A REMARKABLE ROCK

The Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island live up to their given name. Standing sentinel on a weathered cliff, these massive formations have perched in this one spot over the Southern Ocean for aeons. They have watched, they’ve been weathered, and they have stood firm – almost as monolithic metaphors for strength and imperiousness. 

Facing south from the cliffs, Antarctica is out there somewhere. On the clearest of days you would never be able to see the great white continent from here, but through squinting eyes you are aware it’s the next land mass over the ocean once the Roaring Forties have been conquered

On the day of our visit the Riley kids ran among the massive granite boulders looking for recognisable shapes, and also really good places to hide. These rock formations  are nature’s superior version of a Henry Moore sculpture display

“The Eagle” was the most obvious of the weather-hewn shapes to be seen. The “Helmet and the Sword” were discovered next, and then a “Cake” – a discovery perhaps influenced by the fact it was my son Theodore’s ninth birthday. The “Sad Puppy” was one  of our final discoveries, and was seen only when the shadows of the setting sun had thrown enough reddening tones to reveal some round eyes and floppy ears.

On the display board in the car-park down the hill there’s a photograph of a family visiting the Rocks in the late 1800’s. Over a century stood between their touristic trip to this remote part of the world and my family’s visit. The only difference between us (apart from an Eagle’s Beak slightly longer back when Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire) was they had brought their dog. My wife tells me we’ll NEVER own a dog… and so maybe the reason I saw a Sad Puppy face in the Remarkables is some kind of three dimensional Rorschachian inkblot revealing the sadness of my soul at a future without Rover.

Standing beside and among and inside these rock formations I can’t help but compare their existence to mine. When our shadows were cast upon their permanence it only served to emphasise this life’s fragility and failures. These Remarkables will be here well after the Rileys are not. 

The ancients have often compared nature’s Creator to a rock. At the Remarkables I am able to catch a glimpse of the reason for the comparison. 

There is a story in Scripture from almost three thousand years ago of a totalitarian leader of a world superpower. He craves absolute power and immortality and yet dreams one night of a divine rock that smashes into his ego and all those who come after him. This biblical story is not a prophecy of a catastrophic meteor, it’s a metaphoric promise of Christ. It’s a story of a Saviour who brings strength and peace to a world needing permanence.*

In Jesus, we do indeed have a Remarkable Rock. It is He who gives our life shape. As we walked away from the cliff face, I was closer to this Rock than when I had arrived.

(* This story of the king of Babylon’s dream is found in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 2)

An eagle’s perspective of the Remarkable Rocks on the remote south-west corner of Kangaroo Island

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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is taking a sabbatical year to drag his family around Australia in a caravan. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series that meanders around a series of subjects pondered and stuff seen. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking “follow”.

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TALKING TOMBSTONES

Three generations of my family stood on a windswept cemetery hill a mile outside of the small southern New South Wales town of Boorowa. A rain storm was heading towards us, and we only had a few minutes before the welcomed wet arrived.

My mother understood the significance of the moment, but my kids would probably only appreciate the memory of a graveside stop in a few decades’ time.

“John Mulcahy” the headstone read, “A native of County Cork in Ireland who departed this life in 1867 aged 88 years.”

John Mulcahy was my mother’s great great great grandfather. In 1836 John purchased tickets on a boat for himself and his wife, and also their ten children – and they embarked on a three month sea voyage from Ireland to a new British colony in the southern hemisphere. The trip would cost him the lives of his wife and his seven-year-old son to Scarlet Fever, and John would see a fifth of his fellow passengers and crew die of the same infection before they reached Sydney cove. When they arrived, those who survived were forced into quarantine on a remote headland miles from the colony. “Fever Ship!” shouted the front page of the fledgling Sydney Morning Herald, and the vessel’s survivors were scorned.

John Mulcahy would spend the next two months in a makeshift tent with his nine children, released from quarantine when Governor Bourke deemed the Fever’s outbreak over. 

John took his family south and inland, two hundred miles from Sydney. He took them to sheep country, and they stayed for over a century. Four generations of John Mulcahy’s family stewarded the land and the livestock, and today Italian suit companies clamour for the superfine Merino wool the area sends back to Europe. 

My mother and my children stood by John’s grave, in the same place our ancestors had stood grieving over one hundred and fifty years previously. The spot seemed sacred to me, but my kids just rolled their eyes and asked: “Is this over yet, Dad?” They’ll thank me in a few decades…. I hope.

