Living in an Earth Community: ISMAPNG Action on Sustainable Buildings

How can we live more justly in the Earth community? As our Mercy values and constitutions affirm, “we are integrally connected with each other and with the whole of creation” – is this reflected in our homes and other buildings? If not, what changes are demanded of us in our adaptation, design and construction of the buildings in which we live and work in order to ‘break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ (Pope Francis: 8th Work of Mercy) in our use of land, materials and Earth’s life-support systems, especially water?

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Celebrating National Science Week

Scientific discoveries over many generations have given rise to new awakenings, new ways of ‘seeing’ for the human, not only through microscopes and telescopes but also within our inner life of spiritual meaning. This is particularly so as we begin to comprehend the meaning of the 13.8 billion year unfolding story of the universe.

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War on Waste: Plastics

The recent ABC TV series, War on Waste, alerted Australians to the extraordinary amount of plastic we use and send to land fill each day. Our Institute’s ‘War on Waste’ moved to a new level in 2016 with the launch of the Sustainable Living Policy, ‘An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Living’.

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World Environment Day Celebrations: Kangaroo Tea Party at Rahamim a big success!

Have you noticed, when driving on country roads, there seems to be fewer kangaroos in your headlights these days?

This is one of the reasons why World Environment Day celebrations at Rahamim were in the form of a Sunday afternoon children’s Kangaroo Tea Party this year. 

Kangaroos were the guests of honour with fun games (like the bone identification game and joey mortality rate activity), kangaroo craft, dancing, trivia, face painting and a community colouring-in competition about Kangaroos on Mt Panorama (Wahluu).

Everyone at the Kangaroo Tea Party had fun and learned some interesting (and very concerning) facts. 

Firstly, did you know that kangaroos are a slow-growing species, so the idea of a ‘population explosion’ is actually impossible? A kangaroo doe will likely raise a joey to independence at four years of age, if she lives on she will remain fertile until age 12, with one joey possible per year. But the mortality rate of the joeys is at 73% because of threats like dogs, foxes cars, fences, and disease. During drought this rate rises to 100%!

Secondly, of the eight joey survivors possible, statistically only one of those will be female, so the doe will only replace herself once during her lifetime. So even when left undisturbed in optimal natural conditions, kangaroo populations will not keep increasing, but will become equally balanced or stable.  Among other risks to populations, we can add the 85% reduction in woodland habitat Kangaroos need, as well as shooting quotas of 15-20% per year for industrial-scale slaughter. This culling remains largely unscrutinised - the largest commercial hunting of land-based wildlife on the planet!  

Rahamim’s Kangaroo Tea Party Event was jointly hosted by Charles Sturt University’s CSU Green and the Bathurst Kangaroo Project, an internationally-supported effort communicating science to raise awareness of the facts about the threats to kangaroos.

To learn more facts about kangaroos visit

Spirit of the River Pilgrimage by Tracy Sorensen

Last weekend a group of us piled into a couple of mini buses and a small fleet of cars to visit points of interest along the Macquarie River (in Bathurst, NSW), known for thousands of years as the Wambool. The tour was organised by the Rahamim Ecology Centre, a ministry of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, and led by environmentalist John Fry and Aboriginal elder Dinawan.

In her introductory remarks, Sr Patricia Powell rsm said there was a difference between "knowing" the river and "knowing about" the river. To "know" something or someone comes through repeated contact over time. I know my sister; I know how to drive a car. You can know "about" something by reading about it in a book or having someone mention it in conversation. The first kind of knowing is a soaked-in knowing; the other kind can evaporate without practice or contact.

Our tour of the river was to get to know it better by spending a little time with it, listening to the wind through the casuarinas, the sounds of crickets and frogs, noticing its different colours and flows. At each point of interest, we all fell silent for a moment just to listen. Just doing this, with others, was a very moving experience.

We began our tour at White Rock, near the confluence of the Fish and Campbell Rivers. The meeting of the rivers was also a meeting place for Aboriginal people in times gone by, a place for marriages and to work out disputes. We continued through cabbage-growing country, stopping on the opposite side of the river off Montavella Road, a place I know well because it's where I take my dog for swim.

