vietnam with both brain and psychological trauma. Their stories left me with a lasting impression of the horror of war. I met my husband Stephen at university in America and he followed me back to Perth where we married in 1974.

On my return to Perth I was invited to set up the four-year university course for speech pathologists at the West Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin University).  In 1988 I was invited to set up the first program in the world to train speech pathologists in Chinese at the University of Hong Kong and, subsequently, to train physicians educated in traditional Chinese medicine to deliver community-based rehabilitation in China.

My connection with Quakers began in Hong Kong.

I was an active member of the Methodist and then the Uniting Church through my teenage years and twenties. I attended several protestant churches in Hong Kong but did not feel a ‘fit’ since the congregations and ministers were almost exclusively expatriates. One morning I saw a small notice in the Saturday South China Morning Post recording the time and location for Quaker Meeting. From then on I attended Meeting for Worship with a diverse group of ‘locals’ and visiting Friends from around the world. During my five years in Hong Kong I had the privilege of getting to know David and Ruth Watson, and Barbara Bird and Donna Anderton (Backhouse lecturers 1995) while they were in Asia with American World Service.

I returned to Perth in 1994 when Fremantle Meeting was relatively new and became a WARM Member in 1998. Fremantle Ffriends remain my core spiritual community.

In some perhaps strange sense, my parents guided me to Quakers. My mother, in her words and actions, deeply respected people of all faiths and backgrounds. She explicitly taught me from a very young age how to dress, eat and act in synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, and at all manner of religious ceremonies. “Ann, this is God’s house and in/at this God’s house or place you need to …”  I have thanked her often for that gift.

Both parents talked to me about the presence of God in every human experience, extending through to their deaths. While they used God and Christ language when we prayed together as a family—as we did every morning at breakfast—they used other words and culturally appropriate gestures when we hosted families from other faith traditions. At a very young age, my mother explicitly taught me to say a prayer at the end of the day giving gratitude for what had been and to hold the night and day to follow in God’s keeping. At the start of each term, when I left for boarding school, time was set aside to share loving blessings and leave one another in confidence for the future. I was encouraged to explore my own spiritual understanding in my own way and at my own pace.

A decade ago I completed the Masters in Ageing and Pastoral Studies at Charles Sturt University and the Clinical Pastoral Education course at Royal Perth Hospital focussing on the spiritual care of older persons living with dementia and mental illness. I love this work. Every Wednesday I volunteer in a day centre program for 14-16 men living with dementia. I return home holding intensely introspective experiences and sensations of something powerful in what we have shared that day in our gathering together. Often the sharing is in silence as many of the men are no longer able to talk.

People often ask me why I volunteer with persons with dementia: I find it is a space, like Meeting—with the simple experience of shared presence—to grow spiritually; to honour that of God in every person at the Centre when honour is not what persons with dementia usually experience; and to grow as a member of a community of individuals who try to live in a manner representative of Friends.

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