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History of the Bahá'í community of Randwick, Australia.

Bahá'í Community of Randwick:
A Survey of 75 Years

by Graham Hassall

published in Australian Bahá'í Studies, 1:1
Early this century American Bahá'í Horace Holley entitled his book introducing the Bahá'í Faith ‘The Modern Social Religion'. The Bahá'í Faith originated in Iran in the nineteenth century, through the Prophet-founder Bahá'u'lláh (d.1892), who taught that all religions have the same divine origin, that they share a common purpose, and that the most pressing need of the present age is the achievement of diverse but unified world society. Holley sought to emphasise that this was a religion concerned with collective life, as much as with that of the individual. Now that the Bahá'í Faith is well established world-wide its members feel part of global, national and local communities. Of these, the local community is experienced most directly, for it is at local level that most Bahá'ís find expression for their Faith.

This essay focuses on one particular community, that of the municipality of Randwick in Sydney, the capital city of the state of New South Wales, Australia. Notwithstanding attempts to make the Bahá'í Faith more widely known in Randwick, the community did not grow rapidly. Nor did everyone who joined the community remain a part of it. Although this brief account cannot attempt to mention everyone associated with the Randwick Community, it does attempt to recall some of what the Randwick Bahá'ís have experienced, and to provide also a sense also of what they have achieved and failed to achieve. In many ways the story of Randwick community is similar to that of thousands of other Bahá'í communities across the globe. It consists of people of diverse backgrounds, capacities and temperaments, brought together by their common allegiance to the Teachings of Bahá'u'llah. Its story is similar, also, in that it revolves around a community of Bahá'ís striving, in the context of their abilities and also their limitations, to promote their beliefs in the wider community, and to bring their personal lives into conformity with its spiritual and social principles.

The history of Randwick Bahá'í Community has unfolded in a number of stages, each building on the one before it. It began with the arrival of Clara and Hyde Dunn in Randwick in 1922. For the next three decades it included a few members only, who were members of the wider Sydney Community. In the late 1950s the Randwick group aimed to establish their Local Spiritual Assembly, and this was achieved in 1963. In the period since its formation the Assembly has been sustained by a Community combining well-settled families, young Bahá'ís still making their life plans, and university students residing in the locality for relatively short periods of time.

Clara and Hyde Dunn

The Bahá'í Faith came to Randwick, a major municipality in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, soon after the arrival of Clara and Hyde Dunn in Australia in April 1920. This English-born couple had become Bahá'ís in North America, Hyde in Seattle in 1905 and Clara in Walla Walla, Washington in 1907. They married in 1917 and when they learnt of Abdu'l-Bahá's call for Bahá'ís to take the message of Bahá'u'lláh to other parts of the world, the Dunns responded by forsaking friends and community in California to sail West across the Pacific. Lack of funds made life difficult in the first few months in Sydney. But after about one year, during which Clara had worked, Hyde acquired a suitable position as a travelling salesman. By March 1921 the Dunns moved into a small but comfortable flat at 171 Avoca Street, Randwick. This was to be their base for the next year and a half, and this was the suburb to which they subsequently returned for an even longer period.

The Dunns welcomed many new friends to their Avoca Street home, to observe Bahá'í Feasts and to learn about the Bahá'í Faith. In 1922 Hyde began to travel beyond Sydney on business. Late in the year in the Northern NSW town of Lismore, he met Oswald Whitaker, a Sydney optometrist, who after a period of questioning and investigation became the first Australian to fully embrace the Bahá'í Cause. Mr Whitaker lived in Sydney municipality at this time, but in the late 1920s purchased a home for his family at 43 Eastern Avenue, Kensington, and so became part of the Randwick Bahá'í Community.

The First Sydney Assembly

In 1923 Shoghi Effendi wrote to the Bahá'ís if the world about the need to establish administrative bodies to be called "Assemblies". Bahá'u'lláh had specified in his ‘Most Holy Bookí, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, that Assemblies be established in every locality where there were nine or more adult (21 years and above) believers. These "Spiritual Assemblies" would in the future evolve into local Houses of Justices. Assemblies were to take responsibility for "The matter of Teaching, its direction, its ways and means, its extension, its consolidation"; to look to the protection of the unity of the Community; and to "promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted co-operation for the service of the Cause."

