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A lifetime of serving the poor

In 2004, Sister Jane Ablett, a Daughters of Charity Nun, arrived in the Pilbara town of South Hedland to begin her work supporting the parish priest.  That was to be the start of nearly two decades of commitment to supporting people in the town, much of it as a Vinnies member and work in the Vinnies shop.  Officially retiring this month, Sister Jane spoke of the fond memories she takes with her, not only of the town, but the impact of friendships and people she has met that remains the most precious.

Originally from Perth, Sister Jane became a nun in 1962 with the Daughters of Charity.  The order was founded in Paris in 1633 by Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louse de Marillac and first came to Australia, landing in Perth in 1926.  Their work reflects the dignity of each person and Sister Jane says that becoming a Vinnies member was an extension of the Order’s values which she could give to the South Hedland community. “That’s where we come from service of the poor,  we make the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but our first one is service of the poor.” Sister Jane says.

As a Vinnies member, Sister Jane’s work centred on helping families in the community that were experiencing hardship, with her guidance extended even to Roebourne, advising conference members on how they could assist families with food and supplies.  She was also a welcoming and popular figure in the town’s Vinnies shop always providing a friendly face behind the counter. “The community gives you so much hope and joy and being there with them.”  She believes that building relationships and trust is one of the important factors for being able to work in more remote communities, although there are challenges, such as the town being dominated by mining so recruiting people to volunteer was often the most difficult.

Despite this, Sister Jane reflects that “having grown into old age in the community” she leaves the people and the town having a special place in her heart and a legacy of tireless work and support she has given the community in South Hedland.  But it is the friendships and connections made with local people that she credits as one of the most rewarding things she takes with her.  “Meeting the people, engaging with them.  Connections you make up there are different than anywhere else as it’s special.  We say it’s not what we did, it’s what you did for us.  It’s that friendship and walking together.”

Sister Jane perhaps won’t miss the endless layer of red dust, a common site in the Pilbara and moves to Adelaide to take up residence with the Daughters of Charity who run the Hutt Street Centre, which offers social support, meals, showers and laundry to people experiencing homelessness. What she will miss though is the wonderful people that she has “walked with” through her time spent there, but with her departure she leaves knowing her cherished friendships will continue to give her many memories in her new home.