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Pilgrimage to Wontulp-Bi-Buya College

Wontulp-Bi-Buya College Pilgrimage. © Peter Brandjerporn, Anglican Diocese of Brisbane, 2019.
 Participants of the Wontulp-Bi-Buya College Pilgrimage. © Peter Brandjerporn, 2019.

July 2019
The Revd Jazz Dow, ABM’s Education Missioner, shares her reflection after taking pilgrims to Wontulp-Bi-Buya College in Cairns last month. 

In early June, I facilitated an ABM pilgrimage of Church Leaders to Wontulp-Bi-Buya College in Cairns. It was an incredible opportunity and a time of much learning for myself and for everyone who participated in the pilgrimage.

Wontulp-Bi-Buya is a place of rich and meaningful community. Spending time at Wontulp-Bi-Buya is a privilege. We were offered hospitality beyond comprehension.

On the first day of the pilgrimage we travelled to Mosman Gorge. We walked in the dense rainforest and listened to the earth. It was an apt beginning to a week of intentional listening to the people who have cared for this earth for thousands of generations. 

The following day was Sunday and we travelled to Yarrabah, one of the largest Aboriginal communities in Australia. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and again the hospitality of everyone we met. We worshipped at the Anglican Church in Yarrabah. The liturgy was contextual and powerful, the music sublime.

Singing during service.© Peter Brandjerporn, 2019.
© Peter Brandjerporn, 2019.

Following the service the elders of the place taught us some of the history of the community – in all truthfulness. They shared the pain and the joy that the people of Yarrabah carry within their bodies and spirits. 

Our daughters joyfully played with the many kids from Yarrabah who welcomed our girls into their community. In their play and laughter I saw a spirit of unity, reconciliation, and acceptance beyond colour, creed or culture. It’s to these children that the kingdom of God belongs and is found.

The remaining five days of the pilgrimage were spent in Cairns at the teaching site of Wontulp-Bi-Buya. We sat in classes and learned alongside the students of the College. In class we experienced contextual theology and ministry studies at their finest! Story, culture, relationships play a vital role in the interpretation of scripture and tradition. People gather from ecumenical, urban, remote, regional contexts with differing levels of English literacy. For some students English was second or third or even fourth language. Some students identified themselves as part of the stolen generation, while others live in a communities where language and culture has continued to flourish.

All of this made for a rich and confronting experience for myself. As I am a part of a Church that was implicit in colonising this country, a church that was very much a part of the violence of the history of this place. And, yet, simultaneously a church that has been fully embraced and contextualised by MANY Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Anglican Church has so much to hear and heed in the voices and faith expressions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians.

“Wontulp is totally unique…”

“We transition and ensure that our students become the teachers.” 

“So that is very similar to the kinship systems and the systems of Aboriginal people throughout the nations prior to colonisation.”

 – Davena Monro (RTO Business & Operations Manager, Wontulp-Bi-Buya College)

As printed in one of the Wontulp-Bi-Buya student workbooks, the church is a pot plant that was placed upon the soil of the lands and seas now named Australia and it is time for us to break the pot and find our roots in this time, this history, this part of earth.

To do this we would do well to listen to the voices of people like the Revd Victor Joseph (pictured below), the principal of Wontulp-Bi-Buya, as well as the many students of the college that represent this vast and beautiful country. 

Principal Victor Joseph. © Peter Brandjerporn, 2019.
© Peter Brandjerporn, 2019.



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