We get the gulf winds here, as no buildings separate our house from the damp sanddunes. Maybe those winds will sweep away all my doubts about writing a blog, and all my subtle or selfish justifications. Suffice to say that I have been prompted to think about the meeting (embrace/clash?) of communications technology and religion. I agree that they can both be used and abused by swindling types, but today they are also the electricity that fires revolutions. Meanwhile, one of our Sisters, who is 86 years old, beats me to face and successfully master Skype.

My late Father would greet strangers with his standard line, guaranteed to produce conversation: “So where’s home for you?” Today I am tempted to answer, “The universe,” but something more specific is probably in order. I have recently moved to Port Augusta, where I have set up camp with a warm welcome from the two local Sisters of Mercy. Our humble abode is full of ex-Housing Trust comforts and a most spectacular view from the kitchen window. Each night at sunset, we get a sample of God’s heavenly artistry, as colours prance over the hills on the other side of the dwindling sea. These words can’t do it justice, but one of the Sisters in my community does it perfectly with a deft click of her camera. Her best captures are created with the stunning effect of clouds, many of which we have been blessed with lately. It is green at present, extremely rare for the desert in summer.

The Spirit was typically insightful while whispering into the ears of our Congregation Council, who sent me here. A place of extremes; within two weeks we had temperatures of 47ºC and 71mm of rain in a day. According to the 2006 Census, the population is 13,257, with 85.2% Australian-born and 17.3% of Aboriginal identity. There is also “Residential Housing” for immigration detainees, maximum capacity 60 people, and a low-medium-high security prison, capacity 363. I hope that soon some of these populations will be much more than numbers to me.

Life has been unfolding gently for a few weeks, while I settle in and prepare for a Graduate Diploma in primary teaching. Though I usually can’t stand ‘gentle’, there has been good opportunity for some mulling and pondering. Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King Jnr., Stephanie Dowrick, Dr. Catherine Hamlin and Wayne Jacobsen (an evangelical pastor) have attained my reading list. All performed perfectly – to challenge and inspire. The news is mainly coming in a lot less brief-and-brutal format via the Internet, rather than tabloids. Today I was particularly grieved to hear about the vicious crackdown on protests against the dictatorship in Libya. Unlike Egypt, the peaceful protesters have been met with guns, bombs and air strikes from security forces. At least 233 are dead, in what the Libyan delegation to the UN has described as genocide. Will the international community step in here and do more than just ‘condemn’ what is going on? An Egyptian protester is bringing medical aid in a convoy – bless his soul. And the comfortable…look on.

Last Friday I went to the funeral of Peter Hilder in Hawker. It was typically well-attended in the country, with family, friends and locals flocking for several hours. Fortunately the weather was kind while most of us stood silently outside the pretty little church and listened through a patchy speaker. The cavalcade to the cemetery took us across a long dirt track that tossed enough dust to cover the cars. There was a great sense of solidarity in the grief that saw Peter resting in heaven. Apparently he had said his goodbyes, with an intuition in his last weeks. A relative described her memory of him, taking her out to check on his sheep. From a distance of over a hundred metres, he would be able to tell whether they were alright or in trouble. He knew their needs instinctively. From today’s readings: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” (Psalm 23) and “tend the flock of God that is in your charge…but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.” (1 Peter)

Much more could be shared, but that is plenty for today. I will leave you with the rather unusual (perhaps comical?) sight of me washing and polishing the car when I got back from Hawker. It was so dusty that I delved deep into my muscle memory to provide the long-forgotten service to our trusty white four-wheeler. My poor bike was feeling a little rejected, but my legs were no match for the 220kms there and back. Such is life on the edge of the Flinders Ranges!

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