“When I came to this country I never thought I would meet an Aboriginal person. This is your land and we are all visitors here. I am very happy to be here. I am very happy that you said welcome to us.”
The Parramatta area has been a meeting place for people of different nations and languages for many generations before the first English speakers arrived in this land. So it was fitting that a group of asylum seekers, who arrived in Australia from many lands, came together in this place to learn and share in the rich culture of the original inhabitants of the area.
Uncle Des and Aunty Kerry are indigenous elders in the Parramatta area and on a gorgeous winter day, they welcomed a busload of JRS clients and friends to their country, introduced us to their culture, and showed us some of the history and important sites in the area around what is now Parramatta Lake.
We learned about the enduring connection with the land and came to a better understanding of how the country and the people are one. We learned about the prized local eucalypts and how the bark was treasured by indigenous people from distant places. And we learned how the area was a natural meeting place, where people would come to share in culture and to trade and learn from each other.
Parramatta Lake is also a uniquely calm oasis just outside the bustling hub of the Parramatta CBD. Walking around the lake, admiring the beautiful bush land and soaking up the quiet integrity of the environment, worries seemed further away and peace in heart and mind seemed more possible.
“This place is very peaceful. Here in this place I feel peace in my heart,” said Hamid from Afghanistan.
Uncle Des and Aunty Kerry, together with Steve and Phil from the City of Parramatta Council, made us so welcome, in traditional and contemporary ways, and the memories of the beauty, the openness and the genuine togetherness will remain in our hearts.
The significance and meaning of this place was clear, even to this group made up of some of the newest members of the Australian community. Before leaving to catch buses and trains home and pick children from school,” Fatima from Iraq stood to thank our hosts.
“I want to say thank you. I am very honoured to meet you. When I came to this country I never thought I would meet an Aboriginal person. This is your land and we are all visitors here. I am very happy to be here. I am very happy that you said welcome to us. Thank you so much.”
As guests in this land, which will always belong in a special way to the indigenous community, we were welcomed and embraced as fellow travellers, and as members of one human community.
By Sarah Puls*
* Good Samaritan Sister Sarah Puls is a social worker who is the casework team leader for Jesuit Refugee Service at Arrupe Place, which provides a welcoming space for people seeking asylum and in need of essential services in Western Sydney. She is also involved in ministry with asylum seekers and refugees in her community of Good Samaritan Sisters in Merrylands, Sydney.