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Ambassador at the Court:
The Life and Photography of Effie Baker

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 13

Haziratu'l-Quds

The World Congress

At the age of 83 Effie travelled in April and May 1963 to the World Congress in London. This was a gathering of Bahá'ís from all parts of the world to mark the Centenary of Bahá'u'lláh's proclamation of his Faith. It also marked the completion of the Ten Year World Crusade, which had begun a decade earlier, as well as the establishment of the Universal House of Justice. Effie was not going to miss such an important event, and she travelled to England in the company of Sydney friends Greta and Aubrey Lake. Although now physically frail, her sense of humour had not faded. On their arrival in England a nurse is reported to have appeared at the boat's gang-plank with a wheel-chair, and announced "Miss Baker, I have a chair for you", to which Effie reploed, "I may be weak in the head, but I'm strong in the legs!". It was a story she subsequently "dined out on many times".1

As well as attending the London Congress, Effie enjoyed a family reunion with Margaret Baker, (who was married to a son of Effie's uncle Will), as well as Mrs Baker's two sons and their wives. It was spring-time in London, and the parks and gardens displayed a wealth of colour. Effie visited the grave of her beloved Shoghi Effendi, and placed two long stemmed roses upon it. She had last heard from him personally in August 1951. Ruhiyyih Khanum had written:

Dear Effie,

The beloved Guardian was very pleased to receive your letter of July 23, and also the loving contribution you sent to the work being done on the Holy Tomb. I am enclosing his receipt for the same herewith.

Yes indeed, you would not recognize the place now; the Gardens are truly beautiful, and also many lovely and befitting ornaments have been added to the interior of the three Shrines which, while preserving their peace and simplicity, have greatly added to their beauty.

Often Shoghi Effendi remarks that if you were in Haifa you would take some wonderful photos. He considers no one has ever captured the beauty of the place as you did, and your photographs adorn his own rooms, and the archives and the Mansion, just as they did when you were with us!

He hopes you are well and happy, and he is delighted to see you are so active in serving the Cause there.

With warm Bahá'í love,

R. Rabbani

Assuring you of my deep appreciation of your loving contribution and of your unforgettable services at the World Centre of our beloved Faith, and of my prayers for the success of every effort you exert for its promotion.

Your true brother,

Shoghi2

The visit to England also gave her more stories to recount to the Australian Bahá'ís, and she was invited, whenever she visited Sydney or Melbourne, to show slides of the Congress, and speak of her experiences while there.3 Friends and colleagues were now urging her more than at any time previously to record her story.

 

Signs of appreciation

In 1963, at long last, Effie completed writing her account of how she took the photos for the Dawnbreakers. She called her manuscript "My Trip to Persia". Hand of the Cause Bill Sears visited Australia in 1963, and wrote to Effie from Adelaide:

these are just a few inadequate words of mine to express the deep loving apreciation that Bahá'ís the world over feel for you because of your consecrated, loving, steadfast and continuous service to our precious Cause over such a long, historic and unbroken period of time. Only the future will truly appreciate what wonderful services you have rendered. We know how dear you were to our Beloved Guardian, and that makes you especially precious in all our eyes! Your pictures for the Dawnbreakers are a lasting monument, and your design for the ringstone Greatest Name will rest forever by the Taj of Bahá'u'lláh and on the bench where He sat in the Mansion; and in reality is also the ringstone design of the Greatest Name which the Beloved Guardian admired so greatly, and which is used on the corners above the arcade of the Shrine of the Blessed Báb.

It is an honour and bounty for me to carry your script to the Holy Land. I understand you also have the negative of the photo of the Greatest Holy Leaf; a most precious an dtreasured relic of the greatest woman in the Bahá'í dispensation!

It was a moment of true happiness for me to be with you and share the love that beams from your radient countenance. I hope with all my heart that you will set down on paper every last memory an drecollection you have of the beloved Guardian, and each of your invaluable memories, so to be treasured in the future. if possible, I hope you will put all these existing memories on tape-recording so future generations can hear these words in your own voice.

