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Living Laudato si’ in the Kimberley

Emilie Ng  |  18 May 2020

With its pristine white beaches and rolling dirt-red cliffs, Broome is the pearl of Australia’s north-west. The Nulungu Research Institute at Notre Dame University, in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, is working to turn the region into a microcosm for a better Australia, both for the land and its people.

As PhD candidates for the Kimberley Transitions Project at the Nulungu Research Institute, located on the Broome campus of Notre Dame University, Anne Jennings (below) and Jacqui Remond (right) are modelling concrete ways to live out the principles of Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ urgent appeal to protect our common home.

The principles, as laid out in their research, aren’t just solutions to protect the natural beauty of the Kimberley, because Laudato Si’ is not just a letter about protecting the environment in isolation.

It is actually a manuscript for re-understanding the place of every organism that makes up the world, people and nature alike.

‘It cannot be emphasised enough how everything is interconnected’, the Pope writes in Laudato si’.

‘Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand.

‘It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.’

SCHOOL-BASED RESPONSES

The Kimberley Transitions project is part of an international movement which encourages communities to rebuild and transform starting at the local level. This is also a fundamental principle in Laudato si’.

‘New processes taking shape cannot always fit into frameworks imported from outside; they need to be based in the local culture itself’, the Pope wrote in his encyclical.

For Australia, this means a meaningful dialogue and constant consultation with First Nations peoples, which makes Broome the perfect starting point for creating a community framework.

‘The Kimberley is just under 42 per cent Aboriginal people’, Anne Jennings says. ‘And Australia overall is 2.8 per cent. It’s a whole different world.

People are only just starting the talk about it, about understanding Aboriginal knowledges.’

When it comes to teaching these Aboriginal knowledges, however, it’s no secret the Australian education system has failed to offer non-Indigenous students a serious look into their ancient history. That’s what the Kimberley Transitions Project hopes to change through Jacqui Remond’s research into integral ecology at a school level.

Basing her research at St Mary’s College, Broome, Jacqui is developing a model that ‘really holds cultural ecology’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

‘Over 50 per cent of students (at St Mary’s College) who come from parts of the Kimberley and local Broome town are of Aboriginal background’, Jacqui says.

‘The wonderful opportunity is to really bring into place the dialogue about the Yawuru country that the school’s on and the spiritual teachings in Laudato si’ to find the most appropriate way of living, educating and being.

REAL CULTURAL ECOLOGY

‘The opportunity to have a model that really holds cultural ecology...is something that can be offered to schools in Australia. It’s about caring for country through being people who deeply connect with place and who can learn about the context in which we’re living.’

A former sessional lecturer at Notre Dame who 20 years ago fell in love and married in Broome, Jacqui’s research at the Nulungu Institute is a coming home of sorts, an opportunity for the Sydney resident to give back to her former home.

As well as looking at new ways to acknowledge country through cultural ecology, Jacqui’s research also builds on the concept of integral ecology but in the context of a school.

On a general level, though, Jacqui believes integral ecology is the best weapon to combat the global crises that threaten the entire human existence.

‘We’re at a time of ecological crisis, of social, cultural, spiritual, economic, health – literally we are living in a time of crises.

‘They’re multiple, they’re nested, and they’ve come about in a paradigm that we’re living in our own mindset, a paradigm of violence.

‘It breaks things apart, it separates our thinking, it deliberately causes fractures and breakdowns.’

But a society that respects the interconnectedness of all creation – an integral ecology of the planet and its inhabitants – can heal the world.

‘I hope the example that’s created through this case study will be applicable to not only schools across the Kimberley but schools across Australia and broader than that, and organisations seeking to live out Laudato si’’, she says.

SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS

Jacqui also hopes her research will be a framework for greater social connectedness and love for our neighbour.

‘I also notice there’s a real yearning for an integrated whole way that we’re called to be with one another’, Jacqui says.

‘(Integral ecology) is an invitation for self-healing – that’s critical in an ecological conversion role – for deeper and stronger and more joyful relationship with humans, brothers and sisters on the planet.

‘It’s an invitation for really connecting with our common home as a place that our creator wants to make as a flourishing eco-system where we’re playing a critical role of taking care of it.

‘That’s something we can all see makes sense, that we can all see is needed.’

For more information go to www.notredame.edu.au/research/nulungu/home.

 

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