We looked at steep, eroded gullies that once held water more gently; we heard about the stumps of the giant casuarinas that used to follow not just the main river course but the smaller tributaries; we heard about hunting parties in the 1920s that would come back with hundreds of platypus that were there for the taking. We heard about the giant cod that used to be here; an abundant supermarket that supported life for aeons.

We made out way through town and out to Raglan Creek and the old brick pit favoured by migratory birds. We looked at the reeds that filter water naturally. Instead of diverting 10 megalitres a day of treated water to a gold mine, as has been proposed, John Fry suggested the water be brought to a carefully constructed wetland here, where it could soak into the ground and restore a little of the river to something like its former glory.

Tracy Sorensen is Secretary of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Visit



Our Common Home – Collaborating to Meet the Ecological Crisis

Friday 29 April 2016

“Our Common Home”, the inaugural Calare Eco-Summit (in Central-West NSW), designed to connect all organisations concerned about ecological issues in our electoral region, was recently held in Bathurst, hosted by Rahamim in conjunction with a number of other ecological organisations. This is the first in a series of summits of its kind.

Inspired by the 2015 encyclical letter on ecology and climate by Pope Francis “On care for our Common Home”, the summit sought to demonstrate how diverse organisations (such as community groups, ecologists, local government and faith/spiritual organisations) could better take up our shared responsibilities for the Earth community. 

Rather than create another ‘umbrella’ organisation, the aim was to find synergy, responding to the question “What can we do together that we cannot do alone?”

The program, facilitated by Roz Townsend and Neil Davidson, enabled 18 organisations to get to know each other, to create confluence, coherence and smarter collaboration to better face our region’s climate, energy, biodiversity, water, waste and land management challenges. 

World Café discussions generated deeper resonance, enabling conversations between diverse individuals and organisations, especially around the question “What conversation, if begun today, could ripple out in a way that creates new possibilities for the future of our region?” Some examples of topics that arose include:

  • The power of conversations to shift awareness
  • Creating a framework to create conversations of the future, spreading ideas and networks for a better outcome
  • Changing approach to issues from “Challenges” to “Opportunities”
  • Experiential education: the impact of hearing from practitioners on site in the field that can be applied in ‘real’ life
  • Galvanising individual voices, who experienced disruption, into united groups
  • Developing a regional vision for adaptation and building resilience for climate change, in spite of our political environment
  • Controlling our destiny: getting Bathurst self-sufficient for food and off the national energy grid.

The group explored issues, exemplars, barriers and possible ways of advancing these topics. Some diagrams helped explore the dynamics of coming together across difference and getting past the often incomplete and sometimes stereotypical assumptions about where an individual or organisation might be ‘coming from’.

Through introductions to Neil Davidson’s systems thinking, participants recognised the need for a greater collective ‘systems understanding’ if we are to come together around common purpose/s – at any of many scales: project, city, bioregion – to regenerate environments and codesign viable futures.

 There was a collective realisation that we each need to permit ourselves and others to ‘be complex’ – in order to bring our whole selves to be present in systems context – this needs safe spaces, trust-building toward trust-worthy relationships, and a bit of assistance to allow coherence to build in systems context.


The Eco-Summit was planned by a steering committee comprising members of Bathurst Climate Change Action Network, CENREC, Skillset, Bathurst Regional Council, Greening Bathurst, Bathurst Wholefood Co-operative, Bathurst Goldfields, Charles Sturt University and Rahamim Ecology Centre.

Bathurst Kangaroo Project Roundtable

On Monday 11 April 2016, a round-table discussion was held at Rahamim about Kangaroos living on Mount Panorama (Wahluu).

The information presented came from 3 researchers (from University of Western Sydney, Sydney University of Technology and Charles Sturt University), WIRES, a senior lecturer in journalism at CSU, the Green Army, as well as national award winning conservationists Helen Bergen and Ray Mjadwesch. The 32 other attendees represented at the table included residents of the Mount, CSU Green, BCCAN, Skillset, Rahamim and several other residents.

