Rosemary Turle, West Australia Regional Meeting
For me it becomes a spiral as I think of a visual symbol for my expanding path towards what I have come to know as my truth. It helps give a shape to all the learnings and realisations of what my true identity is. It started long ago now if we are thinking in terms of years. But right now I am sharing thoughts and facts which are really far beyond facts and have become what I am, and how I experience my life on planet Earth. And where shall I commence this revisiting and rethinking of my spiraling life?
With my parents. Both so spiritual and loving life and letting their five children be part of the wonder of nature and its English seasons in our Sussex countryside. That is the county on the south coast of England where William Penn was born. Nature has always played a major role in my path whether I lived city or country. The Sunday prayer time with readings from the Bible and the visits to the village Anglican church shaped my infant and childhood days. The war and its complications for the daily life which challenged the country made me conscious of Germany and air raid warnings when one ran for safety to the shelter, or hurriedly got under one’s bed. Blackouts meant not letting any light be seen from our windows because of the danger of enemy air attacks. The doodlebug V2 that landed in a field next door killed only a fox and a rabbit but it resulted in the five children of my family being evacuated to safer homes on the west coast of England for long periods of time. One place I remember clearly was a vicarage with beautiful gardens. We hugged our rations of sweets and of sugar to our hearts and I certainly had not learned yet the importance of giving and sharing.
Peace came and life returned to more normal times with the war ended, and soon after my family suddenly all moved to Australia. The spiral pattern moved my heart soul and thirteen-year-old body to a new continent that was far away and very hot. We were leaving our seven acres of dearly loved land and school lives and friends. Also I left my black cat and my bicycle. It was to be the realisation of the huge ocean and a lifetime relationship with water. It is only seconds ago that I stood in my mind’s eye on the deck of the Orcades and remembering how I had gazed in disbelief at the rock of Gibraltar. Why such a strong memory? It was because it was so different from any land that I had ever seen and it startled my eyes used to English trees, plants and flowers; also it was because I had never imagined a world that had so much ocean of water. It is such times when my whole being says “Oh, there is more to what you know and think and believe!” It was more acute when I saw Arabs and camels at Port Said. “Oh people are different colours, wear different clothes and they have different animals”.
So life became an ongoing and growing spiral of places, people, situations and influences from many sources such as books, conversations, new encounters that were taking place and influencing my heart and mind. I will attempt to share these as best as I can as I relive the past.
We embarked in Western Australia and it became a new way of life in Perth. Of course it would be a private school because of the expectations of the class system. It would be Anglican of course because my father was extremely critical of the Roman Catholic church. My parents had met as Christians through the Beach Movement and shared a deep spirituality which as a child I did not yet understand. In a new city they did not know which church to attend, and it all depended on liking the teaching and the sermons of the minister; this resulted in me experiencing Methodist and Baptist congregations as a teenager. We suddenly made an even greater move to live in the goldfields. “We did not come to Australia to live in a city,” my father said. “We came here to LIVE!” I understood that living was tied up very much with being on the land and part of the land and suburbs did not offer that feeling of closeness to nature.
This meant leaving the four year course of art I had started in Perth. It meant leaving the poultry farm and the dog and new Australian girlfriends from school. We packed up two vehicles with tents and gear and a number of poultry and drove via Kalgoorlie north-east to Menzies. It was gold business that had brought my father to move into the freedom of the Australian way of life and its wonderful blue skies. So we experienced tent life with looking for snakes before one got into the sleeping bag at night, and walking on wild open red country with brumbies and kangaroos became a new experience. It was an added closeness to nature but nature with different things to teach me. I learned the precious value of water and the disappointment of the water being brackish at our land. I found out the birds dived down at my head if I was near their nests, the flies and insects were incessant. But I was happy, inside myself I felt immensely grateful to wake up each day to a vast and seemingly empty but red-earthed outback and feeling so free without schooling and to be able to just read, roam and live in a simple way without any set program.
