Friday, 31 October 2014

Yes it did get done by Synod .....

.... and the Launch was great!

Click here to see full Tootlkit

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog you may remember a post earlier in the year about a joint project with UnitingCare Mental Health Project Team to produce a toolkit for congregations with a bit of information about mental illnesses and how congregations and individuals can help. Click here to see this story
After the first draft the Toolkit was focus tested on a number of congregations and their comments, alongside comments from selected others, were put together and whole project then handed to the design team. The result is visually stunning with many of Phill's photos, and full of great ideas and information.

The deadline was the Synod meeting so it could be launched with the 400 representatives from across NSW and ACT. And we made it.

Tina McManus, Operations Manager, and Lisa Kinsey-Smith, Project Manager, and myself had the privilege of being able to present the project during the Rural Ministry Unit session. We were able to talk about the how the project came about and what was in the kit. Afterwards copies of the Toolkit were handed out to all participants.

Tina, Julie and Lisa

And even nicer were the wonderful comments we received on the Toolkit after the launch. A few people shared their own experiences and how much they could have used it when they were having difficulties. Others talked about the need in their communities.

Mental illness is very prevalent and the effects can be devastating on individuals and families. Hopefully this toolkit  will encourage people to think about how they can help those around them. As Christians we are called to follow Christ's example and be alongside those who are hurting.

So where to from here?  Now we start Phase 2 that will look at backing up the Toolkit with other resources, short courses for congregations and more. Stay tuned to the blog or the facebook page for updates.

If you would like to download a copy of the toolkit then click here.


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Friday, 24 October 2014


For Synod this year a special edition of Ruminations, the journal of the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of NSW/ACT Rural Ministry Unit,was produced. It is attached to this blog ..but first, a page from the edition written by Lay preacher, Larraine Hoffman at this years Riverina Retreat.

Riverina Rural Lament

Listen to my words, O God and hear my sighs
I am worn out, O Lord, have pity on me,
Give me strength; I am completely exhausted.

How long will you wait to help us?
Our numbers continue to dwindle and our congregation is getting older,

Our loved ones have moved away, and our young ones are indifferent.


 Where do we go from here Lord?
       I am gripped by fear and trembling
       What is in our future?

How can we find a clear path to follow?
Who is there to lead?

Blessings from an unexpected quarter.

Click on the link below to read the whole edition.

Give praise to the Lord
For He hears our cry for help.

The Lord protects his people.

The Lord will save his people and bless them.

               Larraine Hoffmann

Friday, 17 October 2014

Conversation Group Workshop

Standing - Lake,Yoko, Alanna,Carole and in front- Ania and Roma.

Our workshop was held at "The Shamrock" which serves Korean and Australian food and is staffed by Korean and Japanese backpackers.

You may well ask why the Irish name and the Asian staff and cuisine?

 I think it reflects the changes in Hillston over the years and, indeed the changes in all of Australian society as we accept our place as neighbours of Asia. Eventually the restaurant will become "The Seoul Kitchen." It is already on the menus.

Jenny, Alanna,Carole, Ania, Roma and Sue enjoy sharing ideas and lunch together.

Why were we there and why at "The Shamrock "?

We were there through the generosity of Uniting care Aging in providing a grant to training, resources and catering and also the generosity of Hillston locals prepared the give their time freely each week to help non-native speakers learn and improve their English.

Closely perusing the resources.
The day was very successful as Alanna Townsend, our language teacher from TAFE in Griffith, presented us with handouts,advice and research about good resources to be found online to use with our students.

 It was also a chance to say thank you by providing lunch for the volunteers to show how much we appreciate what they do.

There is more training and support to come as tutors and the conversation group, as local native speakers, continue to work with backpackers and also with locals on AMEP programs, which provide 500 hours of free tuition to those on visas enabling them to live in Australia, with a view to taking citizenship.

This English program has been a major focus of Sue's work for this part of the year and it is hoped by sharing it, others will be encouraged to take up this work elsewhere.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Murray Darling Basin Tour 4 - "A sense that we have come and listened and seen.."

Up early, coffee, porridge, get bus ready as most of us were heading out to Mungo National Park.
Our guide, Graham Clark, jumps on the bus. Stewart, his friend, follows the tar and then turns onto a smooth open highway that someone covered in much sand dirt rocks and grooves. Just like the roads at home - only in a bus! Hmm…..

Look to the sand.
 As we drive out we get a commentary on the dirt. I slowed down to hear and so Graham could point out things of importance – like dry lakes and ants nests. As we entered open country we stopped for a break. Morning tea was worth waiting for.

Stewart and Graham packed up. They were very organised, telling stories of work as they worked –about his mate’s full time job as photographer for magazines.  There were lots of questions about how and what. I rescued him so he could do his own thing, plus more... and so people would stay together. What was said was met in mixed ways but for me this was a great time to walk on the grounds early man had lived on, tended and died on.

Fossilised trees
Trees frozen in time, shells and bits of carbon. The clouds gave me great photos and on top of the hill we had 360 degree view. 
 To then hear the pictures of Graham’s culture drawn in the sand was very interesting. We had lunch back at the information centre - again made up of kangaroo plus bush tucker and ham. 
All good.

But I will let the photos talk ....

Keeping the story line.
Mungo National Park
Then …..home to the boats. A quick clean up, then our last Forum. Again great church food and hospitality! By now our group had split and mixed with the locals. The local ministry team spoke and so did Myung Hwa of what had moved  and touched her on trip. This was a good night as we again heard voices of different people with different views. Back to the boat for a big day tomorrow.

