World Environment Day Panel: This is Our Home

13 June 2024

World Environment Day Panel: This is Our Home Image

By Scott Guyatt, Queensland Synod Consultant 

A discussion panel on ways to care for Country has called the Uniting Church to action. Hosted on World Environment Day (June 5) by the Queensland Synod, UnitingCare Queensland, and Wesley Mission Queensland, four speakers explored the First Nations' understanding of caring for Country, custodianship, and the unique opportunities that lie before us.

Moderator Rev Bruce Moore chaired the panel and was joined by Madonna Thomson, Justine Dillon, James Stanley and Simone Elias. An audience of well over 120 gathered both in person and online for the panel discussion.

The panel began by unpacking the notion of Country: “Country is home,” said James Stanley, a Kabi Kabi and Wakka Wakka man and part of UnitingCare’s Pinangba team, “It’s the feeling of going home, of being safe, being surrounded by loved ones.”

“Caring for Country is part of everything we do” offered Madonna Thomson, a Jagera woman who hosts Walk on Country experiences with Nyanda Cultural Tours, including with UnitingCare Queensland staff. “We have to learn to articulate an approach and a perspective about how to care for Country that we haven’t had to before because it was just part of living” she continued, reflecting on how the world has changed. “In our minds, the principles of our custodianship and what we are responsible for hasn’t changed, but the actual application of it has.”

Justine Dillon, a Kombumerri and Quandamooka woman, introduced her peoples’ work in the Guanaba Indigenous Protected Area near the Gold Coast. Dillon described the use of the area for education, preservation and cultural exchange such as Walk on Country experiences shared by Wesley Mission Queensland staff. It’s a site on which the Ngargang-Wal Gold Coast Aboriginal Association, practises the kinds of cultural and environmental learning that the panel would go on to consider.

Listening to the panel, it quickly becomes clear why, in the words of Simone Elias (Manager of Environmental Sustainability at UnitingCare Queensland), caring for Country “is really a deep act of reconciliation.”

The Uniting Church, in its commitment to a covenantal relationship with First Peoples, recognised that First Peoples were “prevented from caring for this land as (they) believe God required of (them), and our failure to care for the land appropriately has brought many problems for all of us.” (Dr Jill Tabart, Covenant Statement 1994).

In his response to this statement, Pastor Bill Hollingsworth first recognised that God created the heavens and the earth, offering stewardship over it to humankind, before going on to remark “We give to you our foods, drinks, the flesh of our animals, the fish of our waters and birds of the air that have sustained our people for generations gone by.”

The Caring for Country panel picked up this notion of sharing, with James Stanley observing “This is your home as well, just as much as it is ours as Aboriginal First Nations people. We’ve got to look after it together…then we can move forward.”

The challenge of looking after the Country together occupied much of the panel’s thoughts, with the opportunity to draw on Indigenous culture, practice and knowledge foremost. Madonna Thomson expressed the need to “challenge some of the science that has been used in land management to adapt to the suitability of our country”, noting the “vital role of indigenous knowledge” to inform the way forward.

Thomson, Dillon and Stanley each cited examples from bush foods and medicines – noting the multiple ways native species can be used for food, medical and practical uses. Contemporary researchers, such as the team Thomson supports at the University of Queensland, are beginning to confirm what First Nations people have always known about the unique nutritional and medical value of such native plants.

The call to action from the panel was clear.

The panel invited the audience, and the wider church to take responsibility for its own learning and education.  For many of us that might involve jettisoning long-discredited school and tertiary education about First Nations people and culture, Dillon observed. She went on to speak of the need for “uncomfortable conversations” and “spreading the word” before encouraging the audience to “find the Traditional Owners of your land, connect with them, listen to their stories and help carry those stories on for the next generation”.

It's a call echoed by James Stanley. “Go meet people in your communities, your land councils and so on.  Ask questions, because there are no stupid questions if you are genuinely concerned.”

Madonna Thomson extended the same invitation. “Take responsibility, do self-learning,” she said, adding the encouragement to “immerse yourself in Indigenous experiences.”

On the potential to explore bush foods, the panel encouraged the church to be open to all the possibilities on offer, particularly noting the critical importance of supporting Indigenous-owned businesses within the fledgling industry.

Offering a last thought on the morning, Simone Elias reflected on her experience of noticing people within UnitingCare Queensland take a growing ownership within their own sphere of influence: “In the many hats you wear, in your workplace, if you are part of community groups, at home, consider what your unique influence is.” Simone went on to recall the words of Wiradjuri River Guide Richard Swain that “being custodians of this Country is part of it – you (Second Peoples) have to see that as part of your job in caring for Country.”

Rev Bruce Moore, Moderator of the Uniting Church closed the morning expressing the hope that the panel’s discussion has stirred something within each of the audience, inviting further reflection on the sacred stories, wisdom and understanding shared.

The full panel discussion is available online to view. Emily Murray is the Synod’s Environmental Sustainability Specialist. Reach out to Emily at to talk about actions you can take to care for Country or download the Synod’s  A Flourishing Creation Action and Advocacy Plan to learn more.

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