I was first greeted at Redfern by Sylvia Williams. I was looking for “Father Ted Kennedy’. Sylvia invited me into the yard at the back of the presbytery to wait for Ted. There I was confronted by a scene that is still etched in my mind and heart, a group of Koorie men and women sitting around a fire. They were drinking and singing sad country western songs, most of them were sick and depressed. You could feel their pain. It was dark and I could just see their faces and it was through their eyes peering at me that I saw a deep well of suffering that imprinted on my soul. I was devastated.
They were sharing the flagon around and offered it to me. To this day I will never know why I took a drink from the bottle but there was a powerful force within me, an understanding that I had been invited in some way into their lives. I believe now I was offered the Eucharistic cup to drink.
This group of Koories, Sylvia, Waynie West, Daphne Pitt, Ronnie Davies, Dicko, Peter Pan, Billy Beau Daniels, Clorine, Aunty Glad, Judy Gundy, Ronnie Gundy, Normie West, Roy Frail and Jutebox became my conduit into the depths of pain, joy, suffering and death of so many Aboriginal people. Except for Ronnie, Aunty Glad and Judy all of those friends are now gone, long before their time. But daily I feel their presence. Their lives have given meaning to how I make sense of my world and how I respond to life events.
Several days after this encounter I met Mum Shirl where in her incisive way she challenged me and asked why I had come. I told her I wanted to help! Boy did I get a response. “You want to help, your people have been doing that for two hundred years and look at the mess you have us in. If you want to help sit down and look and listen and you may be able learn something”. What began with me putting a toe in the water ended up tumbling me into a raging sea.
My life took on a new dimension and for over thirty years I have loved and been part of the Redfern community. Shirl took me to places where I feared to go, teaching me much about myself. Maureen Watson engaged me in discourse on black politics and racism. Roy, Jutebox and others taught me the deadly secret that loving is painful.
Ted celebrated a Living Eucharist,” this is my body broken for you”. The word broken still resonates for me today. I see us at
Ted has been pivotal to all of this. He understood that the church had broken its covenant with the poor and he challenged us to stand for justice and resist church and state where ever injustice occurred. He brought alive the reality that the Eucharist was central to our understanding of the suffering Christ This example has given me the understanding that when we resist political oppression we do so in the belief that we are called to walk in the shoes of Christ often stumbling but with travellers at Redfern there is always support.
Ted’s extraordinary self has been gift to all of us. His love of poetry; his love of the “littlest ones’; his love of us in no small measure gave us the gift to BE. He loves us for who we are. He is truly someone special among us. His integrity for Aboriginal people is absolute and his love of the church is constant.
There are many images I can recall of Redfern but two that I sense today. Ted and Dicko celebrating mass. Dicko and his beloved TK. His big hug for this man whom he knew loved him like a son. Two men who loved each other.
The second image is of Ted overwhelmed with grief and unable to complete the service for Normie West, and of Shirl stepping forward tears streaming down her face, as she stated “I love Father Edward Kennedy and he loves my people”.
What a kaleidoscope of memories that merges into today sharing the Journey with friends a journey of life, hope, faith, dreams and reflections.