When Theresa Ardler graduated from Australian Catholic University with a Masters of Religious Education last week she wore an item that powerfully linked her to the story of her mother’s ancestry.
She designed and made her traditional Budbili, a possum-skin cloak, which bears an image of her totem of the humpback whale based on rock engravings at La Perouse, an Aboriginal Community on the shores of Kamay (Botany Bay).
The landmark connects her with her ancestors and holds the spiritual connection of sea and their country.
A Gweagal Aboriginal woman of the Eora region in Sydney, Ardler was born in Sydney, but grew up in her father’s country, the Yuin Nation in Booderee National Park within the Jervis Bay territory, on the NSW south coast.
During the course of her study she has explored the relationship between her Aboriginal spirituality and Catholic faith and has advised bishops and school principals on how to combine the two perspectives.
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“Aboriginal Spirituality comes first,” she said.
“It’s my identity and my being and then it flows into Catholicism. I’m very strong in my Catholic faith. But, I changed my ideas along the way. My lecturers encouraged me to bring the Aboriginal spirituality into everything I worked on during my Masters and I found I could link it with Catholicism.”
Her work connects Catholic sacraments such as Baptism to Aboriginal spirituality, through natural elements.
“When I weave the Sacraments of initiation together, I interlock them through our natural elements that are important to us all. For Baptism, it is water, which means new life. Pentecost symbolises the rushing wind and Confirmation is fire.”
These natural elements hold great meaning in Aboriginal Spirituality, she said.
Ms Ardler currently works at ACU within the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education as the research indigenous liaison officer.
She plans to embark on a doctorate at ACU on Aboriginal Spirituality along the East Coast of Australia. – ACU