By Paul Dobbyn
WHEN 15-year-old Ben Dowling suggested to his parents Jim and Anne the family spend the first week of Lent living off produce from their Dayboro property their reactions were mixed.
Jim and the other children Eleni, 11, and Teresa, 13 were fine with the idea as was Dave Sprigg, a guest at the Peter Maurin Catholic Worker farm.
Anne had more practical matters in mind such as: “What do I put on school lunches? How do I get variety in the family’s meals?”
But the benefits of this week of self-denial were considerable.
What the family experienced as they lived off various garden vegetables, bunya nuts and bananas was a greater sense of bonding.
“We were on a mission together as a family to find ways to achieve our goal,” Anne said.
“There was a definite sense of working towards something that God wanted us to learn about living in a more just and equitable way.
“With this there was also a sense of solidarity with the world’s less fortunate people who often only have the option of eating hand-to-mouth what is around them.
“That week we definitely thought of these people, although at the same time we knew we were infinitely better off than them.”
Dining off bunya nuts led the family to think of the Indigenous people who had been in the region before them.
“We thought of the great feasts they would have had at gatherings when the nuts were ready to eat,” Anne said.
“There was also a sense of loss – that we don’t have their songs, their dances and their languages with us anymore.”
Ben, as the originator of the idea, was also the adjudicator on what could be eaten during the family’s week of self-denial.
“He was actually a bit of a hard-liner,” Anne said.
“I wasn’t allowed beetroot wine (sugar from elsewhere).
“Luckily he okayed free range eggs from our neighbor Nora (also sacristan at the Dayboro and Petrie churches).
“That was a definite relief because our seven hens are only yielding one egg a day between them at the moment.
“Roadside mangoes were also given the nod.
“It was amazing too the variations on ways we found to eat bunya nuts – we even made porridge from them.”
Mr Dowling said the impact of the experience hit home at the recent installation of Fr Chima Ofor as Petrie’s parish priest.
“I was talking to a parishioner at the event, just back from Uganda,” he said.
“She was telling me that children there often didn’t get much more than a mush of maize for their lunch.
“This certainly put our effort for Lent in context.
“Even on our fairly basic diet, we were living in relative luxury by comparison with those children in Uganda.”
Next year, the family plans to extend their living-off-the-land Lenten experience to a fortnight.
“It really was a great way to start Lent,” Anne said.
“After this week, other things we wanted to give up didn’t seem so hard.
“Also whenever you respond to the call God puts on your heart there’s always a greater sense of connectedness and deepening of faith.”
More on the Dowlings’ journey through the first week of Lent can be experienced at https://sevendaysfromthegarden.wordpress.com.