Furthermore, the Assemblies were to help "the poor, the sick, the disabled, the orphan, (and) the widow"; promote the "material as well as the spiritual enlightenment of youth, (and) the means for the education of children"; institute, whenever possible Bahá'í educational institutions; correspond with other Bahá'í centres through newsletters; encourage the development of Bahá'í magazines; hold regular meetings, such as feasts and anniversaries, and other "…special gatherings designed to serve and promote the social, intellectual and spiritual interests of their fellow-men."

In 1925, following their highly successful travel interstate, the Dunns returned to Avoca Street, this time to number 143 Avoca St, in a "dear little flat overlooking Coogee Beach" in the "Whyralla" apartments. The Dunns had established Local Spiritual Assemblies in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in 1923-24, and were now intent on forming one in Sydney, in preparation for the formation of a national body. In May 1925 they wrote of their plans Shoghi Effendi, and the following month received his reply:

My most precious unforgettable fellow-workers:

The sweet savours of your most welcome letter refresh my soul & ease the burden that weighs often heavily upon me. You are always close to my heart, ever the object of my prayers & my constant companions in spirit. I am delighted to learn of your intention to form next year a Bahá'í Convention & the first National Spiritual Assembly of Australasia. Accept my best wishes & the assurance of my continued & ardent prayers & of my keen desire to help & serve you in any way I can. Your services, your indefatigable efforts & exemplary achievements are graven upon my heart, Shoghi

Illness and work commitments were the major obstacles. In the middle of October 1925 Clara stayed with Kathleen and Ernest Brewer at Penshurst in the south of Sydney while Hyde travelled for work in Tasmania. When she became ill Mr Brewer asked Margaret Dixson to come from Melbourne to assist in her recovery, and he also called Hyde back from his work, which had by now taken him to Queensland. Clara described Margaret, who stayed on in Sydney and became in important member of the Assembly, as a 'dear little overworked thing who needs the rest more than I do. She is like a sweet loving daughter. God is good to give us these loving friends...". The Dunns' Randwick home was, wrote Margaret, 'an outpost in a desert of unbelief and materiality'.

The Sydney Assembly was formed in November 1925. Although it was an Assembly for the entire city, meetings were held in the Avoca Street flat occupied by Margaret Dixson and the Dunns. Mrs Dixson remained close friends with the Dunns even when they moved on to live in Brisbane, and later, Adelaide. In December 1926, she accompanied Clara on a trip by boat to Melbourne, and in 1927 she was to travel with the Dunns on a pilgrimage to Haifa - a pilgrimage which, for some reason, Clara Dunn eventually made on her own.

The Dunns maintained their Avoca Street residence for a number of years, despite occasional trips interstate. In July 1927, for instance, the Dunns returned from Perth to reside once more at 143 Avoca Street. In the second half of 1927 Hyde worked in country towns, returning periodically to Randwick. Clara was chairperson of the Assembly, and Mr Whitaker corresponding secretary and local secretary. Other members, in addition to Hyde Dunn and Margaret Dixson, were Amy Wilkins, Mrs Colina, Mr Day, Mrs Rose, and Mrs Neath. Other members of the community included Mrs Fordward, Mrs Whitaker, the Greenhoughs, Mrs Luby, and Ernest and Kathleen Brewer. It is not clear how many of these members lived in Randwick Municipality.

The community also held regular meetings at Mr Whitaker's home, and shared ‘unity feasts' among other members' homes. Each week Margaret Dixson conducted Esperanto classes, and the Dunns hosted meetings every Sunday. At one time, the Assembly explained in a letter it sent to other Bahá'í Communities around the world, it looked into the possibilities of inviting "staffs of Business Organisations" to lectures "in which the Bahá'í principles would be set out as applied to business generally, staff control, co-operation and general service etc., the talks to be more on the indirect teaching method as approved by Shoghi Effendi." The activities of the Assembly at this time were influenced by the interests of the businessmen in the Community. Before returning to Melbourne in August 1927, Margaret Dixson described the Sydney group as a "handful of followers" with little to show for their efforts, except a bond of unity, a spiritual love in their hearts, and undying devotion to Clara and Hyde Dunn, their "noble teachers".

