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Oliver Strewe’s featured exhibition ‘Faith at Work‘ is showing at The Crypt, St Mary’s Cathedral, until 7 June 2014.

The first Missionaries of Charity nuns arrived in Bourke by bus in the early 1970s after Mother Theresa visited the town’s Aboriginal reserve in 1969. Each of the sisters carried only a small bucket, a spare habit, shoes and a thin mattress. They have remained an enduring part of the local community since, providing childcare, services for the town’s sick and elderly, and a hostel for homeless Aboriginal men – all without government assistance.

The sisters represent just a fraction of the 130 000 strong catholic workforce operating in Australia today – a figure that would surprise most people.

The Catholic Church has been working in Australia for over 200 years and remains one of the largest, non-government employers in the country, employing religious and lay people across health, education, aged care and a range of social and welfare sectors. As the state departs from many of the roles it used to fulfil in providing essential services to the Australian public, the Church is having to fill the void. 

The diversity of the Church’s role in Australia has been captured in a powerful exhibition, Faith at Work, from Australian photographer Oliver Strewe, now on display in the Crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral.

Commissioned and sponsored by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER), Oliver’s photographic journey moved from Sydney, where he is based, to Bathurst, Bourke, Wilcannia, Coonamble, Lismore, the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands and all points in between.

Over 12 months, Strewe visited schools, religious communities, hospitals, rehab centres, welfare agencies, community support groups, prisons, university campuses and maternity wards. In doing so, he captured the unique connection between the spiritual and the everyday world of work in a celebration that focuses on the people rather than the institution of the Church.

Said Strewe of the experience

“I was very impressed and touched by many of those who work in Catholic institutions by their profound understanding of the grief and pain people suffer. Until I undertook this photographic project I don’t think I fully understood quite what was meant by pastoral care.”

In creating the stunning black and white images in the collection, Oliver refrained from digital manipulation and used only whatever natural light was available.

“I wanted to tell the story as simply and as powerfully as possible. These days we have become so inundated with imagery and over-enhanced colour photography that the story you are trying to tell can easily get lost. I didn’t want colour to detract from the image and wanted to capture the moment and the truth of that moment as simply and directly as possible,” he says.

Faith at Work is open daily 10.30 – 4.00pm until Saturday 7 June.

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Image detail: Gary Ramage