John’s tombstone is engraved with words both macabre and also deeply meaningful:

Remember me as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now you soon must be
Remember that as you think of me

The rain began to fall, and my children welcomed an excuse to scurry from an ancient burial ground towards the car. I took my mother’s arm to help her over the uneven ground, and we followed the kids’ lead back to the vehicle. As I helped her into the passenger seat she half-whispered something to me so the kids wouldn’t hear: “David, I hope I’m not forgotten when the next generation is gone.”

That may very well be every adult’s fear as we confront our own mortality.

On a windswept and wet hill, a mile outside of the historic town of Boorowa, I had ancestors from both yesterday and today speaking to me. A message from the tombstone of the dead and the lips of the living: Our time is short, so make your life mean something.

The Apostle Paul wrote something similar two thousand years ago: “For each one of us is a masterpiece of God’s, created deliberately in Christ Jesus to do a good work in this life.”*

My life is short. By God’s good grace may it mean something.

(* Bible quote taken from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verse 20)

Beside the grave of John Mulcahy (1779-1867). The Riley kids may be smiling in the photo, but as soon as I hit “click” the asked: “Can we go now?”
The small town of Boorowa in southern New South Wales has an annual festival called “Irish Woolfest” to celebrate immigration from the Emerald Isle that built their wool industry. This photo captures the ‘running of the sheep’

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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is taking a sabbatical year to drag his family around Australia in a caravan. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series that meanders around a series of subjects pondered and stuff seen. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking “follow”.A group of people posing for a photo

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BORDER CROSSINGS

Almost all of Australia’s internal state borders are straight. They mirror the majority of the continent’s flat terrain. Those dashed territorial lines on a map represent the separation of former British colonies into today’s self-governing states.

But if your eye wanders down the map to the south-east corner of the country, you’ll see a line of dashes snaking all the way to the outback of South Australia. This meandering border separates Australia’s two most populous states (and the country’s oldest colonies); Victoria and New South Wales.

The snaked line of dashes on the map isn’t the result of a cartographer’s machine malfunctioning, nor is it because he might have had a beer too many by the time his ruler reached the fourth quadrant of Australia. That serpent of dashes represents the mighty Murray River.

There is something  special about the Murray River. Well, there is to me.

As a child being shuttled regularly on the long car journey between the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the Murray signaled something significant whenever it was crossed. On the other side of the Murray River is where laws changed. It’s where football fields transitioned from southern codes to northern. It’s where the darkness of my heart turned to light or possibly back to a deeper black, depending on the direction I was travelling. 

The Murray River: from its rapid beginnings in the Snowy Mountains, its slow dawdling across an ancient flat land through multiple attempts of humanity to civilise it into dams and irrigation systems, and then finally the river’s release into the giant mouth of the Southern Ocean. Two and half thousand kilometres of meandering water, making it one of the longest rivers in the world. But to me, in my childhood memories, the Murray is more than just another river.

I’m currently stalking the Murray westward on our family lap around Australia. We’re following the river’s flow west towards South Australia. As the week has unfurled, the Rileys have swum in the huge Lake Hume near the city of Albury, and then watched turtles feeding along the dam wall before being chased away by a sudden rain squall. We’ve splashed about in shallows near the historic township of Corowa, making sure not to swim out into the middle of the river and be dragged too far downstream. We’ve camped along its banks watching sunsets and river cod jumping at insects on dusk. 

The other night our daughters were talking about strands of their hair coming loose from their head as they swam. They were mildly concerned they had somehow managed to pollute the river as their hair floated downstream, or possibly even endangered fish. “You’re now a part of the Murray,” I reassured them as we washed the river’s mud off our feet, “And the Murray is a part of you”.

The biblical account of creation tells us*: “God formed humanity from the mud, and then He kissed life into each of them. With this combination of mud and the Creator’s breath they became a living soul.”

Each of us are made from something material and also something supernatural. When we allow ourselves to become physically close to creation we can sometimes hear the quiet voice of the Creator whispering His wishes for our lives.

And so today, the Murray River is letting me cross a border; a border into another Kingdom. 

A Kingdom of eternal tomorrows.

(* Bible quote taken from Genesis chapter 2, verse 7)

The Murray River in south-eastern Australia is the third longest navigable river in the world (behind the Amazon and the Nile)
One of our campsites during our travels along the Murray River

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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is taking a sabbatical year to drag his family around Australia in a caravan. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series that meanders around a series of subjects pondered and stuff seen. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking “follow”.