SUE Hutchinson has an intense passion for social justice and she traces it back to her days of “bouncing around” in the back of a station wagon with her mother at the wheel.
Once a week her mother Anne Muller would be a volunteer driver for people with Down syndrome.
“I remember … she used to take our funny, old station wagon and go and pick up three or four people – adult people with Down syndrome – and take them to a sort of a day centre, and I think she used to go and pick them up and drop them all back home,” Sue said.
“When my two sisters and I were on holidays, we’d be bouncing around in the back of the station wagon while all of this was happening.”
From the back of the station wagon, Sue was learning a lesson that would stay with her for life.
“Back when I was a child, many mothers didn’t work … but my mum did a lot of voluntary stuff and I guess we were just raised in a way to think that you made your contribution,” she said.
“You contributed to the community.”
Sue’s taken that commitment to heart, to the point it’s become her passion and what she does for a living.
She is a research officer for the Queensland Synod of the Uniting Church, with a focus on social justice.
“I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to be able to bring together my passion for social justice and employment in a faith environment where everything you do comes back to (the fact) we’re doing this for God, and for His people, whatever religion His people belong to,” she said.
Relating to people from “whatever religion” is no problem for Sue – she’s a former Anglican who became Catholic and has worked for many years with the Uniting Church.
She became a Catholic before she married her husband Michael Hutchinson.
They met through an intentional faith community in Brisbane supporting people with disability.
Most of the people involved with Mamre were Catholic, including two religious sisters.
Much of Sue’s early exposure to social justice and social responsibility issues were in the field of disability, through Mamre and then in her work as an occupational therapist with the Cerebral Palsy League and an institution for people with disability.
She became more involved in advocacy when working at the institution, where the standard of care was far from ideal.
It reached a point where she had no choice but to resign, and she was offered and she accepted a position with UnitingCare Queensland’s Centre for Social Justice.
“It was like a movement of the heart,” Sue said.
“It was certainly taking on a job that offered less money, and didn’t offer the stability.
“I could’ve stayed in that institution’s system and had a job for the rest of my life and progressed, and all that kind of stuff, but it was more important to me to do something that I felt was going to be contributing – maybe in some very small way, realistically speaking – to a better world, or trying to make the world a better place.”
When the Centre for Social Justice closed, Sue and a colleague successfully applied to job-share in a new position as research officer with the Uniting Church’s Queensland Synod.
She’s written submissions to government inquiries and been involved in addressing a wide range of social justice issues including abortion, homelessness, mental health and asylum seekers.
Amidst all of that, it was a deeply personal challenge – breast cancer – that had one of the most profound impacts on her life.
“It’s nine years ago today I had my first surgery (for breast cancer) and, when you’re confronted with your mortality – potential death – it is life-changing,” Sue said.
“Everyone says it – but it truly does change your focus on what’s important.
“You know – ‘Why would I worry about that? I don’t care what people think of what I’m wearing’.
“Basically, now, I just go, ‘Well, if I feel like wearing really bright colours, I will’.
“It isn’t important.”
Most important to her are relationships and family – “and it’s people”.
Sue’s involvement with refugees and people seeking asylum, both as co-convenor of the BRASS (Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support) Network and with families at her Bracken Ridge parish, also has been life-changing.
“In our own parish – they’re not people seeking asylum, but they are refugee people who’ve had to abandon their lives because of warfare and all sorts of dreadful, dreadful, dreadful experiences that they have had, having to leave their homes and leave their possessions, leave their friends and just go for safety and eventually making it to our parish or to our area,” she said.
“I think that, actually, for me, is a great balancer because of my joy in welcoming those people and being able to welcome them to safety and to a community … And we’re so pleased for them to be able to have a different future.
“At the same time, just being aware of what they’ve been through, it makes you feel so humble and makes me admire them so much for their strength and their resilience in coming and, you know, all they really want is, they want to work and they want to be self-sufficient and they want their children to do well.
“They want their children to have good lives, safe lives, and to have a future.
“And that’s just wonderful to be able to be part of that happening, and to actually really see that happening in close quarters is fantastic.
“And some of the friendships that we’ve made have just been life-changing, absolutely life-changing.”
It’s another experience that adds perspective to what is important in life, and gives Sue a lift in the face of the injustices she encounters through work.
And faith is the other element that keeps her going.
“Just having that relationship with God who I know loves me infinitely and even if I make mistakes, am cranky, grumble about other drivers on the road, lose my patience, or whatever – knowing that He or She is always there, always there within me and in our whole world and in every person that I meet, … I think that living with that knowledge so deeply embedded in my whole sense of who I am gets you through that – really gets you through the hard times.”
It’s faith that urges Sue to keep working against injustice.
“We have to speak (about injustices), because to not speak about it means that we’re giving it tacit approval,” she said.
“This is not political; this is just about ‘let’s be humane, let’s treat people with compassion, and let’s treat people the way we would want to be treated …’
“You have to speak up. We have to speak against cruelty and injustice when we see it, and often we can’t do that on our own.
“We have to have the strength of faith, the strength of God with us, and even (for Him) to give us the words …”