We’ve been speaking with members of the Frontier Services family about what this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme ‘In This Together’ means for them. Today, on the second day of 2020’s National Reconciliation Week, we catch up with Pastor Julia Lennon, our first ever Aboriginal Bush Chaplain.
Julia grew up in and around the Oodnadatta community – a small, remote outback town and locality in South Australia, about 873 kilometres north of Adelaide.
She is our first ever female Aboriginal Bush Chaplain and has been working hard to build connections with different communities in her remote area since she joined our team of Bush Chaplains in September 2019, with a goal to foster relationships between First and Second Peoples and create a space for healing.
‘Oodnadatta’ is believed to be an adaptation of the local Arrernte word ‘utnadata’ which means ‘blossom of the mulga’. The country surrounding this inland town has been inhabited by Aboriginal people for more than 30,000 years. It is also where Flynn’s first nursing home was established, and the land from which some of our early Bush Chaplains set off to bring practical, pastoral and spiritual care to people in remote Australia.
For Julia, being a Bush Chaplain is about learning to walk alongside people in different communities, “reaching out and letting people know that we are here to care,” she says.
“I started by visiting and touching base with a lot of communities – Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” Julia continues. “They’ve been very welcoming. And some have started calling on me for care and support.”
Reconnecting missing loved ones
Julia shares a story from when she first started as Bush Chaplain. There was a family visiting town – an aunty and an uncle – who were looking for a young man who had gone missing from their community.
In small remote towns, strangers aren’t difficult to spot, so with the help of her new connections, Julia was able to identify the missing person and reunite him with his parents.
She later learned that the young man was suffering from mental health issues and had strayed far from home.
“It’s about openness and connecting with one another.”
When reflecting on National Reconciliation Week, Julia believes that for her, ‘In This Together’ means, “openness and connecting with one another. It’s about walking alongside each other and sharing stories to create an understanding. To understand someone else’s pain.”
Reflecting on those words, Julia goes on to talk about her dream to build a structure of some sort and a garden where the open-air church in Oodnadatta sits. As it ‘stands’, the church currently has no walls. The worship community meets in the open air, on land where a slab of concrete is all that remains of the Oodnadatta Children’s Home.
“My hope is to give people who were taken from their families a space for healing. I want to let them know that they’re not alone, and they don’t have to struggle anymore. We are here to care for them, today, tomorrow, always.”
“If I can do it, they can do it!”
As Frontier Service’s first female Aboriginal Bush Chaplain, and one of only two female Bush Chaplains in our team, Julia hopes that in her role, she can help First and Second Peoples to come together as one. “We need to reach out to one another – to have that support. I really want to build that bond and grow that relationship,” she says.
“Frontier Services is all about sharing and caring and reaching out to those that are really in need. And I hope that when people see me as a Bush Chaplain, they can see that Ministry is for everyone, and that if I can do it, they can do it.”