Where spirituality and justice meet: A Pilgrimage

A Wakka Wakka woman and member of the Wellspring Community

In October 2022, I had a phone conversation with Dr Diane Speed AM, inviting me to participate as a curator of on an online seminar for the Wellspring Community.  The discussion was to hear from Aboriginal Christian Leaders on the theme of “Identity and Country in a First Nations Context”.  I had connection with the Wellspring Community through my dear friends Neil Holm and Margaret Holm (dec.) who had been long time supporters of Aboriginal ministry and were members of the Wellspring Community.  I had also been a guest speaker at the Wellspring Community national gathering in 2019.  In my conversation with Diane, I heard that the Wellspring Community were embarking on a pilgrimage in 2023 across these lands now called Australia and wanted to listen to First Nations peoples with a focus on Creation Care with Rev Ruth Harvey, the leader of the Iona Community. I was intrigued and interested.  Fast forward to 29 September 2023 and a month-long pilgrimage commenced of which I co-lead with Ruth and with Lisa Wriley and Joy Connor, the co-leaders of the Wellspring Community.

The Wellspring Community was founded in 1992 and is about “where spirituality and justice meet”, an Australia-wide Christian ecumenical community inspired by the Iona Community. The Iona Community is a dispersed community of people working for peace and justice.

The pilgrimage on Gadigal Country with Uncle Dr Pastor Ray Minniecon

In a year where we seemingly returned to a pre-COVID era and in a year of an Australian Referendum, and perhaps for my whole life, I have thirsted for the places where spirituality and justice meet.  I had heard people who had been to Iona or had been interested in Celtic spirituality talk of “thin places”.  As an Aboriginal person, a Wakka Wakka woman, I know my places of cultural and spiritual significance, and have been to other Aboriginal peoples’ nation and Country to places of cultural and spiritual significance.  I’ll never forget being with Aunty Rev Dr Denise Champion on her Country, Adnyamathanha Country, in Ikara, the Flinders Ranges, watching the sun rise in the place of the Adnyamathanha story of the first sun rise.  Aboriginal places of cultural and spiritual significance are always a reminder of what Aunty Rev Dr Denise Champion says in her book Yarta Wandatha, “the land of Australia is like one gigantic storybook.”  The Creator’s story embedded in the landscape.

But places of cultural and spiritual significance in these lands now called Australia also hold the shared story of the last 250 years.  And so, on 29 September the Wellspring Community and Iona Community First Nations and Creation Care Pilgrimage began in Boorloo, Perth and especially started as we stepped off the boat on to Wadjemup, Rottnest Island, Nyungar/Noongar Country.

The Pilgrimage had us walk softly and gently on these ancient lands now called Australia across Nyungar/Noongar Country to Kaurna Country and Ngarrindjeri Country to Arrentre Country, to Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Country, Gunaikurnai Country, to Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country, to Cammeraygal Country of the Eora nation, to Gundungarra and Dharug Country, to Gadigal Country of the Eora nation, to Darkinjung and GuriNgai Country, to Turrabul and Yuggera Country and finishing on 1 November 2023 on Quandamooka Country. So that is to Perth, Rottnest Island, Adelaide, Raukkan, Mparntwe/Alice Springs, Naarm/Melbourne, Gragin/Raymond Island, Gippsland, Canberra, Chatswood, Warrang/Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Newcastle, Meanjin/Brisbane, The Gap Brisbane, and Coochiemudlo Island.  From Western Australia to South Australia to the Northern Territory, to Victoria, to the ACT, to New South Wales, to Queensland.

 Many people of all cultures joined us on the way and we were led by incredible Aboriginal Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leaders.  I take a moment to honour all of these leaders and encourage you to get to know them, Uncle Neville Collard, Della Rae Morrison, Uncle Frank Wanganeen, Uncle Allen Edwards, Uncle Nelson Varcoe, Bishop Chris McLeod, Uncle Clyde Rigney, Aunty Rosemary Rigney, Uncle Ken Sumner, Aunty Bev O’Callaghan, Dr Kathleen Wallace, Shirleen McLaughlin, Aunty Elaine, Doreen, Rob Morrisson, Rev Canon Rhyllis Andy, Rev Kathy Dalton, Cath Thomas, Shay, Uncle Tony Linton, Aunty Sally Fitzgerald, Samantha Faulkner, Uncle Dr Pastor Ray Minniecon, Aunty Ali Golding, Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, David “Dingo” King, Tim Selwyn, Aunty Dr Jean Phillips, and Uncle Alex Davidson.

 The bible verse I carried with me on the pilgrimage is Job 12:7-10, one I have written theologically on before in my chapter, “What Can the Birds of the Land Tell Us?”, in the book, Grounded in the Body, in Time and Place, in Scripture: Papers by Australian Women Scholars in the Evangelical Tradition,:

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.

 Country, as I say and teach, is all lands, waters, sky, trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, rocks, mountains, and all peoples.  The pilgrimage had us connecting and deep listening to Country.  We found places where spirituality and justice meet.

 Spirituality and justice met in places and at times like on Wajemup where the cuteness of the Quokka called with the clinking of the chains and the haunting of the Aboriginal prisoners where tourists unknowingly cycle past an Aboriginal burial ground.  Or on Kaurna Country where the eastern rosella called me to the water springs of the tears of Tjilbruke Dreaming and brought together creation and the sadness of the Pool of Tears and the grieving mother at Colebrook Stolen Generations home.  Or at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in front of the Holy Spirit, the white owl, of the Gija people.  Or sitting beside Samantha Faulkner, hearing poetry of the Torres Strait Islands filled with the terror of the effects of rising sea levels on land, language, and culture.  Or the lookouts with the grasstrees and the rocks and the mountains on Gundangarra Country in the Blue Mountains.  Or the fish of Sydney Harbour recalling the woman Barangaroo of the Eora Fisherwoman on Gadigal Country – Gadi Grasstree – gal peoples – Gadigal – the peoples of the grasstree.  Or the critically endangered, far eastern curlew, whose wetlands are at risk of being destroyed due to a property development on Quandamooka Country.

 The pilgrimage enabled the unique and important opportunity to listen, to learn, to share, and to connect with and build community.  As I say, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice and Creation and Climate justice cannot be separated.  Being led by First Nations peoples for creation and climate justice we hear strength, resilience and courage, a need for coming together and building relationship, but also of urgency.

As the Wellspring Community and Iona Community have led the way, may we all listen to and be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in these lands now called Australia, seek out the places where spirituality and justice meet, and find a way together to take action in a time of climate crisis.

 

 

The haunting beauty of Wadjemup/Rottnest Island Nyungar/Noongar Country.  

For more information visit:

Wellspring Community  Facebook: @wellspringaustralia, Instagram @wellspringcommunity_australia and website 

Iona.  Facebook: @ionacommunity, Instagram @ionacommunity and website

First published in Engage by The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture December 2023 Issue 14

Brooke Prentis is a Wakka Wakka woman, Aboriginal Christian Leader, Theologian, Wellspring Community member, Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering, and producer of #ChangeTheHeart.  She is at @brookeprentis.official on Facebook and Instagram and her website is www.brookeprentis.com

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