Late in 1927 the Dunns gave up their home in Avoca Street and resided for a time at 9 Clara St Randwick. A short time after, the Assembly lapsed, and only re-formed in 1931, the year that Mrs Keith Ransom-Kehler visited the Australian Bahá'ís to encourage them in the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly. Elected to the Sydney Assembly in 1931 were Oswald and Linda Whitaker, Stanley and Mariette Bolton, Mr Day, Mrs Moffitt (chair), Mrs Donald (corresponding secretary), Miss Beaver, and Miss Hilda Gilbert (secretary). On 11 May about forty people attended the opening of the Community's new centre, a room rented in Siddley Chambers, 114 Hunter Street.

By 1934 there were some 26 voting members in Sydney. Notice of the registration of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the City of Sydney appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1938:

The nine members objects: to further the practice of the Bahá'í religion etc. subscribers Thomas R. Dowson, Stanley W Bolton, Mariette G. Bolton, Hilda Gilbert, Mary C. Moffitt, Lynda Whitaker, Oswald A. Whitaker, Gladys C. Moody, and Clara Dunn.

Oswald Whitaker

The Assembly's Centre was no longer in Randwick, and although the Whitakers and perhaps other Bahá'ís continued to live in the Municipality, it was to be several decades before a strong group flourished once more in Randwick. When American Bahá'í Loulie Mathews sailed into Sydney in 1933 she was fortunate to have arrived on a day on which Hyde was speaking at the Sydney Bahá'í Centre:

In my pocket I carried the address of the Bahá'í Center which was not far from the pier where we were berthed. I had no difficulty in finding it and slipped into a seat in the rear of the hall. On the platform was Hyde Dunn reading from The Foundations of World Unity by íAbdu'l-Bahá. ... A remarkable man, Mr. Whitaker by name, had joined the Faith in Sydney and whenever Mr. Dunn was away he taught the classes and promoted the work.

In 1937 Mr Whitaker introduced the Bahá'í Faith to Jim Heggie, a young man destined to make a significant contribution to the Australian Bahá'í Community. Jim recalled:

"In July I found myself in need of the service of an optometrist as Iíd hurt my eyes through working conditions. Luckily for me Australiaís first believer was an optometrist and not a brain surgeon or a psychiatrist; and so by chance I called in to the George Street shop of Alex Hale, to find Mr. Oswald Whitaker who not only prescribed the necessary spectacles but also attracted me so that Iíd always call on him to say ‘helloí and talk a little…After a few weeks I was invited to a youth meeting at Mr. Whitakerís home where I first heard the word ‘Bahá'íí. The following weekend when I visited the Optician Rooms in George Street I told Mr. Whitaker I was not interested in religion; he said that it didnít matter and that weíd talk of other things. From then on I visited his home twice a week and weíd talk of ‘science', for he was wonderfully informative so that I soon came to realize that my scepticism in religious matters was due to the inadequate church doctrines."

Oswald Whitaker was a member of Sydney Local Spiritual Assembly throughout the 1930s, and a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand from its establishment in 1934 until his passing on 3 July 1942. Hilda Brooks, an Adelaide Bahá'í who was the secretary of the first National Spiritual Assembly, knew Mr Whitaker well, and wrote an ‘In Memoriamí article that appeared in The Bahá'í World:

In 1934 Mr. Whitaker was elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly and for several years was a valued and beloved vice-chairman. His sincerity and honesty of purpose, his staunchness and fidelity to the Faith were ever an inspiration to his colleagues. His understanding heart, his generous spirit, and a courage that admitted of no compromise when teaching the Faith, coupled with his unfailing adherence to the spiritual principles, which were the compelling force in his personal character and conduct, gained for him the respect and esteem of all who were privileged to know him. He had a rare gift of friendship, constant and deep, which communicated itself, even to strangers, as a benediction of goodwill. He never spared himself when duty called or the opportunity of extending a helping hand presented itself, and no one will ever be able to appreciate the extent of his sacrifice for the Faith.

Although Mr Whitakerís wife and daughter were Bahá'ís, his death - and that of Hyde Dunn a year earlier - stripped the eastern suburbs Bahá'ís of their most dedicated champions. It was to be many years before Randwick Community once again enjoyed a similar level of energy and commitment.