Here is a summary of some of the most compelling facts: 

  • Common perceptions that kangaroos are in ‘plague’ proportions are false. It is impossible for this scenario to occur with Eastern Grey kangaroos because of high infant mortality rates (73%) and short fertility periods of Eastern Greys.
  • Eastern Grey kangaroos need native woodland to thrive. Mt Panorama (Wahluu) is one of very few woodlands available to kangaroos in our region.
  • Understanding what causes kangaroos to stray on to the race track is essential. Indiscriminate culling of adult kangaroos can increase the risks, causing erratic behaviour in their young, straying from safe areas.
  • Culling to the point of extinction of a species from a particular area is illegal.
  • Wild kangaroos of Bathurst are famous worldwide, make for a compelling story-line for national and international journalism and hold invaluable potential for tourism.
  • Most local residents of the Mount live in harmonious relationship with the kangaroos and want them to stay.

At the round-table, the following simple actions were recommended:

  • Improved fencing around the race track and removal of hazardous redundant fencing around the mount
  • Improved safe zones for kangaroos
  • Stop indiscriminate culling 
  • Council to work closely with local experts and consult scientific findings prior to making decisions about wildlife.

For further information, visit Bathurst Kangaroo Project.

Welcome Autumn!

This year, Earth Hour celebrations coincided with two other events on our calendar: Autumn Equinox and Easter.

Autumn is a time of thanksgiving for the harvest – for its time of nourishment, and it is also a time of leave-taking and sorrow, as Life declines. 

As the dark grows, it establishes balance with the light; Autumn Equinox is that point of balance. We feel our own balance of light and dark within.

In our part of Earth, the balance has shifted into dark. We feel the shift within us, seeing the descent ahead, the darkness growing, remembering the coolness of it. 

For millennia, in Greece, this time has been the holy celebration of Persephone’s descent to the Underworld. Her descent is voluntary – she simply understands the necessity of the journey – the mystery, knowledge of life and death – for this she gives thanks. But she sets forth into the darkness.

The Christian calendar, mirroring the patterns of the seasons, marks a similar movement at this time. The Journey of Life-Death-Life played out in the person of Jesus as he enters into the suffering and death of Good Friday, and new and eternal life of the Easter resurrection.  

Autumn Equinox and Easter is a time for grieving our many losses, as individuals, as a culture, as Earth community, as Universe, but also for making space, in hope, for new life.

In the crisp air and yellowing leaves of Rahamim, those gathered marked the occasion with ritual and celebrations including poetry reading, a kids home-made lantern procession, a bon fire and woodfired pizza, drumming workshops and the screening of Leonardo Di Caprio’s series Green World Rising, powered by Rahamim’s bike-powered movie set-up.

The lines of Susan Murphy’s Minding the Earth, Mending the World was material for reflection on such an occasion:

…In this universe … life implies death, and being here now implies disappearing later. 

When we can embrace this reality more fearlessly just the way it is, we find it fits us perfectly well – always has. The way opens, the sky does not fall in, the ocean confides its songs, each drop of dew forms in exactly the right time and place in the grass…

Everything sentient together.

 Adapted from Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology, 2005.

Water more precious than Gold: Yarning about the River at Rahamim

Rahamim Ecology Centre has become a centre of contemplative “Craftivism” since Bathurst Regional Council raised a controversial proposal to sell water from the Macquarie River to a gold mine. 

Council plans to divert 10 megalitres (4 Olympic swimming pools) of river water per day, an amount which represents a high percentage of the flows of an already diminished river. Many endangered fish, frogs, platypus, riparian vegetation as well as irrigation rights of farmers are at further risk. 

This is yet another example of the corporatisation of water, the diversion of the world’s water supply for commercial interests, which Sisters of Mercy around the world, motivated by Catherine McAuley’s words “Water is free beverage”, have worked to eradicate.

The proposal was up for public consultation during December 2015, a time when families are focused on the festive season and raising awareness is difficult. After hundreds of concerned residents had made submissions, many still felt a sense of concern, frustration and urgency. They wanted to unite to inform others of the proposal in new ways.

At Rahamim, a space was opened up for a collaborative project that would positively engage the community, celebrate the life of the river, and help to spread the word to residents downstream. A group of women quickly responded, with visions of creating a huge crochet representation of the Macquarie River, including its source, bends, marshes, towns, cities, animals, plants, dams and waste water treatment plants. The project would then be publicly displayed at strategic times and places during Council’s decision-making process.

