A couple of weeks after I was married (I was 19) I went to see for coloured girls when the rainbow is enuf – a series of poems and dance unique award-winning tale of the African-American woman’s journey in America by Ntozake Shange. It was the 1978 Adelaide Festival of the Arts. A few years earlier the Aboriginal Flag had flown for the first time in the square, next door to my high school, right near the theatre this show was being performed in. I was learning and soaking up stories about being black, being an outsider, slavery and liberation. I knew more about slavery in North America, the slave trade out of England than I did about what was in my own country. As that decade rolled on into the next the apartheid movement and all the injustices took hold of me as well, and I grew in my understanding of the lack of a just settlement in Australia, mainly driven by the investigations and leadership of the Australian Catholic Bishops and the Australian Council of Churches, who I also worked for on and off throughout the 1980s and between campaigns there were children. Organising was what happened in schools, union halls, church buildings and in the columns of community news-sheets. When the bi-centennial came in 1988 I learnt more and had a few key people take me under their wing with practical, theological and ethical considerations to keep me curious, engaged, active. Foundations were laid, never fully or completely taken up, but enough there to hold the seeds in place and odd ones germinated from time to time as necessary. It was not an intellectual exercise. I adorned the walls of the kitchen with healing bush foods, made and bought clothes with the messages, flags and materials to draw attention to the issues, read stories about justice and held up liberation leaders as role models. There was a fair bit of righteousness going on. During this time I brought unwanted attention to my family from an ultra-right wing group who threw bricks through the windows of my children’s bedroom, damaged the car, wrote racist graffiti on the window of an overseas student who was boarding with us, had our phone bugged, children followed home from kindergarten, appeared in the press and on television to amplify the stories, gave evidence to a commission …. it was a heady period and there were times I felt courageous, and times I felt terrified for myself and for my family. It all came together in front of the Adelaide Catholic Cathedral one day when I was abused walking out the front with an Aboriginal leader and fellow member of the Archdiocese Justice and Peace Commission, as we headed off to give evidence of our experience of vilification to a Human Rights Commissioner. A woman well known for her conservative religious beliefs abused me as we walked past the doors of the Cathedral. The irony of the moment left my friend and I in shock. We didn’t speak about it, we just kept walking. I wasn’t 30 and so young in my activism but already felt I had a life time of experience. Adelaide is hardly a hotbed of revolution, although we have been home to a lot of firsts in human rights and democratic practices.
The winds and rain and hail these past few days falling around me have brought me inside. In reflection, I have been struck by how little I look back, I try to be a pilgrim, to keep walking towards the light and finding each footing to have its own quality and character to guide the next step to be taken. All the steps of the past are the ones that have got me here, they are all worthy of mention from time to time, to remind myself of where I have walked, who has walked with me, who I have walked with, when I have rested, who I have rested with.
The pilgrim way is one step at a time and when I look back over my shoulder, I can see that there has been a path followed and yet the one over the hill that meets the horizon, remains invisible, melting into the sky. I can confidently keep walking knowing that each step is preparing me for the next. Of late the backpack has been very heavy and even though it might grow in size and shape, it might also be lighter, such is the paradox of the pilgrim. Come night, the remains of the day, like the sand or pebbles from the road, can be shook from the shoes, rest arrives and silence stills the body and the mind as the inner journey prepares the next steps to be taken.
I have been quoting Toni Cade Bambara this week who said ‘As a culture worker who belongs to an oppressed people, my job is to make revolution irresistible.’ That is the work, to make the revolution irresistible. We need all the poets, pilgrims, designers, brand experts, lyricists, writers, musicians and artists. Having time and space to rest into the creative is a gift of these wild and windy days and nights. My response has been to make marmalade. Bitter sweet, citrus fruits, hot, steaming, bubbling and frothing, needing sterilised jars to hold the golden coloured jam, sealed in anticipation for spreading on hot toast. And that feels all just right to meet this moment and I hope deliciously irresistable.