That episode only lasted months because of the brackish water and we moved to Donnybrook far south of Perth to an orchard outside the small town famous for its apples. The poultry came too, and in this countryside sections of the house that my father had constructed in England became our home and we lived in it before it was finished. It was just as one sees happening in Bangladesh as builders work on constructions where people are already living in at the level below while the new storey is being built. I went to Methodist youth club and Anglican church and peer pressure had me feeling that I should get confirmed. My mother said that would mean I would have to be baptised first! In fact baptism was not the custom for my free thinking parents who felt such practices were not necessary, because when we got to be adults we would take responsibility for our own decisions. So I got baptised and confirmed, but inside of me I knew that something very significant was at stake: that although I was doing this from peer pressure to be like other people, it meant something much more. But I had not yet learned what the “more” was.
I do not understand how the spirit in one grows, but it does as wonder and knowledge and experience mould the years. It is affected by situations but also so enormously for me by the people that I have been privileged to meet and know. How many people in a lifetime really touch our hearts in a measure that is beyond every day exchange? There are hundreds of people we look at, meet, share with on occasions, but how few have an effect that becomes as indelible marks on the psyche? Souls reach out and find each other through encounters in daily life or through writings and activities. Difficult and ugly situations also become such huge learning times. I can return to such precious life-changing moments which are beyond words and which have had such meaning on my life and have made me change opinions or open up new beginnings in my journeying.
One such occasion is at Rasulia, the Quaker farm and community, in north India. One has to get in a cart to arrive there! One day after sitting under the Banyan tree with Marjorie Sykes and a group I go looking at everything. I am following the Partap Aggarival who is pointing out the neem tree and telling Harry Holloway about trees, plants and the fields. He stopped at a nondescript bush and said, “This is not happy here, we will have to move it elsewhere.” Never before had I thought about plants having feelings! Another big surprise was in Esperance at the Seaman’s centre when looking at Rev. Frank Roe’s big paintings with the written words from Job saying “Where were you when I made the heavens and the stars?” It staggered me to know that I had always been in existence, even if it was at a quite different level of consciousness.
Spirit knows only Light and it is for me a constant opening to the light that guides me. The term Light affected me more strongly when I came found the Society of Friends as an attender in 1971. What a blessing that was! My mother in Western Australia wrote to me in Sydney when I was still recovering from divorce saying “And if you are lonely do not forget to go to the Quakers!” My four-year-old child came with me to a Meeting soon after that advice. So another turn of the expanding spiral brought me in contact with wonderful people and some became friends in my life in a very significant way, such as important times with Margaret Barnard Kettle. She shared with me importance of seeing both sides of the Vietnamese immigrant situation. Together we visited the communists and the non-communist clubs and she talked often of her friendship with a Russian academic she met when visiting USSR and her years as a librarian at the Quaker school in Hobart. Many friends from those days stay strong in my heart and it is a leap of the heart when I come Sydney and stay at the Meeting house.
Attendance at Devonshire Street Meeting was a joy and I had visits to Kangaroo valley and became friends with Ed Stanton who impressed me with his life in nature. My child and I slept in the cottage bedroom with its festoon of spiders which importantly kept insects away and we ate the red coloured Mexican corn he grew and we coped with outdoor showers! He slept in his doorless A-frame structure in the fields where cows walked around and where he stored his big jars of preserves. One Easter the weather turned unexpectedly hot and the group staying decided to swim naked in the river. My girlfriend asked Ed if we could borrow the Bible to learn how to put on fig leaves!
Light continued to remain a strong and meaningful concept as I grew in Spirit and came to understand the depth of George Fox’s words, “You do well to pay attention to the light that shines in the dark place, until day breaks and the morning star rises in your heart.”
The spiral of awareness of love and light increased with working in London and Spain. The journey there via Indonesia and Thailand with a seven-year-old daughter was immense. Living a month cheaply in a losman (home with a family accommodation) in Bali before we moved on to Java and the cities of Yogakarta and Jakarta. It was a realisation of how close our continent was to Asia as I experienced the Hindu and Moslem religions and culture. My spiral found me with different thoughts and tastes and sights and I can still see myself in the temple of snakes in Penang manoeuvering myself very deftly. Much later, on visits to India, I understood the auspicious meaning of snakes and managed to get away from the biblical myth of the Fall. My interest in mythology was increasing.