Using social media, the group has grown quickly across the region and attracted the attention of local print and television media. Many have attended weekly ‘drop-in’ sessions in the Rahamim dining room, enabling lively sharing of concerns as well as periods of contemplative silence and simply ‘being’ together for the river. Those interested in learning more, such as one local Councillor, have had the opportunity to listen and respond to the concerns of residents. Local artists, the spinners and weavers group, school and university students, professionals and elderly people are all participating in the project which is now 60 meters in length and continues to grow.

One of the project’s coordinating team, Tracy Sorensen, a PhD candidate exploring climate change communication, presented on “The Revolutionary Potential of Crochet” at a recent Green Drinks event at Rahamim. “Any social or political change,” she said, “requires long thankless hours of activism before anything shifts. People come to a movement with whatever they’ve got, wherever they are, so if they happen to have a crochet hook and wool then that’s as good a place as any to become an activist.”

“There is a place for quiet in the movement,” she said, “and using traditional craft skills to subvert the traditional power relations in surprising, quirky or confronting ways has been happening since the 1970s.” Sorensen reminds us of the power of contemplative, creative acts to transform our world. 

Council will vote on the proposal in mid-February. 

Join the Facebook group: Don’t mine the Macquarie – No Bathurst water sale to Regis Gold Mine

Watch the River Yarning video: 

Engage with us on Twitter: #watermorepreciousthangold #imindifyoumine #don’tminethemacquarie

Sally Neaves

Sustainability Educator, Rahamim Ecology Centre

Summer Solstice Celebrations at Rahamim

On the Eve of Summer Solstice and, in the Christian calendar, the midst of Advent, a joyful community celebration took place at Rahamim in honour of the season.

Traditionally, this is a time of waiting for fulfilment, of reaching capacity, of new beginnings, of recognising our dependence upon our mother star, and our relationships with one another in the community of life.

Among the wood-fired pizza, flowing of local wines, live music and good friends, a ritual was held during which we recalled our interconnectedness with the source of all life, the sun, combined with the Christian expression of Advent. 

During the Acknowledgement of Wiradjuri Country, we recalled the work of historian Bill Gammage, who found that across Australia, the creation story is essentially the same, with all of life’s origins in light. “Change and time exist only as cycles: birth and death, the passage of stars and season, journeys, encounters” (The Biggest Estate on Earth, p123). 

In acknowledging our dependence on the sun, the work of Brian Swimme was read, teaching us that the sun is a million times larger than the earth, and that one billionth of the sun’s energy reaches the earth. Because of this, everything on earth takes place and earth is bonded with the sun, “recognising what it holds out”.

In an expression reminiscent of the themes of ‘longing’ and ‘waiting’ of Advent, Swimme writes, “The longing that gave birth to the stars, the longing that gave birth to life, who knows what this longing can give birth to now?” (Canticle of the Cosmos, p8).

Combining both the Solstice and Advent, Patricia Powell rsm reflected that “The light we wait for is the light of Christ, piercing the darkness of our blindness and opening our minds to new insights and inspirations… Our Advent stance is one of receptivity – openness to an encounter with the Divine.”

Writings of Hildegard of Bingen, reflecting on ‘Veriditas’, the greening spirit of all things, were proclaimed along with the poem ‘For a New Beginning’ by John O’Donohue. Periods of silence and drumming accompanied reflection along with children in colourful costumes, gold ribbons and sun masks, dramatising the movement, shape and seasonal direction of the sun.

Before the party continued into the night, participants took a moment to write a word on a decoration to sum-up their hopes and longings at this time and hang them on the Reflection Tree. The tree became filled with golden baubles with words befitting the season like “Community”, “New Beginnings”, “New life”, “Love”, “Heaven on Earth” and “Beach”.

