From the Goldfields
The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM, Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
The old man’s first language is Hungarian. In a comfortable chair at Edward Collick Home, he speaks softly, in accented English. I ask what year he arrived in Australia. I know enough history to realise that 1956 was a terrible year for Hungary. How did the events of the uprising against Russian control affect his life?
The old man weeps and tells me what he witnessed: Red Army soldiers shooting and killing children and young people in Budapest. He tells of his escape from the city, travelling by night, heading for the border, making it to safety as a refugee, along with 200,000 other Hungarians. After 65 years, the trauma of witnessing the violence and the terror of escaping it still brings him to tears. I try to imagine the struggle he must have faced after arriving, a young immigrant, with no English, in 1950s Australia.
An old First Nations woman has Kanaka heritage too, from the Pacific Islanders trafficked to work in Australia. When she first moved into Edward Collick Home, her dementia was relatively mild. She played the guitar and sang country and western songs, and all the old gospel hymns. Now she is very frail, and I sing to her instead.
She often cries out: for comfort, for reassurance, for human touch. Sometimes she cries out for her mother, who died long ago. This week, with fear and distress in her voice, she cried about babies and children injured and dying. I know she lived through the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin. I wonder what happened then, that still terrifies her? Or is she haunted by traumatic things that happened as she grew up, married, and raised a family in a deeply racist society?
Another old Aboriginal woman can no longer speak at all. But in her day she had a strong Christian faith, so I wheel her special chair to chapel every week just the same. A few years ago, I met one of her daughters. She told me that of the many children this woman bore, most were taken away, to be raised in state care, under the cruel policies of the day. Some of them managed to get back in touch with her, years later, after having been brought up in care. But the trauma of forced separation leaves its mark on both parents and children.
I have had sadness and loss in my life, but nothing on the scale of these people’s suffering. The glimpses of their trauma rightly discomfort me. They shatter any sense I might have that all is right with the world. Their wounds have not been healed. But I can be faithful in hearing them, and holding them in my heart and in my prayers. Ours is a faith that is not afraid of scars, and not ashamed of pain. The Body of Christ is not yet raised in glory. Until then, we must treat its injured members with the greatest of tenderness.