Friday, 30 May 2014

Come-by-Chance?? - The Forgotten Drought?

 As we drove out along a new bit of road, heading to the Pilliga and Beyond, that was also the head line for the Country Hour on ABC radio. It was talking about the very places we were heading too, I say ‘we’ because Lyn was with me on this sortie, looking for a place to run an event but most of all to see where God was leading.

I wondered what the fuss was about.
I drive through the Walget shire on the way to many of our places. This year I’m looking at making some connections. ( No- the new coffee shop in Walget is not the reason - but it is a good one. ) As we passed by the water holes and green stock root I wondered what the fuss was… BUT “Hey, rain and green grass does not mean it is over- the drought that is!”

We came through the Pilliga township with its healing spa, vans and buses. RV’s of every kind filled the paddock. The village itself has a hotel, a cafĂ© and community centre, a house and a Police station on a nice sealed road.
Where too next?
Out to the Junction? Or a place I had trouble saying, let alone adding it to this blog ? *
So I took a chance and drove straight up the unsealed road.
The tar was gone. It was red dirt and gravel but as we got further it was black soil with old gullies in it. The country changed too - dry, a lot less feed, flat and open for miles. As we rounded the bend we thought of cold drinks.
We missed the first turn in, took the second, passed a construction site (I’ll get back to that.) We were in the main street of “Come By Chance"

A single pump stood frozen it time. In faded paint the sign said “ICE. “
We both went in,
There was a welcome from behind the fixtures. We had a good yarn and ice cold beer (ginger)
 “How’s things?”
 “We need rain “
“Yes, I see that.”
 I asked about what happened here for fun.
The big screen TV. People come down to watch the footy and big events. It was new. Ann had only been running the store / pub for 8 months but what went on was- and this is where the construction comes in - the young fellas collected batteries from around the district, cashed them in to put down a slab, or should I say a pitch, in the middle of a manicured oval. (See the picture. Close one eye- now you see.)

Now you see it - now you don't
I love the fact that these small villages or locations, only 5 houses in town but a good few on the properties, come together and make things happen. I have been thinking of doing a drought event in conjunction with a few good folk. (More about that when we make it happen.)
              People ask-“How do you work out where you do these events, programs etc.? 
It is not by chance. God leads us. We may do some research or get a call for help, but for me, how it ends is from God. 
There was no sign telling us.
I had heard the name at a drought event in Walget a few weeks before but was led to stop and go into the pub. Connection made.  Stories shared. It all felt right. The need is there in this small location on a dirt road.

Not by chance.
Friends, remember these folk in your prayers. I worry when we all see rain and green grass and we are lulled into thinking it is all OK.  But some will not get income till next year and got very little, if any, this year.  They are resilient. They go and collect batteries and build a cricket pitch. They make fun for their kids and get together to watch the footy on a big screen TV!
                    For as much as you do this for the least, you do it for me. Matthew 25:40

The last blog I wrote was about the Murray Darling Basin Bus Tour 1 September to the 7thTo get more information or leave an expression of interest or Register enter this link to your search line   and follow the prompts.  

* Gwabegar (Pronounced  Wa-bee-garr)

Friday, 23 May 2014

"I can't believe we haven't been forgotten"

Pamper packs with Sharon and the Principal standing at the back
"Oh goodness - just look at all these. I can't believe people haven't forgotten about us" was the comment from one of the women at Yenda Primary School when she saw the pamper packs organised by Rev Sharon Cutts, the Uniting Church Pastoral Visitor. The packs had come from Sharon's church in Wentworthville and were all themed - "A night Out"; "Cooking up a storm"; "After sport" were some - for both men and women. It was obvious how much care and thought had gone into them, and they were being distributed at the local school's Mothers Day assembly.

So what does this have to do with Rural Chaplaincy? Well one of my roles is to help rural communities recover after disaster and I've been keeping my eye on Yenda, near Griffith, that was flooded two years ago. Using some of the funds from the Moderator's Disaster Appeal we have now had two lots of Pastoral Visitors, given out quite a few IGA vouchers and helped organise community events. Recovery from a very wide spread event such as this flood takes a long time, and there are still people not back in their homes, but Sharon found that on the whole people are getting to the point where they feel like "things are normal again". But the overwhelming emotion on receiving that packs was that they hadn't been forgotten and that people did understand how hard and long the road to recovery had been. It was a great example of a congregation showing care for those who had been through a tough time.