COP21: Our Shared Dream for a Resilient Earth Community

In her creative, ecological articulation of Matthew 1:18, Elaine Wainwright rsm imagines the words of Jesus for our age:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become attentive to survival for all, as is this endangered one, then you cannot participate in the dream of an Earth Community in right relationships…”

This present time marks the beginning of the United Nations climate conference (COP 21). Right now, more than 190 leaders of nations are gathering in Paris to tackle global warming. To sum up many of those who spoke at rallies on the weekend, to see a change in status quo, we need to see many changes of heart. This means re-framing our thinking, becoming attentive to human actions, attentive to survival for all and forming right relationships in the Earth community.

COP21 has provided an encouraging opportunity for those of us seeking such a change of heart. The weekend included a number of community gatherings, at Rahamim and elsewhere. Amid our lush rural grounds, crickets and birds singing, comfortable in the orange evening light, we had much to be grateful for at this historic time. United around house-prepared seasonal food for the screening of Naomi Klein’s film, This Changes Everything, the large numbers of people who attended were mindful of those in Paris, whose decisions could trigger the change of heart necessary that experiences like these in our region may continue.  

While hundreds of pairs of shoes were left on Place de la Republique, among them a pair donated by Pope Francis, we marched locally in Orange on the Saturday and took the train to Sydney on Sunday to march in the biggest ever such demonstration Sydney has ever seen. Conversations with fellow commuters, other marchers, First Nations Peoples, were a mix of hope and lament, of dancing and stumbling in the streets, all united in contemplating the momentous events before us.

Seeing hundreds from the Pacific Islands cheered on as they processed through Sydney was a jubilant highlight for many. Some of the earliest marches in the day took place in the Marshall Islands, currently threatened by rising seas. Meanwhile in Kenya, a march took place across the equator, and in the south of Chile, another happened across a threatened glacier.

We know the urgent need for climate justice for humans and all species in the many vulnerable places on Earth. United in our hope around COP21, we are mindful that a change of heart, attentiveness to endangered ones now, is most important to enable us to participate in the dream of a resilient “Earth community in right relationships”.

Pope Francis writes for creation

 An encyclical is a letter. Encyclicals are the second highest ranking documents penned by a Pope. They are about current issues and are a call to conversion and action and as such have relevance beyond the Catholic, and religious, community. 

‘Laudato Si’, translates as ‘Praised Be’ and takes inspiration from the writings credited to St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of environment and of Pope Francis. And ‘Laudato Si’ was perhaps the most anticipated letter on Earth; it is an encyclical written by Pope Francis and is a timely reminder that the planet our planet is a common home. It expresses that It is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

As indicated in the subtitle, ‘on the care of our common earth’, readers of the encyclical are being called to responsibility and relationship with Earth, creation and the universe in new ways. The theology and moral imperatives of this new responsibility and relationship is the substance of the encyclical. How the pivotal issues of today are addressed, such as climate change and lifting the burdens of the poor, will be informed by this new relationship.

Sr Mary-Ann Casanova, the Executive Director of Rahamim Ecology Centre, Bathurst, said, “We welcome the encyclical. It goes to the heart of what Rahamim Ecology Centre teaches and advocates. It adds credibility to our programs and courses. It is our mission to provide educational programs and opportunities which promote new understandings of the universe, science and theology. It is Rahamim’s vision to enable participants to integrate practices of sustainability and spirituality in everyday life.”

Aspects of the encyclical will be incorporated into Rahamim’s programs in July. After the winter break, the book study circle will take the encyclical as their book.

River Cottage was a raging success!

The team, and many volunteers, helped pull the event together. The local luncheon involved four courses cooked by Rahamim, The Wholefood Co-op and two well-known restaurants - Al Dente and 9inety 2wo. Guests dined on wood-fired pizza, pumpkin pies, a pork larb and a rice pudding with baked local quinces. Paul West, the star of the television show ‘River Cottage Australia’ and author of the cookbook of the same name, was the drawcard of the day and spent three hours chatting to guests about growing food, preparing healthy meals and his experience on his farm in Tilba, on the far South Coast of NSW.Although conditions were cold that day, guests spent time in the Community Gardens and the expansive verandah of Logan Brae House before enjoying lunch in the historic mansion. Paul also managed to fit in a visit to several local restaurants, The Wholefood Co-op and was generously accommodated by Bishop’s Court Estate.