In 1926 the Church of England (now the Anglican Church of Australia) was granted a prime piece of land overlooking the then Mononglo River (stream), now Lake Burley Griffin. The intent was that a grand cathedral be built on the site and it was thus dedicated for St Mark’s Cathedral. Due to a lack of funds, the Cathedral was never built.
In 1995 the Anglicans got in cahoots with other Christian Churches to build a national ecumenical centre and locale to promote reconciliation with Australia’s Aboriginal People. The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture was thus born.
Today, while there is no church building, in the sense that most of us would associate with, there are a number of spiritual attractions on the site which might interest a visitor, making it worth a visit. These include (though there are a few others):
The Place of Meeting (in the foreground of picture 2). This simple campfire area is the spiritual heart of the Centre and reflects on Israelite and Aboriginal spirituality. Each of the twelve stones around the fire represent one of the twelve tribes of Israel while the fire represents the place (in Exodus) where Moses spoke with God as a friend.
Close by the Place of Meeting is a 25 metres high cross and pool, an area used for baptisms among other things. The baptismal water, as such, flows from the foot of the cross, indicating the newly christened person’s incorporation into the crucified and risen Jesus.
On the other side of the Place of Meeting are three beautifully carved and colourful poles. The Pilgrim Poles (picture 3), depict a combination of European and Aboriginal symbolism and portray life as a journey fueled by faith, hope and love. The poles were carved for the World Council of Churches meeting held in Canberra in 1991. Do have a close look at the intricate carvings.
Moving towards the Bible Garden, the main draw card of the Centre for me you pass the Labyrinth (picture 1 above) which, while it looks like a maze is not one. Rather, it is a single path in the style of the much more famous labyrinth in Chartes Cathedral, France, of the type commonly used in the Middle Ages as a spiritual walk, often arduous, to aid meditation and prayer. The labyrinth is an ancient symbol over 3500 years old, representing wholeness.
The Bible Garden was opened in 2008 with the assistance of funding from the trust of the late South African born businessman Gerald Hercules Robinson. Robinson created Australia’s first Bible Garden at Sydney’s Palm Beach in the mid-1960s after seeing a similar one in Bangor, Wales.
Setting aside identification issues, there are around 148 different plants mentioned in the Bible and currently over half of those can be seen here in this small, though tastefully laid out, outdoor garden. As the reader might imagine, Canberra’s climatic conditions are not entirely consistent with those of the Holy Land; in consequence, to maintain over 70 Holy Land species here without the aid of greenhouses or the like is no mean feat. Though I didn’t see it, the intent was, when the garden was set up in 2008, that noxious weeds referred to in the Bible would be grown in a separate glasshouse and that eventually all 148 plants would be on display here.
The centerpiece of the garden resembles the Menorah which itself represents the burning bush where Moses saw the Angel who told him to lead the Israelites to the land of milk and honey.
Small plaques identify each plant and describes the context in which the plant is mentioned in the Bible. While of particular interest to Christians, anyone interested in botany will enjoy a stroll in the garden, particularly during spring and summer. The garden has ample shaded spots for those seeking a quiet rest.
As you leave the Bible Garden, on your right overlooking Lake Burley Griffin is a polished granite/ mosaic memorial, by artist Andrew Morrissey, honouring all deceased Australians and members of Australian aid organisations who have served in international humanitarian aid work. The clasped and raised hands on the memorial represent the (equal) bond between humanitarian aid workers and the communities they worked to assist.
Returning towards the car park take a short walk down to see the Mural Wall. The wall features a ceramic tile interpretation, in a classical Aboriginal art style, unveiled in August 2011 by the then Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, of the ‘Holy Spirit in Our Land’ painting by the late Hector Jandany and elder of the Gija People (East Kimberly region). In the mural and picture, held by the National Gallery of Australia, the Holy Spirit is symbolised by a White Owl, which according to the artist is a dreamtime owl that ‘watches over us here in our country… in our hearts and everything. He cares of us all here in the whole of our land’
All in all the Centre a very interesting variation on the more regular cathedral that was originally planned for this site and (including the Bible Garden) worthy at least an hour or so of your time.
Opening hours – 24/7
Entry Fee – Free.
Address: 15 Blackall Street
Directions: Within the grounds of Charles Sturt University