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 Global Perspective

September 9, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 18

Geraldine Hawkes
Geraldine Hawkes chairs the Commission for Australian Catholic Women. She also coordinates St Paul's City Ministry, an ecumenical centre that works with business people to bring ethics alive in boardrooms and workplaces across South Australia.



I look at each of my co-passengers and feel a sense of gratitude for who they are and what they do. I think of the important role they have in our society and the way in which they give of their time and skills.

Trains of thought II

By Geraldine Hawkes

ADELAIDE, Australia -- Sometimes I wish I lived in the southern suburbs. The sight of the sea and the setting sun each evening as I travel home by train from work in the city would fill me with a sense of awe and the wonder of nature. In the hot summer months I could stop off and spend an hour or so swimming or meandering along the shoreline. At other times I could meet with friends over a coffee, sharing news of the day as we overlook the beach with its occasional dog walker and parents playing with their children. I would be inspired and feel peaceful at these gentle portraits of nature and the unhurried response of people lingering over the seascape.

Or perhaps if I lived in the eastern suburbs, I could gaze at the hills on the journey homewards, aware of the texture and shades in the interplay between the masses of trees and the lowering sun, resulting in an image that invites one to touch its seeming softness and graceful lines, like a vast woolly tapestry. I would enjoy the leafiness of the wide streets and the gracious houses with features such as fountains, neat lawns and sophisticated palms. Public transport would not be too busy and I would have space to stretch out on the journey home.

I suppose the western suburbs would be fine, too, passing the golf courses and heading towards the city beaches.

Instead I live in the northern suburbs, on the Adelaide Plains. There seems at first few features worth noticing, more a sense of passing through to get from the city to home, better to keep reading though the train is busy and there's not much space for bags and books.

We approach Dry Creek, a station and a suburb. Very flat, very dry, hot and dusty. No trees, no water and no relief. Scrubby plants and tufts of shrivelled grass. No dancing patterns on the trees or the beach or the sea.

More trains of thought
      Geraldine Hawkes is writing a series of reflections inspired by train travel. Her first one appear in Global Perspective July 13.
The train moves along again, having picked up even more passengers, this time from the surrounding factories. Now we are passing these big steel sheds, with few windows. Tin buildings - hot in summer and cold in winter. Standing in beige sandy ground, the remnants of some dead foliage tangled in the barbed wire which surrounds the building - someone's effort at greening and beautifying the place. Scattered in the grounds are some white plastic chairs, left there after today's lunch or smoke break and remaining there for tomorrow's lunch or smoke break The same routine each day, the same faces, the same landscape.

The same landscape year in, year out. I think of the indigenous people of these parts, the Kaurna people, who lived on the Adelaide Plains long before white settlement in 1836. it occurs to me that the landscape that I see from this window, with the exception of the factories, is probably the landscape as it has been in these parts for thousands of years. And in its unattractiveness I find too its beauty - I can feel its ancientness and its challenge.

My thoughts turn to the people working in these factories. Those who are on the train look tired and weary, holding on to their bikes or the local daily paper, an empty lunch box in their other hand, taking it home to be refilled for tomorrow. Tight schedules and inflexible hours of work. Noise and clamour. Risk of physical injury.

I wonder what they have made today. What have they produced that is needed in our community or by some overseas community? I think of the clothes I'm wearing, the shoes on my feet, the briefcase with my diary and pens and mobile phone and keys. The sunglasses I'm wearing to keep out the glare. The air conditioning that is keeping the passengers on this train cool. The track on which we are travelling, the train in which are all encased on our homeward journey.

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I look at each of my co-passengers and feel a sense of gratitude for who they are and what they do. I think of the important role they have in our society and the way in which they give of their time and skills to enable our western materialistic society to function. How ideas are taken and new items are manufactured and produced. I gaze again at the factories and imagine them as the temples of labour in which people come together each day to create goods to make life generally easier and more comfortable for others in the community. And I hope that the life of those who produce these goods is equally easy and comfortable.

As I reach my stop, I'm left with a feeling of deep appreciation for living in the northern suburbs. It's wonderful, certainly, to see the hand of God in magnificent sunsets and the eternal hills, but each day as I travel by train with the people around me and pass through this seemingly unattractive landscape with its ugly buildings, I am reminded more deeply that God's greatest work is done as people find dignity in their work and in their everyday lives.

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