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 no toilet.
"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
"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 to my turn
to tell him my name, I had no voice. I had absolutely talked myself
to a standstill. I croaked my name and heard a cheer from the
gallery behind us where there would have been 150 brothers and nuns
and priests from all over Canberra and beyond. The word had got out
that I had been arrested. It was a wonderful but terrible
With local Sister of St Joseph, Betty Brown, Diana established
and works in a centre for refugees, Penola House, in Hamilton. "We
offer 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 clothing and other materials."
In January, Diana was one of 40 Australians to receive a Prime
Ministerial 'People of Australia Ambassador' Award for her
contribution to the community through her advocacy and support for
refugees, and for her environmental work.
Receiving the award from her nominee, Federal Member for
Charlton the Hon Greg Combet, she took the opportunity to put him
on notice that he hadn't heard the last of her. She asked him to
consider some form 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 them
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 bed linen.
"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."