Coming back - on the river it style.
Morning - Up at 6 am, ready to be off the boat by 7am. 
Everyone else gets to travel across to the Dockside Marina.  I grab a healthy breakfast - soy coffee and bacon &egg roll and hash brown (no, really –eggs are healthy!) then drive round to the dock, load on trailer, placed the bus in a spot where I could not get parked in, then off. 

We pulled up at Lake Bora for a roadside service. Myra preached. I did communion. Pity the service I loaded and prepared was on a dead tablet so I had to follow God’s will in front of the Moderator Elect! ( I may be sent back to Bron for retraining!)

 We then all said our good byes as Geoff, our friend from Vic, had chosen to catch a train from Kerang. At our lunch spot on Father’s Day lots of messages were coming in to those on tour. I thank the group for the kindness shown and coffee given.

Mungo Shearing Shed
The long ride back was not as easy as the going but yet a sense that we have come and listened, seen innovation, new technologies, communities and Individuals, efforts to bring about change along with cultural customs aimed at bringing new visions. The ancient tribal boundary trees are on the other side of rivers, as no one tribe ever owned the water in the river. 

Yet we fight over ownership of the river’s water.

Phill Matthews

PS Let's look at that amazing sand picture again!


(I just love this photo!
Hands up-
Who else likes it too?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Murray Darling Basin Tour 3 - "It is in the sitting around together..."

Torrumbarry Weir

It was time to hook up the trailer, load the suit cases and head out to see more of this River. We drove out through channels, down the road, through Gunbar and out to Torrumbarry Weir. The weir is an interesting man- made change agent in the river with massive doors holding back the rubbish and debris that flows along, then there is the loch that allows us to climb or drop down, to the river.

Fish ladder at the weir.

Off limits was an old wooden weir across a bridge (maybe next time.) The fish ladder is a wonder that allows the fish to climb over all man’s steel to pursue pathways they always have done.

The Wetlands for a spot of bird watching

As three people were leaving the tour at this point, we took time for a group photo; not by me, as my monopod needs me to hold it. (Thanks Miriam.) We then picked up lunch and went out to The Wetlands for bird watching, mostly Ibis. Salt based plants glistened and tasted salty – interesting (!)

Citrus farm 

Then full steam ahead, stopping for ice cream and fuel at Boundary Bend and then on to Robinvale. Brad showed us around his friend’s citrus farm. Free fruit for all! So much fruit has to be thrown out just because of marks! (When this situation was discovered by the originators of the Waste Not Want Not program, which originated in the Riverina ,a way was found for such produce to be sent to Foodbank for those in need. But that’s another story.)

The fruit, although not accepted by the supermarkets, tasted good, even to this carnivore! I had a good feed. 
At dinner, hearing their stories, this town, with many cultures, was much like housing areas of Southwest Sydney but in the midst was a church filled with hope, working together. Myung Hwa Park and a couple of others went to watch local youth do a rap version of Shakespeare. They loved it! When Ivan thanked them in Tongan and prayed, I was so proud of this group opening to those around us and not just expecting it to always be the other way around.

Our home away from home on the river.

Finally, we arrived at the marina and loaded on to our new homes. 

Up at 7 to find that plans had changed! 
We had the morning off. Some lazed on board, others of us drank coffee from the dockside cafĂ© until it was time to head out to another farm and down to Wentworth or “The Junction.” This is where the Darling River from up round Bourke flows into the Murray.  

Now my co- driver in shotgun seat, Charles, insisted, “No walker thank you.” Next thing he is up top on the viewing tower! A lesson learned - Never tell people what they can’t do. Allow them to work it out.

 A trip past the local gaol, our wonderful local guide answering all questions he could, headed us back to the marina to pick up his car and get ready for dinner on the boats. Without even trying, those on the boat were now in Gol Gol and moored behind the pub- lots of chatter and excitement. Sadly, those driving, missed the boat trip over and the crew missed the time we spent hearing from Bert how, years ahead of his time, he had set his irrigation system and planted gums as a drain. His water filter system was now very good. My attention then turned to parking issues as I found my instructions from my navigator meant I was stuck in the bus as the trees were too close for me to get out. (Had to talk to my co- driver!)  

Next day was the turn round spot for me. The day I was heading away from the river to desert country.  Most of us went and some, who had not been on one before, chose to go down to get a ride on paddle boat while they could.

Good to see the river run again after the drought.

In my blogs have not covered or named everyone who was on the tour or who spoke with us. This is not to say they did not play major part, just that my brain dumps info into my memory in a set way called “random!” 

I also had to write 200 words about this trip for Insights UCA NSW ACT magazine for November. Wow -that took some editing!


Ideas covered in that article and this blog that summed up the purpose of this trip were -Why is the church involved? God so loved the world -Questioning and listening to people from different cultures- Farmers hospitality- Recreational.

MDB vineyard

Also - this trip opened the eyes of those on the bus - those we met have been asked the questions and seen a real concern from City, even Canberra, but mainly church, people. This opened the eyes of some locals to look and listen again. Shaun also stated the need for indigenous and non- indigenous folk to listen to each other too. Listening needs to go both ways- Do you feel “us” and see them as “they“? - Truth is we are all “They” to someone else.

We learned it is in the sitting around together and listening to each other so we can grow that is important.

Why we were there.

Phill Matthews

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