The desert seems like a pretty unlikely place for things to grow, but they do… you just have to look a little bit harder to find them.
Deep in the South Australian outback lies a place only accessible via dirt track and almost 200km from the nearest town. Out-of-towners know the small, mostly Aboriginal community of Oodnadatta as little more than a fuel fill and a quick feed. Few venture beyond the bowsers of the iconic Pink Roadhouse.
But over at the church ground rises the Cathedral of a Thousand Stars. It’s an open-air church run by Julia Warren, a local Aboriginal woman. Julia founded the Oodnadatta Faith Community in 2007, on the same earth that missionaries from the United Aborigines Mission built the Oodnadatta Children’s Home in 1924. A slab of concrete is all that remains of the Home, but for generations past and present, its impact has been much more lasting.
Mentor: Nikki Marcel (Radio Adelaide)
Cathedral of a Thousand Stars follows the stories of two Aboriginal women separated by time but united by place. Their stories are shaped by family, culture, survival and hope, and together they highlight the diversity of spirituality and faith in Australia.
A heartfelt thank you to the Aunties for sharing their stories:
Julia Warren – Preacher, Oodnadatta Faith Community Leader
Mona Olsson – Yankunytjatjara Woman, Stolen Generations Survivor
Reverend Denise Champion – Adnyamathanha Woman, Minister at UAICC Port Augusta
Linda Sutton – Poet, Writer, Former Minister & Gulf FM 89.3 Broadcaster
Thanks also to the Aunties for their generous contributions:
Karina Lester – Yankunytjatjara Woman, Aboriginal Language Worker, Niece of Auntie Mona Olsson
Merrilyn Maine – Organist at Western Link Uniting Church
Thanks also to the Oodnadatta community, Ian Dempster from Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Reverend Jenny Swanbury, Radio Adelaide, the CMTO trainers and mentors, and my friends and family for their ongoing support throughout the making of this feature.
Pictured: Auntie Mona Olsson. Image by Lisa Burns