Administrative Reform

Expansion of the Australian Bahá'í community's administrative capacity and needs led in time to the acquisition of properties as local and national secretariats. In 1944 the National Assembly acquired its first headquarters in Sydney. A "summer school" first established at Yerrinbool, south of Sydney, has operated annually since 1938. In the 1940s the National Spiritual Assembly decided to implement administrative reforms affecting the formation of Local Spiritual Assemblies. Whereas the first Local Spiritual Assemblies were established on a city-wide basis, so that a single Assembly existed, for instance, in Sydney, in Melbourne, and in Adelaide, the National Spiritual Assembly announced that the time had come to form Local Communities on the basis of municipal boundaries. In Sydney, separate Communities were formed in Caringbah, Kuring-gai and North Sydney. The Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand undertook a ‘Six Year Planí 1947-1953. The goal was to increase the size of the Community from five Local Assemblies and five groups by an additional 31 groups and 7 Local Spiritual Assemblies.

To the Assemblies already existing in Sydney, Adelaide, Auckland, Caringbah and Yerrinbool were to be added others in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Perth, Woodville, Port Adelaide, and Wollongong. Eight new Assemblies were to be formed in New South Wales, although Randwick was not among them. Arthur Hicks, Town clerk for Randwick Municipal Council, who lived at 16 Church St. with his wife Rita, had become a Bahá'í in 1938, and was quite possibly the only Bahá'í living in the municipality at this time. By 1953 twelve Assemblies had been formed, bringing the number in Australia and New Zealand to 17. The Bahá'ís in Randwick were one of 40 groups yet to reach Assembly status.

The World Crusade

In 1953 the Bahá'ís commenced a decade long and world-embracing plan of action, designed to take Bahá'u'lláhís Teachings to the remaining corners of the Globe. This was a unique period in Bahá'í history, in which Bahá'ís travelled throughout the world to share the Teachings of Bahá'u'llah. Although there were just 60 Bahá'í centres in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, a number of Australians travelled to the Pacific Islands, while others relocated within the country. Randwick Bahá'ís had a share in this activity, and in time established a network of close friends in countries of the Pacific Islands, and later across South East Asia.

Administrative consolidation of the Bahá'í community in the 1950s included the multiplication and legal establishment of Bahá'í centres and Local Assemblies, official recognition of Bahá'í holy days, and Bahá'í marriage certificates, and the maturation of the various administrative committees. This was the decade, and the Plan, in which Randwickís Assembly re-formed. There were three in the group in 1958. Mrs Mae Beat joined the Community in May 1960. A nurse at St Vincentís hospital in her early years, Mrs Beat became a Bahá'í in September 1951, and the Randwick Bahá'í group was later formed at her home at 23 King St Randwick. She was secretary of the group during the first year (1960-61), then treasurer (1961-62), and she remained a member of Randwick Community until she moved to Waverly in September 1969. For many years Mrs Beat travelled every Wednesday to the House of Worship at Mona Vale to act as a guide for visitors.

Fred and Eva Grant

The third founding member of the Randwick group was Fred Grant (1931-1987). Mr Grant was the first Jewish man to join the Faith in Australia. He already resided in Carrington Road Coogee when he visited the Bahá'í Holy Shrines in Haifa in 1953, and declared in May 1957, after attending many meetings at ‘Bahá'í Headquartersí, 2 Lang Road Paddington. He married Eva Rachel Steiner in May 1960, and Eva herself declared in 1962.

The story of how Fred and Eva survived the holocaust is remarkable and will be described in brief here. Mr Grant was born Mordechai Grossman, 23 August 1931, in the small town of Luchenyetz, in Czechoslovakia. Jews of Hungarian Nationality were hoarded onto trucks, and thrown out of the country. Hungary would not accept them, and tens of thousands were on the border, with no-where to go. When a family of distant relations disappeared Fred began to sense trouble. He acquired identity papers from another boy and became Michael Harangozo (meaning "Bell-ringer") and left home on 26 May 1944 without telling his mother. He was thirteen years old, and had practised for leaving home by riding a bicycle on all-day trips to other towns to watch soccer, and left with only a bag of apples. Fred was on the first train from Budapest back into Czechoslovakia after the German retreat, and discovered amidst the physical destruction that most of his family had perished in Nazi Concentration camps.

Fred heard of the Faith from Mrs Shamsi Sedaghat in 1953 while travelling by ship to Haifa, Israel. Through Mrs Sedaghat, Fred met Hand of the Cause Dr Lutfulah Hakím, and on his return to Sydney visited Hand of the Cause Clara Dunn at 2 Lang Rd. He also attended meetings at the Bahá'í room in Piccadilly Arcade during 1954-55.

Eva Steiner was born in 1940 in St Martin, Czechoslovakia. At age of four she arrived at Teresienstad Concentration Camp with her mother and grandmother. All three survived, but all other members of the family were killed. She lived in Jerusalem, Israel for seven years from 1949, before migrating to Australia in 1956. The Grant family, especially following the birth of their son John in 1961, provided an initial foundation for the community. While many members had passed through Randwick, few had settled, and the pattern remained the same for several decades. Most Community members were young and single, still seeking their life-partner and their calling. Just a handful of families arrived and stayed for the longer term. Randwick Community came to accept this pattern, and made every member welcome for however long they could stay.

In 1961 young Bahá'ís John Walker and Bruce Saunders moved into the area, and Mae Beatís son James declared. Larger activities began to be held, for the purpose of making the Bahá'í Faith more widely known. A meeting was held in La Perouse following National Convention, in April 1961, at which South Australian Bahá'í Howard Harwood showed slides of the Holy Land and of Aboriginal Bahá'ís in South Australia and Victoria.

The Randwick Bahá'ís continued their contact with the Aboriginal Community at La Perouse for many years. When a team of American Bahá'ís visited La Perouse in the 1970s a group of residents spontaneously agreed to join the Faith – although their knowledge of it was minimal, and no actual enrolments followed. One Aboriginal youth, Miss Aileen Liddy declared in April 1970, but subsequently resigned and returned to Darwin.

By Ridvan 1962 there were five adult Bahá'ís in Randwick, and the Regional Teaching Committee decided to name it a ‘goal areaí. Rockdale and Warringah were also named as goal areas at this time. The ‘goalí was to establish a Community with at least nine members by Ridvan 1963, so that a Local Spiritual Assembly could be formed.

Activities continued at an increased pace in 1962. Stanley Bolton visited to show slides on 30 June. On 31 July Marion Adams addressed an audience of 50 at the University of New South Wales during a lunch hour meeting, and on 1 August Peter Khan spoke to an audience of similar size. Following the declaration of Don Wilkinson in May there were seven members in the Community, and by October, following the declaration of Eva Grant there were eight Randwick Bahá'ís. Then Anna Phillips arrived from Fiji and the formation of Randwick Assembly was announced in the Australian Bahá'í Bulletin for October. The celebrations were short-lived, however, as it was later realised that one of the ‘membersí actually lived outside the boundaries of Randwick municipality. Another member moved at the same time and the search for the eighth and ninth members resumed.

Early in 1963, prior to the April deadline, the Community achieved its much sought after status as an Assembly with the arrival of Robert Greenfield from Port Adelaide, South Australia, and the celebration by Bruce Saunders of his 21st birthday. Although the first Local Assembly in all of Sydney had been established at the Dunns home in Randwick, that Assembly had been, strictly speaking, an Assembly for the entire city. Now, in 1963, an Assembly had been established for Randwick municipality alone. Its members were Arthur Hicks, Mae Beat, Fred and Eva Grant, Robert Greenfield, Bruce Saunders, Anna Phillips, Barry OíBrien (secretary) and Don Wilkinson. The advice given to Assemblies by Shoghi Effendi so many years before now became more relevant, and no doubt the Assembly members spoke at length in the first years about the ways in which they could respond to it. The Community calendar included observance of the Bahá'í Feasts and Holy days, firesides and public meetings, and support for activities at the House of Worship, dedicated at Mona Vale in September 1961.

