Over the past four months, Sister Julianne Murphy SJ has driven 15,000 km visiting schools, town centres and disaster-affected areas across Victoria, SA and WA as part of the Sisters of St Joseph's Travelling Roadshow - Australian Disaster Relief Recovery. During this time, she has met 14,613 children, visited more than 57 schools and 21 centres and given 239 presentations.
Now she is bringing the Travelling Roadshow to NSW. After flying in from WA at the weekend, she is having a few days of well-earned rest before picking up her brightly coloured Roadshow Bus which is arriving by train. Then on Thursday, 21 July she will be back behind the wheel and visiting schools and centres on the South Coast before heading inland to Canberra and the ACT.
Nine days later, on Saturday, 30 July Sr Julieanne will arrive in Sydney and spend the next few weeks criss-crossing the city and its schools, raising awareness as well as funds to help victims of Australia's recent natural disasters.
Since December 2010, Australia has reeled under a series of devastating floods, cyclones and bushfires. First Queensland was swept by severe flooding which later spread to northern NSW and south to Victoria. Then came Cyclone Yasi and February's raging bushfires that destroyed homes and livelihoods in WA.
"One of the key aims of the Travelling Roadshow is to help children cope with these disasters as well as encourage both adults and kids to roll up their sleeves and help their communities get back on their feet," says Sr Julianne.
Adelaide-born, Sr Julianne who set off on the Sisters Travelling Roadshow in mid March this year, and who is joined on different legs of her journey by fellow Josephites from different regions of each State, says helping children cope in the wake of these disasters is one of her main priorities.
A teacher and school principal for more than two decades in South Australia's Port Pirie Diocese, Sr Julianne understands how children are inclined to bottle up their fears and worries, reluctant to add to their parents' distress over the loss of a home or other disaster.
"Even if children are not directly impacted by these recent disasters, they can still be affected by the images they see on television," she says.
One way Sr Julianne helps children cope and better understand the effect of these disasters on families and other children is by placing a pair of shoes in the classroom during a presentation, and encouraging children to put their feet inside them and image what it is really like "to walk in someone else's shoes."
"This trip has been a wonderful opportunity to talk to children from all across Australia and their response continues to delight and inspire me," she says and with a warm smile, speaks of the small boy who came up to her after a presentation at his school offering 10 cents from his pocket to "help those kids who don't have anything."
From Sydney, Sr Julianne will head to Bathurst at the end of August and on 9 September will cross into Queensland on the final leg of her seven month journey which will is scheduled to end on 17 October, the first anniversary of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. However with additional requests from schools pouring in, the roadshow may be extended for another week or two.
In addition to helping children and communities in the wake of the recent disaster, the Travelling Roadshow is raising awareness about the Mary MacKillop Foundation and check on the various projects the Foundation helps to sponsor.
Established in 1995, the Mary MacKillop Foundation continues its namesake's legacy and responds to people in need, offering hope and practical help by supporting small life-changing projects to provide relief from suffering, distress, poverty, misfortune and helplessness.
According to Sr Julianne over the past 16 years, the Foundation has supported more than 300 projects which range from giving assistance to Indigenous groups, helping those with disabilities and giving support to isolated rural communities in need.
"In addition the Foundation funds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tertiary Scholarships with 32 young Indigenous Australians already having graduated from universities under the scheme and a a further 35 currently in the midst of their studies," she says.
Each year, the Foundation invites community-based self-help projects to apply for a 12 month grant of up to $10,000 with 40 such grants awarded each year. "But this year in light of the devastating series of natural disasters Australia has had to cope with, we are awarding 40 extra grants for specific projects that focus on disaster recovery."
Sr Julianne admits the opportunity to see many Foundation-sponsored projects in operation during her long journey has been "wonderful," but perhaps what has left the most indelible impression is the widespread depth of feeling and love for St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.
"Her legacy and inspiration are like ripples in a pond that just seem to keep spreading further and further," she says.
In fact, she believes, only one person she has met on her travels was unaware of Mary MacKillop or the fact she had become Australia's first saint.
"I was being interviewed in a small country town and when the interviewer discovered Mary MacKillop was no longer alive, said in all seriousness: 'how very sad - was it very sudden?'" she recounts and bursts out laughing.