Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Suffering and Redemption

Continuing with The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, I share today a third excerpt from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Justice. (For Part One of this series, click here.)

As with all the excerpts from Neafsey's book shared in this series, this third one focuses on suffering, a key theme in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' final days and a reality which, to some degree or another, we all experience in our lives.

Suffering does not always have a redemptive outcome. Painful life experiences have the potential to deepen and mature us, to make us wiser and more compassionate, but this is not always how things work out. Pain can also make us numb or bitter or self-absorbed. It can make us so preoccupied with our own discomfort that we have little energy or interest left over for anyone or anything beyond ourselves. Suffering can soften the heart – or it can turn it to stone. And so we should be careful not to romanticize or spiritualize suffering too much, to assume that it will inevitably have ennobling or transformative effects upon consciousness or character.

One factor that determines whether suffering will have a redemptive outcome is our attitude toward it. "Suffering by itself is no cure," says author John Sanford, "it only cures us when we have the right attitude toward it." From this vantage point, the issue is not the particular form the troubles takes (e.g., illness, injury, depression, poverty, persecution) or even the degree of pain associated with it. Rather, what makes the difference is how we look at the difficulties life sends our way. How we see our problems has a profound impact upon how they are experienced, including the degree to which they are felt to be either meaningful opportunities for growth or meaningless obstacles that are better avoided.

The "right" attitude enables us to discern meaning in our sufferings. Meaning is what makes it possible for us to make spiritual sense of what otherwise seems senseless, to bear what would otherwise be unbearable. According to Victor Frankl, whether suffering becomes an occasion for spiritual triumph or defeat depends entirely on our capacity to discover a meaning or purpose in it. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who wrote of his personal experiences of extreme suffering in the Nazi concentration camps in the class Man's Search for Meaning, emphasized the human capacity to choose our attitude toward suffering regardless of external circumstances. "Everything can be taken away but one thing, " he wrote, "the last of human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances. . . . Fundamentally, even in the worst of circumstances, we can decide what shall become of ourselves mentally and spiritually, retaining our human dignity even in a concentration camp."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 115-118

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Intimate Soliloquies
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
In the Garden of Spirituality – Paul Wapner
In the Garden of Spirituality – Caroline Jones

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Diamond Head

On Friday, April 4, I visited Diamond Head with my brother Tim and sister-in-law Ros. Diamond Head is just south of Port Macquarie.

As you'll see from the following images, it's a very beautiful part of the Australian southeast coast.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Way of the Wounded Healer

Continuing with The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, here is a second excerpt from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Justice. (For Part One of this series, click here.)

As with all the excerpts from Neafsey's book shared in this series, this second one focuses on suffering, a key theme in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' final days and a reality which, to some degree or another, we all experience in our lives.

Sometimes callings originate in painful life experiences that serve as a kind of initiation into the way of the wounded healer – the person whose sufferings become a source of healing to others.

The vocational theme or pattern of the wounded healer can be discerned in many religious traditions through the ages. It is perhaps most dramatically illustrated in the spirituality and healing practices associated with shamanism, an ancient, primordial form of religion that is still practiced in many indigenous cultures today. Parallels to shamanism are found in many of the world's major religious traditions. The theme of the wounded healer can be detected in the life pattern of the historical Jesus as well as in the lives of many people in the contemporary world. Henri Nouwen's well-known book, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, is centered around the idea that the minister's own wounds, if tended properly, can become a source of healing for others.

Although a great diversity of spiritual beliefs and healing practices exists among shamanistic cultures throughout the world, certain patterns are encountered whenever shamanism is practiced. One of the most striking is the phenomenon of the "initiatory illness" in the calling of the shaman. In many cultures, it is common for the shaman-to-be to experience a painful physical illness or psychological crisis at some point during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. During the initiatory illness the young person typically has vivid visions and dreams (often while in a state of unconsciousness or delirium) that contain striking religious imagery centering around images of death and rebirth, spirit journeys, or encounters with various kinds of good and evil spirits associated with illness and healing. Black Elk, for example, received his calling through a complicated and remarkable vision during his own illness experience, which occurred when he was only nine years old and lasted over a period of twelve days while he was deathly ill in a coma-like state of unconsciousness.

Eventually, the shaman recovers from the initiatory illness and begins a period of formal training and apprenticeship in preparation for healing work with others. Significantly, the illness experience is interpreted by the community as a sign that the young person has a special calling to the work of healing. After Black Elk recovered from his own severe illness at the age of nine, an older shaman by the name of Whirlwind Chaser said to his parents: "your boy is sitting there in a sacred manner. I do not know what it is, but there is something special for him to do."

