Shalom, my Darling

By Liz Au

                If you are new to all things Australia or just a little bit clueless about the nation’s geography or both (like me), you may not have ever heard of the Murray Darling Basin nor understand even a fraction of its agricultural significance. No worries, me neither.

                Turns out, the Murray Darling Basin is this inspiringly massive expanse of land that stretches across 14% of the total area of Australia (a country of equal geographical size to the U.S., believe it or not). It is invaluable to the country, housing over 40% of all Australian farms, and producing one third of Australia’s food supply and supporting over one third of Australia’s total gross value of agricultural production of crops like rice, fruits and vegetables (things that I consume basically everyday, living here in Sydney!).

Water is absolutely essential for the Basin’s heavy agricultural life and is by far the Basin’s most valuable resource. Did you know that it takes approximately 1550 liters of water to produce just 1kg of paddy rice? Unfortunately, water only comes from a small percentage of the Basin’s vast territory, an amount dramatically lessened due to a devastating drought back in 1995. In the years after that until now, almost all parts of the Basin have suffered reduced crop output and diminished water supply. It has moved political parties to work seriously in revising the up-and-coming Murray Darling Basin Plan, which is an important effort to conserve and recover the Basin’s water supply by setting a capstone on how much water can be taken out of it.

Why is it that it’s only when we are about to lose something or losing it that we wake up from our apathy to see how important it is to us and how much better we could have treated it? Learning about the Murray Darling Basin is nothing but humbling. It has shown me how selfish and blind I am in my consumption of water, and continues to remind me of our Christian call to be stewards of creation, to be part of God’s effort to restore and reconcile all things to Himself in true shalom. Australians truly put me to shame when it comes to being that good steward.

I have been continuously struck by the way Australians consciously think about how they use water. It isn’t carelessly or selfishly. It is a lifestyle and commitment to preserving this dry nation’s limited supply of water by proactively trying to conserve it, such as with the Murray Darling Basin. For me personally, the change must begin with how I even see water. I have no entitlement to it. It is a gift to be cared for, even on the institutional level, and something I respect and will begin to use more carefully in light of the wider Australian—and even global—environmental picture. Thank you for that invaluable lesson, Murray Darling Basin. Aren’t you feeling proud right now, Captain Planet?


Booderee National Park

As the ASC continues, the program grows, modifies and flows with the changes that come. A new relationship between the Australia Studies Centre and Booderee National Park has been growing since our first trip with students last semester.

This semester, we were able to spend more time and get a better feel of the country and the community that calls it home.

The students were welcomed into the Jervis Bay Territory (the coastal access of the Australian Capital Territory), which sits on the traditional land of the Yuin nation. Our guides through country were three members of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community and members of the commonwealth agreement between the Aboriginal community and the Australian government.

The agreement allows the ancestral owners of the land a unique opportunity to be the stewards of the land in a way indigenous people are not able to do in Australia except for two other national parks, one of them being Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory.

The students heard stories from the Yuin tradition and had important elements of Aboriginal culture explained through ceremony.

Visiting at the end of winter also presented a memorable experience. The South Coast of New South Wales is an incredible place; kilometers of untouched beaches, rolling green hills, beautiful forests; all of it with minimal development.

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to live down here,” one student asked as we drove down the coast, sheltered inside the glass dome of the tour bus.

The minute we stepped out we understood why.

The South Coast is a windy place.

Though the trip took place amid biting cold southerly winds, it was a fantastic learning opportunity for all. From the ceremonious welcome to country and the invitation to dance, to the hike through pristine bush, discovery was around every corner. Students had the opportunity to walk through forests still in similar condition to when the Yuin were the only people inhabiting the area. They also learnt the importance of maintaining culture and knowledge for generations to come. There will be more opportunities for staff, current student and future students to travel to Booderee National Park and learn from an incredibly unique community of people.

Retreat Remixed

“…God once had Bach and Michelangelo on his side, he had Mozart, and now who does he have? People with ginger whiskers and tinted spectacles who reduce the glories of theology to a kind of sharing…”
-Stephen Fry

The disconnection of art and the Church is apparent to many. But one benefit to attending a Christian school of the arts is the opportunity for development outside of class. For the past few weeks, staff and students at the Wesley Institute had been hearing about the coming Retreat Remixed 2012, a chance for Wesley students to be challenged and encouraged by industry professionals and artists. Not only was there opportunity for education in the creative process, but also the possibility for networking and sharing ideas.
The payoff, for those in attendance, was great.

Simon Hunter, New York Film Academy, explains the breakdown of the Hero Cycle.

Story is a powerful thing, and it is obvious that this method of relaying information is changing the way the world communicates. Cinema is no longer the only place people go to see a good story. Youtube is full of narratives, ads are mini blockbusters, non-profits create visual parables, and the art of visual story is finding its way into the most unusual of places.

Retreat Remixed provided a place to not only dialogue about these trends, but also contemplate how we, as Christians and artists, can hope to interact in the changing world. One speaker put it well when he described that as Christians we should be involved in the kitchen of culture, not the dining room. The weekend involved speakers from several industries speaking on how those arenas were changing and that, in a world of stories; the Gospel is one that needs to be told.
Many speakers who had made successful careers in the arts industries told of their passions for storytelling, never ceasing to encourage storytellers to wrestle with questions the world was asking. A continual, resounding theme throughout the weekend was the importance of telling truth in story. If all truth belongs to God, tell it well.

Ralph Winter, holder of an impressive IMDB list including the X-Men films and Star Trek instalments, shot straight with the audience telling them, “Dive into the questions people are asking, why would you do antyhing less?” With mind for story as well as marketability, Ralph was an incerdible speaker both encouraging creative expression within the Christian faith as well as pruning bad storytelling habits.

“Like a country song played backwards,” he remarked, “‘got my house, got my dog, my family…'” His comment hit home to the reality of many films made my Christians. They simply don’t tell good stories, or they tell good stories in such a way as to make them no longer relevent to an audience in search of substance.

Other speakers included Simon Hunter, New York Film Acadmey, who drove home the importance of stepping into uncertainty in order to create. Simon shared a trailer for an upcoming film he directed titled The Custodian. The film was shot on a budget of nearly $0 AUS ($13.75 USD), produced and distributed on inexpensive digital equipment. “I just kept telling people how easy and cheap it was to make films now, even features. So I decided to give it a go myself,” he said.

Tash McGill, writer, digital communications strategist, blogger…(the list goes on) brought the power of words to the occasion, “Recognize an incling, apply a lens to it, frame it for someone else and thrust it back to the world.”
Some of the retreat took place at The Wesley Institute, but for much of it the Wesley students joined the larger SPARC conference in an old stone church in Darlinghurst, east of Sydney. SPARC is an organization of artists passionate about supporting each other and other artists to be the makers of culture on a local and global scale. To be in the same room with hundreds of creative professionals collaborating and celebrating was a rewarding experience.
The old stone walls could not contain the energy and excitement about what the possibilities could be for the future. With practical advice, honest challenges and passionate encouragement, no one left unchanged.
The possibilities are endless.

For more photos of the SPARC Conference 2012 follow this link.