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Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
KNOWN TO MANY as "Sister Di"
Diana describes her education at the
Sydney Dominican School, "Santa
Sabina", as "the best thing that happened
to me, the best gift my parents ever gave
me." She responded to the expectation she
felt to "be ourselves, not clones of others,
and to achieve whatever our lot is in life."
"I have been arrested in my time," Diana
slips matter-of-factly into our conversation.
She was arrested at a demonstration at an
arms expo (AIDEX) in Canberra in the mid
1980s and was held for about eight hours,
with 11 other women, in a single small
gaol cell with a bed, no running water and
"We talked. We sang. We laughed. We
shared the orange and sandwich I had in
my backpack. It was the most fantastic
eight hours I think I've spent with anyone;
because they were such interesting women.
"At midnight they came and got us and
took us into town where they lined us all
up in front of the judge. When it came
e. I had absolutely talked myself to a
dstill. I croaked my name and heard
eer from the gallery behind us where
e would have been 150 brothers and
s and priests from all over Canberra
beyond. The word had got out that I
been arrested. It was a wonderful but
local Sister of St Joseph, Betty Brown,
a established and works in a centre for
gees, Penola House, in Hamilton. "We
literacy, parenting, women's health,
sewing, men's and women's cooking,
lawn mowing, house maintenance
and English programs. They
are facilitated by professional
educational authorities, at no
cost to our refugees or us. We
have a young mother's room, a
sewing room; children's play areas, a
computer room and storage for donated
ing and other materials."
nuary, Diana was one of 40 Australians
ceive a Prime Ministerial 'People
ustralia Ambassador' Award for her
ribution to the community through her
cacy and support for refugees, and
eiving the award from her nominee,
eral Member for Charlton, the Hon Greg
bet, she took the opportunity to put
on notice that he hadn't heard the last
er. She asked him to consider some
of compensation for the refugees
who have had "terrible experiences on their
arrival in Newcastle."
"I don't necessarily think that they need to
be financially compensated. They need to
be brought to some sort of civic gathering
where the people of Newcastle and their
Federal government representatives are
present and we say, 'We are sorry for what
you went through when we had lost the plot
or weren't watching closely enough.'"
Living in an eco house in the Newcastle
suburb of Maryland, Diana believes it was
her "kidnapping" by other women she
greatly admires and respects which led
to her commitment to ministering to our
environment as well as to refugees.
"We have to take responsibility for the rape
of our earth. It's as big a sin to be cutting
down the rain forests of the Amazon as it
is to allow the children to starve to death
in a Darfur camp in Africa, or not to care
about the bombing of the citizens of Homs.
If we're Christians we should all be in pain
about that sort of evil in our world."
Diana says she's had to learn to develop
a professional distance to avoid burnout.
"The fact that I don't have people constantly
knocking on my front door is important.
Home is the place where I live, where I pray,
where I garden, where my dogs drive me
crazy, where I cook."
Movies are an outlet for Diana, who loves
their symbolism, though she is not a
fan of many children's movies, finding
In her early sixties, Diana has a number
of dreams she hopes to realise. She
sees herself continuing the work of her
Dominican sisters and others who have
committed their lives to ministry.
She pays tribute to an Afghani woman who
endured five years with her husband and
children in the Baxter Detention Centre.
Fearing the impact the prolonged detention
was having on her husband whom she
felt was losing his will to live, the woman
began working with him to make clothes
for themselves and the others in detention.
She used all she had at hand: her own
"She even embroidered them with the
single threads her husband removed from
the sheets. Some time after their release,
she gave me the shirt that she made for
herself. I have never worn it. It's an absolute
treasure, a symbol of resilience. When
you meet people like that you know you're
standing on the shoulders of giants."
cutting down the
rain forests of the
Amazon as it is to
allow the children
Dominican Sister Diana
Santleben has big dreams
and ideas, matched
by large helpings of
hard work for the
in which she
at home with
By CATHERINE MAHONY
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