. . . There are many parallels to shamanic themes in the life of Jesus. Although there is no evidence in the gospels that he experienced an initiatory illness, Jesus' forty-day ordeal in the wilderness prior to beginning his public life as an itinerant healer and teacher can be likened to a kind of shamanic initiation during which he personally "worked with the spirits." From the perspective of shamanism, Jesus' assertive dealing with the temptations of the Satanic spirit in the wilderness would likely be seen as the source of his later power and "authority" over unclean spirits – which are often noted in the gospel accounts of his healings of tormented people. Jesus' visionary experiences in the wilderness (e.g., journeying with Satan to the top of a high mountain or to the pinnacle of the temple) are also reminiscent of the "soul journeys" or "spirit flights" of the shaman.

The gospels also suggest that, from the beginning of his public life, Jesus strongly identified with the mysterious "Suffering Servant of Yahweh" figure (the one who brings good news to the poor, heals the brokenhearted, brings liberty to captives) from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In Christianity, there is a long tradition of belief that Jesus was the fulfilment of this countercultural redemptive figure foretold by the prophet: the "man of sorrows" whose wounds would become a source of healing and redemption for others.

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 115-118

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Well, Look Who's Coming to Port Macquarie . . .

Yes, the legendary Petula Clark will be performing May 7 at the Glasshouse as part of her Australian tour in support of her most recent album, Lost in You. Unfortunately, I'll be back in the U.S. by then, but my parents are considering attending the concert.

Here's how the Glasshouse is advertising "An Evening with Petula Clark":

Britain's most acclaimed star returns! Petula Clark is Britain's most successful performer of the 20th century. Embracing every aspect of show business, her worldwide career has virtually defined the term "International Superstar." She has been a massive star since World War II - on stage, screen, TV, radio and in the pop charts. She is one of the most distinguished, enduring and best-loved entertainers the world has ever seen. Petula's concert will include all of the hits from the '60s, new songs from her latest Sony CD Lost In You, as well as selections from movies and stage shows.

Following (with added links) is Steven Rosen's insightful April 2013 review of Lost in You for Blurt magazine.

As much a surprise as finding a new album by 80-year-old Petula Clark (singer of the 1964 pop-rock classic “Downtown”) on a label that also features Art Brut, The Prodigy, Cradle of Filth and Anvil is the fact that it’s really good. Not just good, but contemporary in its production and (for the most part) material, creating a showcase for Clark’s reserved but convincingly involved voice.

Clark, who as a child made her singing debut on British radio during a World War II bombing raid, went on to international fame in the 1960s collaborating with Tony Hatch on bright, catchy hits (“Downtown” “I Know a Place,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”). Before that in the 1950s, and again after the American Top 40 presence ceased in the 1970s, she had also been popular in France, singing in French.

While Lost in You is an English-language album, her French experience serves her well – the introspective coolness of the chanteuse has an ageless quality and is quite becoming to her. It’s also a great way for a voice that understandably has lost some of its youthful range to still be expressive, through smart use of nuance and asides.

For this project, she has partnered with producer John Owen Williams, whose own long career in the British music business includes production and A&R work for many younger rock acts like Alison Moyet, The Proclaimers, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and many more. They have selected a savvy group of other collaborative producers, arrangers, players and writers, including Paul Visser, Steve Evans, James Hallawell (Waterboys) and Sarah Naghshineh.

The songs are just right for Clark – subtly minor-key with a quiet beat, tastefully reflective string arrangements, stately piano and enough guitar to move things along. When they wander into ever-so-slight electronica, as on “Every Word You Say,” there’s just enough mysterious distance in Clark’s voice to give off a chill.

The opening song “Cut Copy Me” (by Naghshineh, Visser and Williams) is startlingly effective, from the computer-referencing title to the auto-tuned echo of her voice to the acoustic-guitar/piano interplay. It’s haunting and mysterious.

She also does a harder-edged, dramatic version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that shows how her pop-rock version can work as well as Bettye LaVette’s recent soulful take. And on “Reflections,” a song adapted from Bach’s “Sleepers Awake,” lyrics about her childhood in Wales accompany the grandeur of the keyboard-and-strings arrangement. It’s a bona fide art song, and brings to mind how Procol Harum turned Bach into “A Whiter Shade of Pale” so long ago.

