As we all look forward to 2022 and the opportunities of reconnecting with loved ones, I want to share with you the story of people who have faced extreme hardship, injustice and isolation for many centuries. The people I’m talking about are those that Julia Lennon, one of our much-loved Bush Chaplains, helps in our Oodnadatta Remote Area in the north western section of South Australia.
The vast distances Julia covers include the APY Lands (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) that are home to over 2,300 First Nation People, the Traditional Owners of this land. This region faces some of the highest levels of intergenerational disadvantage in Australia including extremely high rates of unemployment, domestic violence, and complex trauma resulting from The Stolen Generation, in addition to family breakdown, poverty and chronic health problems.
In the lead-up to Christmas, of immediate concern is that when Australia’s borders all re-open, COVID-19 may sweep
through this region, as it recently did in Wilcannia. Vaccine hesitancy in this community is widespread and unfortunately could lead to high incidences of both sickness and death if this problem isn’t satisfactorily addressed.
But in spite of their hardships, this remarkable community has been growing in hope and strength.
If reading about them moves you, please consider a gift this Christmas to keep helping our most vulnerable and isolated Australians, who need to know you care.
The stories coming out of this region are challenging to hear. Families are hurting badly and it simply shouldn’t be this way.
But we are so grateful to have an incredible Bush Chaplain here helping to support this community. Julia, as part of the Frontier Services team, has been able to help many of them thanks to your generosity.
When I think of how selflessly Julia gives of herself, I picture the day I saw her inducted as our first female Indigenous Bush Chaplain. It was in an ‘open air’ church in Oodnadatta with no walls. High above, a huge desert
sky stretched forever and you could feel the calm and sanctity of the place. When I first met Julia, I was struck by her warmth and quiet strength. Raised around Oodnadatta – home to our First Nations People for more than 30,000 years – she serves her community with love and a deep understanding. Julia has a dream, to give her people taken
from their families a place where they can heal. As a mother of six including twins, she has a
huge heart for children and youth.
Oodnadatta is known as the hottest place in Australia, topping records at 50.7 degrees Celsius, but it also gets cold, really cold and recently Julia helped initiate an appeal to provide struggling families with some warm clothes and blankets. Many children had a warm bed to sleep in this winter and something to wear to keep out the cold because of Julia’s hard work and the dedicated support she inspired.
Given the size of this tiny town, opportunities are few and far between. The Indigenous School is the biggest employer and the mail only comes twice a week. It’s hard for vulnerable young people in this town not to lose their way and possibly even turn to drugs or alcohol. But incredibly Julia has been encouraging them to become leaders who envision a better future.
We would appreciate it if you can continue supporting our work so that Bush Chaplains like Julia can continue to improve the quality of life of people in these communities and to inspire the next generation of leaders.
If you can help, I’d be so grateful for a Christmas gift of your choice to continue bringing practical, pastoral and spiritual care to people in remote communities like Oodnadatta. You can do so below at the bottom of this letter.
Julia’s colleague from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Ian Dempster, can’t speak highly enough about her ministry to Oodnadatta’s youth. He’s most impressed by her ability to bridge divides and connect with people from all backgrounds. “Julia’s been encouraging the young people to get involved, to participate,” Ian says. “She’s always loved singing and leading worship. Julia plays keyboards and her daughter is a singer.
They play beautiful songs together and involve the kids in what’s happening.” “The other thing she’s always done is ‘inma’ (dancing to pass on stories). Traditionally it would be for a ceremony but these days they have it for connection too.”
We’re blessed to have Julia to encourage understanding, healing and build bridges between First and Second Peoples in Oodnadatta. And as this year draws to a close, Julia’s strength and wisdom will be more essential than ever.
Rev. Mark Kickett, another colleague of Julia’s from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, is inspired by Julia and her connection within her community.
He also explained to us how she can help as the borders open up again. Mark said “There are some very dangerous and negative thoughts going around about COVID-19 and the vaccine in this area but Julia is able to communicate and inform people in a caring and compassionate way”.
“She’s encouraging folks that if you love your family, if you love your community, then this is something that needs to be talked about. And she does it very sensitively.” “English is probably the second or third language for many people but Julia has this multilingual capacity to speak to people throughout the area she serves. She’s able to bring
real peace in the way she communicates; she understands the hearts of the people.”
Our friends in the bush, especially those who are extremely isolated, already struggle to access healthcare and COVID-19 vaccinations are no different. This problem is magnified in indigenous communities where language and culture are additional barriers to people in understanding the health implications.
You can help make sure our Bush Chaplains like Julia are there to listen to
people’s concerns and to help resolve the challenges they are facing. This could save lives so it
could not be more important.
Christmas is also a special time and Julia will walk with her community through its challenges whilst she encourages them to join her in celebrating the spiritual meaning of the season. Julia needs our support and unfortunately she is not the only one. After months of lockdown, it’s easier than ever to sympathise with the enormous hardships
and isolation being felt right now by people in remote areas – whether they live on the APY Lands or they’re toughing it out on a farm with their closest neighbour 100km away. We’ve all been struggling missing our family, friends and routines, but in the last 18 months, our Bush Chaplains have provided support to people who have endured droughts,
bushfires, floods and a shocking mouse plague along with the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact on mental health alone is huge as a result of these back-to-back disasters.
This is where our amazing Bush Chaplains step in to help by providing practical, pastoral and spiritual care to people in need.
We currently fund the work of 17 Bush Chaplains across Australia and we are hoping to
increase that number to 22 in the coming year. Please help us reach our goal by making a donation, if you are able to.
Thank you for standing with people doing it tough in the bush!
We are so grateful for your vital support throughout the year and all of us at Frontier Services send our best wishes to you and your loved ones for the festive season. We hope the new year will bring peace, happiness, and joy to everyone.
You can make a difference by donating below: