This Bahai Library Online document contains The History of the Baha'i Community in the Northern Territory of Australia and adjacent regions: 1947-1997. This history is written in some three dozen short instalments totalling about 10000 words.
Most of these brief instalments here at Baha'i Library Online(BLO) were published in the Northern Lights, The Regional Newsletter of the Baha'i Council for The Northern Territory(NT)of Australia. The instalments appeared from 2001 to 2004. Some of them have been edited in the years 2004 to 2012.
These instalments drew on information in Baha'i archives, especially those in Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs as well as what were then called Regional Teaching Committees. The author also draws on personal experience from the years when he and his wife and son lived in the NT from 1982 to 1986. The result is the first history of the Baha'i Faith in this territory of Australia and the remote regions of Australia that adjoin Australia's Northern Territory.
The author is an internatonal pioneer from the Canadian Baha'i community who moved to South Australia in 1971. He is now retired and living in Tasmania. Also included here at BLO are several published pieces found at sites on the internet. Some tangential discussion of the Baha'i experience in Western Queensland, the north of South Australia and Western Australia, regions adjoining the NT during this same period---1947 to 1997---is also included.
The author has written:(i) a separate history of Tasmania, (ii) a history of rural and regional WA and (iii) a history of northern South Australia---all of which are kept now in the files of the several Baha'i Councils. Most of the history of the Baha'i Faith in the NT: 1947 to 1997 is not found here. The files of the Baha'i Council for the NT contain most of the author's resources for future use by historians.
From: Ron Price's Epic Autobiographical History: Pioneering Over Five Epochs:
A History of The Bahá'í Faith in The Northern Territory and Adjoining Regions of Australia: 1947 to 1997
published in Published Essays in Cyberspace
, At: Bahai Library Online
TABLE OF CONTENTS: #1
THE PUBLISHED INSTALMENTS ON BAHA'I HISTORY IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: 1947 TO 1997
1. Instalment: First Bahá'í
2. Instalment: First Bahá'í and Big Picture
3. Instalment: Some of the Earliest Years
4. Instalment: The 1970s Begin
5. Instalment: Back to 1957
6. Instalment: Aboriginal Teaching
7. Instalment: 1965-1967
8. Instalment: More on the 1950s and 1960s
9. Instalment: The Formation of LSAs
10. Instalment: Two Plans: 1974-1979 and 1979-1986
11. Instalment: 1979-1986 and 1986-1992
12. Instalment: Faithfulness
13. Instalment: Three Plans: 1986 to 2000
14. Instalment: Two Poets
15. Instalment: Back to the Start
16. Instalment: Travel Teachers
17. Instalment: Bahá'í Groups in the NT
18. Instalment: Katherine
19. Instalment: Papunya
20. Instalment: Extension Teaching
21. Instalment: Darwin 1973 to 1987
22. Instalment: Melville and Bathurst Islands
23. Instalment: Two Islands: continued
24. Instalment: An Overview I
25. Instalment: An Overview II
26. Instalment: An Overview III
27. Instalment: Last One
28. Part Two: Instalment 1: Introduction(Not available-NA)
29. Part Two: Instalment 2: Alice Springs 1974-1984-NA
30. Part Two: Instalment 3: Frances Chan-NA
31. Part Two: Instalment 4: Katherine 1982-86
32. Part Two: Instalment 5: Ruth Sinclair-Another Look
Part Two of this published history also included articles by other Bahá'ís when it was first published in the newsletter of the Bahá'í Council of the NT. Those articles are not included here; they are found in the archives of the Bahá'í Council of the NT.
TABLE OF CONTENTS #2
The table of contents below was sent by the author to the Bahá'í Council of the NT in 2003 after these instalments appeared in the regional newsletter of the NT---in order to provide an outline of the several boxes of files that he sent to them nearly a decade ago.
TABLE OF CONTENTS vol.1 pts. 1 and 2
SECTION NO. CONTENT
A. Notes on Individuals
B. Profiles of Individuals
C. Letters Received
D. Letters Sent
E. Geoff o'Callaghan's Notes
F. Ruth Scott's Letters
TABLE OF CONTENTS vol 2 part 1
SECTION NO. CONTENT
1.1 Notes on Experiences in Port Hedland
1.2 Sketches of People
2 Letters/Etc. Received
3 Notes on the NT Gathered After Leaving the NT
4 Loose Items Found When Files Were Sent from Darwin 15/5/01
TABLE OF CONTENTS vol 2 part 2
SECTION NO. CONTENT
1 The History: Draft #1
2 The History: Draft #2
TABLE OF CONTENTS vol.3 pt.1
SECTION N0. CONTENT
1.1 Letters in-and-out Re: The History
1.2 Some 'History Writing:' Draft No.3
1.3 Photocopies on "The Writing of History"
TABLE OF CONTENTS vol.3 part 2
B.1 Instalments: History-Northern Lights
B.2 Correspondence Re: Instalments
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A. CORRESPONDENCE WITH AND INSTALMENTS FOR THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
B. SOME ADDITIONAL MATERIAL ON THE HISTORY OF THE BAHA'I FAITH IN THE NT: 1947-1997.
B.1 Northern Lights: Issues
B.1.1 More on the published issues
B.2 The Outback Project
B.3 Further Notes: 2003 to the Present
Much of this history, especially the brief biographies of several dozen of the Bahá'ís who have lived in the NT, is not found here. Readers will have to contact the Bahá'í Council of the NT for both those biogrpahies and the many more details than are found here at BLO. The author has also written about the work of the Bahá'í community in: (a) northern South Australia, from Whyalla and Port Augusta north to the border with the NT and (b) all of Western Australia with the exception of metropolitan Perth. In addition he provides as much information as he was able to obtain about the teaching work and the experience of the Bahá'í community in: (i) western Queeensland, a region he defines somewhat arbitrarily, as a sinuous line from the SE corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria to Mt Isa in the north of Queensland, down to Charleville and Cunnamulla in the south of Queesland---to all points west of this line and adjacent to the NT. Western NSW is not included in his since it is not adjacent to the NT.
This vast tract of land including those parts of Tasmania, say and again somewhat arbitrarily, outside Launceston, Hobart and Devonport, occupies some 60 to 75% of the entire continent of Australia. This history only deals with the half century from 1947 to 1997, and only the NT and its adjacent regions. The author has written about Tasmania back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and his notes were sent to what has since become the Bahá'í Council of SE Australia.
As far as the author knows no other history of these vast tracts of land, these more remote parts of a relatively remote part of the planet---Australia--is yet available. Iolee Mann in South Australia has been working on the first 40 years of Bahá'í history in that state: 1923-1963; Graham Hassall has written a great deal on Tasmania, Victoria, and Yerrinbool, the islands of the Pacific and much more. But these histories do not deal with the remote regions that are the concern and interest of this history.
SOME INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS ON THE WRITING OF THIS HISTORY
This file, these files, begun on 23 July 1982, the same day as my arrival in Katherine with my wife, Chris, and son, Daniel, in response to the call of the NSA to go ‘North of Capricorn,’ was continued until my wife, Chris, and I left Perth on 12 July 1999. These were the years of our service, my wife, my son and I, to the Cause in the north and west of Australia. I continued to use this information on my arrival in Tasmania on 5 August 1999 and in the following years. Copies of some of the material here and much more are in the archives of the Darwin LSA, in the archives of the South Perth LSA, as well as the Bahá'í Council of the NT.
I have written separate histories of the Bahá'í experience in rural and regional WA, on northern south Australia and Tasmania, but they are not found here at BLO. Some of these histories are accessible in cyberspace, but readers may have difficulty accessing a good deal of this history, history the author has not engaged in for a decade or more since he moved on to other areas of literary interest after sending all his files to the BC of the NT in 2003.
30 December 1999 to 3 August 2012
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 1
The notes in this volume of my collected information were gathered during my years in Katherine: 1982-1986. I wrote an introduction to these volumes back in 1986. I have included some of that introduction below. This volume contains, with three other volumes, my efforts to write a history of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT. I have tried to make it a personal account, to "get inside" people and their lives while they lived in the NT. It is my hope that those who read this account will find enrichment, a widening of feelings and understandings, of both the Bahá'í community in the NT and the lives of readers themselves. This concept of 'getting inside of people for personal stories' is found writ-large in the several dozen short biographies. But they are not found here; they are in the BC of the NT files. It is my hope that future historians will draw on what I have written for a useful contextualization of the history of the NT: 1947 to 1997.
Fifteen years later, in 2012, as I attempt to place this introduction in a different perspective to the one that was initially set back in 1986, I invite readers to draw on what is here, on what I did not in the end attempt to make a complete, or even extensive, history. This history is, as I say, far from complete, but it is a resource that I have added to to some extent in the years after 2001-3 due, perhaps, to those mysterious dispensations of Providence which would not let me leave that history alone.
16 June 2001 and 3 August 2012.
COMMENTS ON A RADIO PROGRAM
I have written several general pieces on the NT that are not found here. This short comment on a radio program is the only piece I have added here at BLO. This morning(circa 2003) I listened to Arts Today on ABC Radio and an interview with a Roslyn Haines who wrote a book Seeking the Centre(Cambridge UP, 1999). Roslyn offered some useful thoughts for this extended essay and I shall summarize them here.
(i) Patrick White, born in in 1912, published a novel, Voss, in 1957. Among other things it was an engagement with spirituality in remote places. For him the real jounrey in life was spiritual. White, Haines argues, reclaimed the desert as a place of spirituality. Ruth Scott became the NT's first Baha’i declarant that year. This novel is a story, as so many of White’s stories are, of a burnt-out case who never experiences a close relationship and leads a life of isolation. My own story is different from White’s in the sense that in the north, among other places, I experienced so many ‘close’ relationships, dozens of intense, brief and meaningful interactions that, by the time I finished this extension of my essay on the north I was looking forward to a period of withdrawal and isolation for a rest.
(ii) A wide range of painters in the last half of the 20th century brought to our eyes the sublimity of the desert, a sublimity one experienced by becoming part of it, not observing it as one did with the sublime in Europe and its mountains. The 19th century painters found the desert unpaintable. But this desert offered a new beauty, a beauty only discovered, in some ways by non-indigenous Australian artists, after the Baha’i community started its development in the late 1940s.
(iii) some of the movies of the last few years, like Mad Max, continue this theme of being part of the desert, this time by driving across it and living in its wilderness. A small, embryonic community, has indeed become part of the desert and its natural extension, the bush, over the last half century.-Ron Price, 2003(circa)
This history is but a small part of a now extensive, an epic, autobiographical work entitled: Pioneering Over Five Epochs. That autobiographical work now numbers many millions of words and is found all over cyberspace. Some of it was sent to the BWC in Haifa. I was given permission in January 2009, by the Review Office of the NSA of the Bahá'ís of the USA, to publish my work on the world wide web. It is an epic work. The concept of my work as epic arose in the years after this history concluded: 1997 and in the early years of the 21st century as the Arc Project was be4ing completed and shortly afterward. A good slice of this autobiography is a study of autobiography, of memoirs, of history and much else. Much is also found at my website which readers can access at: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/
I found writing this history very difficult to write and the longer I spent on it the more difficult it got. Beginning in 1982 when I arrived in Katherine until 2002 when, for the most part I stopped writing, I found less and less interest and enthusiasm for the project. I wrote this work as my batteries were running low in my personal and professional life. But, by the first decade of the 21st century, a new lease on life, on my literary life, arose in areas other than this history, and these literary juices are now found all over the internet in various pieces of prose and poetry---that are not concerned with the history of the NT. Occasionally after 2002, in the years 2002 to 2012, I have added, have edited, this history. I did this editing, with its additions and subtractions, when I could apply that new lease of/on my literary life to this history which was begun some 30 years ago this year(2012).