In her four weeks in Yenda Sharon talked with 95 people and spent many hours just listening to the story of their journey. It is important that response to disaster does not all happen at the time of crisis but is on-going for a number of years, as recovery takes that long. The Uniting Church is quite unique in making some of its

And packs for the kids
disaster funds available for things like Pastoral Visiting in impacted communities and our current Moderator, Brian Brown, has been very passionate about making sure the funds get out on the ground.

So thanks Sharon for the great job you did and I look forward to seeing Yenda growing and strengthening.

Julie Greig

Friday, 16 May 2014

Computer Skills Classes

While Julie and Phill were busy at Weilmoringle and Phill organising tours on the Murray, Sue was in Hillston overseeing the computer classes made possible in Hillston by a Unitingcare Innovations Grant applied for by the Uniting Church Rural Chaplains. It was the first grant Sue has written by herself, albeit with the valuable help of Neil Barber, a Community Development officer from Wagga Wagga.  The grant covers 3 areas of community development - Computer classes, English as a Second Language classes and Craft workshops at Merriwagga.

All 3 projects are on the go but the first one to start was the computer classes.

On April 28th Ipad and Computer classes started in Hillston with about 8 -10 students in each class and will continue for another 7 weeks. A smaller class of 2, for students with a disability, starts each day and goes for 1/2 an hour.The classes are a joint project between the Hillston Uniting Church, Unitingcare and Western Riverina Community College (WRCC) from Griffith. You can see what a co-operative effort these activities are with so many people and groups involved to make it all happen.

Sue Reynolds, a computer teacher from WRCC, has made a return visit to Hillston, following up on classes held last year but also introducing some new students to the world of technology. Many participants already had an ipad or laptop but wanted more training than they could get from their 7-8 year old grandchildren who had been teaching them so far!

Such activities become a real community event in many ways.

 New skills are learned which broaden people's ability to communicate with friends and relatives who live out of town or even overseas. Students who may have limited mobility learn skills and access new activities on the computer which can enrich their lives. 

A wide range of people from the town are involved - from the students from different walks of life and ages, to the businesses which also benefit from the grant due to the need for catering or a venue- a welcome financial benefit in a small town.

A beautiful spread of slice, sandwiches and fruit was provided for morning and afternoon tea by local business, Hillston Local Produce and the lovely W.G Parker library staff  helped Sue and students to set things up and sort things out on the day. 

English as a Second Language classes will start in town soon with several locals, from various churches, volunteering to tutor or be part of a conversation group. This will assist locals born overseas, who are learning English, to improve their speaking and writing ability so they can participate more fully in local life and employment. A group of young Korean backpackers are also keen to attend while they are working in town so they can improve the English they learned in Korea.

Friday, 9 May 2014

See Where the Rivers Run - The Murray Darling Basin Consultation Bus Tour - September 2014.

“All The Rivers Run” was the name of a TV miniseries about life on the river in the early days of the colonies with paddle boats pulling loads from the outback to the ports down south.

 Last year I joined a group of Uniting Church people who have been looking at the plight of this mighty river system, those who depend on it for a living and those play on it. We are also looking at the life of the river, its birds, fish and the wetlands along her banks.

In March when I took some leave and Lyn and I headed off in the caravan, I was asked to check out some of the towns and waterways around Echuca, as this is going to be a part of the area where we’ll be taking a bus tour to high light and inform interested people about this wonderful area.

I met Paul Creek from the Riverina Presbytery and the UCMDB group , and he gave me my brief. First stop, Nathalia and the Barmah Forest and Heritage, Education and Information Centre. This was a great spot to kick off from. Jenny was very helpful and excited to hear that we had plans to bring tours from the church down to see and learn. Loaded up with maps, flyers and everything Sun Country, we looked around the centre, which has, amongst other things, a great video on the history of the Barmah Forest and Lake. 

We took a cruise on the Murray River through the “Barmah Choke” with great commentary. We learned the history and experienced the swathe of beauty of this important eco- system. The Choke was formed by a massive shift in the plates 25,000 of year ago. As we drove from our base in Moama we went through a cutting, which is the exposed part of that event.

 The Yorta Yorta people have lived along the banks of the Murray in this area for thousands of years. There is a cultural centre which we will be visiting but also many sites scattered in the bush around the lake.  We also saw the old cattle yards where the early European settlers mustered their mobs in days gone by. Three periods of time –geological, early and then more recent, history.

