Now Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it on a rock for herself, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell on them from the heavens; she did not allow the birds of the air to come on the bodies by day or the wild animals by night. (2 Samuel 21:10)
One hundred and forty years ago, not far from where I sit here in the solitude of the cemetery, a man gripped the handle of his shovel as he dug to try to set things right. He could not truly set them right. Not by a long shot. He could and he would do what was within his sphere of control. His shovel unearths the body of his dear friend from the scrubby bog as his tears join the raindrops. He lovingly carries him to the place where I now sit. The second and final grave, now with a towering monument, to guard against the evaporation from collective memory.
Here lies Wombeetch Puyuun, ‘last of the local tribes’ to live on Country. He was a member of the Leehoorah Gundidj clan, of the Djargurd Wurrung people. He died 26th February 1883.
His dear friend James Dawson was back visiting his home country of Scotland when he learned of Wombeetch Puyuun’s death. James and his daughter Isabella had befriended Wombeetch Puyuun and his community and learned to speak their language. Their respect for Aboriginal people made them stand out like sore thumbs among the other British people, who now resided in the place newly renamed ‘Camperdown.’ James was reportedly horrified and aggrieved to discover that the bog outside of the ‘proper’ cemetery was considered fit to discard Wombeetch Puyuun. James called on the Camperdown community to help fund a monument to honour Wombeetch Puyuun individually, and collectively, his people. James ultimately funded this obelisk himself, such was the disdain and disinterest towards First Nations human beings. James rolled up his sleeves and dug up the body of his friend, Wombeetch Puyuun, so that he could be buried in a manner that conferred some dignity and acknowledgement for future generations to observe.
This story, from a seemingly peaceful little town that I now call home, shocks, saddens and amazes me. I ponder God’s presence here, in this place, 140 years earlier. There is much beauty in the landscape; the twin jewels of the salty Lake Gnotuk and the fresh Lake Bullen Merri, the rugged volcanic rocks and mountains. God did not prevent the suffering, the massacres, the genocide here, as much as I wish this were the case. It is such an agonising story reeking of normalised evil.
Yet … I see the glimpses of where the Holy Spirit may have found some openings to work. Wombeetch Puyuun’s courage and determination to stay on his ancestral lands and not be moved to Framlingham. The friendship between two people of such different backgrounds. James standing up for justice, respect, advocacy and kindness, although he was in the stark minority in his community. Even as I lament how few people allowed their hearts to be softened to the Spirit, I am grateful for those who came before me and were ahead of their time. I continue to reflect on how to live in this time. Ω
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together daily stories and images from people in the congregation which are focused on God in this place. Why this theme? Read this! #Lent2023. Our Spiritual Geography © Sanctuary, 2023. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Full acknowledgement of country here.
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