Rev Dr Alison Longworth, retired Uniting Church WA Minister, shares her experience of revisiting Badjaling, while traveling from Perth to Quairading to lead worship.
After the easing of restrictions due to COVID-19, Western Australians were being encouraged to ‘Wander out Yonder’ and I was preparing to travel into the wheatbelt. On the Sunday morning I was committed to lead worship with the Quairading Uniting Church and in the afternoon I had arranged a visit to the Ballardong Noongar community at Badjaling, a few kilometres east of the town.
My connection to Badjaling began in 1987 when I visited the former Mission site with my family. The recently erected memorial plaque acknowledged two missionaries, and the thirty-nine Noongar families who lived on the Reserve near the railway siding from 1930 to 1954. My Great Aunt Mary Belshaw was the founding missionary, hence my initial interest.
I have made return visits over the years, met with Noongar Elders, searched the archives and from time to time also led worship with members of Quairading Uniting Church.
In mid-October, my husband Robin and I set out from our home in Perth and followed the road map over the Darling Scarp and through the countryside, passing the historic town of York, the hamlet of Dangin and on to Quairading, where wildflowers bloomed in the church garden. It was a small faithful group who met for worship that day. There was a warm welcome as always; fresh flowers were placed on the table.
As I was preparing for this road trip, I had been hearing the expression that Australia was on a ‘Roadmap to Nowhere’. That morning the ABC News announced that the Victorian Premier was expected to announce his Roadmap to Recovery from restrictions imposed due to a second wave of COVID-19 in that state.
In the lectionary reading that day, from Exodus 33, the people of God were lost in the desert and without a road map. Moses pleaded with God, “Give me a road map through this desert, show me your way.”
And while Moses would not see the full glory of God, he learned God’s presence would be with him on the journey and that would be enough. Focused on the metaphor of journeying, I had brought a small ceramic labyrinth to show the congregation. I explained a labyrinth is not a maze, where we are liable to become lost. A labyrinth has only one path and it leads to the centre. From there the path leads back out into the world.
With enough printed versions of a labyrinth for everyone, in a time of silent meditation we each followed the path through to the centre, reflecting on our journey with God and back to the country around us and the people and situations we care about.
As I quickly discovered, I was not introducing anything new. The Uniting and Anglican congregations from time to time share worship together and people were already experienced at walking the labyrinth at the front of St Faiths Anglican Church. I resolved to visit the garden labyrinth before leaving town, but I already had a commitment for the afternoon and that was to catch-up with Ballardong Elder, Murray Yarran at Badjaling.
The road to Badjaling is ten kilometres along the Quairading to Bruce Rock Road. As we travelled, we saw wheat fields ripening for harvest. Extensive clearing throughout the twentieth century has resulted in salt affected land. Years of grazing and cropping meant less wildflowers, apart from remnant patches of bush. Attempts have been made to restore the land by tree planting along fence lines while a commercial crop of sandalwood trees was a new venture since my last visit a few years ago.
Once safely there, Murray, Robin and I yarned about the hardships and the happy times in the story of his people at Badjaling. We listened as Murray shared his vision for spiritual and community building. Our visit concluded with the short walk to the memorial plaque. The day ended with our return to the Quairading Anglican Church where I walked the labyrinth. It took a while as there were many twists and turns. It was a metaphor of our spiritual journey and the way the centre leads us back into the world.
As I emerged from the labyrinth, I carried with me the memory of the people and places encountered on this road trip and gave thanks for them and the presence of God on the journey.