Monday, 13 March 2017

Toomas Karmo: Another Joyous Discovery - Franciscan Hermitage-Farm in NSW Foothills

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonably complete and (within the framework of the version 1.01, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ...  process) reasonably polished job.

Revision history: 

  • 20170313T230001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo managed to upload a presentable version, in coherent sentences, as opposed to the mere point-form outline that he has in some previous weeks been obliged to upload at the scary "UTC=00001Z" (or so) point in his weekly blogging cycle. - Kmo reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... . 

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" which on many Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect "Cascading Style Sheets" problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

I have two previous joyous theology-reading discoveries, duly documented in recent months on this blog:
Now a third discovery joins my list. At, one finds the Web outreach of a three-man Anglican Franciscan hermitage, founded in 1987 and still going strong, in rocky foothill country in the extreme north of New South Wales. 

As far as I can determine on a hasty Web-browser inspection of maps, their site is 50 km or so to the east of Tenterfield. This is, alas, a part of New South Wales that I never visited, or even dreamily imagined visiting, in my various 1978-through-1985 Australian travels. 


Since I write tonight of theological "discoveries", I must explain what it is that I seek. Celebrated examples exist of contemporary Christians who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. In another blog posting tonight, I mention one of these celebrated instances, Canada's Jean Vanier. Two other such examples are Italy's Community of Sant'Egidio ('Egidio) and the Christian Peacemaker Teams ( What I seek, however, are the less widely known instances of practical Christian witness. 

Sister (Dr) Julia Bolton Holloway offers a witness through her work with the Roma (in an unhappy traditional English idiom, the "Gypsies") of Firenze, and additionally through her publishing and lecturing on an astonishing mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1416). As I knew the mediaevalist Sir Richard Southern ( from 1974 to 1978 in his capacity as head-of-College in Britain, so, just a few years earlier, Sister Julia knew Sir Richard as a visitor to Berkeley. 

John Bradburne offers the supreme practical witness of martyrdom - and additionally is venerated in contemporary Zimbabwe for his work with lepers, in the concrete Assisi hospitality tradition of Saint Francis. 


Having said this much by way of context and background, I can proceed tonight to my latest discovery. At is a theology stressing the primacy of the four Gospels and the centrality of the individual. The three Franciscan brothers take the botanical Eremophila genus as emblematic of their Gospel witness. Somewhere within their Web site, they write, "[Eremophila spp.] comes in an enormous variety of plant sizes, leaves, shapes and colours of flowers. It is a symbol that reminds us that although we share a common vocation as Franciscan Brothers, it's not about conformity, but about each of us realizing our potential as persons before God." 

Their liturgy (celebrated in part individually, in part in community) is traditional:  in the morning darkness, Vigils, followed by lectio divina or some similar form of meditation; at dawn, angelus and Matins; in mid-morning, Terce; at mid-day, angelus and Sext; some form of mid-afternoon prayer (the office called, in Latinate English,  None, for "Ninth Daylight Hour"?); Vespers around sunset; and finally, at the day's close, Compline. Much of this liturgical tradition can be explored, if desired in parallel English and Latin, by those of us who - like me, although unlike the brothers, have ready access to the Web - at Further, some suitably deep commentary, with advice (I have not tried acting on it yet) regarding liturgical music, is offered by Catholic artist-convert Russ Stutler on several Web pages under - most notably, at

The brothers' land abounds in challenges. Their Web site documents bushfires in 1990 and (as a near-disaster) in 2007. Somewhere on their Web site, they give the local estimation of their difficult terrain: "Rubbish country, which is so poor that even the wallabies have to take their picnic lunch." Not only is their electric power confined to what little they can generate with solar panels; their Internet link to the outside world is itself via a mere telephone, in a pole-mounted housing, a kilometre away from their compound of self-built hermitage buildings. (Running landline over undeveloped bush might prove expensive. One possible guess is that the brothers put in what landline they could afford, taking the line not right up to their buildings, but only to some point some modest distance within their property boundary. It is of course also possible that the telephone is kept at a distance because it is a portal to worldliness.) 

And yet what delight is there in this land! 

Somewhere on their Web site, the brothers express their theology-of-locality, by quoting from Francis of Assisi: "See to it, my sons, that you never abandon this place. If you are driven out from one side, go back in at the other. For this place is truly holy and is the dwelling place of God." 

Here are some principal points regarding their terrain and their communal achievement: 

  • Their area is generous, comprising 133.5 hectares (in other words, one and one-third square kilometres). 
  • There is a creek. (Admittedly, I for my part have not been able to discern whether this is a permanent watercourse or only an intermittent one. In Australia, water is everything. - As an English-literature student and I wrote in a successful play at Australia's University of New England in 1985 or so, celebrating the local creek in Armidale (far to the south of Tenterfield):  "The Dumaresq! Resembling in its limpidity the Seine, and in its velocity the Danube!" My co-author further seized, in an inspired phrase, the essence of the thirsty New South Wales high country, writing into our joint play repeated references to the three emblematic local colours - mustard, dun, and khaki. (What was possibly her first reference ran thus, in lines which she herself delivered in a nauseatingly posh BBC accent, I think to giggles or guffaws from our appreciative little audience: "Richardson's [this was, and I think still is, a leading Armidale emporium]" - "Richardson's, the heart of fashion, where the passing of the seasons is continually reflected in mustard, dun, and khaki tonings." 
  • There is now, after some thirty years of hard work, an impressive clutch of buildings - a kitchen-chapel, a small library, a perhaps pavilion-like refectory (on high piers), a garage-workshop,  an individual hermitage for each of the three individual brothers, and a hermitage for guests. The constructions are in stone, taken straight from the property - except that a prayer-room floor is of sandstone, in this case I suspect from some more remote quarry. 
  • The farm is likewise a tribute to hard work over three decades. There is a vegetable garden; there is an orchard, offering stone fruit, citrus fruit, and olives; there are guinea fowl, in a practical calculation regarding tick control; there are ten or so bee colonies; and there are goats and Wiltshire sheep (an ancient breed), plus a sheepdog of an Italian genetic line possibly recognizable even to that ancient lover of things rural, Publius Vergilius Maro. - The brothers remark that they know each of their livestock by name. 


On contemplating their outpost of witness, we may well join the brothers in the "Prayer for the Religious Life" which they publish on their Web site: 

Lord Jesus Christ, in your great love you draw all people to yourself and in your wisdom you call us to your service. We pray at this time that you will kindle in the hearts of men and women the desire to follow you  in the religious life. Give to those whom you call grace to accept their vocation readily and thankfully, to make the wholehearted surrender which you ask of them, and for love of you to persevere to the end. 

This we ask in your name. 


[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 

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