Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sacred sites in Australia?

I am (absolutely loving) teaching a class called Sociology for Ministry. An essential part is providing students with a whole range of tools by which they might read culture, in order to make them better Incarnational missionaries.  To date I’ve used tools including family photos, demographics, contemporary fiction, poetry, film and music.

This week the tool is sacred places.  Theologian Philip Sheldrake defines place as a “space that has the capacity to be remembered and to evoke what is most precious”  …. [It] “is always tangible, physical, specific and relational.”  If so, Sheldrake argues, then Christianity must consider place, for the Incarnation impels us to consider the layers of identity, relationships and memory. (Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity)

When I was teaching a similar type of course in New Zealand (Being Kiwi, Being Christian), I had a crazy idea, of teaching not in a classroom, but through a road trip.

The course would start in Bay of Islands – to contemplate Samuel Marsden and early mission; travel to Waitangi  – to consider the Treaty of Waitangi; then to Rotorua- to look at stained glass windows of the Maori Jesus; then to Parikaha – a site of Maori non-violent resistance; on to Christchurch – to the sculpture outside the Art Gallery and the journeys that bring all people; then to Waimate – to stand in front of an Anzac Day War Memorial.

At each of these places we would discuss what shapes us as New Zealanders (identity, relationships, memory) and ponder where we see the traces, and absences, of God.

But this in Australia.  So all week I’ve been wondering what are Australia’s sacred sites? If you were putting together an Aussie bus trip, what places would you visit and why?

Posted by steve at 10:26 PM


  1. beach – pub/sports club – bush – aboriginal place

    Anzac day makes me ashamed.

    enjoying your outsiders/newcomers view of Australia. we ought to chat about it.

    Comment by craig — May 5, 2010 @ 1:12 am

  2. For most Australians, our country’s story isn’t a huge part in our individual story.

    Football Park, Adelaide Oval and other sporting grounds would count as sacred sites for many. Sport probably counts as the #1 religion here, (if not football in its own right), and John Howard described Don Bradman as the greatest Australian in history.

    The beach, for families who’ve grown up near it.

    The bush is still iconic in Aussie thinking even though most of us live in the cities, but I can’t think of any particular iconic places apart from Uluru.

    Comment by Eric — May 5, 2010 @ 11:14 am

  3. Thanks Craig and Eric. I have my three, but am keeping them quiet at the mom, just to see what my insightful commenters, people like you, might suggest!


    Comment by steve — May 5, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

  4. Hi Steve,
    Others have beaten me to it but while I’m here…. Uluru, either Football Park or all the way to the MCG
    A local rural town War memorial [I’ve forgotten how to spell cenataph!]
    The ‘bush’ and ‘the beach,’ a family bbq, the Grand Final…

    Now you’ve got me thinking beyond cliche…


    Comment by Rob Hanks — May 13, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

  5. The Hume Highway
    All of it… you’ll find the sacred sites scattered all along it, small crosses and memorials to people, family members and friends who have passed away on the road at one point of time or another. I could say that about all of the roads around Australia, the Great Ocean Road, the roads across the Nullarbor… but I travel the Hume more regularly.

    The MCG
    As a South Australian I should say the Adelaide Oval but the reality is that the MCG holds more spiritual “value” than the old Adelaide oval. Perhaps… if the Adelaide oval hadn’t been pimped up so much I’d have stayed with that.

    From here it’s really a toss up. Whether you want to name Uluru or Kakadu or Wilpena Pound or the Flinders Ranges or Lake Eyre or the Simpson Desert or the Coorong…

    Personally, I’d stick with the Murray Darling Basin, a sacred waterway that we have plundered and sacrificed over many years, it’s seen great evils and great good, it’s had it’s time where it’s thrived and it’s time of being plundered. right now it’s a sad and damaged old sacred woman in need of not only our prayers but our help.

    Comment by Darren — June 17, 2010 @ 10:40 pm

  6. thanks darren. i’ve been slowly working my way through a history of the murray river. very disturbing both in terms of salinisation, conflict between states and violence to indigenous people. and one of my most poigant memories from being here in 2008 was a cruise on the coorong. Was salt from God’s tears, human tears or human degradation?


    Comment by steve — June 18, 2010 @ 8:29 am

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