Sally Herzfeld, Western Australia Regional Meeting
As a Young Friend in the 1950s I thoroughly enjoyed Young Friends camps and attended the Yearly Meetings which followed. In those days I found Yearly Meeting sessions boring and frustrating. “Why can’t they just take a vote?” I would say to myself. However, I did enjoy seeing the oldies meet each other with much hugging and back slapping just like they did this year. The concerts were hilarious with Laurie Wilkinson as MC, doing his Performing Flea act and the old “weighty Friends” letting their hair down. For meals we all met at the same time and “had silence” before eating. I remember this clearly, because, as it is today there were many older Friends with hearing problems. One morning, after silence had begun, one such senior Friend, not knowing that silence had started was trying to pour milk on to his Weeties from an empty jug. His loud voice boomed into the silence, “Has the cow gone dry?” This question became common usage for many years.
Other sayings that I noticed are still common are: “Our Friend is not heard!” and “I hope that will be done”. Something that I didn’t hear this year is, “I think our Friend has made his point”. In fact I was very moved by the way in which each person was listened to with respect. The clerk, assistant clerk and secretary seemed to work together as one person. As Young Friends we put on a concert act humorously mimicking the older friends and I was reminded of that this year when at the concert, a young Friend read from the Advices and Queries and swapped the words “children” and “adults”.
Our Young Friends’ camps were usually under canvas and we did our own catering. In Perth in about 1953 we included two days of working. One day was with an Aboriginal group in York, building play equipment and another was at Allawah Grove where Friends Service Council Australia had a project in an Aboriginal settlement. We also joined a local village for a night of Square Dancing. This year, I was pleased to be able to join in the Silent Peace Vigil with Friends in Brisbane then continue on to the Aboriginal Embassy for the spiritual smoking ceremony. This kind of Faith in Action “speaks to my condition”.
When I was a Young Friend I would sit at the back of the room so that I could make an unobtrusive getaway if I felt like it. This year I sat right up the front so that I could watch the tactics of consensus minute writing and hear and see all the speakers. I was intrigued and didn’t want to miss a session. Technology has made a huge difference. In the 1950s the secretary would have taken notes in long or shorthand and one could hear a typewriter and Gestetner copier clattering away late at night. Now a quiet little laptop worked by nimble fingers does the job. This year I was often amused by an embarrassed Friend slapping a pocket and dashing out of the room to answer a mobile phone which shouldn’t have been left on. Although I think there used to be more silence between contributions to a discussion, the hand-held mike which now has to be taken to a standing speaker does seem to add dignity to a business session.
Since the 50s I have attended any YMs that were in Perth and my husband and I probably volunteered to look after the children at one held in Hobart in about 1967. We had two children under 5 and I was pregnant with our third so I don’t remember much except washing nappies and hanging them out of the bedroom window. We would have flown to that one but many Friends used to travel by car, train or even ship to get across Australia. Children used to spend the first 15 minutes in a Meeting for Worship and were then taken out by volunteers to do activities. I loved the influence of the children at this year’s meeting. Tracey Bourne’s Backhouse lecture had a huge effect on me and, I believe, on the whole gathering. We used to have this lovely family feeling in Perth during my childhood when every fourth Sunday Meeting was held at a different home where we looked forward to the different toys and play equipment that was in each other’s backyards – not to mention the different foods that were cooked by the mother of the house! We also had family Easter camps which were very uniting. Tracey spoke about a recent one of these at Silver Wattle and I recognised that the same bonding effect happened. I hope that other states get the opportunity to try these with their children. Maybe, also the occasional Meeting at the homes of families could be tried.
Other big differences between now and 60 years ago occur in the food and accommodation departments. As meetings were often in boarding schools, most sleeping was done in dormitories although there must have been some smaller rooms for families. There certainly wasn’t the choice of vegan, lactose free, gluten free, nut free etc. that we have today. It would have been vegetarian or not vegetarian and usually served in large bowls at the head of a table so that someone had to serve for all at that table. As I said before, people came on time and we had silent worship before starting to eat!
Even though the number of participants of this YM would have been larger than 60 years ago, I felt that same lovely presence of a spirit which was happiness, respect, supportive and affirming.