Robert Howell, New Zealand Yearly Meeting.

A New Zealand Friend wished me well in a new exciting chapter of my life when he heard of my appointment to work with the Peace and Earthcare Committees in providing a Quaker voice in Canberra.

But last December was not exciting.

It was a rush to sort the stuff one acquires that keeps the economy going and books and clothes (the jersey my mother knitted for me as a new university student, and which I had not worn for 20 years finally went to the op shop), sing some Messiah concerts, book airline tickets and luggage transfer, plan for easing out of the Council for Socially Responsible investment, go to farewell parties, and prepare the house for leasing. (

It is strange isn’t it how we want to leave a property in perfect condition for someone else, while we are happy to live with all the little repairs and upgrades undone?

Christmas was with my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, then on to Quaker Summer Gathering to run a session on environmental ethics, and quick visits to family and friends in Taupo and Napier before catching a 6.00am flight from Auckland.

So it was with a little trepidation that I arrived in Perth, leaving Gael to follow two months later and the numerous tasks on a seemingly endless list for her to cope with.

However, my trepidation was soon gone. Brian and Vidya (Committee Convenors) soon made me feel very welcome, and then began the wonderful task of meeting Australian Friends. I was amazed, and continue to be amazed, at the depth and breadth of skills, knowledge and experience of Friends here. When I talked with Phillip Toyne was when I began to really get excited.

In New Zealand the National Government was recently re-elected with a policy of dumbing down government and public services (and citizens), promoting dirty coal extraction, furthering overseas ownership and intervention, ignoring the environment and climate change, and generally helping the rich at the expense of the poor. Prophetic voices get sore throats and pushed to the back of the crowd, and it gets a bit depressing and hard to keep going. Here I have felt enveloped and welcomed and encouraged. I know that there is much work to do in Australia for a peaceful, fair, just and sustainable country, but I have felt very much supported by Friends here.

While the job is located in Canberra, I feel it is important to involve Friends throughout all the Regional Meetings in the work. I stayed a few extra days in Perth with Adrian Glamorgan, and then on to Melbourne with Yoland Wadsworth. Both facilitated meetings with Friends. I plan to go to Hobart at the end of April. Gael will attend a Friends School Reunion and Julian Robertson, Lyndsay Farrall and others are planning activities for me. I hope to get to Sydney and Brisbane later this year.

I am interested in learning the stories of Friends: how individuals are walking their talk and modelling the change to a flourishing life within the Planet’s boundaries, how Friends are trying to live simply, peacefully, justly and respecting the Earth. Please send me your stories (1-2 pages) and let me know if you are willing for these to be on the Australia Yearly Meeting website. These stories empower the Peace and Earthcare Committees in bringing a Quaker voice to Australia.

The two Committees will be meeting together for a one day strategic planning meeting late in February. I hope that we can decide the strategic direction and priorities for the Committees and perhaps some targets and aspects of a workplan for my work for 2012 and the next 5 years. We hope to carry out both internal and external reviews. The latter will aim to identify and map the key movers and shakers (individuals and organisations) in the spheres of the environment, business, government, economy, and peace. The strategic questions are likely to include the following.

  • What have been the successes and failures of the AYM and RM Earthcare and Peace Committees during recent years?
  • What are the key global drivers that are relevant to the Committees’ work in the future?
  • What are the key areas that the Committees feel they should focus on to work towards its broad goal or purpose?
  • Who are the allies that are currently sharing that goal?
  • Are there any initiatives that are not being taken in Australia to achieve that goal, that Quakers could initiate?
  • Is there a distinctive or unique contribution that Quakers can make?

Please hold us in the Light as we begin and continue this discernment.

Thank you for your support and love as Gael and I begin this new chapter in our lives.


The Lighthouse and the Tree

A few years ago at Easter, Gael and I visited Cape Reinga. This is the most north part of the North Island of New Zealand. It is a special place. It is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, and one can often see a line of foam where both meet, with one side bluer than the other. The prevailing wind comes from the west and ma

kes the safer harbours on the eastern side. So a lighthouse is important to guide the sea traffic to the calmer ports.

You walk down the ridge to the lighthouse from the Department of Conservation offices, shop and car park. From the lighthouse one can look down to the finger of land jutting out into the sea. Halfway down on the right hand side is a pohutukawa tree, old and large with trunks spreading out. These trees grow around the shorelines because they are adapted to cope with the salt.

In Māori mythology, Hawaiki is the original home of the Māori, before they travelled across the sea to New Zealand. Polynesian oral traditions say that the spirits of Polynesian people return to Hawaiki after death. In the New Zealand context, such return-journeys take place via Spirits Bay, Cape Reinga and the Three Kings Island

on their way to Hawaiki. At Christmas time the pohutukawa trees grow a red flower, the colour of blood. So the tree is a powerful symbol in both Māori and non- Māori cultures of death and departure. To Friends, the Children of the Light, a lighthouse symbolising life and hope, is a very rich image.

In the late 1980’s, the Māori Commissioner of Names, after much consultation and with the spiritual insight of First Nations peoples, gave the Aotearoa New Zealand Religious Society of Friends a Māori name: Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri. A rough translation is

The people/group/tribe that stand swinging/buffeted/shoved around

by and in the wind of the Spirit.

My head, and the sciences of the Earth, ecosystems, and climate change, take me to the Tree. My heart takes me to the Lighthouse. And that is where I swing: between the Lighthouse and the Tree.


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