Susan Clarke, Queensland Regional Meeting
I was led to Silver Wattle by so many things. I wanted to go on a retreat to explore in writing my future, my past, my spirituality, I wanted to explore the adult almost fully emerged from a chrysalis in which she’d been hiding, trying to resolve the wounds of the past, for 52 years. I wanted a nudge to wake me up.
When the timing of the writer’s workshop didn’t correspond to school holidays, Helen Bayes, Silver Wattle’s Director, suggested the working bee. Writing workshop-working bee? I couldn’t see the connection until I read on the website the words ‘working in faith community.’
I’m not a gardener. I have a good sized yard with garden beds planted with a random assortment of native plants amongst a border of palms I couldn’t be bothered removing when we moved in. Everywhere, weeds that in the past have caused nightmares because I was so overwhelmed by the task of removing them and planning a garden. So the idea of a spring working bee had the appeal of a challenge I thought might do me some good, a bit like hiking up a steep mountain after months in an armchair — a little daunting but appealing with its potential for transformation. I wouldn’t be alone, I’d be working beside people who knew what they were doing and enjoyed it. So I booked in.
The end of Lakes road, you can’t miss it, you can’t go further.
I arrived to an empty house. Everyone had gone into Canberra for Meeting for Worship so it was gloriously silent, and open. Trust and isolation were settled over the place and I felt glad, like I used to feel at my Granny’s house where sometimes it was so quiet I could hear the tick-tocking of the old grandfather clock echoing the beating of my own heart. I sat at a table and wrote while I waited, enjoying the solitude.
The first to arrive back were Queensland friends and I met David Carline, an Aboriginal elder. I learned a great deal about connection to country from my time with David at Silver Wattle and felt privileged, having experienced very little of Indigenous Australians, to glimpse the world through his eyes.
After dinner, we told our stories and I was moved by people’s candour and openness about their spirituality. I felt connected and whole because the piece of myself that is often hidden in daily life could come out to play with others and it was joyful.
I have only recently returned to Quakers. My ex-husband and I were members of Devonshire Street Meeting in the mid 90’s but stopped attending shortly after arriving in Queensland in 1997. It had been a long and eventful absence for me but I returned with a powerful need for spiritual nurturing and refreshment. Attending Meeting for Worship was like a prodigal son homecoming in terms of feeling embraced and welcomed by the spirit. That feeling was affirmed in the small Meeting for Worship on that first morning at Silver Wattle in the Woodhouse Room, a room set aside for the purpose of being quiet and connected to that of God. At the end of formal worship, Helen talked about the rhythm of the day and the tasks she hoped would be completed that week.
Each person was to take a turn cooking the main meal at lunch. Dinner was to be soup or something simple. I was excited about cooking. Could anybody make puddings? I love making puddings.
Outdoor tasks included the worm farm, moving the compost, weeding and mulching garden beds, digging swales around the trees, letting the chooks out and returning them to their coop at night, wood sorted, chopped and brought in for the fire. The ute had to be driven into town to collect mulch, could anyone do that? I can drive the ute! I love driving different vehicles.
I had been sick for about a week so I decided to do what I could indoors. I volunteered to cook lunch on the first day, spending most of my morning in the kitchen. I decided to make egg and vegetable pie because it would work for vegetarians as well as omnivores and to make use of the ingredients available. The notion of cooking with fresh, organic, local ingredients was a new challenge for me. Like most people I resort to a trip to the supermarket to get what I need to follow a recipe so to manage with what was there stretched me a little to make a nutritious tasty lunch for the workers. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy myself in the kitchen as much as I did. I felt incredible joy working that day, preparing food for the little community, a feeling rarely experienced before. The meals prepared throughout the week were tasty, wholesome and heartily appreciated.
Over the course of the week, a great deal was achieved on the outside and the inside for Silver Wattle and me. Being in a faith community, where spirituality and learning were valued, it was easy to live in harmony with my values and be fully my natural self, free from the upstream struggle of my day-to-day existence. The rhythm of the day provided a perfect balance — worship, work, rest, contemplation and learning. The gardeners felt a bit pressed to get everything done, especially with a day or two of rain forecast, but with a few minor adjustments it seemed to work.
Having Dale Hess’s talks on Quaker history was inspired, giving us a context for Silver Wattle and what we were about in our faith. Wonderful stories of courage, faith, determination and persistence encapsulated the lives of William Penn, Barbara Blaugdone, the Woodhouse for whom the Quiet Room is named, Jan de Hartog, and Elise Boulding.
During the midweek silence, I wrote, walked to the lake and photographed the vast expanses, read and listened. Reflecting on what I observed about myself, I wrote: ‘I love solitude. I like to be quiet and I like to be away from people. It is a special kind of solitude when it is sanctioned by the community and they are quiet too. When there is agreement to be quiet and inwardly focused. When there is respect for the need for rest and solitude. I find the silence joyful, not mournful or rude. There are times when silence is interpreted as rude, indeed it can be used to punish, blame and hurt, but this is silence by mutual agreement. I did notice that people were keen to gather a little in advance of the time, perhaps a little anxious for company or tasks or a meal as something to fill the time. Perhaps over a longer period of time the silence would become more leisurely, less doing, more being.’
I would have loved to have had longer, but I had a unique experience of working in a faith community, worth doing and repeating.
On Friday, 30 September, the purchase of Silver Wattle from the Catholic Church was formalized. David Carline accompanied David Johnson to witness the event as a representative of the Aboriginal people.
Friends began gathering the night before the handover and the group swelled to 13, then 21. A maple tree was planted on Friday afternoon to celebrate the transfer of deeds. David put the tail of one of the dead kangaroos in the hole dug for the tree to return it to the earth.
We celebrated with a simple meal around one huge table in the evening. This was the first time I’d been part of such a gathering and I had a heartwarming sense of belonging to something greater than I’d experienced before. At epilogue, I shared a poem about my internal experience at Silver Wattle and we participated in a reflective exercise about our spiritual paths led by Barbara Rautman, an inspiring elder from Melbourne.
On Saturday, Friends gathered from Canberra, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland to share ideas and visionary planning for the future of Silver Wattle. I was privileged to be part of the early sessions before I left for home.
I attended Meeting for Worship the day after I arrived home where ministry queried what we believe, our spirituality, and community. It seemed to me that Silver Wattle is about those questions, a place of inspiration, inquiry, and rest that provides for those explorations that give us what we need to live God’s purpose in our lives. I’m left with great gratitude — to those with whom I shared the week, to Helen Bayes for her spirit-centered leadership, and to the Friends who had the vision and the courage to make the dream of a Quaker Center in Australia a reality.
By Susan Clarke
I came here to learn about living outside
in service to the earth
to get dirty and grow beyond
of my inside self.
But here I am, as always
within my comfort zone
of bench tops, ovens, refrigerators and sinks,
the clean, straight edges
of my existence.
I live inside…
and instead of going out
I go in
listening for the still, inner voice
the whispering within
the longed-for leading
to light the way.
But I cannot hear i
for the clamouring crow
‘What to do next?’
My life’s purpose
a homespun curtain
waiting to be recognized
and brought home for tea.
Behind the curtain?
A child of Silver Wattle
face bathed in light
hungry for learning
love and generosity
lightness and joy
delight and gratitude.
I am reminded
that shadows are cast by light
and honest coins have two sides