In Spain, working for Inlingua in Zaragoza, such a wonderful old city, opened up my spiral in a different way. It was a chance to enter into friendship with Roman Catholic life. First it was the Mother and Sisters of the little school my seven-year-old attended and I helped with English language for a class of children and privately for a nun. She told me lots about her personal feelings. Before marriage I had visited Spain and learned some language to cope with being a visitor in a seaside village. The annual blessing of the vehicles had been a surprise joy and the lovingness of the village folk. But going to guitar mass in the church and the conversations in class with my students from their Seminary was much more meaningful because I was truly listening and learning from lives with a different perspective. A student lent me the poetry of the mystic monk or priest St John of the Cross and he deeply touched my soul. I read Teresa of Avila. The woman who gave us accommodation was very devotional and one evening I came home to find her praying with a carved figure of Jesus in a wooden box. It had come to her home as part its journey from house to house. I had never had icons or such devotional objects as part of my life but I could see with her how important it was for her.
Work finished at 10.00pm and I took a tram back to her apartment and the street key man opened the gate to the building for me. He had hundreds of keys! Late at night after teaching until 10.00pm I would read in the quiet of the night whatever I could borrow in English language from another teacher at Inlingua. One was D H Lawrence’s The Apocalypse and it astonished me and shook me up quite a bit.
Like everyone, I have my friends from the world of literature and they have become part of my thinking and feelings and enormous influences. They are from Krishnamurti to Thomas Merton, from Rilke to Ram Dass and wonderful and inspiring Quaker literature, both old and contemporary, as well as the artists, philosophers and poets from all over the world. I feel an enormous gratefulness for music and literature. As a long-time member of the Theosophical Society I have been able to access world religions and scriptures. I suppose that it was my mother that started my love of books by her reading to me Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood and Youth and Scott’s Tales of a Grandfather.
The physical world of Nature has been a supreme friend. I leapt in my heart when I read Thoreau’s Walden as a teenager. Even now when I visit big cities I notice every tree and plant and am aware of the sky and sun and clouds. For years I taught English as a second language at Bondi Beach school just to be near the sea. That started in 1975 on my return from Europe and I became a member of the Society in Friends with the blessings of Margaret Watson and Ruth Haigh. The world of water is beyond words but I need to be near it and feel that element to which I belong. Here in Albany it is amazing as its contact with the land with its ancient Gondwanaland connection makes for incredible beaches, bays, inlets and islands. Also it has an incredibly rich flora and fauna. For me life started with seasons of great contrasts, of snow and cold and dismal dark days until beautiful spring and summer light and warmth again. Living on this continent I experience the Dreamtime of the original inhabitants and have felt and shared that oneness with the earth when I was working with them as a teacher on a settlement in Gippsland and then later in life as a welfare officer in Broome.
I believe in following my heart when I manage to evade limited thinking that gets in the way of callings from deep inside me. It resulted in my move to Western Australia to live with my ageing mother and four hundred residents at the tiny sea town of Hopetoun in 1987. It was a big decision to leave teaching and the wonderful city of Sydney and my friends and the Quaker meetings, but I did. I did it the slow way by bus across the Nullabor and stopping at each night at accommodation and getting a new bus the next day. I knew it had to be slow for me to adjust to the huge challenge of a lifestyle which would demand of me a very big change in life style. And it did. I learned about being old and about huge distances and about self-reliance from the community who were mostly pioneer types and had brought up children on farms and knew hardship and courage. They called me Mrs Turle’s daughter and let me into some very precious friendships. But it was also lonely at times. My mother missed mining days with my father who had died, and for memory’s sake we boiled the billycan on her indoor fire and went on little safaris to listen to birds and endlessly we talked about rocks and insects and cloud formations. Finally I was in a state of freedom where I could paint all day or just beachcomb or just listen to my mother tell me of her favourite writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Richard Jeffries, William Hudson and the war poet, Edward Thomas. I grew to love Mt Barren East when we sometimes visited the amazing Fitzgerald River National Park with its massive number of botanical species. One naturalist friend took me to look and listen for the endangered ground parrot. She said it is so important, and I replied “But what about all the Ethiopians dying at this famine time?” She said “We cannot help them” and walked away from me; on her return she said to me. “Perhaps we can”.
