Rosie Remmerswaal, Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand
With curiosity and enthusiasm, I travelled to Melbourne. I felt treasured to be chosen to represent Aotearoa Young Friends at Australian Yearly Meeting and Young Friends Camp, and valued this brilliant opportunity. Young Friends Camp was held at the tranquil Baldessin Press Art Studio and Retreat in the bush in St Andrews, near Melbourne.
The site itself was spectacular. A cluster of hand-built recycled stone-brick buildings were dotted amongst the sprawling eucalyptus bush and hand planted orchard. We stayed in the cool and tranquil studio downstairs, surrounded by gorgeous photography, prints and plant sculptures created onsite and slept in the comfortable living quarters upstairs. In the mornings and evenings we watered the growing plants, and wandered the grounds in the twilight, when the day’s heat had subsided. I tasted beautiful berries I’d never heard of, while tiny wild kangaroos, fawn and chocolate coloured, hopped amongst the eucalyptus trees.
It was inspiring to see Tess and Lloyd truly embodying the Quaker testimonies in the way they live; ecologically, sustainably in harmony with their land, while nourishing the Australian artistic community with their generosity.
Our small group of Young Friends discussed the strong culture of equality, transparency, shared responsibility in our community, and how we can respond to new policies regarding the safety liability of under eighteen-year-olds attending camps. This conversation helped identify some of the qualities that are unique and that we value about Young Friend Communities, with a view to retain them while negotiating complex legislation.
Together, we made sushi from scratch, barbecued outside in the warm, warm evenings and painted a “Quakers for Peace” banner to be used in peace marches. This banner, and some of Lloyd’s vibrant bromeliads came with us to Yearly meeting at Queen’s College, one of the oldest inner-city University Halls in Melbourne, and filled the common room where we held meeting for worship.
Aunty Carolyn Briggs of the Boonwurrung language group of the Kulin nation welcomed Friends to the country of her ancestors, and gave us insight into the history of the land we were treading on. Machiko Takeda from Japan YM, and Aotearoa representatives Murray Short and I were introduced and welcomed. The theme of the gathering was “Life in the Light.”
I attended the Summer School sessions on “Wearing the Non-Traditional Quaker Colours”. Physicist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that light is made up of many different colours, around the same time that George Fox raised that Faith in a society is made up up a whole spectrum of beliefs. Discussions within this group shed light on how faith without dogma can give life to a community that has a brilliant array of diverse perspectives. With this in mind, what then does it mean intrinsically to be a Quaker? What beliefs do we share? What distinguishes us as the “Religious Society of Friends” rather than a secular community with humanitarian values? Our attempts to rewrite the Advices and Queries brought into the light just how subjective and multifaceted the definitions and relationships we each have with words like “God,” “Light” and “Worship”; and the complexity of using these words when it comes to outreach. I learned more about what it means to share silence with a group, and the value of stillness in each of us; not only for our sake, but in order to be in each others’ silence in a rich and valuable way.
I held a session with the children’s group exploring “Light” in the realm of photography and film; discovering how life looks different through different lenses, and how through the ages we have used different techniques to capture and preserve light images through light sensitive film and digitally. It was amazing to see the brightness and laterally connective thinking the Children’s group exercised, and I was reminded of how much I cherish my time with children.
The JYF group expressed an interest in filmmaking, so I was also happily able to contribute here. In groups, they developed short concepts in the realm of “Quacker Cinema:” in forms from blackboard animation to dramatic trailer, mockumentary and satirical advertising in response to their interpretation of Quakerism. The JYFs’ creativity, sense of humour and ability to work together was shining.
While at the JYF camp I also attended a session led by Gina Price practicing a Quaker decision making process, and a workshop with Sally Herzfeld, the Australasian Director of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). This was a fantastic prelude to the Backhouse Lecture, which Sally gave the next day entitled “This we can do: Quaker faith in action through the Alternatives to Violence Project”.
I have always been interested in ways that the world can become more peaceful, but also aware of the trickiness of International “Aid”. However, what is special about the AVP Project is how the workshops can train facilitators within each community who in turn, are empowered to initiate peaceful leadership and workshops from within (not upon) their communities. In this way the project is able to be self-sustaining and offer ways in which communities can help themselves. I was compelled to complete a Basic AVP course led by Sally, the weekend after AYM and hope to find an opportunity to train as a facilitator to contribute to peaceful leadership within prisons, refugees and overseas.
Looking at some roots of violence (marginalisation, disempowerment, oppression etc) I was particularly interested in the “First Nations” Sessions at AYM; getting clearer about not only the larger brushstroke action and perspective taken by the Society of Friends but also the smaller, more independent actions which can elicit change, as people committed to equality in our societies.
It was also interesting to note the journey of the JYF group, who felt as though their perspective was not being taken into consideration when changing the timing of Yearly Meeting, who, through the Quaker formalities and support given, were subsequently able to have their voices heard in the decision making forum of Yearly Meeting.
Before leaving, I wandered into the old wooden chapel, where the only light in the room was filtered through ornate, ancient and vibrantly glowing stained glass panels. I ventured up the tiny spiral staircase and to the choir’s perch and filled the resonant wooden space with traditional Maori Waiata. It felt like a fascinating and layered crossover of things: me, from Aotearoa in this land of Australia, and a recognition of the traditional Religious heritage, the (complicated) and massive entity that (among other things) provided a springboard for this spiritual, equal and peaceful movement we are practicing.
It is my pleasure to introduce the luminous Gabby Paananen as this year’s Australian Representative to our Young Friends camp. She is a vivid and serene flame, and I look forward to everyone meeting her in New Zealand, and a chance to know her more.
I have returned intrigued and enriched, with more clarity about what it means to be a Quaker, and insight into how each of us as citizens can shape our lives to contribute to the peacefulness and equality in each of our societies. I am so appreciative to the generosity of Aotearoa Monthly Meetings for this opportunity for nourishment and expansion.
Rosie is a recent graduate of Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. She is embarking on a career as a freelance filmmaker and designer for film and theatre. The Quaker qualities of contemplation, stillness and listening are integral and inspire her, especially in the filmic Installation “Longlands: Meditations”.