March 2012

Japanese sister’s outback experience

Good Samaritan Sister Hiro Kageyama will return to Japan on March 24 after a 10-month sabbatical that has taken her to some of Australia’s remote destinations.

Since joining the Good Samaritan Sisters 55 years ago – the first Japanese woman to do so – Hiro has regularly visited Australia for work and congregational matters, but rarely has she been beyond capital cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

When planning her sabbatical, which included a three-month spiritual renewal program at Marymount Mercy Centre in Sydney, Hiro wanted to experience the ministries of Good Samaritan Sisters in remote and rural areas.

“My aim is to know Good Samaritan Sisters’ ministries in the outback,” she told The Good Oil.

She began her journey in Whyalla, South Australia and then spent time in Western Australia at Mount Magnet, Three Springs, Geraldton, Broome and Kalumburu. She also travelled to Darwin, Uluru and the Santa Teresa mission near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, as well as Brisbane, Townsville, Hughenden, Charters Towers and Palm Island in Queensland. Then there were visits to sisters in less remote communities in the eastern states.

According to Hiro, the whole experience was “wonderful”. “It was more than I hoped [it to be],” she reflected.

“It’s been very spiritual and social. Things went into the depth of my being.”

Hiro said she felt “more deeply imbued with Archbishop Polding’s spirit”, having travelled to many of the places that he did as Australia’s first bishop.

When asked about the highlights, Hiro is quick to say there were highlights in all the places she visited, but two destinations stood out: Broome and Palm Island.

In Broome, she was fascinated to learn about the strong bond of friendship and mutual respect between the locals – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and the Japanese people. From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, many people from Asia, including significant numbers from Japan, came to Broome to work as pearl divers.

Hiro said the Japanese contribution to the pearling industry is acknowledged with warmth and affection by the local community, particularly since so many Japanese lives were sacrificed in the process, from drowning or decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends.

Moved by her visit to the Japanese cemetery in Broome, the resting place for more than 900 Japanese, Hiro was amazed by the number of memorials, statues and street signs acknowledging the Japanese contribution to the area.

“Australians in Broome highly appreciate what these old Japanese people had done for them,” said Hiro. “Broome people cherished them very much.”

Visiting Palm Island was another significant experience for Hiro. Despite her frequent visits to Australia over the last five decades, it was on Palm Island, as in Broome, that she had her first encounters with Indigenous Australians.

While on Palm Island, Hiro attended the blessing of a monument and new buildings which acknowledged the tragic history of the Island, the suffering of the local Indigenous people but also their hard-fought freedoms.

For Hiro, witnessing the Aboriginal elders teaching and encouraging their young people was a powerful experience. “They kept saying [to the young people]: ‘hold your head up and then walk’,” she said.

Hiro is keen to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to share that knowledge with her own people, especially the students and staff of Seiwa College, Sasebo in Japan, where she served as both teacher and principal for many years.

As her sabbatical comes to an end, Hiro is grateful to her Good Samaritan Sisters for such a memorable experience and for their “kindness, hospitality and warmth” throughout the journey.

On March 24, Hiro will return to Japan to spend time with her family in Tokyo and sisters in Nara before heading off to the Philippines at the end of May. Hiro is no stranger to the Philippines having been one of the first Good Samaritan Sisters to minister there some 20 years ago. She said her new ministry will be one of support to the Good Samaritan community and their ministries in Bacolod City.

The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

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