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

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 1


It was summer vacation, and many Bahá'ís were at the Yerrinbool Summer School. At news of Effie Baker's death on January 1st 1968, preparations were made to transport the participants to Sydney in hired buses to attend her funeral. I recall the service at 2 Lang Road Paddington, and the slow procession of the courtage past the House of Worship at Ingleside, to Mona Vale cemetary. It was a bleak and rainy day, January 4th.

I was one of the fortunate childen. We visited the Bahá'í headquarters in Sydney almost every week, but we were too young to have any interest in the affairs of the grown ups. We played on the stairs and in the foyer, until Effie called us into her rooms. There she told us stories, showed us photos, and gave us drinks and presents. She was playful like us. I know the sound of her voice, and I know her sprightly gait. Such knowledge stays alive in the memory while what is written solidifies into representation of a not-any-longer-living "past".

The research for this book began many years ago. But as I have never felt to be in possession of the tools required of the biographer who would craft the story of such a life as Effie Baker's, I have felt no urgency to complete it. An initial essay appeared in Herald of the South in April 1986. I give this incomplete offering now in thanks to those who have shared with me their memories of Effie.

Learning from the lives of others is an enriching experience, the more so when the personality under observation arouses our interest and respect. Those who knew Effie Baker during the years of her childhood and adolescence may well have admired the young woman's vitality and creative spark: few could have imagined, however, the challenges she accepted in her more mature years. Travel to England may well have figured in any attempt by her friends to "tell her fortune"; but travel beyond the "motherland" amidst cultures and geography further east, and adoption of a new religion besides, would not have been predicted. Yet this was the path that Effie followed.

Most of what we know of Effie's activities in Haifa comes from her own accounts - from letters written by her to friends at the time, or from stories recounted by her in the years following her return. Other information has been gleaned from friends and relatives, from other correspondence, and a few publications. All who knew Effie testify to her self-effacing manner. Yet this did not stop her from telling her own story, and being in control of her own life-narrative. And this narrative presents a paradox, for although Effie was never at the centre of the stage, her life and achievements have an enduring significance.


It was a privilege to come into contact with some of Effie's relatives through this project, including Margaret Baker, Bill Wheeler, her sister Elizabeth Sims and niece Gwen Gardner, and Margaret Davis. The late Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone, and Madge Featherstone, provided over a number of years precious details about Effie's life, and relationship with Clara and Hyde Dunn. Hand of the Cause Mr A.A. Furutan kindly shared his recollections of Effie's travels in Persia.

I have been assisted in this project by many people, including Stanley P. Bolton, Ray Meyer, Wendy England and Margaret Bourke, James & Merle Heggie, and Marjorie Moores. Stella Childs welcomed me to Effie's Goldsborough home, and assisted me in contacting Effie's former neighbours, including Nin Martin, and Ronald Careless. Mabel Garis, biographer of Martha Root, shared material additional to that included in her pioneering work, Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold. At different times John Bruha & the late Nick Humphries assisted with reproduction of photographs. I wish to thank the staff at the Bahá'í World Centre, particularly Claire Springston, Beverly Rennie, and Nell Golden. The late Roger White took an interest in the project, and provided information about Muhammad Labib.

A number of Bahá'í archives have also provided valuable information, and for this I thank Joan Camriss of the New Zealand National Bahá'í Archives; Roger Dahl at the United States National Bahá'í Archives, and Mary Johnson of the San Francisco Bahá'í Centre; Marjorie Fozdar when secretary of the Bahá'í Teaching Committee of Western Australia (which holds the Bahá'í Archives for that state). The papers of Effie Baker at the Australian National Bahá'í Archives have been indispensible in conducting this research.

Significant improvements to the text have been made following the careful reading of drafts by Andrew Stranieri and Katayoun Hassall. That so many people assisted me with what is essentially a small project has demonstrated to me once more the joy of collaborative scholarship. There are two voices in this text. At most points, it is the voice of the biographer, who seeks to draw together the many strands that time has blown to different regions; at others, it is the voice of Effie Baker, the only one capable of telling her story.

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