Know thy Friend: Jenny Spinks
Peter Jones, Tasmania Regional Meeting
Jenny was born in 1951 into a Quaker family in England, with roots on her father’s side going back to the early days of Friends in Wensleydale. During the First World War her grandfather on her mother’s side had been imprisoned as a conscientious objector in Durham jail, and her grandmother was a suffragette. Both became convinced Friends and important role models for Jenny – having the courage to live being true to themselves.
Jenny and her younger sister Judy were born in Bristol where their father, Roger, worked as an engineer and their mother, Joyce, was a primary school teacher.
When Jenny was eight, Roger got a job as “Master on duty” at Ackworth (Quaker co-ed boarding) School – a major career shift. This was a hard but enlightening change for Jenny, moving from a middle class suburb in the South of England to a Yorkshire mining village, where her Primary School friends had very different lives from her.
Around this time her Mum, Joyce, spent 6 months in a Quaker “mental hospital” in York with a “nervous breakdown” – caused by medication for high blood pressure. When she came home, Joyce became Ackworth School’s Mistress on Duty.
With her parents in loco parentis to her peers, being a day student at Ackworth from 1962 had its challenges for Jenny. She became aware, in one Meeting for Worship, that she wanted to do any sort of work that supports people.
She moved, for sixth form, to boarding at Friends’ School Great Ayton and got the school involved in supporting SHELTER, the 1960s campaign for housing in England.
Jenny successfully applied to be a Quaker Overseas Volunteer at Wesley Girls High School in Ghana in 1969-70. Back home, she studied Social Administration at Nottingham University. After a year she had joined the University Peace Society and was on the path of Non-Violent Revolution. Jenny saw doing unpaid community work as her future.
In 1973 she moved to Pitsmoor, Sheffield and started nursing – a trade she planned to practice part-time in disempowered communities. Jenny became involved in the feminist movement, revelled in community living, grew food on an allotment and met her future Australian husband, Chris Allen. She helped organise the first National Women’s Health Conference – stirring her interest in midwifery, and was a founding member of the Association of Radical Midwives.
Ailsa (1978) and Peter (1980) were born at home in Sheffield. In 1981 the family moved to a village in Cornwall where Jenny was employed as a District Nurse/Midwife and Chris was house-husband. While there they were active in the village peace group and decided to visit Australia.
In 1984 they based themselves in Milton-Ulladulla in New South Wales and soon decided to stay in Australia. In 1985 and 1986 Jenny worked as a Nurse/Midwife in Amata on the Pitjantjatjara lands.
They moved to Koorool community farm in Tantawanglo near Bega in 1987, with three other households, building earth homes. Jenny and another midwife attended home births and Chris became involved in the campaign to stop logging. Jenny’s facial spasms started in 1988, and in 1992 she was diagnosed with Cranial Dystonia. When they prevented her from driving and she had to give up midwifery, she was grateful that Koorool had bought a Wholefoods business in Bega, where she could work.
During this time Jenny reconnected with Quakers. She went to Yearly Meetings with Ailsa and Peter who got involved with Junior Young Friends. Jenny saw herself as an isolated, newly convinced, Friend and started the Bega worshipping group. She also became involved in Re-evaluation Co-counseling, which has continued to provide a solid theoretical framework and practical support in her life.
Leading up to the millennium, Ailsa and Peter left home, and Jenny’s concern for the Simplicity Testimony developed. A Quaker visitor from India, Aziz Pabaney, stressed that we are not to “live simply” to release resources for developing countries, but to create space in our own lives for nurturing spiritual connection. This helped Jenny communicate her concern for the testimony.
A term at Woodbrooke College in the UK, visiting Aziz in Mumbai, Canberra Regional Meeting adopting Jenny’s concern for the Simplicity Testimony and Meeting for Learning support, led to her travelling by bus down the East coast of Australia visiting Quaker Meetings and isolated Friends – and eventually to her delivering the Backhouse Lecture in 2007
2003 saw Chris (newly employed by National Parks) and Jenny living in Bega, as founding members of Bega Eco Neighbourhood Developers Inc, a not-for-profit volunteer group whose aim was to create a socially and economically diverse ecologically sustainable neighbourhood integral to the town of Bega.
The Quaker Peace and Social Justice Fund provided seed funding that led to 10 of the 30 homes being owned by a social housing provider. By 2010 Chris and Jenny were living with their neighbours in eco-friendly homes. During this decade Jenny had supported the sale of the Wholefoods business to a Workers Co-operative – still a vibrant ethical enterprise.
Connections with family, friends and neighbours, caring for home and garden, supporting Chris write about koala country; and, most nourishing, being a Meeting for Learning facilitator are Jenny’s priorities now. Having been blessed with clear leadings through most of her life Jenny says she feels at sea.
“It seems I am now led to focus on the here and now with no goals to achieve except to age gracefully, and that is a challenge!”
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