Of special note is a new version of “Downtown,” her ebullient breakthrough American hit. It is now a ballad, her voice sometimes narrating the words as much as singing them. At the chorus, where the original song had her voice rise on “down” – connoting excitement – this time she straddles turning “down” into a minor-key note. The result is to make the song elegiac, a salutary tribute to a friend (the original version) from long ago.

The album doesn’t need her cover of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” or John Lennon’s “Imagine” – they’re musty rock-classic selections that work against musical relevancy. Still, Clark has shown that a good pop stylist can stay as interesting in her eighties as can a more “authentic” roots singer, with the right material and production support.

The Rolling Stones used to point to Muddy Waters as an example of how blues-rockers can age gracefully and still be vital. One gets the feeling a lot of young pure-pop singers will look to Clark the same way after Lost in You.

Here is Petula Clark's chilled-out cover of the Gnarls Barkley hit "Crazy." Enjoy!

Recommended Off-site Links:
Petula Clark on the Making of Lost in You – All Pet Productions Limited and Troubador Limited (2013).
Petula Clark’s Pop Comeback, at Age Eighty – Ben Greenman (The New Yorker, April 2, 2013).
A Review of Lost in You – Philip Matusavage (MusicOMH, February 25, 2013).

For more of Petula Clark at The Wild Reed, see:
Pet Sounds

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"To Die and So to Grow"

Here at The Wild Reed I have a tradition of sharing a special Holy Week series of posts (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here). This year I'll be sharing excerpts from one of the books I've brought with me on my current visit home to Australia from my other home in the U.S. This book is John Neafsey's A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience, about which the following has been said:

Both younger and older adults will find in John Neafsey's thoughtful, often moving, and inspiring excavation of vocation, social conscience, and the prophetic tradition a compelling tug to the Center – an awakening to the cry of those who bear most of the social cost and to the sacred within, among, and beyond us.

– Sharon Daloz Parks, author,
Big Questions, Worthy Dreams

A gentle, winsome reflection on the call of God. . . . This book will serve well those who hope for and engage an alternative way in the world.

– Walter Brueggemann

Drawing widely on the wisdom of saints and sages, John Neafsey describes a path to living in the place, as Frederick Buechner has put it, "where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

– Orbis Books

The part of A Sacred Voice is Calling that I'll be drawing from for this year's Holy Week series focuses on suffering – which is, of course, a predominant and important theme of Holy Week. And I believe it is such an important theme because it's an important reality of human experience, including Jesus' experience.

I start today with Neafrey's thoughts on the call to authentic personhood and, in particular, the commitment to continual growth and change and the associated willingness to undergo emotional and spiritual pain and discomfort that such a call involves.

"Life is difficult" is the first line of M. Scott Peck's popular and influential book The Road Less Traveled. the "road" to which he is referring is the path of emotional and spiritual growth. The title implies that most of us prefer to take the easy way because the path to genuine growth and maturity can sometimes be so rough, so rugged, so difficult. It is not easy to change and grow, to honestly face our problems, to be loving and authentic persons in an egocentric, artificial culture.

Because of our egocentrism, all of us are inclined to resist the process of growth. Something in us doesn't want to change, and so we cling to the known and familiar rather than take the risk of following the Voice into the unknown. This is completely natural and understandable because there are no guarantees that we won't end up hurt and disappointed when we allow ourselves to be led into the new or the different. Sometimes letting go of an old way of being so that something new can come into being is so painful it feels like dying. This, I think, is what Goethe is talking about in his poem "The Holy Longing": And so long as you haven't experienced this: / To die and so grow, / You are only a troubled guest / On the dark earth.

The call to authentic personhood involves a commitment to continual growth and change, which requires a willingness to undergo the emotional and spiritual pain and discomfort that are a necessary and inevitable part of the process of coming to know ourselves. Self-protective, defensive efforts to avoid the pain of self-knowledge almost always end up bringing us other kinds of trouble. "Neurosis," says Jung, "is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." The neurotic misery of an inauthentic existence, it seems, is the price we pay for refusing to embrace the pain and risk of living an authentic life. We end up living as "troubled guests" on the earth, spending our precious time and energy anxiously trying to escape from the risky business of becoming the persons we are meant to be.