My mother died in 1996 and I wondered where to live next. But first, my of personal pilgrimage in 1997 to places and people of importance to me. It started with relatives in Thailand and then three months in Bangladesh helping at a centre for rehabilitation of spinal injury patients and experiencing Eid, the feast at the close of the Ramadam fast. Then I had time with to a friend in France and the joy of Easter where I lived in the countryside where the nuns and monks sang nearly all day in their beautiful old churches beside the monastery and the convent. I went again to Spain which had had such influence on my life until I found India with its more ancient spirituality and wisdom. Then the magic of seeing the gypsies in the south of France when they come from all parts of Europe with their caravans to be in the seaside village of Les Deux St Maries. They celebrate the story of the two Biblical Mary’s being saved from drowning, with dressed up statues being driven around the village and then the white Camargue horses lead the procession to the sea.
The bus took me to relatives in Cornwall and for the first time to Chester staying with my Quaker friend Hazel Lawson who invited me to be with the conference of Women for Peace in Wales. Finally I had got myself to the Findhorn community and I was deeply touched by a written message pinned on the wall asking everybody to make birthday cards for Eileen Caddy. That centre of light continues its work with people from all over the world experiencing the true meaning of loving community.
I had my first time in Ireland, and at a home outside Belfast I had the huge experience of how it felt to live in fear as was demonstrated by my hostess who had gone through traumatic years. It was a time to understand her and to feel compassion. It was joy in happy Dublin; I went to a Quaker meeting and as a tourist I learnt so much from Celtic spirituality to their very sad history and the inspiring richness of their poets and writers.
There was a hiatus in the expanding circle of my life on my return to Australia because I did not know where to live. My daughter had bought my little Sydney terrace house in Paddington and I travelled to see what my friends were doing in their different kinds of life. I visited Hobart in the year of the island and visited the Quaker school and went to Meetings for Worship and met up with my friend Erica Groom and Peter Mavromatis and met his wife Pat.
It seemed that after years in the west that it would be best to stay there, and I bought my one-and-a-half acres of land outside Albany with the intention of forming a retreat centre. I had wanted five acres and a running stream but that was not my possibility! It is beautiful bush and only a three minute walk to the estuary with its tides, pelicans and seagulls.
So fascination for understanding how we each grow in spirit and wisdom became my two year study with an international interfaith seminary in New York. It was by correspondence, but I went there for workshops and graduation. Meanwhile many celebrations took place here where I live, as well as the group who come here to meditate and discuss and be happy. We do the “A Course in Miracles” and most importantly we celebrate nature and walk the labyrinth and gather in the tepee if it is up. It is too wet in Albany for the canvas in winter. Sometimes Quaker Friends from Denmark and Albany have come out to 5th Sunday Quaker meetings here to circle on the grass or in the studio. My friends come for events which celebrate the full moon or the seasons or the poets Rumi or Rilke, or they come to paint or share other creative activities. The last event was the recent world Earth Day and we were part of the Oxford-based University of the Trees which is a mobile university. My Steiner friend led us in deep listening of nature and to deep listening of each other as each participant told of their intentions for helping our planet.
I do not know where next I will be led on my spiral but I endeavour to listen for divine guidance and am learning to surrender to Spirit more and more every day. The retreat where I live is open to anyone wishing to stay here for time with nature and for silence, peace and many kinds of activities. It is only fifteen minutes drive out of Albany. It welcomes Servas visitors and all pilgrims, and you are very welcome to come and share this sacred space with me.