August 14, 2012
Who knows where a chance remark by a friend will lead?
It was 2009, summer holidays on the Mornington Peninsula outside of Melbourne. My friend was having lunch with her aunt, Sr Kathleen McSweeney rsj, who was to head to the Kimberley to live and work. I had a whole year of freedom ahead of me. I asked about being a volunteer. That resulted in two months of volunteer work with the Sisters of St Joseph as a teaching assistant in the school at Warmun, learning so much only to realise I knew very little.
Working in an Aboriginal Community and sharing with the Sisters was an eye opening experience, challenging and spiritually enriching; and a great adventure. I went home knowing it was not enough.
2011 presented me with another opportunity. Sr Alma Cabassi rsj, from the east Kimberley, said the principal in Billiluna was looking for a volunteer. This time I was a teacher volunteer living and working in a remote school from August to December. I was fortunate to have contact with the Sisters throughout my time there. Sr Alma came through on her travels as the diocesan family support worker and I spent the holidays in the convent in Kununurra seeing more of the work the Sisters do in the local and wider communities.
This year was a very different experience. I started as a volunteer kitchen hand for the Broome Diocese for two weeks at the Mirrilingki Spiritual Centre in Warmun. An extra hand was needed for the Drug and Alcohol Program run by Sr Theresa Morellini. In the two weeks at Mirrilingki I met an amazing number of people and was also able to enjoy the extraordinary landscape. Most important though, were peoples’ stories.
Following Mirrilingki I travelled to Halls Creek to continue being a volunteer at whatever was needed. The Sisters very kindly provided accommodation in their renovated convent. Working in the Op Shop pandered to my love of retail and provides much needed affordable clothing to local and surrounding remote communities. I was fortunate to accompany Sr Alma as she visited the remote communities. I love the desert landscape and saw people I had worked with the previous year.
There was always something to do, preparing resources for a program, a visitor at the door, interstate visitors to stay, the garden, little jobs around the house and garden, hospitality and preparing meals, plus the preparation of the church for weekly liturgies and the presbytery for the relieving or visiting priests.
Being a volunteer means having the opportunity to forget yourself and try to work in the same spirit as Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop ‘Never see a need, without doing something about it’. Meeting the challenges presented can be confronting but extremely rewarding.
As a volunteer in schools you can provide relief in times of need, ie working with children one to one, listening and supporting children, teachers and parents. Volunteers in hospitality provide relief to those who are in need of time out, supporting programs and people in remote communities. The Sisters are never too far away providing support and guidance. Their hospitality and care makes a difference.
I leave the Kimberley and the Sisters knowing that I will return and perhaps tempt others to take the adventure. I bring my experience to my family, friends and others who are interested and hopefully contribute to a better understanding of life in remote Australia.