The call to love also entails pain and risk. We experience growing pains with every step we take in the direction of becoming more loving persons, with every increase in our capacity to give and receive genuine love. Mature love requires that we find the energy and will to make the moral effort to extend ourselves on behalf of others -- even when we don't feel like it. "I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you," says Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, "for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
Pp. 110-111

For the The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of Jesus that some might call "unconventional"), see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Mystic and Prophet
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State od Suspension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness

For the The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy week series (featuring excerpts from Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message), see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A Visit to Gunnedah

Recently my parents and I travelled from Port Macquarie to our hometown of Gunnedah in northwest New South Wales, Australia. The drive from Port Macquarie inland to Gunnedah is about four-and-a-half hours. It had been three years since I last visited Gunnedah.

In writing about my visit in February 2011 I noted that the town of Gunnedah is located in the Namoi River valley of north-western New South Wales, and serves as the major service centre for the farming area known as the Liverpool Plains.

The town and its surrounding area were originally inhabited by indigenous Australians who spoke the Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) language. The area now occupied by the town was settled by Europeans in 1833. Through my maternal grandmother’s family, the Millerds, my family can trace its connection to Gunnedah back to the town’s earliest days. For more about the town’s history and my family’s connection to it, see the previous Wild Reed post, My “Bone Country”.

Above: My parents, Gordon and Margaret Bayly, with their long-time friends Malcolm and Rosemary Sinclair – Thursday, March 27, 2014. That's the Gunnedah Town Hall behind them.

Left: Gunnedah Town Hall in 1934 – three years before the addition of the building’s clock tower. For more about the history of this landmark building, click here.

My parents and I travelled to Gunnedah to attend the funeral of Keith Moore, a good friend of my parents. In the photograph above my parents are pictured with Keith and his wife Judy at the 1962 Catholic Ball in Gunnedah.

Right: Dad and Keith at Moonbi Lookout, just north of Tamworth, New South Wales. I believe this photo was taken in January of 1985.

Above: My younger brother, Tim; me; Mum; and Judy & Keith Moore at the Moonbi Lookout – January, 1985.

Above and below: Dad and I at Gunnedah's Porcupine Lookout – Wednesday, March 26, 2014. That's the Breeza Plain pictured behind Dad. As I note elsewhere at The Wild Reed, part of the 2006 film Superman Returns was filmed on the plains near the village of Breeza, 25 miles south of Gunnedah.

It rained for most of our time in Gunnedah . . . which was a very good thing as the area desperately needed rain. Noted the March 25, 2014 issue of the Namoi Valley Independent:

It's been the most promising fall of rain the district has seen since the drought first took hold, and there is more on the way according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Gunnedah shire farmers awoke to the precious sound of soaking rain yesterday morning, with impressive falls of up to 60mm recorded in Mullaley.

Until 9am yesterday morning, Mullaley's official tally was 42mm, Gunnedah and Boggabri each received 29mm, Tambar Springs 20mm, Blackville 17mm, Breeza 25mm and Bundella and Caroona recorded 16mm.

The rain has been triggered by an inland surface trough and an upper level low which has resulted in a combination of humidity and cold air. The widespread downpour began late Sunday afternoon and continued into Monday morning. More rain is expected up until Friday, with the bureau predicting between 8-25mm for Gunnedah shire on Tuesday, between 3-9mm on Wednesday and 2-15mm on Thursday. The rain will ease by the weekend, with only possible showers forecast for Saturday and Sunday.

It's been a much-awaited welcome relief for farmers who have been battling one of the worst droughts in decades.

Above: Mum and Dad with our good friends Peter and Delores Worthington – Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Left: Dad partnered Delores when she made her debut in 1954.

Above: For 40+ years it was a tradition for our family to visit the Worthingtons on Christmas Day morning. This picture was taken in 1985 and shows my parents with members of the Worthington family. From left: Louise, Peter, Andrew, Delores, Dad, Mark, Alison, Mum, and Jane. Absent from this photo are my two brothers and I and Sally Worthington.

Right: Long-time friends John and Heather Sills, with whom my parents and I had dinner the first night we were in Gunnedah.

Growing up in Gunnedah, my family lived next door to John and Heather and their three children – Jenny, Troy, and Jillian – who were the same age as my brothers and I. And, yes, as with the Worthingtons, a Christmas Day visit to the Sills' was also a long-standing tradition. We'd go over just after opening our presents!

Above: Dad (center) with his good friends Don Bruce (my Mum's cousin) and John Sills. Because of their close friendship (and no doubt their fresh-faced looks), an older friend, Mavis Grace, used to refer to the three young men as Huey, Dewey and Louie!

