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Following the path laid out by Laudato Si’

Peter Fleming  |  14 February 2019

Holy Family Parish Emerton in Western Sydney is making a journey that is deeply inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’. Now they’re inviting others to walk with them.

It’s a slightly wet mid-week afternoon and I’m staring boggle-eyed at the biggest didgeridoo I have ever seen – 11 metres long, as big as a fallen tree trunk!

Before me, Ray Donaldson is explaining that it was built some time ago for NAIDOC Week, and that the player put a smaller didgeridoo inside the top hole, wrapped in a towel to aid resonance, and a microphone at the other end.

‘You could hear it all the way to Penrith!’ declares Ray, proudly.

The didgeridoo leans comfortably on wooden supports close by The Shed, a sort of Men’s Shed but not quite for the typical purpose: it’s a place of sharing, particularly by local Darug people, and it’s been built in the grounds of Holy Family Parish, Emerton, in Western Sydney.

Nothing I’m seeing this day is quite for the typical purpose, for everything I’m being shown is part of an evolving project, the Holy Family Emerton Environment Walk, the brainchild of parish priest Father Greg Jacobs SJ and Sue Martin, an environmental officer employed by the Jesuits to spread the ecological message of Laudato si’ globally.


‘In a sense, we want people who come on the walk to go away with eyes that are a little bit different than usual’, says Sue, who is showing me around. ‘We want them to see that everything in the environment is connected, the local to the global; and to act on their new understanding.’

Indeed, the didgeridoo is a sort of metaphor for the entire project: the small inside the vast, together making a monumental cry for understanding across the landscape.

The walk contains a surprising number of projects, small and large, coming together in a single message.

A worm farm near the parish office is fed from a compost bag inside the kitchen of the meeting hall, in a plan to promote organic waste streaming. Greenhouses are being developed not far away, already bedecked with flower pots containing a diversity of colour. Beyond The Shed is a tree grove, which has already begun to be turned into an orchard.

The tree grove is particularly interesting. It rests on a slope where water drains away – but where to?

‘Where does your water from Loyola Senior High School go?’ challenges Sue, referring to my nearby place of work. I haven’t a clue. ‘Exactly. But here, we know the water drains to Ropes Creek North, then flows to South Creek and then to the Hawkesbury Nepean River and to the ocean. The local world connects to the whole.’

Absolutely central to the walk is a drop-in to the Aboriginal Catholic Services Community Centre, one of two community centres on the parish grounds, the other being the Baabayn Aboriginal Coporation.


Today, the Centre is bursting with activity. (In fact, in the time I am there, the entire parish site is continually being criss-crossed by individuals and small groups on myriad missions. Catholicism a living faith? You bet – in Emerton!) Breakfast cereal is still available on the dining table for anyone who decides to drop in, and lunch is provided as well.

Linda McDonald is arranging HIPPY, a free home-based early learning and parenting program. She proudly tells us that her most recent group are about to graduate – they are four years old. Louise Marne is launching a new weaving project, and Paul Teerman, executive Director of Warrawul Consulting, is working on a Ph.D. to ‘re-brand’ the local Darug people and their land ‘as they were in 1788’.

Part of his project is to draw up reliable maps of the pre-colonial men’s and women’s sites of his people. This new information will likely be integrated into the Environment Walk as it becomes available.

‘It’s impossible to conceive of an environmental project without reconciliation with the First People’, Sue Martin explains.

‘Our understanding of place must take in the fundamental Aboriginal understanding of country.


‘Everything is connected. Our Walk represents a practical application of the Laudato si' encyclical of Pope Francis.’

I ask Sue to pose for a photograph before the community centre sign, because artwork by elder Auntie Janice Kennedy is emblazoned there, and Linda McDonald explains that the painting means, ‘Everyone together.’

This stirs a personal memory: When I was a child, my father and mother had a farm in the Snowy Mountains and named it ‘Yangenannock’, an Aboriginal term which has always been a beautiful word to me, for it means ‘All of Us Together’.

But there is no time to dwell on the memory. There is still much to see: the primary school has its own water tanks and worm farms; the Holy Family Parish church is powered by solar panels which, even against the grey spitting sky on this day, seem to blaze and say, ‘Tongues of flame on Pentecost have got nothing on us!’; there’s a developing veggie garden; and the parish also contains the Ignite Food Store and Op-Shop run by Jesuit Social Services.


Even these last initiatives seem appropriate – Laudato si’ says that concern for the environment is also an extension of concern for the poor, the ones most directly affected by any change in the climate.

Sue finishes the tour backgrounded by a vista which unfolds all the way to the Blue Mountains. It’s another deliberate choice.

‘The Walk moves us through a series of significant local projects, so we end with the broader landscape: the local, connected to the global.’

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