This small part of my autobiographical work, this history of the NT, some 10,000 words,is concerned with a history of Australia's Northern Territory: its first 50 years---1947-1997--and some of the history of regions adjoining the NT. The first organized and systematic teaching Plan on the planet in response to Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan----a Plan first unveiled in New York in 1919 and written in the Holy Land during 1916 to 1917, was put into action----after a hiatus of two decades---in North America in 1937. It would be ten years before any teaching work took place in the NT.
Australia was not part of that first teaching Plan in 1937; that Plan did not extend to Australasia, Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands. The first organized Plan in Australia began in mid-1947, a dozen years after the formation of the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand. It was about this same time that the first Bahá'í arrived in the NT. This first Australian Plan took place from 1947 to 1953. The end of that Plan coincided with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bahá'u'lláh's prophetic mission.(See p.250 of Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Antipodes, editor Graham Hassall, Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1997)
The year 1947 was, as Shoghi Effendi wrote on 22/7/'47, "a turning point of great spiritual significance." As far as Bahá'í history in the NT is concerned, it marked the starting point of that history. Those first 50 years are described briefly below.-Ron Price, 3 August 2012.
INSTALMENT NUMBER ONE
This is the first in a series of short articles on The History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997. For those readers who live in one of the more than 200 countries and territories on the planet, it needs to be said that the NT is a part of Australia. The author, a Canadian pioneer to Australia in 1971, lived in this part of Australia from 1982 to 1986 and is now retired and living in Tasmania. These articles or instalments appeared in the newsletter of the Bahá'í Regional Council for the Northern Territory, Northern Lights, from 2000 to 2002.
Knowing your Bahá'í history can be a useful experience. While investigating the first fifty years of the history of the Cause in the NT the author got a letter from the first declared believer in 1957, Ruth Sinclair. Ruth was actually a Babi before she was a Bahá'í. She read some material from The Dawnbreakers in her first contact with the Cause. Having read it, she said to herself "I believe this." She is one of only two people in Australia's Bahá'í history who were Babis before they were Bahá'ís.
Ruth also wrote to say that the first Bahá'í was in the Australian army. He was a medical aid sergeant named Alex McLeod. Ruth said that he gave out pamphlets as part of his teaching style in the late 1940s.
I was never able to determine exactly what year he started his teaching work. I have selected 1947 as the starting point for this story, although it could be as early as 1946 and as late as 1949. The year 1947 is the year in which Australia and New Zealand embarked on their first teaching Plan. This history, then, begins at this point, with Alex McLeod in the late 1940s. I trust that readers will enjoy this series of articles on Bahá'í history in what was a remote and inhospitable part of Australia but in the last half century but is now a part of Australia in which the tyranny of distance has been significantly overcome.
At some time in the first two years of the Australian Bahá'í community's first teaching Plan, 1947-1953, the Northern Territory had its first Bahá'í, Alex McLeod. We do not know much about Alex and what we do know is due to the letters of Ruth Sinclair, the first declared believer in 1957. Ruth also informs us that the first Bahá'í in Alice Springs was in 1957. Frank Saunders stayed in Alice for one year and then went on to New Zealand. He was a Canadian Bahá'í. Ruth also tells us of the first days of Bahá'í community life from 1957 to the formation of the LSA of Darwin in 1962. Bill Washington and Aaron Blomeley also lived in Darwin in these years and they may write instalments later in this history. Aaron Blomeley told me in a telephone conveersation on 26 January 2012, that at the age of 18 he pioneered to Darwin. Ruth Sinclair had advertised for a pioneer and he responded. Aaron said that he stayed in Darwin for seven years until he was about 25.
In September 1961 when Ruhiyyih Khanum visited Darwin following the dedication of the mother-temple of Australia the great region of the north and west of Australia had no Bahá'ís outside of Darwin down into the Centre and out to the West in the region north of Perth Western Australia. In the 1960s this began to change in the Centre and on the west coast teaching work began in the early 1970s.
When the global Bahá'í community celebrated the Most Great Jubilee in 1963 and entered the first Plan of the Universal House of Justice in 1964 the NT had some twelve believers. This number doubled during the Plan: 1964-1973. In 1963 in the approximately four million square kms from: (i) Albany to Derby(excluding metropolitan Perth), (ii) east as far as the SE corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Mt. Isa in the north of Queensland to Charleville and Cunnamulla in the south of Queensland, and then (iii) south to Whyalla and Port Lincohn in South Australia during that Plan there was only one Bahá'í in Albany.
Teaching work was initiated as far as Carnarvon in WA by Perth Bahá'ís in 1970; Alice Springs had several Bahá'ís by the early 1970s; several localities had opened in the NT by the early 1970s. Whyalla in South Australia formed its first LSA in 1972. Such is some of the broad picture beyond the borders and within the borders of the NT---in which the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT: 1947-1997 experienced its first twenty-five years, 1947-1972. These instalments will try and present as detailed a picture as possible of these first fifty years of Bahá'í history in the NT---and to some extent these adjoining parts of other states of Australia.
In the first century(1844-1944) of Baha’i history, Moojan Momen informs us, Baha’is were “lamentably neglectful” in recording their experiences, their memoirs.1 This pattern continued to be the case in the early history of the Cause in the Northern Territory and the great outback of western Queenland from, say, the SE corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Mt Isa in the north of western Queensland to Charleville and cunnamulla in west Queensland''s south, west to Derby in the north of WA, and to Albany in the south, and then over to Port Augusta in South Australia that is the concern of this history. Perth in WA has its own history going back to the 1920s, but is not our concern here, nor the isolated Baha’is outside of the NT who began to enter that vast region in the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963) and the Nine Year Plan(1964-1973). By 1973 in the NT, a still remote backwater of Australia, out past the proverbial black stump, there were only some two dozen Baha’is.
There are some notes and minutes in old RTC files on the NT going back to the early 1960s. The archive of the LSA of the Baha’is of Darwin, formed in 1961(see instalment 2), also has some useful information, as does the national archive in Sydney. But, for the most part, the ordinary Baha’i did not have the time or the inclination to write down his or her experiences for future generations. Some oral history has been done for the first quarter-century ending in 1973 but, as far as this writer is aware, only a single casette of sixty minutes, based on the experience of Bill and Penny Wilde, has been recorded.
Louis Favenac, writing about Australian exploration as far back as 1888, said that “a complete history of Australian exploration will never be known.” This is just as true of the laying of the foundations of the Baha’i community in the NT in that first quarter century: 1948-1973. Indeed it is a reality of much of the history of the peoples of the world everywhere where literacy only spread to any significant extent in the middle of the 19th century. It would seem that the written word is not a tool that more than a small percentage of ordinary men and women anywhere draw on to tell the story of their lives. But, as the 19th century became the 20th and the 20th became the 21st, this old pattern began to change significantly.
When two Hands of the Cause, Mr. Collis Featherstone and Mr Enoch Olinga, visited Darwin in 1958 they found the NT’s only two Baha’is: Alex McLeod and Ruth Sinclair. A public meeting was held in Darwin, on the only evening these two Hands of the Cause were in town, in the medical-aid post of the Larrakeyah Barracks. Ruth wrote that “it was a very small but successful meeting.”
(1) M. Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions: 1844-1944, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.xvii. Momen offers no apologies for first the Iranians and then the Baha’is of other nations who laid the foundations of this new religion around the world, but did not record their experiences. At the other end of the spectrum of autobiographies and memoirs, the last 200 years has seen a great flowering of these genres of writing. This is, of course, a separate subject and does not concern us here except tangentially.
As far as I know, the only occasion when two Hands of the Cause visited the Northern Territory was in October 1958. That year Mr. Collis Featherstone and Mr. Enoch Olinga came to Darwin and they spoke at a public meeting held at the medical-aid post, the Larrakeyah Barracks. One of the only two Baha’is in the NT at the time, Ruth Sinclair, wrote of that occasion: “it was a very small but successful meeting.” The other Bahá'í at the time, as far as I know, was Aaron Blomeley.
There had been over a decade of Baha’i teaching work in the NT by the time the two Hands visited Darwin. It was often the experience of Baha’is holding public meetings in the first twenty-five years(1947-1973) of the consolidation of the Cause in the NT that few people would come to advertised meetings. But the meeting would be held anyway. The story is often told of Martha Root, the most outstanding teacher of the period 1919-1939, who once held a meeting and no one came. She gave her talk anyway and she was the only one in the room! Although the Baha’i community is always welcoming to those who are interested in learning its message, it is important not to measure success by the number of people present, and even more so by the number of declared believers.
1957 was a big year for Baha’i history in the NT. Ruth Sinclain was the first person to declare her belief in Baha’u’llah. There had been a Baha’i in the NT for a decade by 1957. The spiritual axis, “endowed with exceptional spiritual potency,” was established about a month after Ruth had become a Babi.(see instalment #1). The Guardian died. Collis Featherstone was elevated to the station Hand of the Cause. When he visited Darwin in 1958 there were two Baha’is. By 1960 there were three Baha’is: Ruth Sinclair, Aaaron Blomeley and Bill Washington.
Hands of the Cause Ruhiyyiy Khanum and Collis Featherstone visited Darwin in 1961. They helped to lay the groundwork for the formation of the LSA that year. Twenty-seven people attended the public meeting at which Ruhiyyih Khanum spoke. The mother-temple of Australia opened that same year. 1961 was clearly a turning point in the early history of the Faith in the NT.
NT BAHA’I HISTORY INSTALMENT #6: Part 1
An “Aboriginal Teaching School” is mentioned in the Regional Teaching Committee’s files. This school was set up in the last year of the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963) and was run from 1962 to 1965. The first Aboriginal Baha’i in the NT came from this school. Her name was Alice Doran. The school was run by Avis Mortal, Ruth Sinclair and Tony and Alison Scott. After fifteen years of a Baha’i presence in the NT(1947-1962), the first Aboriginal had found their way to the Baha’i teachings. By April 1963, when the Baha’is around the world celebrated their Most Great Jubilee and the election of the Universal House of Justice, two other Aboriginal people also joined the Faith: Moses and Wanganaga Mamirika. A start had been made to the great teaching work ahead with the indigenous people of the NT.
In the second year of the Nine Year Plan, in 1966, Jerome and Angelina Nambajimba, on Bathurst Island, wanted to become Baha’is. They lived on a mission run by the Catholic Church. The Church, at that time, did not allow Aboriginal people to affiliate with any other religious group. The work in these first two decades of the history of the Cause in the NT required persistence and patience.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 6: Part 2
In the last instalment I mentioned the importance of continuity in writing the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT. In the last 25 years, the last quarter of the 20th century though, there have been several developments in the writing of history. One of these places an emphasis on the discontinuous, on the lost events, on apparently unrelated activities, especially where there is a paucity of detail. This approach is important because much of the daily life of individual Bahá'ís in the first 50 years of Bahá'í history did not relate to the enrolment of new believers; indeed, it had no relationship to "growth" in any form. But this daily life, this everyday experience of individuals has importance, has meaning. It is this meaning, recorded by individual Bahá'ís, that makes the writing of history something beyond the dry account of facts and figures.
In fact, to see the history of the Cause from 1947 to 1997 primarily in terms of growth obscures many of the events associated with the Bahá'í Faith in these formative years. It is important for us to state this especially since I have given great emphasis to the teaching work and its results in the more than thirty instalments found here at BLO. But the whole of the history simply cannot be encompassed or explained by notions of growth and decline, success or failure. Unquestionably, there has been an expansion of the community from one in 1947 to nearly one hundred in 1997. But that is not all that happened. Much takes place under the label 'consolidation' to say nothing of service activity and individual relationships about which often very little is written.
The number of historical events that happened in these 50 years was infinite; but the vast majority of them deserve to be obscure and forgotten. No one wants to know what the three Hands of the Cause had for breakfast when they came to the NT around 1960. Most of the daily activities of the Bahá'ís did not result in any conversions or in the growth of the community. It is the interplay, the contrast, the polarity between the teaching work, much of what you might call "the ordinary everyday stuff" and consolidation, service and indiivdual lives that makes the story come alive.
NT BAHA’I HISTORY INSTALMENT #7
The period 1965 to 1967, with a new RTC of the NT, saw lots of teaching and the extension of the Cause into new areas in the NT. A new RTC was formed in 1965 with E. Elborough, Elaine Harwood, Hiroco Washington, Alison Scott and Tony Harding. The first RTC had served from 1961 to 1965. New localities were opened up in: Lajamanu, the Arafura region, Pine Creek, Maningrida, Alligator River, Nyangula, Alyangula, Wave Hill, Coolibah Station, Tortilla Flats,as well as Groote and Melville Island. The RTC files for the Nine Year Plan(1964-1973) do not tell anything about the developments in any of these new communities. I was not able to gather any information about Baha’i community developments in these localities. So far as I know, no one has recorded their experiences in these localities during these early years.
There had been, though, beginning in 1956, a Baha’i in Alice Springs: Frank Saunders. But more on Frank and others in the Alice Springs Bahá'í history in instalment number 8.
On January 1st 1956 Frank Saunders moved to Alice Springs. He was a New Zealand Baha’i and was the first Baha’i to live in the Centre. Thirty-five years after the Cause had been introduced to Australia by Hyde and Clara Dunn, a locality at the Centre of Australia was finally opened. By 1977 Alice Springs had its first local spiritual assembly. The story of these years is one that has come entirely from RTC archives. It must be left to a future student of Baha’i history, drawing on the Alice Springs and the National Baha’i archives, to put more of the detail into the history of these first nineteen years.
Frank returned to New Zealand in January 1957 and the RTC files have no mention of Alice Springs until 1965. In 1965 Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone spoke at the CWA rooms in Alice. Susan Saharil joined in November and in 1966 Alice Springs formed its first Baha’i Group: Michael and Susan Saharil, Christian Borleis and Rex and Cynthia Armitage. Rex and Cynthia had the first Baha’i marriage in Alice that year. The first marriage in the NT, though, was held in Darwin in 1960: Aaron and Noela Blomeley.
Val and Mansel Morris arrived in Alice in 1968, Tony and Chris Fergusson and Heather Dryden in 1973. When the Nine Year Plan ended in 1973 Alice had five Baha’is. Many travel teachers had come through Alice in the late sixties and early seventies: David Hoffman, Beverley and Paul Stafford, Harry Penrith, Ken and Joanne Hughes, Andrew Gash and Conrad and Ivy Skowronski. In 1977, three years into the Universal House of Justice’s second global teaching Plan, the first LSA of the Baha’is of Alice Springs formed. This was one of Australia’s major achievements of the Five Year Plan, 1974-1979.
It had taken nearly fifteen years for the Bahá'í community to form an LSA in Darwin(1947-1961) and another fifteen years before one formed in Alice Springs(1962-1977). In areas adjacent to the NT: (i) far western Queensland from the SE corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Mt. Isa in the north of Queensland to Charleville and Cunnamulla in the south of Queensland, (ii) the northern part of South Australia down to Whyalla and Port Lincohn, (iii) far western NSW, and (iv) the north and east of Western Australia, the Cause had just begun to stick its head above the ground in the 1970s. These were all difficult regions for the Australian Bahá'í community to open. Whyalla formed an LSA in 1972 after several years of work. In 1970 Baha’is started heading north from Perth along the west coast of WA, as I have already pointed out. But, given the vast distances from these ‘nearby’ regions to the NT, the NT developed its Bahá'í communities independently, except for the occasional travel teacher. Readers and future historians will have to spend more time than I with the relevant archival sources to put some more meat on the bones of this scanty initial history.
After thirty years, 1947-1977, the Cause had a divine institution at both ends of the NT. It had taken the labour of four Plans to establish these two Spiritual Assemblies, these local institutions of the World Order of Baha’u’llah.
INSTALMENT # 10
The Five(1974-1979) and the Seven Year Plans(1979-1986) were years of struggle for the two Assemblies in the NT. They were also years of struggle for the Bahá'í Groups outside Darwin and Alice. In 1984 the LSA of Alice Springs fell, after seven years of life at the centre. A new Bahá'í Group reformed in Katherine by 1982: MaryAnne Pallier, Ron and Chris Price and Heather Dryden. This was the second Bahá'í Group in Katherine, the first being the Dryden family from the late sixties to the mid-1970s. Other Bahá'í centres and groups were formed on Bathurst Island from 1972 to 1978 with Paul and Soussan Stevenson; on Crocker Island from 1977 to 1980 with Jed and Kerry Handisides and at Ngukurr where Warren Hastings lived from 1974 to 1987.
Two LSAs formed on the west coast of WA in this period: Onslow in 1978 and Carnarvon in 1984; the first Bahá'í Group in Derby also came into existence in 1975. The NT Bahá'ís had some company in their remote northern climes but, for the most part, there was little contact between the Bahá'í communities in these two regions. Most of my information was obtained from talking to people when I lived in the NT and northern WA from 1982 to 1987. I have few details from RTC files from this period; neither have these history instalments benefited from the study of LSA archives. Future Bahá'í historians can fill in the blank spaces from the rough sketch of these several pieces, as I have mentioned already.
The next two Plans, the Seven Year Plan(1979-1986) and the Six Year Plan(1986-1992) saw the Darwin LSA continue to function and the Alice Springs LSA fall. One very useful source of information on this period was a cassette tape sent to me by Bill and Penny Wilde who served in the Darwin Bahá'í community from 1972 to 1988. I would encourage others to put their story on tape. Such a resource will certainly be useful to future historians. It is especially useful to those who are disinclined to put their story on paper. Penny and Bill were one of the longest serving Bahá'ís in those first forty years of Bahá'í history in the NT(1947-1987). There were many others whose story I wrote while I lived in Katherine. Each person read and approved my statements. It is my intention to include some of these stories in future instalments of this history of the N.T. Anyone wanting to send me information for my files and for inclusion in one of the instalments please do so. This Cause has a future of immense significance. It will contribute much to the future of civilisation. Any efforts to write any part of the story of the teaching and consolidation process of the first half century(1947-1997) of Bahá'í history in the N.T. will make an important contribution to the Bahá'í story in the decades and centuries ahead.
The story I convey in these instalments is brief, episodic, sporadic and lacking in depth. I have made some effort, though, to provide a sense of continuity. This instalment and the next will complete the initial run through the first fifty years of history. Like so many other things in life, writing history requires a persistence, a faithfulness to the duty, the task. Perhaps that is why Bahá'u'lláh praises 'faithfulness' or 'trustworthiness' so highly. Doing what you say you're going to do, finishing what you say you are going to complete, Bahá'u'lláh gives a high place in His hierarchy of virtues. But my enthusiasm for the writing the history of the first fifty years died a natural or unnatural death by the time I arrived in Tasmania in 1999. What readers are getting in these instalments is but a digest of what I had already written, drawing on a narrow band of material I obtained during a six year stay in the north and northwest of Australia. To write an extensive history one needs lots of facts and figures, lots of details on people's lives and experiences. One also needs the ability to breath life into bare facts. I hope that those now living in the NT or any one of the contiguous regions, will record some of their experiences, however humble, however apparently insignificant or irrelevant to the flow of the events of history. Only then will the Bahá'í story, contained in part in the official Bahá'í archives, at the National office, in LSA and Bahá'í Group records, be enriched and deepened by the living realities of the lives of those now serving in the north in these historic years of the Cause.
The Australian poet Bernard O'Dowd(1860-1953) was looking for another intervention from God into history "emerging from the desert."(1) He saw a fresh revelation arising out of the Australian landscape. But he also thought the Australian community would have to work hard to see that dream become a reality. O'Dowd died just as the Kingdom of God on earth was given its kick-start with the opening of the Bahá'í Temple in Chicago.(2) At that moment, in 1953, the Bahá'í Faith had had a presence in the Northern Territory for six years.
Before continuing in the next several instalments with events, people and places over the first half century of Bahá'í history in the N.T., I'd like to close this general overview of Bahá'í history in its 14 parts with some words from another Australian poet, Judith Wright. Wright felt that our present language was inadequate to deal with the new circumstances of our time. She wrote, in a poem that appeared at the beginning of the Bahá'í experience in the N.T.:
Wounded we cross the desert's emptiness
For only change and distance shape for us
some new tremendous symbol for the soul.3
This embryonic Bahá'í community has more than change and distance to shape its being. It has the language of a new Revelation, a new language for the soul.
(1) Cavan Brown, Pilgrim Through This Barren Land, 1991, p.101.
(2) Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.351.
(3) Judith Wright, The Two Fires, Sydney, 1955, p.51.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 15
Now that the outline, the overview, of the first fifty years is complete, I'd like to focus on some specific aspects of the history beginning at the start of the story in 1947. In the decade from June 1947 to June 1957 information is scarce. We know that the first Bahá'í, Alex McLeod, became a Bahá'í in New Guinea during WW2. Then he went down to Darwin. Ruth Scott, the first to declare her belief in Bahá'u'lláh in October 1957, writes in her letters of what it was like in Darwin in 1946 when she arrived. She also tells us of Florence and Harold Fitzner who passed through Darwin in these years on their way to and from Timor where they were pioneers. Of course, we can not forget Frank Saunders who came to Alice Springs from New Zealand in January 1956 and stayed for perhaps a year.
Alex McLeod has a special place in Bahá'í history. When the Ten Year Crusade started in 1953, the year which the Guardian said marked the inception of the Kingdom of God on earth, Alex was the only Bahá'í in the entire four million square miles, sixty per cent of that Australian land mass which included: (a) the vast region north of Perth to Derby and beyond, (ii) south of Perth to Albany and (iii) across the bite in WA into SA, (iv) all of northern SA from say Whyalla, and (v) in the far western parts of Queensland(say: from the SE corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Mt Isa in the north to Charleville and Cunnamulla in the south of western Queensland) and NSW. Little did he know how much of a pioneer he was!
INSTALMENT FOR PHOTO OF RUHIYYIH KNUNUM
In 1986, two years before she died, Ruth Sinclair sent me 14 'sheets of corrections' to my manuscript on the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT. Ruth was keen on getting the facts right. Many of the details of the early history are due to Ruth's concern for accuracy. She described the period from 1960 in Darwin as follows:
The teaching work in the Top End of Australia was like a fire burning…..with its arms stretching out to Aboriginal Missions and Stations, cattle stations and down the highway even to Alice Springs.
In 1960 Bill Washington was the chairman; Aaron Blomeley was the secretary. Both men lived in a hostel. Ruth's home was the meeting place, office address and phone number for all Bahá'í business. In 1962 an LSA formed in Darwin. Ruth wrote the following about the process: "The story of the beginning of the first LSA is full of life and fire and love." From Ruth's perspective the Bahá'ís in Darwin in 1961 were 'practicing' at being an LSA. It was into this atmosphere that in September 1961 Hand of the Cause Ruhiyyih Khanum visited Darwin. She was in Australia for the opening of the Bahá'í temple in Sydney. Her travelling companion was Jessie Revell. In the years before the formation of the LSA Darwin was visited by two other Hands of the Cause: Enoch Olinga and Collis Featherstone. These three Hands played an important part in planting those seeds and laying those foundations.
These were important years, the last three years of the Ten Year Crusade, for the growth of the Cause. By 1963 there were some 400,000 Bahá'ís in the world. Darwin formed its LSA six years after the first local council of Darwin had been elected. Local government was slow in evolving in the NT. The first temple was opened in the southern hemisphere in 1961; the period of the Custodians(1957-1963) was coming to an end; Mason Remey gave birth to a new generation of Covenant Breakers and Ruhiyyih Khanum travelled the world in her "passionate resolve to ensure the triumph" of the work of Shoghi Effendi.
INSTALLMENT # 15
The RTC's of the various states of Australia were, for the most part, far too occupied with their own regions and the great distances involved to be of any assistance in the NT. But in the second decade of the NT's Bahá'í history, 1957-1967, we see the first evidence of assistance from the South Australian RTC, the Bahá'í Public Relations Committee as well as the National Teaching Committee, the NTC. The first correspondence this writer has uncovered from the Bahá'í Public Relations Committee was dated March 22nd 1960; the first NTC letter is dated May 6th 1960 from Peter Khan secretary. The topic was a display for what was then called "the North Australian Show."1 On October 9th 1965 three South Australians joined with five Darwin Bahá'ís for a meeting at what was their regular meeting place for out-of-town guests, the CWA room. Of course, South Australian Bahá'ís, Florence and Harold Fitzner, had visited various centres in the NT in the 1950s on their way to Timor. On September 5th 1960 Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone wrote to the then Darwin Bahá'í Group commenting, among other things, on Darwin's excellent display in 'The Darwin Show.' The NT was not alone as Bahá'ís in Darwin and Alice struggled with their embryonic Bahá'í Groups in this second decade of Bahá'í history in the NT.
(1) Future historians of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT who draw on the documents in the national Archive in Sydney and may find correspondence going back to the first ten years of Bahá'í history in the NT: 1947-1957.
There have been many Bahá'ís who have been travel teachers to the NT. They have helped at shows, talked at public meetings, visited their Bahá'í friends, driven long distances and taught the Cause, whereever possible, en route. This fifty-year history, 1947-1997, will not describe the experience of all the travel teachers to the NT since I have not had the opportunity to talk to any of these teqachers. But one Bahá'í deserves a mention: Helen Gordon.1
I include her story here because she and her husband Don have a record of activity in and, mostly around, the NT that is both long and interesting. It is a story that goes back to 1975 up in Derby and concludes in Narrogin in 1997. Since this history is not about the Kimberley or country towns in Western Australia, I won't go into the details of their time in these regions. But occasionally they drove to Darwin from Kununurra to help with events organized by the Darwin LSA. They also travelled to Melville Island to visit Jackie Aipierspack. I give a special mention to Helen because of all those travel teachers to the NT since 1947, most did not stay in the region. Helen and Don have worked from Derby to Narrogin, to Kununurra, twenty-five years now in places with few to no Bahá'ís. They have worked in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. They deserve a place in the history of the NT, as representatives of the travel teacher, a critical component in the success of the global teaching campaign we have all been part of since the Plans began here in Australia in 1947.
(1) A partial List of Travel Teachers to the NT would include: Harold and Florence Fitzner(1950s); Ruhiyyih Rabbani, Collis Featherstone, Enoch Olinga, David Hofman, Howard Harwood(1960s); John Walker, Margo Jackson, Helen Gordon, Tony Harding, Paul and Beverley Stafford, Joyce Forrest, Harry Penrith(1970s); and Robert and Monica Johnson, Sato Williams, Madge Williams(1980s). I have not been able to locate much information about the experiences of these travel teachers to the NT, with the exception of the several Hands of the Cause in the then RTC files.
There were many places in the NT where Bahá'í Groups were established in the first fifty years of the NT's history. Each Bahá'í Group has its own story. This history can not tell the story of every Group. There is one, though, to which I would like to devote at least two instalments of this history. That Group is Katherine. From the point of view of the history of the Faith from 1947 to 1997, Katherine seems to have been what might be called the epi-centre of the NT, a point of Bahá'í activity between the two major centres of growth and development in the NT: Darwin and Alice Springs, a point where a great deal of Bahá'í work took place over nearly thirty years of the Territory's first fifty.
A long and detailed letter from Freda Leyton and a cassette tape from her son, Paul, which I received back in 1982, outlined their Bahá'í work from 1969 to 1980 in Katherine. I can not summarize all of the teaching work of David and Freda and their children in Hooker Creek, Bathurst and Melville Island and Katherine throughout most of the Nine Year Plan(1964-1973), all of the Five Year Plan(1974-1979) and some of the Seven Year Plan(1979-1986). They had been on Bathurst Island when the first Aboriginal people expressed their belief in the Cause in October of 1966. This is an interesting story in itself. Dave and Freda endured many tests both before and after their years working in the Katherine Bahá'í Group.
This enduring of difficulties seems to be a pattern in the lives of families and individuals in the NT over these first fifty years. It is the story of these tests which gives history's account the vitality and poignancy that is possesses. These short instalments can not possibly do justice to the often personal and detailed descriptions of teaching successes, of day-to-day joys and sorrows as well as tragedies. Future Bahá'í historians will build on the information in the files of the NT's LSAs and Groups, of Committees and of the National archives and the files of individuals who have written their stories for the benefit of posterity. Future Bahá'ís will have the pleasure of reading, in language rich in coherence and embedded comment, an endless succession of engagements of dramatis personae who are, for us, the ordinary mortals we now know as our friends. For the first fifty years, for those who would cast a retrospective eye, have left behind a record of hundreds upon hundreds of transactions and relationships, stories and activities. And they would serve, as history makes available through its capacity to define and describe, for the instruction of future ages, ages we can now only dimly apprehend.
INSTALMENT # 17(end)
Fifty years after the beginning of this history, when racial superiority and exclusivity was a given in the Australian ethos; when the contemporary wisdom was that white people did not live in the north; when Protestant and Catholic made deep divisions in the Australian social landscape; great changes had taken place. Neighbourliness and friendliness had become a part of the NT, a part promoted in the advertising literature about the north. This attitude was a natural one to the Bahá'ís and they fitted in well, indeed, blended in to NT society.
It was this attitude, too, that gave the impression to any impartial observer that the Bahá'ís were a useful component of the society that made up the NT. The critical observer might well think that little had been achieved in the first fifty years of Bahá'í history in the NT. The Bahá'í communities were still small and formed a negligible part of the overall population. With less than one hundred believers in 1997, fifty years after the inception of the Bahá'í community in 1947, impartial observers might be excused if they did not take the Bahá'í Faith seriously in this northern outpost of an increasingly global society.
Not allowed to engage in an aggressive proselytism, through which many religious messages have been widely promulgated, with the priority given to the establishment of groups at the local level, new Bahá'í communities in the NT had taken root in that first half-century. The roots of Faith, without which no society can last, had indeed grown, for the most part, quietly in the hearts of a few people. The time had come though, as the first fifty years were coming to a close, for a serious examination of the impulse behind the experience that is 'Bahá'í community' and its process of social transformation, one that is unique, in some critical respects, in our world.1 The second fifty years, I am confident, will see the engagement with this critical and still detached observer as this emerging world religion goes on from strength to strength.
15 October 2001
(1) Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, NY, 1991, Bahá'u'lláh,p.1.
INSTALMENT # 18
Within two years after the Leyton family left Katherine in 1980, the town had a new Bahá'í Group: Ron and Chris Price. Mary-Anne Palliaer moved in in 1983 and Heather Dryden in 1985. Katherine was able to keep at least one Bahá'í, maintain its 'isolated believer', its 'locality', status, for the rest of the first fifty year history ending in 1997 thanks to the presence of Larry Ahlin. The story of Larry Ahlin's becoming a Bahá'í has been told before (Northern Lights Issue 40). I will review it briefly here.
Some time in 1983, while Larry was working in the Legal Aid Office, he came into the Katherine Adult Education Centre. Here we talked briefly about the history of his people and their land. At the time Larry was the spokesman for the Jawoyn people. I don't remember if we discussed the Faith at that first meeting, but over the next twelve months Larry came to our small firesides. We talked together in many places around the town and he joined the Cause in April 1984. Larry was the first Aboriginal elder in the NT to become a Bahá'í and the only person to become a Bahá'í during the nearly four years Chris, Dan and I lived in Katherine.This second contingent of Bahá'ís in Katherine went on to different places. But Larry stayed in his traditional home, a home where he could trace his ancestry as far back as 1788. Here he continued to serve this new Faith into the second half century of Bahá'í history in the NT.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 19
Extension teaching has been an important part of teaching plans during the first half century of Bahá'í history in the NT. Often the story of an extension project is not recorded except for a line or two in LSA or Group minutes. But some stories have been recorded in great detail. In 1983 I received a story of an extension teaching project from the Bahá'í locality of Batchelor. The story was written by Geoff O'Callaghan in some 1500 words. It was a story of his teaching trip to the Kintore Aboriginal Community northwest of Alice Springs, just a few miles from the West Australian border. He also sent me three slides of the community and the friends he got to know.
Back in the early 1980s, Kintore was an outstation where the Pintubi people lived. They moved there in the mid-to-late 1970s, according to Geoff. Some of these Pintubi people had never had contact with non-Aboriginal culture. To get there was a five hour four-wheel drive from Papunya. Geoff describes the drive, the heat in the low 50s, the need for a permit to travel to the community, the landscape, the religious orientation of those whom he got to know well, something of the culture, the details of conversations, the efforts to get water, the caravans and his efforts to teach the Cause. While noone declared their belief in Bahá'u'lláh, it was clear that Geoff was able to talk about the Central Figures and some of the basic teachings.
Mr. O'Callaghan stayed for two weeks. He was a part-time, travelling "outstation" teacher. He taught in the open air in the cool of the mornings in his outstation role. He taught at many other times as a travel teacher, in an extension teaching job that fitted in very well with his professional work from Batchelor. He was received warmly and openly. His account is the most detailed one that I have in my files of the history of the Bahá'í Faith from 1947 to 1997. With other accounts in the LSA and RTC files the story of extension teaching in the NT in the first fifty years will contribute a vivid chapter to Bahá'í history. So much of the picture of extension teaching in these early years, though, will never be painted. The details are so often fragmentary; so often no one turned the historical microscope on the events and those taking part in them. The diligent historian will often search in vain for details that might instruct a future age.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 20
This is the second story of extension teaching. There are, of course, many stories of extension teaching in this vast land. But this brief history will content itself with two. Future histories of the Cause in the NT will provide, hopefully, more detail; this general survey deals primarily with highlights of the years 1947 to 1997. This extension teaching story is one that goes back a long way, back to 1965. I include it in the history of the first fifty years of Bahá'í experience in the NT because (a) it gave rise to the first local believer and, within a few months, the first Bahá'í Group in Alice Springs; and (b) it involved believers from Darwin and Adelaide joining together.
Effie Elborough, Ingrid Jorgic and a Mrs. B. Harris drove up from Adelaide; Bill and Hiroco Washington, Lia Kon Liong and Wally Elborough drove down from Darwin. According to Barry Sweetman's twenty-two page history of the Alice Springs Bahá'í community from 1956 to the formation of an LSA there in 1977, Aaron Blomley and R. Grumwaldt also drove down from Darwin. There had been no Bahá'ís living in Alice since January 1957 when David Saunders returned to New Zealand after a one year stay in The Centre. Six non-Bahá'ís attended a public meeting held on October 10th 1965 and nine firesides resulted from that effort. Three weeks later, eight years to the day after the passing of Shoghi Effendi, Susan Sahario joined the Bahá'í Faith. By February 1966 Alice Springs had its first Bahá'í Group when Michael Sahario became a Bahá'í. In August 1966 this Bahá'í Group was formally organized and registered with officer bearers. Nineteen years after the Bahá'í Faith had begun its history in the NT, The Centre had finally begun to grow through the extension teaching efforts of Bahá'ís from both ends of the continent.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 21
A slice of time, from 1973 to 1987, fourteen years of experience in the Darwin Bahá'í community was conveyed in a delightful series of anecdotes on a cassette tape provided by Bill and Penny Wilde just before they left Darwin. Sixty minutes of stories, laughter, retrospect and prospect, the tone and texture of the community before and after the cyclone in 1974.
A community of perhaps 20 before the cyclone was reborn in the mid-to-late seventies. Over a dozen travel teachers were mentioned, some to add to the partial list in a previous instalment. The teaching successes of Hedi Moani and Carol Sherman, among others, a Feast in 1975 held in a car with three attendees: Hedi, Adib Sharmandani and Ray Katt, the many Bahá'ís from isolated localities who stayed at the Wildes', the LSA strengths and problems during this period, all form part of a lively and stimulating account of what might be called 'the middle years' of the first half century of Bahá'í activity in Darwin.
Bill and Penny tell of having three families living in their kitchen in early 1975 just after the cyclone. It was the only room left standing in their house and the other two families lost everything. When Madge and Morris Williams travelled to Darwin the first of two children's camps was held; when a travel teacher from Taiwan arrived three Chinese people joined the Faith and a fireside of 14 joined an animated discussion. The LSA had a frequent change of membership during this period and each time the LSA took on a reshaping.
Finally, Bill and Penny mentioned many believers who came to the NT for one or two years and then left. Each played their own special role before they went on with their lives in other places. These 'people in transition' made their own particular contribution in this remote part of Australia and make their own chapter of the Bahá'í story.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 22
In 1966, early in the Nine Year Plan, Freda and David Leyton pioneered to Melville Island. With them went their three children: Kathy 3, Damien 6 and Paul 8. Freda was thirty-four at the time and David forty-two. David took on the job of Settlement Manager and Freda was Sister-in-Charge at the hospital. They lived in Snake Bay, a small community on Melville Island. At the time they formed the Northern Territory's most northerly Bahá'í Group. At the start of the Nine Year Plan in 1964 there were about a dozen Bahá'ís in the NT. That number rose to two dozen by the end of the Plan in 1973.
Catholic Brothers ran a mission whose policy was determined by the Catholic church and that policy controlled the religious life of the Aboriginals on Melville and Bathhurst Islands. It was church policy not to allow Aboriginal people to join any non-Catholic religious group. So it was when Jerome and Angelina Nambajimba wanted to become Bahá'ís this was not possible.
Freda wrote,in a letter to me back in 1984, that there was no bad feeling between the Catholic priests and nuns and the Leytons. Just the simple or not-so-simple application of church policy. Freda mentions that the priests and nuns were 'lovely people,' their friends, with praiseworthy characters serving their church and the Aboriginals in this isolated and remote part of Australia. She also writes of walking around Bathurst Island saying 'the remover of difficulties' prayer many times. The local people, the Tiwis, were beautiful people, people who trusted the Leytons and saw them as friends.
One of the services the church provided was to show movies regularly to the people in the settlement. One movie showed the final piece of architecture being put in place on the Bahá'í Temple. When the Aboriginals saw the temple they said: 'that bin sister's church.' The Aboriginals were also impressed with the pictures of Enoch Olinga that the Leytons showed to them. Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga had come to the Territory, to Darwin, as early as 1958 and the Aboriginal people were 'very taken with him.' Occasionally travel teachers visited these islands north of the Beagle Gulf off the coast of Darwin. Howard Harwood in 1967 was one such teacher.
Alice Springs formed its first Bahá'í Group that year, 1966. Darwin had had an LSA for five years by then. Occasionally someone would journey from Darwin to Alice Springs. Bill Washington had made one such trip of 1500 kms in 1965. That trip resulted in Alice's first believer.
By 1969 the Leytons had moved on to Katherine where they formed the first Bahá'í Group there, but that is another story.
The Bathurst/Melville Islands story continued after the Leytons left in 1969. Three years later Paul and Soussan Stevenson moved to Bathurst Island and stayed until 1978. Another young family, Jed and Kerry Handisides moved to Croker Island, an island in the Arafura Sea, not far from Melville Island in 1977. They stayed until 1980. For one year, then, both islands had a Baha'I Group: 1977/8.
I have not been able to obtain any information on the history of the Cause in this archipelago north of Darwin after 1980. Other writers of the history of the Cause will go on to tell the Bahá'í story where I have left it incomplete. This is true of much of the history from 1947 to 1997.
Not allowed to engage in an aggressive proselytism, the means by which most religious groups have advanced their message in recent centuries; with the priority given to the establishment of small groups at the local level, new Bahá'í communities have taken root all over the planet, especially after 1953, with a scattering throughout the NT. Some Bahá'í Groups grew for only a few years. The islands in the far north of the NT fall into this category. The beautiful islands and the beautiful people north of Darwin had a small Bahá'í Group in three localities for a few years of the first fifty of the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT. They never got as far as LSA status. The story goes. Pioneers are still required, as they were required in the Nine Year Plan when the Leytons first went there in 1966. The restrictions of Catholic religious policy are now gone and the people are still waiting to join. Is there anyone who can rise to the occasion? The NTC would love to hear from you.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 24
The events and activities of the Six Year Plan(1986-1992), the Three Year Plan(1993-1996) and the Four Year Plan(1996-2000) brought the first fifty years of Bahá'í history in the NT to a close. Early in the Six Year Plan I left the Northern Territory and ceased to collect information on the developments in the Cause. The move was fortuitous in some ways, though, because as a resident of South Hedland in 1986 and 1987 I was able to follow some of the exciting developments of the Cause from Broome and La Grange to Carnarvon which took place in the mid-to-late-1980s. It is not the purpose of this history of the NT to follow the Bahá'í story in northern WA or, indeed, in other remote places contiguous to the NT where the history of the Faith was still at some point in its first three decades.(1967-1997).
In the last 24 instalments I have sketched the history of the Cause from 1947 to 1997. I have provided a general framework for the history and gone into detail where I had been able to obtain the necessary information. I have not drawn on the archives of the LSAs of Darwin or Alice Springs(except to a limited extent), the RTC of the NT after about 1980, registered or unregistered Bahá'í Groups, the archives of national or regional Bahá'í committees and the national archive in Sydney. This history is, then, inevitably sketchy.
Anyone interested in writing some of their story should send it to me in Tasmania(6 Reece St., George Town, 7253), or to the RTC of the NT. Anything up to the the period ending in 1997 is relevant. Whatever you write will be useful to future historians who will continue the Bahá'í story confidently and unremittingly, celebrating as they do the human race gradually coming of age, after the stormy adolesence of these early years of the Formative Age.
And if, indeed, most of those who have thusfar not written of their experience in the NT during these fifty years, they will, as we all do, write with that ink on those tablets of chrysolite Bahá'u'lláh refers to. For we all write with that indelible ink, that composite of faith and action, on the tablets of our hearts. It is an ink that will endure into eternity.
Fifty years after the beginning of this history in 1947, when racial superiority and exclusivity was a given part of the Australian ethos; when the contemporary wisdom was that white people did not live in the north; when Protestant and Catholic made deep divisions in the Australian social landscape; when the Bahá'í Faith had its first member; great changes had taken place. Indeed in all of Australia there were not 47 Bahá'ís in 1947. The NT and Australia had been transformed. Neighbourliness and friendliness had become a part of the NT, a feature of this northern part of Australia promoted in its advertising literature, if not everywhere apparent. This attitude was a natural one to the Bahá'ís and they fitted in well, indeed, blended in to NT society inconspicuously.
It was this attitude, too, that gave the impression to any impartial observer that the Bahá'ís were a useful component of the society that made up the NT. The critical observer might well think that little had been achieved in the first fifty years of Bahá'í history in the NT. The Bahá'í communities were still small and formed a negligible part of the overall population. With less than one hundred believers in 1997, fifty years after the inception of the Bahá'í community in 1947, impartial observers might be excused if they did not take the Bahá'í Faith seriously in this northern outpost of an increasingly multicultural society.
Not allowed to engage in that aggressive proselytism which I have referred to before and through which many religious communities have promulgated their messages, with the priority given to the establishment of small groups at the local level, many Bahá'í communities in the NT had taken root in that first half-century. The roots of Faith, without which no society can last, had indeed grown, for the most part, quietly in the hearts of a few people. The time had come though, as the first fifty years were coming to a close, for a serious examination of the impulse behind the experience that is 'Bahá'í community' and its process of social transformation, one that is unique, in some critical respects, in our world.1 The second fifty years, I am confident, will see a challenging engagement with this critical and still detached observer as this emerging world religion goes on from strength to strength.
1 Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, NY, 1991, Bahá'u'lláh,p.1.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 26
A mysterious half-desert country affected the imagination of the people of the NT in a way, perhaps, similar to the way the sea affected the British. Just as an appreciation of the beauty of the landscape slowly developed in the first century and half of the history of the NT, so an appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the Bahá'í Faith was slow in coming to the NT. Some, of course, like the explorer Leichardt, saw the beauty as far back as 1844: the stars touch us with their magic and fill us with delight.1 A few, too, saw the beauty of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab as early as 1957, like Ruth Scott in Darwin or Susan Sohario in Alice in 1965. A land which the Aboriginals had found marvellous, mysterious and mythical for thousands of years was slowly becoming so to the people of a new civilization who came to live in the NT in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For the most part this new appreciation, this new awareness, this sense of the spiritual here in the NT, developed in the years after a religion which was claiming to be the emerging world religion on this planet had begun to take root in the last half of the twentieth century.
The enormous job of spiritual readjustment had begun. The work, the task, involved in the slow spiritualization of the people of the NT within the framework of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings would continue into the second half of the first century of its history. The Australian poet Bernard O'Dowd saw a "fresh revelation of God" arising out of the landscape about the time when the first Bahá'í, Alex McLeod, was teaching the Cause in Darwin in 1947. The story, indeed, had begun, even then.
(1) Cavan Brown, Pilgrim: Through This Barren Land, Albatross Books P/L, 1991, p.56.
INSTALMENT NUMBER 27:
THE LAST INSTALMENT in PART 1:
Thanks to the resources I collected and the Bahá'í Council for the NT's encouragement I have been able to write over thirty instalments on A History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997. But all good things come to an end or, if they don't end, their form changes. I trust that someone with an interest in history will continue the story, for the story will never end it will go on in some form, some day by someone. But my part in writing this history has ended. When I started gathering details for the history twenty years ago I had no idea how long I would be working at the task. I anticipated, initially, gathering together some resource material for someone else to use to write a history. Well, I have done that and this month I sent my collection to the Bahá'í Council for the NT for their archive: a big arch-lever file stuffed to the limit and three two-ring binders each with its own set of resources. There must be many hundreds of sheets of paper in these files.
One of the main reasons why I felt the time had come to stop is that I have acquired new writing projects which are keeping me occupied in these early days of my retirement. One of these projects is the writing of prose-poetry and anyone wanting to read some of it can look it up on the Internet at Google and type in 'Bahá'í Faith Ron Price' or at Yahoo and type in 'Ron Price' and you will find my poetry and prose on 42 Bahá'í themes. You will also find a book I have been working on at Bahá'í Academics Resource Library(Books: 'P') These efforts allow me to spread my literary wings, so to speak. I am able to draw on a very wide range of material for these Internet sites, for prose and poetry.
History writing requires a base of resources and I have put together a useful base both for my own history writing on the NT and for others who will one day continue writing the story. But I have written all I can write for now drawing on these resources. I want to thank the Bahá'í Council of the NT, the LSAs of Darwin and Alice Springs, the several Bahá'í Groups, the many isolated individuals in the NT and the many Bahá'ís scattered throughout the Australian Bahá'í community who have contributed virtually everything there is in these files and, more recently, to some of the instalments. I stiched the contributions I received together and made a garment, a garment to be worn for a time before other garments more suited to a future time takes its place. I hope there have been many who enjoyed wearing this garment for the short time that it has appeared in this newsletter. For the most part it will now sit in an archive.
"Archives offer our knowledge an extra bonus”, says Arlette Farge in her book Fragile Lives1. They are not so much the truth as the beginnings of the truth and, she goes on, they are “an eruption of meanings with the greatest possible number of connections with reality.” That's a pretty lofty view of archives, all the old files kept in a back room somewhere. For most Bahá'ís, most people, the real 'connections-with-reality' are found in their day-to-day experience much more than on bits of paper in archives.
But for now I have exhausted the number of connections I can make on paper from the day-to-day experience of Bahá'ís in the NT from 1947 to 1997 in the archive I have gathered. "The eruption of meanings" that Farge refers to continued off and on for me for twenty years and it produced these thirty-plus instalments. But the process of these instalments has ended and continues, for me, in another form. See you at my website, if you have access to the Internet. And, if you don't, I hope you enjoyed reading of this history.
(1) Arlette Farge, Fragile Lives: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth Century Paris, Harvard UP,Cambridge, Mass., 1993, Introduction.
If the student tries to define 'the outback,' an apparently Australian-only term, he or she will come across many terms, details and approaches to the definition. For my purposes, and more importantly for the purposes of this history, it is the area shown on the map on the reverse side of this sheet. I have excluded Perth and, perhaps, I should have excluded several other cities in the region covered(eg. Darwin, Hedland, Whyalla etc.). But I have not done this. I have also excluded those areas of the outback in 'eastern Australia.' This is largely due to the fact that (a) I never lived in 'eastern Australia' and (b) I had no information on the development of the Cause in its 'outback regions;' nor did I seek any. My 'history of this outback' is largely sketchy and hardly systematic, but it is a start for future historians of the Bahá'í Faith. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 15 September 2002.
-----------------only some of the instalments from Part 2 are found below-------------------------------------------------------
Part 2: INSTALMENT NUMBERS 1 TO 3: NOT AVAILABLE
While living in the NT from 1982 to 1986 and working as an Adult Educator in Katherine I got to know many of the Bahá'ís in the NT. I wrote short accounts of their lives after talking to each of them. I then sent these written statements to the individuals concerned for their approval, to check for accuracy and to gain more details. What follows in this 'Part Two' of the history are short summaries of the lives of some of the Bahá'ís who lived in the NT at the time. I did not update the stories in later years after I left the NT. These accounts of the contribution of some of the Bahá'ís to the work of the Cause is, therefore, for various reasons, only partial, up to the mid-1980s.
I have written before of Warren Hastings. He was a Senior Education Officer at Ngukurr and had been in the NT since 1974. He used to drop in to our home in Katherine. Warren used to bring friends and children with him when he visited. By 1984 he had had ten years experience working with Aboriginal people. He had married an Aboriginal lady; he had divorced twice. He was the veteran of Aboriginal teaching in the first forty years of the teaching work in the NT, 1947-1987. If regret and remorse can root out weakness, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá says can happen, Warren had become a strong man.
He was short, portly, easy-going, perceptive and intelligent, an improviser, light hearted, unassuming, friendly, outgoing, introspective, an asset in community life. He had become one of the precisioned instruments of the Universal House of Justice in the teaching work in the NT in the Five Year Plan(1974-1979) and the Seven Year Plan(1979-1986). He reminded me of some of the souls 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes in Memorials of the Faithful. Here 'Abdu'l-Bahá sketches some 77 different people with His sin-covering eye. So easily pleased, He seemed to love all the human types. I wonder how 'Abdu'l-Bahá would have described Warren and his work for the Cause at the Top-end in the 1970s and 1980s. I saw so little of him in those few short visits in Katherine when the Bahá'í Group reformed there in the early 1980s.
I wish you well, Warren, wherever you may be now. You were always my first port-o'-call if I wanted to ask questions about the teaching work. You had weathered so many storms. I would have been proud to make you captain of the ship whenever I sailed into the ocean round where I lived back then. I hope you have gone on to serve the Cause and build on the record you so nobly evinced in my eyes so many years ago. So strange it is that in losing we often win and in winning we often lose. I look forward to meeting you one day, perhaps in the Great Beyond, where you can tell me more of the services to your Lord in this darksome narrow world. In that land of lights we can laugh at what 'Abdul-Baha calls "our coursings through east and west."1
1 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p.236.
Added Information: I met the Richardsons on three occasions in 1983-4. they described the years 1977 to 1979 as happy ones around the formation of the LSA of Alice springs and their own marriage. But, by the early 1980s, it became difficult to get a quorum for meetings and in 1984 the LSA was not formed.
The Richardsons were an informative source who told me a great deal about the Alice Springs community in this period. They were young, in their thirties with two children. In 1983 they left to live in Warrnambool. By 1986, then, Alice Springs had a history going back to 1956. Many of the years had been difficult ones and much more needs to be written to really get the story of this period.
There is little doubt that the history of the first fifty years of the Cause in the NT were difficult ones for the Bahá'ís--this ten years in Alice was no exception. It was obvious in 1983, when I first met the Richardson's, that Alice Springs might not form its LSA the next year. The birth and development of a Bahá'í community, like life itself, is characterized by tests. These tests when written into the historical account of a period make for interesting reading. It is this writer's hope that more and more people will come forward and write of their experiences, thus enriching the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the NT.
Part two: INSTALMENT 5
The impulse to record what people have witnessed or received on "good authority" is as old as the human voice and the skills of painting and incising on bone, stone and the skins of animals. It gratifies human curiosity. But the record is not easy to render and one person's rendering is nearly always different from another's. One analyst says there are two problems in writing history: overdependence on dates or chronology and a lack of form to the account. In the nearly ten thousand words of this history thusfar I have tried to steer a course that enjoys an interdependence on ascertainable fact and an appropriate form of historical presentation.
While I was living in Katherine I wrote to Ruth Sinclair, the first declared Bahá'í in the NT. I sent her some of the first material I had written on the history of the Cause and asked her for something about the history from her experience. My first letter to her was November 1982 and Ruth was in hospital. In her reply she said "Bahá'u'lláh must still have something for me to do in this world." Over the next four years Ruth sent me several letters and 14 foolscap pages of comments, alterations, deletions and corrections to the initial history I had written. Ruth died two years after her last letter, in 1988 in Gosford NSW. Thirty years of her life had been in the NT. She wanted to get the story of the Cause in the NT right and if I so much as deviated a hair's breadth from what she saw as "the facts" she let me know in those foolscap pages.
I often think that a complete history of the first half century of the Bahá'í experience in the NT will never be completed. There are so many perspectives, so many points of view, so many individual experiences. "Continuity is won," writes the historian S. Lottinville, "only after a good deal of painstaking effort." He makes this comment in his book The Rhetoric of History. Research is endless. There are great contexts and a plethora of simple facts. Without the facts, however contradictory and confused they often are, the general contexts in all their greatness become, as the Dutch historian Huizinga writes, "dry and useless."
I have made a start here and I trust whoever picks up the task of unearthing the story in more detail can continue to marry the great context with the simple fact and so give the history of the Cause in the NT the richness and unity of form it possesses. In the meantime performance struggles after ideal to play its small part. We are all involved, each in our own way, in laying the foundations, for a global society. This history undertakes to record the transactions of the past for the instruction of the future. Time will tell how successful it has been.
______________________________GATHEIRNG OF DATA WHILE LIVING IN SOUTH HEDLAND____________________________________________
While living in South Hedland from March 1986 to December 1987 I began a history of the BT in rural and regional WA. Some of it is on the internet and some was lost. A copy was sent to the BWC library.
GATHERING DATA FOR A HISTORY OF THE CAUSE IN PERTH
After two years living in Perth, from late 1987 to late 1989, I began to explore the idea of writing a history of the Baha’i community of metropolitan Perth. In my third year in Perth I gave it a try, designed A simple form/questionaire, wrote a few pages of biography about various individuals which I put into another section of my autobiography. In the end I abandoned the exercise, became more interested in finalizing my narrative autobiography, took a greater interest in writing a journal and poetry and found that: the vast majority of men and women do not like being written about even if, and perhaps especially if, it is flattering.-Ron Price with thanks to Dorothy Hewitt, Australian writer, ABC Radio, Writers and Writing, 6 July 1997.
The following and the above series of instalments appeared in the Newsletter of the Regional Teaching Committee of the Northern Territory, Northern Lights, from August 2000 to early 2003. These instalments are not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of Bahá'í history during its first half century in the NT, just an initial sketch.
I want to thank the LSAs of Darwin and Alice Springs, the RTC of the NT and the many Bahá'ís who contributed the information without which this history would not have been written. After twenty years of gathering information and writing, 1982-2002, I feel as if I have only just started to put the story of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory from 1947 to 1997 on paper.
God willing, one day pens abler than mine can continue this Bahá'í story, confidently and unremittingly, as they celebrate humanity's maturity in decades and centuries far beyond these stormy years of humanity's late adolescence.
From time to time during these twenty years I lost interest in the project, but something kept coming back to stir me on and keep the project alive. Perhaps it was some of that magic that touched the explorer, Leichardt in 1844 during his expeditions in the NT. Perhaps it was some of that other magic that was stirring in the womb of the world back then in 1844 and which has now set in motion a great global undertaking of which this story is but a part. Perhaps, too, it was some of Debra Bisa's kindness and encouragement in her role on the BC of the NT. -Ron Price 13 September 2002
AFTER TEN YEARS IN PERTH: 12/'87 to 8/'97
In nine weeks I will have been in Perth for a decade and it is timely that I pause to reflect on my experience over these ten years. As I contemplate what memory can bring back to me in the creative moment that writing involves several features of this period of time stand out. I am now fifty-three not the forty-three I was when I arrived in this city on the west coast of Australia, perhaps and arguably the world’s most remote urban agglomeration. I feel older; I look older; in the evenings after a long day, I feel old. My enthusiasms for writing history which burned brightly in my early forties have dimmed. But there is more, much more as my enthusiasms were transferred to other areas, other aspects, of human existence.
Perth now has a Baha’i population of over one thousand and, as I edit this document nearly 15 years later in 2012, Perth has some 2500 Bahá'ís(guesstimation). Most of my Baha’i life has been spent in small groups, except for one year, 1975, when I lived in Melbourne amongst a Baha’i community of between two and three hundred. In Perth there are Baha’is better educated, smarter, with better jobs, who are handsomer, wittier, more humorous; indeed, take any quality on the rainbow of human traits and you can find one or more people who excell my own ability and experience by many fold. I do not recall this same sort of experience anywhere I have lived before. Perth has seen me eating humble-pie, as they say in the vernacular. I have been dethroned from the pinnacle I put myself on for many years when I lived in very small Baha’i communities, when I was the most experienced Bahá'í, and I could easily stand out.
This dethronement was a subtle exercise. For one can feel “better than the rest” so easily, so unobtrusively, so seductively, while one is serving the Cause energetically, with enthusiasm, high energy and never ending activity. The ego is a subtle factor, a tenuous veil that may, in the end, “completely shut a person out.....of his portion of eternal grace.”(‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections, p.182) Looking back I don’t think I was even conscious of this subtle sense of superiority; perhaps I am only aware of it because I am very conscious of not having this sense any more. Ten years in Perth has allowed me to maintain and increase my knowledge and understanding but I have a greater sense of humility. In fact, my inner attitude to others, my private orientation to the community-one that now includes over one thousand believers-is one of not wanting to take part in it at all, partly due to my experience of bipolar disorder, partly due to fatigue from teaching for 3 decades in classrooms and attneding more meetings than I can shake a stick at in both the Bahá'í community and the teaching profession. I find it difficult to explain why this is so, but I shall attempt to do so in what follows.
We define ourselves in interaction with others, so goes the line of thinking of one school of sociologists, the symbolic interactionists. The “me” is the sense I get from the group; the “I” is the sense of “seeing things through my own eyes”, my own “interpretive world”. The “me” involves role taking and the “I” involves role making. One is theatrical, playing appropriate roles at appropriate times; it is a tentative process. We create our social reality in both the “me” and the “I” sense. We get outside of ourselves by standing in the shoes of others. I do this all the time in social interaction and after I have done this in my job as teacher, and in the local Baha’i community of Belmont, I have little inclination to do it any more in the wider metropolitan area of Perth. To put the process another way: after I have been doing a lot of “me-ing” and "we-ing"I have a big need to do a lot of “I-ing”.
Charles Horton Cooley wrote that the imaginations people have of each other “are the solid facts of society.”(Cooley in A History of Sociological Analysis, Bottomore and Nisbet,1978, p.144) To Cooley society was a mental phenomenon and the self a set of ideas peculiar to him or her. Imagination, habit, instinctive self-feelings are all part of this social self. It arises, partly, as a reaction to the opinions of others. The opinions of myself I receive in my work setting are so high as to make it well nigh impossible to replicate them anywhere else. All other settings are step-down transformers relative to the interactions at work. Popularity and what you might call a certain celebrity status which I've had for years in my employment, although enjoyed, have become for me somewhat tiresome. Cooley proposed “systematic autobiography” as the fundamental method of sociology. Readers need to go to the field of sociology for some useful insights into Bahá'í community life---I leave this to the inclinations of readers.
To get an accurate picture of my life and myself from this social interactionist perspective a biographer would have to interview many others, significant and otherwise in my life. Alternatively a person could present a systematic introspection. In my case this reader has a poetic inspiration rather than a systematic one and in the 21st century I turned to poetry and away form history. The purpose of sociology from this symbolic interactionist perspective is to “trace the dependence of individuals on social life and culture.”(ibid.,p.348) I should think it obvious from the foregoing remarks that I have become dependent on a small portion of my social environment. This may change when I retire from teaching. But I have a great dependence on certain features of my culture: my wife and son, my books, my writing. To trace the fine detail I would have to discuss each book, each interaction, make general statements. I think my poetry is an excellent, although not systematic, way of tracing the interaction between self and society. For the self rises from on-going activity. “Physical reality seems to recede” said Cassirer “in proportion as man’s symbolic activity advances.”.(ibid.,p.360) For we live amidst imaginary emotions, hopes and fears, illusiions and disillusions, fantasies and dreams. What better medium than poetry to convey these qualities of life.
With this sociological perspective on these ten years behind me, let me continue to highlight the events of this decade. The meditative faculty seems to have deepened far beyond anything previously experienced. I write more,; I read more; I study more; indeed, I seem to do little else. I have had my longest single stretch in teaching without something getting in the way and bringing the positive experience to an end as it did in som many places in previous years. My faith burns brightly but with some of that Voltairean irreverence that I imbibed from Roger White’s poetry. For this and other reasons I seem estranged from activity in the metropolitan Perth Baha’i community. Indeed this is the single and most discomfiting tension in my life in Perth. I seem to have become one of those souls in Memorials of the Faithful who prefer my own company to the company of others after a lifetime of teaching in classrooms.
I have continued my patient, thorough, conscientious and painstaking study of the art of Baha’u’llah and the central figures of this Cause and its institutions. I have come to become conscious of my weaknesses and less impressed with my self, my background, my knowledge and everything I represent. Ten years of service on LSAs, the developments on Mt Carmel, a quieter and more settled feeling in my marriage, my son growing to maturity: these would be the highlights of the ten years. I shall say no more.
11 October 1997 to 3 August 2012
TWENTY YEARS ON: SOME POETRY BY RON PRICE
Twenty years ago, in 1982, I began to collect information, notes on the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory. I continued this activity for the years I lived in the NT, 1982 to 1986 and the years I lived in the northern part of WA, in South Hedland, 1986 to 1987. In the next fifteen years I tried to discontinue the exercise, but something kept bringing me back to what I have come to call 'The History.' In 2000 I began to write instalments of this history for the Northern Lights, a Bahá'í monthly newsletter for what is now the Bahá'í Council for the Northern Territory. By the end of 2002 I had written over thirty instalments of some two hundred to four hundred words each, some ten thousand words. This was far more than I had originally planned. It was obvious by the early months of 2003 that I had written all that I could write on the first fifty years of Bahá'í history in the NT: 1947 to 1997.
Since I had no plans to continue this history in another form and since I had other writing projects that were claiming my attention, I sent all my notes to the Bahá'í Council c/-Mrs. Debra Bisa, the secretary. I felt that, if I no longer had any of the resources relating to that history, I would not be tempted to delve into its labyrinth again and the several hundred pages of material I had gathered could be used by other people investigating that history in the years to come. As I write this introduction to what is my fiftieth booklet of poetry, poetry I began writing about the same time as I began writing that history, a booklet which it is my intention to give to the Bahá'í Council for the Northern Territory, I am amazed at the progress of the Cause in this time and at how much of a foundation of historical material I have been able to gather for future historians of the Cause.
As Moojan Momen informs us, "it is unfortunately true that the Bahá'ís have been lamentably neglectful in gathering materials for the history of their religion, and many of those who could have provided the most detailed knowledge of important episodes have died without recording their memoirs." "Much of what has been written in the way of historical accounts," he goes on, "was recorded many years after the events took place." This pattern, for the most part, has continued with this history. Most of what I have written of the years 1947 to 1997 was written decades after the events, although I often draw on letters written by those who actually were there, on the spot so to speak, even if it was many years earlier in that writer's life. Looked at another way an attempt to write the history of the first fifty years of Bahá'í Faith in the NT took place in the last fifteen years of that fifty year period, 1982-1997, with a first draft actually beginning publication three years after the completion of that fifty years in 2000.
Finally, with respect to Momen's general comments on the writing of Bahá'í history in the heroic period, 1844-1921, he notes that those who recorded events were often "unable to understand fully the significance of the events that they recorded." That problem we still have with us. Perhaps, as Shoghi Effendi pointed out to us on several occasions in his letters, we stand too close to the edifice we are building to appreciate the significance of the overall project we are engaged in and many of the apparently small dramas we participate in during our work for the Faith. A start has been made, though and future historians will find the resources I gathered of some use. With the archives of the Bahá'í Council and its predecessor the RTC(BRO), the archives of the LSAs, the Groups and the isolated believers in the NT there will be material for more than a rough sketch of the history of the Cause during the years 1947 to 1997.
For now, though, I bow out, and present to the Bahá'í Council this booklet of poetry as a going-away present, so to speak. I was thirty-eight when I put the first piece of paper in a file on this history and now I am fifty-eight. I had no idea when I began this project how much it would consume me, and consume me it did for many years. But I tired of it, for various reasons in the 1990s. I tired of many things in the 1990s during my fifties but I also gained a new lease on life. Part of this lease on life was found in a turn to poetry. I will soon be sixty and I have been able to devote more time to what I am finding to be an enriching activity. Poetry allows me to write history as well as material from many other disciplines. I have included the poems from several months of writing, the last months during which I continued to write instalments for the Northern Lights.
As my interest in writing the history dwindled in the last decade, the writing of poetry increased. I have sent my poetry to many Bahá'í libraries around the world and it has come to consume me as writing the history did many years ago. I hope you are able to find a home for this poetry in your Bahá'í library in the NT. With the history it is a trace of my life, a trace of my time in the NT when the call in Australia to go north of Capricorn was raised throughout the country.
It is difficult to grasp the nature and the meaning of those earliest years of the Cause in the NT. The implications of what occurred, the significance of the historical transformation that occurred in the years 1947 to 1997. They were turbulent years for so many of the believers in those years and as that first half century closed the "series of soul-stirring events" that celebrated the completion of the Terraces on Mount Carmel opened before us all both a "revolutionary vision" and a sense of the magnitude of what had been "so amazingly accomplished."
As we all go through these early years associated with what the House of Justice called "a change of time," "a new state of mind," "a coherence of understanding," taking part as we all do in a "divinely driven enterprise," I wish you all well in your service to the Cause. I hope you are able to enjoy some of this poetry in your busy lives and, if time does not permit it now perhaps, if it is available on the shelves of your local Bahá'í library, it will be read from time to time over the years.
I have enjoyed writing the history and I thank you for the opportunity of making it publicly available through the Northern Lights. People who write like to be read; it's a bit like talking and being listened to, I suppose. I leave with you this going away present of a booklet of poetry Twenty Years On.
1 December 2002
In the first 15 years after this history, this first 50 years, the Outback Project began to gather a great range of resources and any future historian could go to that resource to continue this history---should anyone wish to get a picture of the years: 1997 to 2012.
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR 'THE OUTBACK PROJECT'
SECTION NUMBER TOPIC
1. NTC Correspondence
2. Notes From Reading
3. Draft No. 1 1987 and 1998 Draft
4. Some History Outside the NT
5. History: Metropolitan Perth
(not part of the 'outback history')
6. South Perth LSA Correspondence
SOME NOTES ON BAHA'I HISTORY IN WESTERN QUEENSLAND
In July and August 2012, I had the opportunity to meet Daryl and Deborah Bailey who joined the Bahá'í Faith back in 1981/2 and lived from 1988 to 1995/6 in the hinterland west of Toowoomba. They did not live in the region of western Queensland that this history has defined as: all places west of a sinuous line from the SE corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria, to Mt Isa, down to Charleville and Cunnamulla in the south of western Queensland. They lived in a town called Barakula. As far as I know, and as far as they know, they were the only Bahá'ís living in that hinterland west of Toowoomba in Queensland. Towns like Charters Towers and Cloncurry in the north of Queensland to places like Chinchilla in the south of Queesland are too far to the east to be considered western Queensland(at least by this author) and, therefore, adjacent to the NT.
By the end of the period that this history is concerned with: 1947-1997---Bahá'ís had come to live in Mt. Isa and perhaps other points west of the above line. I do have some notes in the files of the BC of the NT on some Bahá'í experience in Mt Isa but I have forgotten that information as I write now many years later. I leave the details of Bahá'í developments in western Queensland to future historians.
Daryl worked for the Department of Forestry in Queensland and he and Deborah raised two children in the 1980s and 1990s in what might be called, as I say, the hinterland of the tablelands and Toowoomba, a town 2 and 1/2 hours from their home in Barakula. I will write more on this episode of the first Bahá'ís in that vast region of western Queensland when, and if, I ever have the opportunity to meet Bahá'ís who have lived there. But, since the Bahá'í locality that the Baileys lived in does not touch on, is not part of, what this history considers western Queensland, I will leave further details about their lives in this account. As far as I know, though, there was very little Bahá'í experience during this 50 year period in western Queensland.
------------HISTORY OF THE BAHA'I FAITH IN THE NT and REMOTE PARTS OF AUSTRALIA ENDS HERE-------------------------------
THE FOLLOWING PIECES (A) WERE PUBLISHED ON THE INTERNET FROM 2004 TO 2007
or (B) ARE FOUND IN some BAHAI LIBRARIES AROUND THE WORLD
THE BAHAI FAITH IN HAMILTON ONTARIO CANADA: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
In May 1939, in the last months before the outbreak of WW2, travel teacher Mabel Ives visited Hamilton and that same month Lulu Mabel Barr became a Baha’i. 1939 was Hollywood’s Golden Year or so it has been regarded by some historians of cinema. The year before, in 1938, Toronto had formed the first local spiritual assembly in Ontario. Hamilton was not far behind, forming its first local spiritual assembly in 1940. Lulu Barr was Hamilton’s first declared Baha’i. She joined the Cause just three months after the release of Gone With the Wind and three months before the release of The Wizard of Oz, two of Hollywood’s greatest movies.
Just twenty-seven years before, in 1912, the train ‘Abdu’l-Baha was travelling on in His great western teaching tour stopped briefly in Hamilton en route to Niagara Falls. And so begins the history of the Baha’i community in Hamilton Ontario. Before 1912 only Toronto at the head of the lake, at the western end of Lake Ontario, had any Baha’is: two. But I am not writing here a history of the Baha’i Faith in Canada, in Ontario or in Hamilton; nor am I attempting to compare and contrast in any detailed way that history with events in contemporary or popular culture. This is a booklet of poetry sent by a Baha’i in Australia who was a part of the Hamilton Baha’i community over forty years ago. It is a booklet of poetry sent as a gift in celebration of the declaration of Hamilton’s first Baha’i, Lulu Barr in May 1939. Some of the poetry is about the Baha’i history of Hamilton and some is about Lulu Barr. Much of the poetry is autobiographical by a pioneer from the Hamilton- Burlington area forty years ago and could be considered a poetic-report.
I did not meet Lulu as I called her, as everyone who knew her called her, until the late 1950s. Lulu had been a Baha’i for twenty years by then. I became a Baha’i in 1959 in Burlington and often attended meetings in Hamilton and other nearby towns and cities until 1967 when I became first a homefront pioneer in Windsor and then in 1971 an international pioneer to Australia. It was at these meetings from the late fifties to the mid-sixties that I met Lulu from time to time. I can not honestly recall the date of our first meeting. When Lulu pioneered to Guelph I remember having dinner in her home in the winter of 1965/6. I recall, while pioneering on Baffin Island among the Eskimo in 1967, receiving one of Lulu’s letters. After arriving in Australia in 1971 Lulu wrote occasionally. I still have one of her letters, dated April 12th 1973, a typed six page doubled-spaced letter. The letter is itself an example of Lulu’s energy and devotion, not that I needed any proof by then. By the mid-1970s I had lost contact with Lulu not due to any fault of Lulu’s but due to complexities: divorce, ill-health and unemployment, in my own life.
I am not the person to write the biography of Lulu Barr. I simply do not have the resources to do so living as I am in far-off Australia. But I would like to celebrate Lulu’s life as the first person to become a Baha’i in Hamilton by dedicating this booklet of poetry to her. I have had a spiritual kinship with Hamilton located as it is at the head of Lake Ontario where I lived until the age of 23, 1944-1967. My grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, came to live there with his wife Sarah from England in 1901 when he was 29 and she 24. Sarah died in Hamilton the same year Lulu became a Baha’i and my grandfather died in Burlington the year after Shoghi Effendi passed away. Their children have all gone now to that Undiscovered Country, but their grandchildren and great-grandchildren remain scattered through southern Ontario. My parents and I were the only family members to join this new Faith. My family’s association with the City of Hamilton goes back over one hundred years. This booklet of poetry is partly, as I see it, a celebration of that one hundred years, that association.
My mother and father became Baha’is in the 1950s in Burlington, in what is now, at least since 2001, part of the Megacity, the Census Metropolitan Area, the new Hamilton. My father died in Dundas in 1965 and had a Baha’i funeral. My mother resigned from the Cause in 1963 after about ten years membership. She died in 1978 in Burlington. I was born in what I suppose is now called Old Hamilton in 1944 and moved to Burlington in 1947; I was also part of this same Old Hamilton Baha’i community for two short periods of four months each in the summers of 1964 and 1966. In September 1966 I pioneered to Windsor and then Frobisher Bay in the NWT. It is not my intention, though, to give an outline of my family and its Baha’i history. Rather, I want to dedicate this volume of poetry to Lulu Barr, the first person to declare their belief in Baha’u’llah in the city of Hamilton or what also called, at least since 2001, Megacity, a Census Metropolitan Area of nearly 700,000 people. I will leave it to others with the talent and the interest to write Lulu’s biography and Hamilton’s Baha’i history.
If we take the Baha’i history back to 1912 when ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s train stopped for a short time in Hamilton, we are approaching in the next seven years the hundredth anniversary of the history of the Cause in Hamilton. I hope this booklet of poetry encourages someone to begin to write Hamilton’s history and Lulu Barr’s biography. I hope this booklet of poetry is enjoyed. If we take the beginning point for that history the declaration of Miss Lulu Barr or the formation of the local spiritual assembly in Hamilton, there is much more time, some three decades before the writing of that history needs to be given serious attention. That history, 1939-2039 or 1940-2040, will take the story to nearly twenty years into the second century of the Formative Age. I leave the task with you.
I trust you will find a home for this booklet of poetry in your community library. It has been nearly forty years since I last lived in Hamilton. Given the extent to which Baha’is move around, it is quite possible no one even remembers me. But if this small commemorative/celebrative booklet helps others to remember Lulu Barr and appreciate the history of the Hamilton Baha’i community a little it will have served its purpose. As a pioneer from the Burlington/Hamilton area more than forty years ago, I’d also like this booklet to be considered as a sort of pioneer’s report to my home community.
The poetry I write will not be everyone’s cup-of-tea. I leave it with you to be enjoyed by whoever takes an interest in its contents. I wish you all well in your various forms of service to the Cause in these last years of the first century of the Formative Age. However short the time I lived in Hamilton, however much shorter the time I was part of the Baha’i community there, I look back with nostalgia on those years, as I do the years I lived in Burlington as a Baha’i from 1959 to 1962. May the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence guide, protect and inspire you all in your personal lives and in all that you do in this earthly life.
I wrote the following little piece about Clive James and it was published at "BlogCritics Magazine"(blogcritics.org/archives/2003/07/12/233251.php)
THE SUNSET YEARS
After graduating from Sydney University Clive James worked for a time for the Sydney Morning Herald. In January 1962 he took a ship to England where he has lived ever since. "When I got off the ship in Southhampton in that allegedly mild January of 1962," James reported, "I had nothing to declare at customs except goose pimples under my white nylon drip-dry shirt."1 Seven months later in August 1962 I, too, did a little travelling, but just to the next town. My pioneering life in the Canadian Bahá'í community began when my mother, father and I moved some 10 miles away to Dundas Ontario from our home in Burlington.
While James "moved purposefully beyond 'The Valley of the Kangaroos,' otherwise known as Earls Court, into a bed and breakfast in Swiss Cottage where he thoughtfully practiced the Twist in his room, anticipated poetical masterpieces and worried a little about his wardrobe,"1 I moved into a roomy house behind a large shopping centre in Dundas and spent five hours every late afternoon and evening studying toward my grade 13, my matriculation.
James attended Cambridge University and received a second degree. After that he has earned his living as a journalist, poet, novelist and reviewer. From 1972 to 1982 he was the respected television critic for The Observer. He has published three volumes of these reviews. In recent years he has appeared in a series of television programs examining modern culture and television. -Ron Price with thanks to Clive James, "Falling Toward England," Unreliable Memoirs II, Jonathan Cape, 1985.
You were one of the few
I encountered downunder, Clive,
an absolutely incredible
reader and talker,
made me feel like a beginner,
even when I was sixty
and had been reading and talking
for forty years: the capacity of some it is said
lies in a thimble and others
in a gallon measure.
Such a barrel of laughs and such energy!
I wish you well in late adulthood, Clive.
May you go down into sunset years
with peace and tranquillity
to allay your fears but if,
like Dylan Thomas, you prefer
not to go gentle into that good night,
if you would prefer to burn, rave
and rage at the dying of the light,
may that too be yours in the ample quantities
you have already enjoyed and,
with Thomas, if your tears be fierce,
I pray for you some peace.
October 5th 2005