Sabine Erica, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
‘What are Quakers? What do they believe? There are many answers to these questions but I always think of the advice to ‘let your life speak.’ Friends do not proselytise so it is only in doing and being that we are Quakers.
I was fortunate in having parents who ‘let their lives speak’ and never gave us other than the broadest of guidelines, but always plenty of examples. I think perhaps the example of my father, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany was most important. He never expressed any bitterness, condemnation or harsh judgement despite his parents and other family members being taken to concentration camps. He never saw them again. He was a true pacifist. Every morning he read his Bible but never advised or required us to do likewise.
My mother was a friend to many and had that special gift of being a great listener. She was also the celebration queen. From her we learned the value and the fun and the importance of celebrations. From her we also learned never to bear grudges or hold regrets. She never saw her beloved mother or brother again.
She read widely, fiction, philosophy and poetry. She would rather travel than do housework. Both parents supported us, encouraged us, and believed in us, even in our wildest adventures. When I told my mother I was a lesbian she said simply ‘It will give you greater understanding of people.’
With such a background I guess I could have rebelled and become a hard-line right winger but that did not happen. I launched into a career as newspaper librarian, governess on a sheep station, teacher of children in need of special care, part time amateur actor, university lecturer and eventually wife and mother of two sons, grandmother of eight.
While working as a governess with much time to reflect as I wandered about the paddocks I decided to apply for membership of Quakers. I had grown up with Friends but had stopped contact when I was in my teens. I decided at this time that I would like to become a nun and I attended the Catholic Church for a year.
Two things prompted me to become involved in actions, activities and what I call my peace commitment. The first was the Vietnam War; the second was the feminist movement. Both of these events opened my eyes to injustice, inequality and my responsibility as a child of survivors.
I became deeply involved both in the anti-war movement and the feminist movement.
In the former I worked with church groups out of which grew the Australian Council of Churches Women’s Commission. With the Commission we launched ‘The Church and Domestic Violence’ project. At the University I taught Women’s Studies and Politics which allowed me to express my pacifism and my feminism. For a year I worked on the National Domestic Violence Education program which I saw as more peace work. I wrote on ‘mateship, misogyny and militarism’ and it was as if all my interests and work had merged.
After leaving the University I joined my partner, Myra, in running a house for adults with intellectual disabilities and for 10 years we also ran a theatre with these people.
During that time I discovered the Alternatives to Violence Project. This was a new direction for my peace commitment. I trained and became the NSW Prison Workshop coordinator and facilitator. This work continues. I have become involved with the Anti-Slavery Project but only as a fund-raiser and educator. It is hard for people to accept that slavery is alive and well in Australia. As Friends I believe we need to be aware of this.
My great fun at the moment is to be President of the Blackheath Rhododendron Festival now in its sixtieth year. It runs for over a month and encompasses a parade and market day, music, theatre, art, sport and the national roof-bolting championships as well as a choir festival and children’s entertainments. It has been an exciting education in community involvement and building. Dozens and dozens of people become active in the Festival. And it is a wonderful celebration. My mother would approve.
Where does all this leave a Quaker? Is it a matter of too much activism and not enough reflection? Often that is the case and I am much engaged in Parker Palmer and his work on the divided self. I also love his stories of saying yes to life, the ‘star-thrower’ being one of my favourites. Maybe when I am old I might reflect more and act less!