Bunbury Garden Labyrinth:
A Place for Hope, Harmony and Community
Linda Blyth, Occupational Therapist at Key Assets – Published in Connections Summer 2020 edition.
“This is a place for hope, contemplation, and re-creation. Seeds have been sown, activation has begun, and we now hand this labyrinth over to you, the village, for your use, to live in, move through, step by step and onwards.” – Linda Blyth at Bunbury Garden Labyrinth opening on 19 September 2020.
In 2015, a small group of mental health professionals and friends gathered in Bunbury, Western Australia, to share conversations about family, life and loss, and how we grow ourselves and our communities through the difficult places we find ourselves in.
A labyrinth is an ancient cross-cultural, non-denominational sacred space. It invites quiet contemplation. It is a path we can walk alone while being alongside others.
Nari Jones, occupational therapist and secretary of Projects of Heart and Soul, put it this way: “As we walk the inevitable twists and turns, we are ultimately brought to the centre, to our own centre. Our breath slows and the relaxation response means we are able to be present with ourselves and our surroundings. Moving quietly, step by step, as we make our way back out along the very same path we came in on, allows space to pause, remember and authentically respond to what is going on in our lives, rather than simply react in stress. It invites a way through the chaos and complexity.”
As a first step, the group formed the not-for-profit Projects of Heart and Soul with a committee of management led by occupational therapists Carolyn Ngan (chairperson) and Nari Jones (secretary). It collated evidence-based research on health outcomes, green spaces and mindfulness practices, then formed sub-committees to drive the various aspects of the project, from design and fundraising to implementation and community engagement.
Colleagues from health and business backgrounds joined the committee including occupational therapists Di Panorios, Heather Reid, Mel Birrell and myself (current chair). Wider conversations were facilitated with the executive and elected members of City of Bunbury and the Bunbury Rotary Club and their extensive networks and community groups, sponsors, suppliers and tradespeople.
Bunbury Garden Labyrinth opened on Saturday, 19 September in the presence of Mayor Gary Brennan, Member for Bunbury Don Punch, the chief executive and councillors of the City of Bunbury, designers Nic and Alex Mickle from Safehaven Studios, our eight major sponsors and other contributors and supporters.
A local Noongar elder, a singer and dancer from Wardandi Miya-k Kaadadjiny, provided a Welcome to Country as the labyrinth was formally handed to the City of Bunbury.
It joins a national and international network of labyrinths, acting practically to bring peace and contemplation to individuals, to the wider communities, and to the many tourists and pilgrims who visit such sites.
In every culture, on every continent, for thousands of years, labyrinths have been created to bring together communities. In the modern context, labyrinths are used for many purposes including mindfulness, recreation, education, rehabilitation, spiritual healing and personal wellbeing. Evidence of health outcomes via the use of labyrinths occurs within green spaces and mindfulness research.
As part of OT Week celebrations in October, the South West Occupational Therapists Professional Development Group organised for Di Panorios and myself to facilitate a professional development session with colleagues on Labyrinth Walking as Mindfulness, supporting use of the labyrinth for reflexive practice, goal setting and self-care.
As a community development building project with many twists and turns, Bunbury Garden Labyrinth was completed over five years within a restricted budget. It was made possible through people’s vision, fundraising initiatives, and donations of materials, skills and labour.
Through all this, the committee comprising several occupational therapists noticed that not only had they been building a garden and public meeting space, but also harmony and community. They witnessed surprising gifts and capacities arising in this process:
- Relationships, connections and teamwork between people from all walks of life
- Understanding of different skills, strengths and industries contributing to a common goal
- Generosity of spirit, curiosity and openness to new ideas and ventures
- Quality of craftsmanship and leadership in big and small details of this design and building process
People are now being invited to form a Friends of Bunbury Garden Labyrinth group, helping to facilitate ongoing activation and enlivenment of the space. Each in our own capacity enters the labyrinth in our own way, with a different experience each time:
- A child runs in and playfully follow the curves around and out again with delight
- A neighbour comes regularly to give extra care and water the plants
- A person using a wheelchair moves through the circular path, gaining a sense of the turns and cycles of the winding path
- A worker walks the circular path on their way to and from the CBD for work
- Someone uses the labyrinth as a structured path for exercise as part of their physical rehabilitation or as walking mindfulness for mental health and wellness
- Three friends meet to sit, talk, walk and reflect
- A family walks the circular path as one point along their circuit around the inlet
- People practise the flowing movements of qigong in the morning sunlight
About the Author
Linda Blyth is an occupational therapist at Key Assets in Bunbury, Western Australia, having worked in various settings in the southwest of WA for 34 years. She has been a member of the committee of management of Projects of Heart and Soul WA for three years including 12 months as chairperson and is leading the formation of Friends of Bunbury Garden Labyrinth.