A pic­ture tells . . .

The Tatura Guardian - - News - — Brian Spencer, min­is­ter, Tatura Unit­ing Church

You know you are get­ting old when you are in­tro­duced to some­one in their 30s and you say ‘‘I knew your fa­ther’’.

So it was when on a visit to HM Dhur­ringile Prison, I met a young man, who I’ll call ‘Max’ for the pur­poses of this ar­ti­cle.

Max is an Abo­rig­i­nal man from Mil­dura who was paint­ing in the art room.

HM Dhur­ringile Prison is a low se­cu­rity prison where peo­ple serve out the fi­nal months or years of their sen­tence and pre­pare for life on the out­side.

The prison’s Abo­rig­i­nal arts pro­gram fo­cuses on the role of cul­ture and cul­tural iden­tity in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­cesses for in­dige­nous pris­on­ers.

The pro­gram aims to re­duce in­dige­nous re­cidi­vism by in­creas­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion and con­fi­dence in the arts in­dus­try by of­fer­ing of­fend­ers so­cial, cul­tural and skill de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was the min­is­ter in the town of Dare­ton on the NSW side of the Mur­ray River near Mil­dura, in the Coomealla Ir­ri­ga­tion area.

It’s a re­gion of vine­yards and citrus sur­rounded by vast sheep and cat­tle sta­tions. The town and sur­rounds have a sig­nif­i­cant Abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion.

I be­came deeply in­volved with the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity and was in­stru­men­tal in help­ing it es­tab­lish its own football team in the lo­cal Millewa league.

I was even the first cap­tain/coach of the club.

Thirty-five years later this back­ground still pro­vides a bridge to build­ing re­la­tion­ships at times.

So as we ex­plored what ‘from Mil­dura’ meant, I dis­cov­ered Max was the son of some­one I had coached, played football with and had known and loved as a great char­ac­ter and fine man.

I was sad­dened to learn that Max’s fa­ther had died in 2004.

I told Max I thought I may have a team photo with his fa­ther in it and of­fered to bring it in if he would like to see it. Max said he would.

So I went back through my slide col­lec­tion (I had to find and fix an old slide pro­jec­tor first in or­der to be able to do so) and found not only the team photo but an ac­tion shot and some pho­tos of a wed­ding at which Max’s fa­ther had been best man.

My search for slides of Max’s fa­ther took place dur­ing the week I was sort­ing through my own fam­ily pho­tos as I pre­pared the slideshow for my mother’s fu­neral ser­vice.

Dif­fer­ent fam­ily mem­bers sent me their pho­tos of Mum and I ended up hav­ing far more pho­tos than I could use.

The pho­tos spanned the 96 years of her life and prompted so many mem­o­ries of her ac­tiv­i­ties and re­la­tion­ships.

On my next visit to the prison, I gave Max the pho­tos.

In the team photo he recog­nised un­cles and other peo­ple he had grown up with but it was the photo of his fa­ther as best man at the wed­ding which moved him. Dressed in a suit, stand­ing proud with his re­splen­dent afro, his fa­ther looked young and strong.

Max went si­lent as he touched the photo. He was too young to re­mem­ber his fa­ther like this.

Af­ter a few mo­ments he said ‘‘Mum’s go­ing to love this’’.

It was a mo­ment that took my breath away as I re­alised that this fam­ily had few such pre­cious pho­to­graphic mem­o­ries.

I felt deca­dent at the riches of our own fam­ily pho­tos and hum­bled and grate­ful that I had been able to give such a gift to an­other fam­ily.

Pre­par­ing to leave prison is a time of hope and res­o­lu­tion. Ev­ery­one says that they are never com­ing back.

The gospel of Je­sus is the gospel of the sec­ond chance. The chance to be­gin again.

Go well, Max, and may the mem­ory of your fa­ther and his dreams for you strengthen you.

This is the gospel, and its good news.

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