Please share this letter with Jim Heggie, so that he can carry on the urging, as he obviously has already been doing. What he tells you is true. These memories and stories do not belong to you alone, dearest Effie, but to posterity. Do not let them miss these tender recollections."4

In 1964 Effie handed Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone a tin-box which contained the glass negative of Effie's photo of the Greatest Holy Leaf, which she wanted him to have. Believing that it was much too precious and delicate to bear responsibility for, Mr Featherstone took it to Haifa to place with the International Bahá'í Archives, when the Hands of the Cause gathered in Israel in November of that year.5

Appreciations of Effie's contribution while at Haifa began to multiply. Jessie Revell, who worked for many years in Haifa, thanked Effie in 1964 for "so many beautiful and wonderful photographs".6 From their pioneer post at Dili, Portuguese Timor, Knights of Bahá'u'lláh Harold and Florence Fitzner wrote:

When we reach Haifa we will of course remember you at the Holy Shrines, and we will find many traces of your selfless service over the many years that you spent at the World Centre of our Beloved Faith. What an imperishable monument that is for your life's work of love and sacrifice to Bahá'u'lláh, Shoghi Effendi and the other members of the Holy Family. What a pity you did not have time to write a book on your experiences at Haifa, it would be a wonderful story and historical record too.7

Effie continued to attend Summer Schools at Yerrinbool. For the school in January 1965 she wrote the following recollection:

Mrs Blundell and family, and Margaret [Stevenson] were staying for a twelve months visit to England. I had planned to return to Australia in three months. As I was bidding goodbye to the Greatest Holy Leaf, and Ladies of the Household ('Abdu'l-Bahá's wife, and daughters) they asked me if I would break my journey and visit them again and said Shoghi Effendi would be away on vacation, but they would like me to come. I did so, the Bay Steamers ran at monthly intervals, so as soon as I reached Haifa I went to "Cook's Tourist Office" and secured a berth on the next out-going steamer from Port Said.

In the meantime Mirza Jenabi Fazel (who was one of the Persian Bahá'ís who travelled to America with 'Abdu'l-Bahá to act as interpretor for him) arrived with his wife and two little sons. They were returning to Persia. Mirza Fazel had at the Master's request remained to teach the Faith to American believers. On arrival they were all suffering from influenza. Fujeta promptly picked up the infection so I took charge of the patients. The pilgrim House now an 'infectious hospital' myself temporary matron and nurse in charge of them had to cancel my passage once again. The Ladies then said "don't ;eave now till Shoghi Effendi arrives back". On his return I said it wasn't imperative for me to return to Australia so if my services were acceptable I was willing to stay. However! Shoghi Effendi said he thought it better to return and work with Mr and mrs Dunn. Again I secured a berth on the next out-going steamer. A couple of days before the date of my departure, Shoghi Effendi took me with him for the last visit to Bahá'u'lláh's Holy Shrine. On the drive back he said to me "you know Effie, a general always sends his good soldiers afar, he keeps the bad ones always under his eye". Next afternoon I was walking up the terrace (the only one at that time) to visit the Holy Shrine for the last time. Shoghi Effendi was starting to come down with some Persian pilgrims. He told them to continue and stopped to speak to me. He said "Effie, I've reconsidered my decision. I'm going to keep you here". I said "Oh, Shoghi Effendi, I am evidently one of the bad soldiers you told me about yesterday", and we had a hearty laugh together.

Well! I mentioned to you before that I was eleven and a half years in Haifa. You see it took Shoghi Effendi all that time before he let me out of his sight. He was so humble and self-effacing, so grateful and gracious, when thanking you for anything you did for him. He said to me when arranging the table for lunch "don't set for me at the head of the table, I don't wish to be considered superior to the friends. I am just their brother in the Beloved Faith.

The only change in dress after he became Guardian was to discard the red Turkish Fez when he wore as a student, to the black worn by Persians, and he adopted a simple knee length coat with raglan sleeves as the only other distinction. He never wore the flowing Aba or white fez which 'Abdu'l-Bahá used to wear. The food was always cooked at the Master's home. Fujita and our arab boy would carry it over and keept it hot on our blue-flame stove. Fujita would then inform Shoghi Effendi all was ready and he would come to the dining room and stand behind his chair. I would then announce to the pilgrims that Shoghi Effendi would like them to partake lunch with him. As they entered the room he greeted them and with a beautiful smile he assigned them their seats, always choosing a different one each day to sit at the head of the table next to him. After all were seated then the conversation started and many questions were asked and answered. Some of the pilgrims came with notebook and pencil at intervals (between eating) were busily recording the conversation. Just before taking his leave Shoghi Effendi, with a twinkle in his eye would say "Friends I noticed some of you busy with note-book and pencil. If you are forwarding the information to the Friends in America, just add a foot-note and say 'these are my impressions of what Shoghi Effendi said during our table conversations'".

Shoghi Effendi possessed a great sense of humour. I remember some Persian Bahá'ís who had gone to America and established businesses there, returned to take their wives back to America. They had tried to persuade them before leaving Tehran to don western costumes but without success. When interviewed byShoghi Effendi, she held their chudors tightly across their faces, and just bowed in response to his remarks, not uttering a sound. I happened to deliver some work I'd finished for him. He said to me "Effie I've just been interviewing the Persian ladies. If they hadn't bowed to me at intervals I wouldn't have known whether I was speaking to their faces or their backs.

Shoghi Effendi liked to visualise any undertaking he had in mind. He would tell me what plan or idea he had and I would construct models to scake and he would look at them from every angle and then suggest where improvement to the scheme could be make. It was always a pleasure to do things for him, he was so appreciative of your efforts.

Residing at the National Hazirat'ul-Quds allowed Effie to participate fully in the activities of the Sydney Bahá'ís. It allowed her, also to see the delegates from all over the country, when they gathered each year in Sydney for National Convention. In conference publicity for an "Intercontinental Conference" convened in Sydney in 1967 Effie featured as "Australia's oldest Bahá'í". An article in The Australian commented: "An immencse gap lay between Ballarat and the Bab; Melbourne and the massacres of the Bahá'í. And she had bridged it.

"I never had any trouble", she said. And she giggled - as another overseas Bahá'í came up to her to pay homage.8 She cont

Effie continued to welcome many people to 2 Lang Road, both Bahá'ís and enquirers. One visiter was Ray Meyer, who had seen a Bahá'í display at Central Railway station. and had visited 2 Lang Road to learn more about the Faith. Effie greeted him, and later wrote him a letter which contributed to drawing him to the faith.9

Although Effie entered hospital toward the end of 1967 because of her deteriorating physical condition, her sense of humour never faltered. When a Christian clergyman, noting her religion on a chart beside her bed and commented "Bahá'í, isn't that the religion that takes a little bit of Christianity, a little bit of Islam, and a little bit of all the other religions, and mixes them all around - a bit like a fruit salad?", Effie replied: "Yes, that's right, and I swallowed the lot!". Her sparkling wit endeared her to all. While participants enjoyed sessions at the Yerrinbool Summer School, Effie's unique and eventual life reached its appointed term. She passed away in Sydney on the second day of January 1968, at the age of 88.

 

 

 

grieved news passing miss effie baker devoted maidservant bahaullah historic services particularly photographic record dawnbreakers unforgettable assure loving prayers sacred threshold progress her soul abha kingdom

The Universal House of Justice:

grieved news passing much loved early australian believer effie baker stop dedicated services faith homeland world centre unforgettable assure prayers shines her behalf10

The Hands of the Cause

 

 

The cortege moved from 2 Lang Road to the cemetary at Mona Vale which was chosen because of its proximity to the Temple. All this time rain was pouring down and it was so heavy that it was scarcely possible to hear the short prayers which were said at the grave-side. Many believers afterwards visited the Temple which was almost obscured by driving rain and the mist rising from the valley. Somehow there came upon us a strange sense of gladness. We are sad at our separation from Effie. We are rejoiced that her separation from the Greatest Holy Leaf and the Guardian, both of whom she served and loved, is ended at last.

- National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia

Miss Effie Baker was indeed a very spiritual, calm and often quiet individual. One of her outstanding characteristics was her smiling face and exceptional kindness to everyone. She always treated people with such friendliness and affection, you might imagine she had had a long friendship with them, when in fact she had not.11

- A.A. Furutan

Effie's loyalty to the Guardian was absolute. Her dignity, humour and quiet unassuming manner made her a treatured companion of the friends. She had kept a day-by-day account of her Persian journey, but her modesty and humility were such that it was with some difficulty that she was finally persuaded to send a copy of her journal to the Universal House of Justice. Effie lived a true and exemplary Bahá'í life, helpful, loving and affectionate and ever encouraging those who sought to arise to serve the Cause she loved so well.12

- Jim Heggie

Effie was a wonderful photographer and rendered the Faith at the World Centre, as well as elsewhere, notable services. She certainly took all Shoghi Effendi's favourite pictures of the monument to the Greatest Holy Leaf.13

- Ruhíyyíh Khánum

By the publication of "The Dawn-Breakers", richly illustrated with the pictures she had taken, the results of her trip to the various parts of Iran and of her efforts in recording photographically the many sacred and historical sites there, accomplished with great care and wisdom under the direct instruction of the beloved Guardian, became evident. I never heard a single word from her personally about those glorious services to the Faith of God, nor the selfless acts performed in the Holy Land. She was truly humble and an exemplary manifestation of nothingness.14

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