The Nine Year Plan (1964-1973): Randwick consolidates

Between 1964 and 1973 the Australian Bahá'ís participated in a 'Nine Year Plan' of activities to make the Bahá'í Teachings more widely known, and to strengthen the capacity of the Bahá'í Community and its institutions. Randwick Assembly held its first Public meeting on 5 November 1964. The meeting was advertised in two local papers, and 1,000 invitations were distributed with a pamphlet, ‘One Universal Faith'. Although the program (a short introduction to the Faith, a slide show, questions and supper) attracted just one inquirer, the Assembly was satisfied, and decided to hold a second meeting, on 29 January, for which 2,000 letters were to be distributed. This was a time of intensive effort to make the Bahá'í Teachings more widely known and the Randwick Bahá'ís were very much involved. Eva Grant was a member of the Regional Teaching Committee in the 1960s, the State Proclamation Committee and the National Goals Committee in the early 1970s. David Bailey was also on the RTC at this time, and later served for long periods on the National Teaching Committee and the National Spiritual Assembly. The other members of the community were similarly busy with one or other type of Bahá'í activity. The House of Workshop at Mona Vale had been dedicated in 1961, and Randwick Bahá'ís now began participating in its many programs, and responsibilities. They supported the services held each Sunday at 3.30pm, and took their turns on an inter-community roster to act as ‘guides' to the increasing numbers of curious visitors.

The Pacific Islands Connection

In 1964 the Australian Bahá'ís had responsibility for assisting in the establishment of a National Spiritual Assembly in Papua New Guinea. The Randwick Assembly offered ‘to give special assistance to the Rabaul Community'. At about this time Ruhi and John Mills, and their children Jalal and Louise (Leroy had not yet arrived) moved to Randwick. They had lived in the Solomon Islands, and in 1969 moved to Rabaul, in Papua New Guinea. David and Sue Podger also moved from Randwick to the Pacific. They lived in Randwick following their marriage in January 1964, and moved to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in 1965. As will be seen, this connection with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific was maintained in later years.

Other Community members in the 1960s included Stan and Joy Mathews, Keithie Blum, Mr and Mrs V. Blake, Brian Whitehead, Hilton and Helen Grigor and Gladys Pollard. The Grigors moved to Randwick from Cooma in December 1965 and pioneered to Western Samoa in April 1966. Even Mrs Pollard spent some time in the Pacific. Born in England in 1895, she had declared in 1938. She spent three months with Bertha Dobbins in the New Hebrides in 1959. Canadian Bahá'í Jean Levy (nee Court) moved to Randwick late in 1965. Although she soon transferred to Sydney Community Randwick Assembly assisted her August 1968 marriage to Walter White.

Late in 1966 Miss Pollard and Barry OíBrien both moved from Randwick to Wahringah, and by February 1967 the Randwick Assembly required two members to maintain its status. This deficit was filled by Mohsen Zein, from Concord, and Marjorie MacDonald, from Adelaide. Other members of the Zein family - Mrs Sanush Djalal Zein, Mr Samir Fein, and Miss Hodah Zein - arrived from Cairo, Egypt, at the end of 1968. Mrs Zeinís other daughter, Nabila, also arrived. This community that held a principle of the ‘oneness of humanityí now had members of Jewish, Islamic and Christian backgrounds. Later, Persian and Chinese Bahá'ís arrived, further adding to its experience of diversity, and its demonstration of harmony amongst people of different cultures and races.

Teaching activities

The Randwick Bahá'ís contributed significantly to activities of the Sydney Bahá'í Community during the Nine Year Plan. The Assembly administered the Sydney Metropolitan Advertising Fund, which allowed for a number of Assemblies to cooperate in funding advertisements in the major newspapers. In 1967 the National Spiritual Assembly asked it to assume responsibility for a display at Central Railway Station, and this continued until the station was re-furbished and display boxes discontinued. Sometimes the Community got together for recreation, without a specific program of Teaching. At Easter 1966, for instance, Bahá'ís from Randwick, Concord and Leichardt visited Helmut and Elaine Newman in Gerringong.

Events continued to be held at the University of New South Wales. At a Public meeting on 10 November 1967 Gina Garcia and David Podger spoke on ‘The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, to an audience of 27, of whom nine were inquirers. Another talk at the University attracted an audience of 45. Many more events were held elsewhere. When Books were presented to the Mayor of Randwick on 14 November the Bahá'í delegation was well received. The Bahá'í Bulletin reported:

The Town Clerk and councillors will receive presentation books and pamphlets in December. The district of Botany has become an extension area for the community, and arrangements are in hand for presentations to the mayor and councillors. During the month of Speech the community has been meeting every evening for the special prayers for Proclamation and Teaching in Australasia.

At the end of school holidays in May 1967, Randwick Assembly arranged a picnic for 40 Aboriginal children and friends at La Perouse. According to the report that appeared in the Bulletin:

This was the second successful picnic. A photo was given to every child who attended the picnic. At the previous picnic slides were taken which were shown with Bahá'í slides at a later date at one of the aboriginal friendsí homes.

