Seminary of the 3rd Age - Margaret Gunn - A cry went up in the desert
When UCA Minister Rev Dr Tom Atherton's largely American congregation departed the defence base in Woomera in late 1999, he was confronted with the Australian Government's new immigration detention centre being built in his back yard. His request via the media for air conditioning for the old construction camp barracks in Woomera West was met with derision from the then Minister for Immigration, and persistent public vilification. Margaret Gunn heard about this and sent Tom a letter of encouragement - (he said it was the only positive letter he received). What followed was six-months of private emails, exchanged as Tom found remarkable ways, despite daunting odds, to offer pastoral care to the detainees (and their guards). Margaret kept this correspondence hidden for over 20 years, but before Tom died in 2020, he and his wife Judith gave their permission for his story to be made public. The documents will be published this year in book form and on-line.
Margaret Gunn worked professionally as a teacher, mainly with newly-arrived adult migrants and refugees in three States - Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia. Her contact with Rev Dr Tom Atherton began with a simple letter of encouragement, and exposed her to the hidden human stories behind government immigration policy particularly as it impacted people seeking asylum and refugees. Now retired, she and her husband Peter are building a boat, working in their local church, continuing writing and gardening projects and enjoying an extended family which includes bio-security officers, psychologists, medical and administrative experts, professional cyclists and journalists as well as six grandsons aged 3 to 16.