I arrived in Australia at the end of January, when the air was filled with
smoke from uncontrolled bush fires and dust storms caused by one of the longest
and worst droughts in recent memory. Rain finally arrived in February, and we
rejoiced in the green that sprang up, welcoming the smoke- and dust-free air.
Businesses affected by the fires started rebuilding, and people started
spending more time outside.
But then almost overnight, everything changed. Streets are empty again,
and businesses once more have had to close.
Mid-March through mid-April was supposed to be a busy
season of traveling for me, along with Mark and Mary Hurst, retired Mennonite
Mission Network workers, to attend conferences, gather with folks who are part
of Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand (AAANZ), and
sight-seeing. First on the list was a weekend conference in Melbourne, followed
by a conference and a few days of vacation to see the sights in New Zealand.
After that, we planned to have a week at home in the Blue Mountains (northwest
of Sydney) before heading south again to attend the National Folk Festival.
But plans went haywire. New Zealand closed its
borders, requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country. We had
planned to be in New Zealand for 10 days, so that meant our New Zealand trip
was canceled. We would later learn that the conference shuttered as well. The
new plan was to go down to the conference in Melbourne, return home, and then
go to Canberra for the Folk Festival. But then, large gatherings of more than
100 people were forbidden, so our conference in Melbourne canceled. We hoped
that things would blow over after a few weeks, and we could still go to
Canberra at least. But when regulations tightened and all international flights
were grounded until at least the end of May, the Folk Festival canceled,
too. So now we’re home at Magpie Hollow for the foreseeable future.
Despite the disappointment of canceled plans, I feel fortunate
to be isolating in such a beautiful location, living with a wonderful group of
people. Magpie Hollow is a six-bed, seven-bath home in the Blue Mountains,
situated on 300-plus acres of land bordering a national park. Mark and Mary
moved here about a year and a half ago and are working to establish Magpie
Hollow as the main office for AAANZ and a retreat space for individuals and small
groups. Currently, there are five of us living here: Thomas, Mark and Mary’s
long-term housemate, is a French Mennonite who works as a local water engineer;
Moriah, Mark and Mary’s daughter, here on sabbatical from her work as a pastor
in the States; myself; and Mark and Mary.
With quantity restrictions in place on certain food
items, getting enough groceries to feed a household of five adults (with
different dietary requirements) for even a week is tricky. But we are improving
at working with these restrictions. Work continues as usual for most of us
(I’ve been tasked with updating the AAANZ website). Thomas now works from home.
Last weekend, we forged household bonding, thanks to yet another water pump
dying (we’re hoping the new one lasts more than two months). We also lost electricity
soon after we got the new pump installed, due to faulty wiring. We know someone
who’s an electrician who could help us on Monday, once he got the necessary
parts after work. So, Sunday, we did puzzles, read by sunlight streaming in the
windows, ate dinner, and played games by candlelight. Lots of singing and
laughter occurred during this time, too!