By the 1970s the Randwick Community was among the most stable in Sydney, and although its numbers did not increase dramatically, the National Assembly was confident of its stability and suggested that it become legally registered. Thus, in 1972 the Assembly was incorporated under the Companies Act. In practical terms, this meant that the annual election of the Assembly at Ridvan (21 April) was also the annual meeting of the Company and its Board of Directors (the LSA members). Each year the Community also elected two delegates to the National Convention. Later, with the emergence of ‘unit conventionsí, the Randwick Bahá'ís joined with other Communities in the Eastern suburbs in electing delegates from the ‘unit areaí to National Convention.

New Members

The intense activities of the Bahá'í Community during the Nine Year Plan attracted a certain number of new members, although a majority of ‘newí members were existing Bahá'ís, who took up residence in the municipality. Bahá'ís who moved into the Community included Harry Bergin from Whyalla; Brian Whitehead, who arrived in Australia from Manchester in 1962, who lived in Randwick in 1964; and David & Irene Bailey, who lived in Chapman Ave Maroubra Beach from November 1966 until moving to Mudgee in February 1969. Marjorie A. McDonald was a member of Randwick Assembly in BE 124 before transferring to Punchbowl. Roslyn and Victor Blake arrived in April 1966 and departed in January 1967; Canadians Deborah and Neil Huget were on the Assembly during BE 131; and Austrian Bahá'í Frederika Hauser in Randwick 1969 to April 1971. In 1970 Fiona Dunn (now McDonald) lived in Randwick briefly before moving to England, and Elaine Harwood arrived in May 1970. Pamela Potter arrived in May 1970 before returning home to England about 1974. Don Bennet, who had become a Bahá'í in Brisbane in 1967, moved to Randwick in March 1971. He was secretary of the Assembly 1971-72, before moving to Rockdale, and from there to Surabaya in Indonesia. Adrian Salter moved into Randwick in 1971. In July 1972 he married Lyn Pickings, and they resided in Arden St, Coogee.

Aaron and Pam Blomeley moved into Randwick from Darwin in November 1966. Aaron heard of the Faith from Margaret Featherstone and had declared in Woodville Community, South Australia, in June 1956. He subsequently moved to the Northern Territory, where he and his new bride Nola (Pam) were members of the first Darwin LSA, established in 1963. The Blomeleys moved to Moss Vale in November 1973, but returned to 43 Houston Road four years later, and remained through the 1980s. The Blomeley children - Noeline (b.1960), Noel (b.1961), Michael (b.1963) and Natasha (b.1965), added a new dimension to the Community, and provided welcome company for John Grant.

Bahá'ís continued to settle in Randwick for short periods to study at the University. Verona Mauger (now Lucas) arrived from Western Australia in 1969. She recalls:

I had enrolled at UNSW in March 1969 to do a Master of Applied Science. The following year, 1970, with the help of the Randwick LSA the Bahá'ís registered a club and did an Orientation week display using a display octagon that had been designed and built by Richard Lucas. It was located at the entrance from Anzac Parade.

My residence in Randwick was the flat owned by Fred and Eva Grant, above a shop, whose previous tenants had included Keithie Blum, before she married Bruce Saunders.

I believe Randwick launched many hard working Bahá'ís into their Bahá'í lives and I am happy to count myself as one of those.

Alan Waters, a Bahá'í from December 1971, served on the Assembly the following year, and Alan Poll, who had declared at Yerrinbool Summer School 1972/3, also arrived as a student. The Community was privileged to have Dr Peter Khan and Dr Janet Khan as members for a six-month period, while Dr Peter Khan had a visiting appointment at the University.

The Hassall family moved to 20 Day Ave, Kensington in 1973. David and Judy Hassall had become Bahá'ís in Orange, NSW, in June 1961. In 1962 they had moved to Warringah to assist in the formation of its first Assembly, at Ridvan 1963, and after periods spent in Concord and Strathfield, had moved to Randwick. The Hassall children Graham and Jane also became part of the Randwick community. In 1975 David was appointed as the first assistant to an Auxiliary Board Member, and was himself appointed Auxiliary Board Member for Propagation in the Sydney Hunter and Manning region in April 1977. Over the succeeding years the Hassall home became a centre of activity not only for the Randwick community, but for all of Sydney.