In the photo below you see some gates which are used to flood the wetlands of Moira Lake on the NSW side. The Barmah Lake self-fills and empties but Moira is regulated. It is flooded   then allowed to dry up thus giving the mighty red gums the flood and drought that they need to grow. You may also see from the photos that the river bank is higher than the forest floora strange view from the boat looking down at the base of the trees. The surrounding land is made up of National Park and Forestry.

 We also toured around Echuca, visiting the historic wharf area, which now has an interactive centre. As we roamed around we saw many weirs, wetlands and channels, massive farming projects and people out on their boats. The value, beauty and eco importance of the Murray Darling system reaches up and down the whole system; what happens in the north effects the southern reaches.

Have you wondered what it’s all about? Want to see and hear from those who work and live along the banks of this important river system? Interested to hear some guest speakers, who will make you well informed about some of the finer points?

              Then maybe you would like to join "The Bus Tour, September 2014.” Coming soon! 

                                                                                                                                - Phill Matthews.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Phill at the Weil Super camp

Two weeks ago Julie and I and some talented friends of Julie’s, spent a few days in the bush.

Lou, Sue, Janine and Julie -Is that a halo above Lou's head?
As you know from the blog last week, it was the 4 Schools camp hosted by Weilmoringle School.

What a great time from the start!

(Well, a bit after the start. I was busy on Monday so had to leave at 4.30 am Tuesday even to get there just after it started! ).

Did someone say "Emus?"

It was pitch black as the van and I rolled down the drive.

 As we went along a light start to rise behind me.
 It was sunrise but  I was on a dead line.
                           So -no photos!
                           Not even emus…..

Later I stopped for fuel and some coffee and just after that, Julie checked in. “As I drove along would I think of some games for K/1’s for Julie to do?”

Next thing -drama at the Weil turn off -the patch work on the ute window started to open. After 3 goes I entered the school zone, parked the van, got my bag of tricks and then –

First class – “Tag your it!”

It was full on till the afternoon!!

Overlooking the school COLA in the shade of the tree.

At Lunch - the flies were like-IN YOUR FACE- my hands were like wiper blades in a monsoon. One scoopin’, the other shooing.. ……..Glad I eat fast! I felt for the little kids who had to keep getting their plates back when they hit them off the table. BUT ….. Julie had a plan. Many scoffed, some even shook their heads (Lou) but we made a fly screen from an old tarp and some rope.
 Life was much better!..... “Did we gloat?”.........”Noo?”
 “Yes siree !” We did.

It was great to watch children and staff reform or start, new friendships. The classes where mixed so Weilmoringle and Enngonia made the bulk of the numbers in each group. Wanaaring and Louth had only a couple of students but it was for them, a very helpful time getting to mix with more kids.

Tennis, Drumming and Singing - plus on 2 days- Painting a Mural on the walls outside the girls and boys toilet all hands in…… (or on.)

As Julie said in the last blog, we provided the Easter story with a time to try some of the Last Supper elements and to nail a letter or a picture to God on the cross, thanking him or saying sorry.

Later, I also ran some games- team building fun- “Watch out for the croc!  And he is coming !! “

For me one of the high points was the conversations with the staff and children, talking about experiences growing up in isolated areas with few opportunities to mix with those your own age.
People really appreciate the opportunities of these camps to try new things and meet new people.

The other high point was hearing Dream Time stories from Aunty Josie, learning about scar trees and what they mean then eating emu* cooked in the ground , talking to Jack about the best bits( which Josie and the others made short work of)….and Johnny cakes -yum O!

Footy practice

Long days but so worthwhile- we gave and they gave; partnerships, learning from one another, no two sets of rules, a level playing field -just all mates.

I see this as a sharing of God’s love, not just in the Easter story but in the giving of those who came to help and those who hosted the event. The children gave us their respect and friendship and some very cute moments. - “I don’t want to drink blood” and “Jelly man” smile, Jake's willingness to just take on the world at three, even the Footy training with "Gilly."

Julie helps prepare the johnny cakes.
                  Thanks to all who dug deep past their needs to share for the Common Good.  

            Remember the bus? Well, here it is, doing it's job transporting children from place to place.

  *More on emus

Emu on the menu


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