Above: A 1982 photo showing (from left) Heather, Mum, Jillian, my younger brother Tim, Jenny, and John.

Above: Mum with Heather Sills and my paternal grandmother, Belle Smith, in 1981. Don't you just love our family's funky '70s-style stereo?

Above: Mum and Dad with John and Heather Sills at my brother Tim and sister-in-law Ros' 1990 wedding in Wagga Wagga.

Above: With Aunty Ruth, my Mum's younger sister, and good friend and "girl-next-door" when growing up, Jillian (John and Heather Sills' youngest daughter) – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Left: Aunty Ruth, looking very glamorous in the 1960s. Ruth graduated from the Royal Women's Hospital in Paddington, Sydney, in 1968.

Above: Ruth in the early 1970s with her daughter Emily.

Above: Ruth in 2000 with her husband Rex and their children Emily and Greg. Uncle Rex died in 2006.

Above: With Abby and Noah, my cousin Greg's girlfriend's children. Abby is dressed as the White Witch from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for a school pageant.

Right: My maternal grandmother's dove. Nanna Sparkes died in 1997, and this dove must be close to 20 years old. I'm glad it's still with us, as it's a lovely reminder of Nanna.

Above: Nanna Sparkes dancing up a storm at my older brother Chris' and sister-in-law Cathie's 1988 wedding in Melbourne. That's Nanna's youngest daughter Ruth behind her, and granddaughter Emily at right. At left is family friend Wendy Tunbridge.

Above: My maternal grandparents, Olive and Valentine Sparkes at my parents' 1959 wedding in Gunnedah.

Above: Having breakfast at Gunnedah's Bitter Suite Cafe and Wine Bar – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Above: Gunnedah's main thoroughfare, Conadilly Street – Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Pictured above with my childhood friend and neighbour Jillian at the Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club on the evening of Wednesday, March 26, 2014, and below 26 years earlier in 1988.

Above: Mum with family friends Gary and Wendy Tunbridge – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Left: Gary and Wendy on their wedding day in the early 1970s.

Above: For many years Wendy worked as a secretary at my Dad's farm supply and grain cartage business in Gunnedah. I'm pictured with her in 1983, which was my last year of high school.

Above: Dad with Wendy and Wendy's mother Gwen Riordan – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

As I note in a previous post, during my childhood my family and I would often spend time on the Kelvin property of Gwen and her husband Ray, about 20 kilometres outside of Gunnedah. With Gwen, her sister Barbara, and one or more of Gwen and Ray's adult daughters and their families we'd hike through the Kelvin Hills. Those adventures in the Australian bush remain very special to me.

Above: With my childhood and neighbourhood friends Dianne and Louise.

Right: Louise and her brother Gary with their mother Daphne. The photo was taken on Gary's first day of school, circa 1970.

Above: That's me next to our family's dog Deano. Behind me (from right) is Dianne, her brother David, and my younger brother Tim. We'd all been out with Dad collecting sandstone rocks for Mum's garden. I'm thinking this photo was probably taken in 1979.

Left: With Aunty Fay, my Mum's older half-sister – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Above: My maternal grandmother, Olive Sparkes, with two of her three daughters, Fay and Ruth, and Ruth's daughter, Emily – 1990.

Above: My maternal grandparents, Olive and Valentine Sparkes, with their four adult children, front row from right, Fay, Margaret, Ruth, and Michael; and their two son-in-laws at that time, back row, Bertie Wicks and my Dad, Gordon Bayly. This photo was taken in 1962 at the wedding of my Mum's cousin, Helen Millerd.

A number of the photos in this post were taken on March 26, 2014 at a dinner my parents and I shared with family and friends at the Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club. My paternal grandmother, Belle Smith (pictured above, second from left) worked for many years at this establishment as Catering Manager. At that time it was known as the Servicemen's Club. This picture of Nanna and her colleagues (including, at left, her good friend Dawn Weakley) was taken sometime in the 1970s.

Above: A photo from the mid-1970s showing my older brother Chris with Emily "Gran" Simmons (1892–1982). Gran was mother to Nanna Smith, grandmother to my Dad, and great-grandmother to my brothers and I.

Above: With Mum and Nanna Smith on Christmas Day, 1990.

I can't say I miss that hair, but I definitely miss that shirt!

