Youth ministry through music

The Reverend Dr Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest | The Goldfields
The Reverend Dr Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest | The Goldfields

Goldfields God-Talk Dust

There are stories about how bad the dust used to be. Women, whose job it inevitably was to get rid of the stuff, remember how it came in through every crack in the boards and how it stained your clean washing. Most of it came from the slime dumps. They began as slurry from the chemical processes that extract gold from finely powdered ore. The slurry was pumped into tailings dams and left to dry out until the next windy day picked it up and blew it back into town. It didn’t help that the woodlands of the region had been clear-felled by miners desperate for timber for mine props and fuel for pumps and boilers. The soil, no longer held together by nature’s high-tech mix of tree roots, soil chemistry and secret fungi, lost its structure and took to the air. Like children in a sand pit, the miners simply heaped up, for wind and rain to carry away, the rock and earth that they dug up to get at the gold.

In recent years there have been environmental regulations forcing mining companies to revegetate their slime dumps and cover their spoil heaps. Most comply. Locals have planted hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs around the edges of town. Slowly, the land heals the soil which is its skin, and plants reclothe it with tough greenery. Saltbush doesn’t mind an exposed, rocky outlook. But twenty years of revegetation is barely an eye-blink in geological time, and I am sure that a century-thick layer of antique silt is lurking between the steel roof and the timber ceiling of our historic church building.  In a high wind, dust blows into town again from nearby mines and from still-scarred landscapes further out bush. The roof rattles, and down into the body of the church sifts a coating of fine, red powder. Cleaning up means hours with a damp cloth, a wet mop, a vacuum cleaner and a beating for the pew cushions. Some of my sins are like that dust. The accumulated, half-forgotten consequences of poor decisions, selfish choices, greedy haste. Our whole culture, with our collusion, lives under a blanket of such dust: the leftovers of our thirst for profit, and our laziness when it comes to cleaning up after ourselves. Some, the poor, are half-suffocated by that dust every day. Most of the time, most of us ignore it, until the wind of the Spirit stirs it up and we realise we are sitting in a sea of grime. Who will get the blame and who will do the clean-up? On Good Friday we see Jesus vanish under the dust of death. The blanket of sin comes down and turns day to darkness. All the world’s sins - careless or calculated, structural or personal - smother and erase him, and bury him deep. On Easter morning, he is risen. Our blame, his clean-up. The Spirit is the sweet, clean breeze on resurrection morning, wafting seeds of change for everyone. Revegetation, anyone?

Article published in April 2018 Messenger magazine