Tragedy brings forth passion

Can you identify an event or a time in your childhood that impacted so hugely it defined your life from then on?

Alison Xamon links her passion for mental health and its effect on family members, especially children, to the suicide of her father when she was 11 years old. Alison’s father, Rev Alan Miller,  was the minster at Duncraig Uniting Church at the time of his death. His illness and death rocked, and continues to define, Alison’s life – emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

Today Alison is a lawyer, happily married with three children, and a member of the Star Street congregation. A former  member (2009 -2013) of the State Parliament Upper House for the  Greens, Alison’s focus is now on advocacy for mental health and suicide prevention. She is president of the WA Association for Mental Health, the peak body for mental health services in this  state, and vice-chair of Community Mental Health Australia, a national body. She is also on the board of Mental Health Australia, the peak body nationally, and sits on the Ministerial Council  for Suicide Prevention. She is excited to be a co-leader of the newly established Mental Health Network under the auspices of the Department of Health. This network brings together mental health clinicians, NGO’s, carers and mental health consumers and aims to address cultural change and drive the need for mental health reforms. Continue Reading

Changing and growing on a life-long journey

Although he’s just started in a newly created role, Craig Mitchell is no stranger to the Uniting Church, having worked in the organisation in various ways for over 30 years.

As the new national director for Formation, Education and Discipleship (FED) at the Uniting Church in Australia, National Assembly, Craig’s job is to resource synods, presbyteries and congregations in their journey as lifelong communities of discipleship. Engaging people in a lifelong journey of faith has been something the Uniting Church has struggled with over recent decades – it’s part of the reason the church is declining.

Craig is hoping to turn that around into the future, building a Uniting Church with members who are active and thoughtful in their faith, from the cradle to the grave.

And it’s no easy task.

Craig said that a culture change is needed in the way the Uniting Church approaches faith formation.

“It’s not just about Sunday school or just about raising the next generation of church members,” he said. “Let’s have a more dynamic view of people growing in faith to be on about what Gods’ on about in the world.”Continue Reading

Loving our neighbours through language learning

I first met Purwanto when he helped me translate an interview I was conducting with a minister who had just moved to Australia from Indonesia. He helped me out a lot and the interview may not have  been possible without him. I quickly learnt that he’s helped many people in his time, from all walks of life in his role as an interpreter and translator.

Dr Purwanto Danusugondo grew up in Java, Indonesia and as a child learnt Javanese, Dutch – which his parents spoke in the home – and Indonesian. English is his fourth language, but he speaks a total of seven languages in all.

Having now travelled and studied all over the world, Purwanto didn’t actually leave Java until after completing his first degree, in 1963, when he was offered a job in Melbourne working for the ABC’s Radio  Australia program, English for You. Since then, he has also studied in Hawaii – where he completed a PhD in German – Texas and Indiana.

As a translator, Purwanto has worked with large companies including mining and insurance companies, as well as helping people in a range of ways within the local community, usually translating English  to Indonesian or vice versa. Continue Reading

Education journeys in the North West


Just four weeks before this edition of ‘Revive’ went to print, Gail Cresswell packed up her things in Margaret River, in WA’s south west, and moved to Mowanjum, a remote Aboriginal  community in the north of WA on the outskirts of Derby. With a passion for education in Indigenous communities, she is starting up a Montessori program for kids under three.

Montessori is an alternative form of education that encourages independence by creating an environment for children to learn at their own pace. Gail said that the system focuses  heavily on learning by observation and involves lots of one-on-one interaction. “It’s about each child,” she said. “It’s a learning journey for each child.”

“It’s about the kids learning to be resilient and learning to be responsible to themselves.”

It is also a system that has been highly successful in Indigenous communities around Australia. Towards the end of August, Gail and her assistant, Daphne Gilbey, a member of the  Mowanjum community, will be attending the Thursday Island Montessori Summit where they’ll be exploring the benefits of the Montessori approach in Indigenous cultures. Continue Reading

Learning, leading and passing it on

The chamber is full of representatives from countries located all over the globe. They mingle about the room, negotiating amendments to Resolution 2155  of the United Nations (UN) Security Council: The question of the rules of war. A young man with a suit and pony tail announces it is time to sit back down for the debate, and a representative from China stands and puts forth her case.

I’m sitting in the Legislative Assembly at Parliament House of Western Australia where 15 teams from schools across WA, including three teams from Presbyterian Ladies’ College  (PLC) a Uniting Church in WA school, battle it out in the finals for UN Youth’s Evatt competition – a model UN debate. Sam Herriman, a 19-year-old media and communications  student from the University of Western Australia, strolls around the room making sure everything is running smoothly and occasionally collects notes from members of the Council. Continue Reading

Welcoming the stranger: Putting it to the test

A journey in faith is so rarely put out there in public for all to see. But as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes in her new book, “Pastrix: The beautiful cranky faith of a sinner and saint,” the  truth is so much better than just trying to be good all the time.

Raised in the Church of Christ in America, Nadia always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules of her church and the dismissive ways women were treated. While her journey has led  her to becoming a Lutheran Pastor, there was a time in her life when she felt so hurt by Christianity that she wanted nothing to do with it at all. Continue Reading

Cipto: The love of Christ through peaceful action


The Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Perth, a Uniting Church congregation in Mosmon Park, has much to celebrate at the moment with the commissioning, in December last year, of their new minister, Rev Ciptamartalu Sapangi.

Rev Ciptamartalu Sapangi comes to Perth from Bardung, Indonesia, with many years experience, including building interfaith relationships in Indonesia’s multi-faith society. Continue Reading

Skills and tools for the mind, soul and body

Having just returned from a trip to North America for the Woodworking in America conference only days before, Greg Miller lays a pile of wooden spoons on the table to show me. He had carved them at a workshop on using ‘green wood’, and keenly told me about his dream to begin teaching others how to do the same, now that he is back home.

Greg’s passion for woodwork is clear, but it’s his approach to the craft that is gaining interest from people the world over.Continue Reading

Tammy Solonec on how to practice courage

Tammy Solonec speaks out at the rally marking 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Tammy Solonec knows where her passions lie and isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in. But courage isn’t something she was born with; it’s something that has grown inside her as she’s made her way through life.

A human rights lawyer, Tammy is currently serving as a director of the National Congress of Australia’s First People, and is also on the National Aboriginal and Islanders’ Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) and the NAIDOC Perth Committee, which finds her heavily involved in the organisation events including the Survival Concerts in Perth, held annually on January 26. Add to that, in 2012 Tammy won both Young Lawyer of the Year with the Law Society of WA and Young Female Lawyer of the Year with the Women Lawyer’s Association.Continue Reading

Living at odds and taking up the cross

Neville WatsonRev Neville Watson tried to convince me recently that he hasn’t made a difference in this world, despite having just minutes earlier told me about his time with a peace camp in Iraq  during the war in 2003.

He doesn’t convince me for a second.

The man has spent his life comforting and standing up for others — and putting his own life at risk to do so. He may not have made a difference in the politics of the war, but you can  be sure he made a difference in the lives of the people affected by it. Continue Reading