Acting ‘Glocally’ on Water: Taking inspiration from Mercy Global Action in Bathurst
Water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to water is a basic and universal human right …” (Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ #30).
Mercy Global Action’s 2015 visit to Bathurst almost collided with the visit of a team visiting from a proposed new gold mine in town. The result was the birth of a creative, contemplative, grass roots campaign of vision and hope that continues in 2017.
While Denise Boyle fmdm and Áine O’Connor rsm shared their work on the impacts of mining at the United Nations, the gold mining company, Regis Resources, was approaching Bathurst Regional Council with an offer to buy 10 megalitres per day of flows from the Macquarie River. This water, equating to about 4 Olympic swimming pools per day and at least 50-70% of the flows at Bathurst, has been critical for the life of the river, including many aquatic and riparian species and water allocations of farmers, for some 100 years.
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.
During her visit, Áine shared about her work taking the experience of people connected with Mercy on the ground in 44 countries into the policy making at the UN. She described the exhaustive process of successfully ensuring Sustainability Development Goal number 6, Water and Sanitation, as a form of advocacy which seeks to change the unjust systems that cause and perpetuate poverty of peoples and degradation of Earth. We heard about their efforts to get to the root causes by continually asking “why?” which uncovers the unjust structures that prevent fullness of life for people and Earth. “Globalisation, unregulated financial systems, continued push for economic growth at all costs… the moment is now for us to bring the voice from the grassroots to the table,” she said.
This visit made Rahamim’s course of action in light of the water issue obvious. Our focus needed to be on the life threatened by the new mine in our backyard. Furthermore, our advocacy style needed to be distinctively “Rahamim”, driven by Mercy values, with hope and vision, and a contemplative stance which gets to the heart of what matters.
Consequently, the staff and board wrote letters, met with councillors, organised petitions and spoke up at Council meetings. Before long, a range of diverse community groups, from the climate action network to the fishing clubs, videographers, designers, university lecturers, school students and Wiradjuri Elders were coming together in the open space of Rahamim to coordinate their efforts to have their voice heard. The campaign logo “Water More Precious than Gold” was created as were banners, a slogan, videos and songs. All went ‘viral’ on social media along with the local radio, TV and print media.
At Rahamim, a river immersion education and spirituality program “Spirit of the River” was created and 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 “River Yarners” were born!
(Pictured above: Hayley Beale)
The yarn river, now over 80 metres long, has been publicly displayed at strategic times and places during Council’s decision-making process, and has been installed at many art exhibitions and conferences on biodiversity, sustainability and Indigenous heritage. When completely unfurled, it is able to stretch the entire length of the Council chambers where it stands as a testament to the quiet, resilient women deeply concerned about maintaining the flows of the Macquarie River.
Some 18 months later, this group continues to meet each week, and will continue to do so until a decision on the sale of the water is reached. One of the coordinating team, lecturer in Communications, Tracy Sorensen, said “There is a place for quiet in the movement, and using traditional craft skills to subvert the traditional power relations in surprising, quirky or confronting ways.”
This advocacy has also become an embedded part of the curriculum in Mercy schools and other schools in Bathurst. As part of the annual Mercy Charism foundation day at James Sheahan Catholic High School, Orange, the story about this campaign was shared with staff and students. Teachers of Religious Education and Geography got on board as an expression of their Mercy values in the Year 9 curriculum. The assessment task is now to make a short film exploring the Macquarie River issue, with Mercy values in mind, for the Rahamim film festival.
Since the visit of Mercy Global Action, thinking ‘Glocally’, in solidarity with Mercy Sisters at the UN and around the world, has become our hopeful vision for advocacy now and into the future.
Messages to: Sally Neaves