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Wednesday, 03 August 2011 05:01

Elder encourages care for the earth

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"We are a people who are embraced by the land not just living on the land," Elizabeth (Betty) Pike told delegates at the 2010 National Assembly in Hobart.

"The land is in our blood, in our being. Remove us from our land, destroy our land and we die from within."

A Nyoongar woman originally from Perth, 83-year-old Betty lives in Geelong, Victoria and works at the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Melbourne.  The mother of five grown-up children, she is the author of Platypus Dreaming and regularly contributes to Madonna magazine.

Growing up without her mother, the land became a great mother image for Betty.

"I see the land as my mother," she said. "Land and nature to me are something that I cling to as my mother. The land succours us and it provides for us. Without the land so many people are lost."

She said the image of Jesus around the campfire was a wonderful image for Aboriginal people of his closeness to people, culture and the environment.

"For Aboriginal people today, it is much the same as at the time of Abraham, although we were here thousands of years before, but our culture still embraces the creator spirit."

Betty told the story of how a trip to Alice Springs explained to her why Jesus used nature to tell his parables and stories.

"Deserts are well recognised as places to stir up the soul. When I went there I slept in a river bed in a swag. Somehow the silence releases you from life's complexities and allows the mind and spirit to be still.  At night time there was a beautiful display of silver shooting stars. It was a powerful and profound spiritual experience of the wonder and beauty of our creator God."

With many Aboriginals today living a suburban life away from the land, Betty said they are disconnected from their spirit in the land.

"Without the land, so many Aboriginal people are lost," she said.

While governments and politicians are focussed on providing material goods for indigenous people such as housing, Betty said they needed to realise that Aboriginal people's spirit needs to be healed before any fruitful outcome can be reached.

"The issue for Aboriginal people is our spirit, but governments and others can't see that."

She said she wished she had the answer to how to heal Aboriginal people.

"We need to pray harder to find a way to heal the spirit of Aboriginal people. But something also has to be done by people in groups.  It is no good one person going to a community. They get too lonely. "There needs to be a return of groups of people going out and helping Aboriginal people with their spiritual being. If we can send an army surely other people can go in and help lift up the people."

Still hopeful for her people, these days Betty is endeavouring to incorporate Aboriginal symbols such as the message stick and the coolamon into Church rituals.

"We are not abolishing the old but transforming it and these symbols are helping us to become part of the church with Jesus continuing to walk through this land —  that we don't own — but are custodians of."

A great storyteller and a wise and strong woman, Betty concluded her talk with an Australian blessing she wrote in 1997.

An Australian Blessing
by Elizabeth Pike
May you always stand tall as a tree
Be as strong as the rock Uluru
As gentle and still as the morning mist
Hold the warmth of the campfire in your heart,
And may the Creator spirit always walk with you.