Above: Blackjack Mountain, just outside of Gunnedah – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Notes Ron McLean in The Way We Were: Sesquicentenary of Gunnedah, 1856-2006:

Coal has been an integral part of the fabric of life in Gunnedah for 125 years. The first mine was a crude pit on the slopes of Blackjack Mountain with the coal hauled by dray to the railhead in the 1880s.

Coal mining has always been a tough industry with more than its fair share of tragedy. For so long, Gunnedah's miners laboured stoically, in terrible conditions, cramped and stifling, working with crude equipment. Working in pairs, they cut coal by hand, filling one-ton skips drawn to the surface by patient pit ponies. . . . They worked eight-hour shifts five days a week and six hours every alternate Saturday.

there were years of high production when Gunnedah coal was keenly sought by buyers, domestically and, later, overseas. But there were also times of despair, when the mines went into mothballs and men were cavilled out, many unable to find employment and having to ride out the tough times until the mines started up again.

And there was another recurring feature of mining -- the fatalities. Twenty men aged between 21 and 54 have lost their lives in mining-related accidents in the Gunnedah area, the first way back in 1897, the last in 1986.

As I note in a previous post about Gunnedah, my maternal grandmother’s first husband, Jack Louis, was killed in an accident in a mine workshop in nearby Werris Creek. The eldest of their two children, Eric (my Mum’s half-brother), collided with a coal truck as he rode his motor cycle to his job at the Gunnedah Mine on a very dusty road. He was only in his early twenties at the time of his tragic death. Both father and son are honoured on Gunnedah's Miners’ Memorial.

Above: A photograph taken at Blackjack Colliery in April 1917.

Above: A store front in the main street of Gunnedah that aims to disseminate information about the downside of coal seam gas.

A February 21, 2013 Namoi Valley Independent article notes the following about the issue and the opening of the storefront:

A group of local farmers are determined to tell their side of the story when it comes to concerns over coal seam gas (CSG) – and they’re doing it next door to energy giant Santos’ Gunnedah office.

The group has taken a lease on a Conadilly Street property to inform the community about what they believe are potential threats to the future of agriculture in the shire.

The idea came following “frustration” over Santos’ ongoing advertising campaign spruiking the benefits of CSG in rural communities.

The aim of the main street property is to offer people an opportunity to find out more about CSG, and provide information about the extent of development in Queensland, results of scientific research, quotes from various professors and environmentalists, concerns about impacts on water and various media clippings.

“We’ve got a whole country at risk,” said Willala farmer Alistair Donaldson.

“The (Santos) ads don’t show the full picture.

“Gunnedah needs underground water and too much evidence shows it will be affected to some degree.”

Farmers fear that NSW will follow in the footsteps of Queensland where there is mass CSG development and infrastructure.

In Queensland alone up to 40,000 wells are expected to be drilled by 2030, leaving landholders fearing for their livelihoods and our nation’s food bowl.

“Santos advertisements aim to create a perception in people’s mind that this is a safe industry, that there will be plenty of jobs and that the process of recovering CSG from coal seams will not pose any threat to underground water,” Mullaley farmer Robyn King said.

Ms King also questioned the direct benefits to local communities.

“If we need the energy, why are we exporting it?”

Santos has always maintained it is confident that responsible CSG development and production provides a safe, clean solution for the state’s energy needs and one that can be delivered in a timely fashion.

Mr Donaldson and Mrs King thanked the Vernados family for their generosity when it came to leasing the main street premises.

They also believe the local campaign against CSG is gaining momentum.

It follows a recent survey carried out by Mullaley farmers where 98.5 per cent of 297 people in the shire supported a no-go CSG zone in the area.

Above: The Kelvin Hills, shrouded in rain.
For a view of them on a clear day, click here.

Two Gunnedah portraits of me . . . At left at age five . . .

. . . and at right in 2014, just a couple of years away from turning 50!

Above and below: Returning from Gunnedah to Port Macquarie on Thursday, March 27, Mum & Dad and I stopped in Tamworth to visit my cousin Emily. She and her husband Matt have just had their first child, Lewis Rex.

Above: Little Lewis Rex!

Left: With Emily and Matt's dog.

Above: Mum and Dad – Thursday, March 27, 2014.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Journey to Gunnedah (2011)
This Corner of the Earth (2010)
An Afternoon at the Gunnedah Convent of Mercy (2010)
My "Bone Country" (2009)
The White Rooster
Remembering Nanna Smith
One of These Boys is Not Like the Others
Gunnedah (Part 1)
Gunnedah (Part 2)
Gunnedah (Part 3)
Gunnedah (Part 4)