There were departures from the Community and unfortunately, resignations as well. Mr and Mrs Blake moved to Leichardt, Miss B. A. Luthy moved to Sydney. Stan and Joy Mathews had moved into Randwick in February 1965, soon after declaring. They returned to Nowra the following November, and resigned form the Faith in 1971 to join the Hare Krishna organisation. James Beat participated as a Bahá'í youth in 1968, but resigned from the Faith in February 1969. Mr Ly Yia, who arrived in Randwick in April 1969 from Laos, resigned from the Faith in May. Antoine Malhame, who declared in Randwick in June 1968, transferred to Puerto Rico in September 1969.

Consolidation 1974-79

The second half of the 1970s the Bahá'ís of the world undertook a ‘Five Year Planí. For Randwick the challenge remained sharing the Bahá'í message as widely as possible in the municipality, and continually improving the quality of Community life. Deepenings were being held at the home of Adrian & Lyn Salter, and ‘dawn prayersí were being held in Centennial Park each Sunday morning. Firesides were being held Friday evenings at the University (7.30pm, room 2, in the student union building known as ‘Stage 3í). Another focus of youth activity was the flat of Alan Waters and Eric Kingston, who were both undertaking post-graduate studies in chemistry at the University.

In February 1976 the UNSW Bahá'í Society arranged a stall for Orientation Week, and Randwick Assembly assisted in the holding of a public meeting on the evening of Friday, 27th. Philip Hinton spoke on ‘The basis of world peaceí to an audience that included 17 inquirers, at the Barker Lodge Motel, just off campus. Regular monthly meetings were being held by the Society. In June the Society showed the film ‘Green Light Expeditioní in the Universityís Burrowís Theatre. In addition, firesides were being held on most Fridays of the Month at Grantís, on the third Friday at Zeinís, and on the fourth Friday at Hassalls.

Randwickís new members at this period included several declarants, many transfers, and an increasing number of University students. Lorna Lauw, who had declared in Papua New Guinea, arrived in February 1973, and served for a time as Assembly secretary. Kathy Conroy declared in Goulburn and moved into Randwick in July 1974. Abdul-Karim and Dalah Nabaha and their children arrived in 1974, before moving the following year to Mascot. Kim & Ernst Walti were members of the Community from July 1977 to January 1978, when they returned to Canada. Eric Kingston, a graduate student who declared in July 1974, eventually married Fahimeh Hesser-Amiri, at that time secretary of Randwick Assembly. Of all these new families, the Zein family was the most settled. In 1977 Mohsen Zein married Bahia Muhammad Negm el Deen, whose Kurdish father and Egyptian mother were members of the Cairo Bahá'í Community. Shireen and Jason were born to Mohsen and Bahia in 1979, and Carmel in 1990, and through the 1980s and 1990s childrenís classes were held on a regular basis at their Maroubra home. A great many visitors and inquirers have been fortunate to experience the bountiful delicious and exotic Egyptian food produced in Bahiaís kitchen.


In 1979 the Bahá'ís of the world commenced a new Teaching Plan, this time of seven years duration. At its beginning Randwick Assembly took primary responsibility for organising a two-day Institute at the request of the Continental Board of Counsellors.

The ‘Counsellorsí Instituteí was held at Eleanora Heights, and brought together the Bahá'ís from across New South Wales. New Bahá'ís in the Community near this time included Andrew Zurek (who declared in November 1981 and served on the Assembly in 1982) and Christine Baker (who declared in September 1983). Bahá'í students at the University of New South Wales resident in Randwick included Ravi, Davin and Suresh Dharmalingham (from Malaysia), and Soheil Eftekhari (from Brazil). Stephen Duncan lived on campus while studying education. Peter Tidman arrived to study optometry and met and married Marjorie Dibdin in February 1980. Mee Hong Moh, another Malaysian student at UNSW, and a member of Randwick Assembly, was tragically killed in a car crash in February 1985. Another tragedy was the death of Roger Payne, a believer who suffered from mental illness, who fell from an apartment balcony in November 1986.

On the University campus, the Bahá'í Society conducted a range of activities, from displays during Orientation week that commenced the new academic year, to regular book displays, and meetings both mid-week and on Friday evenings. In one year the Society sponsored an exhibition of sculptures by Jannu. In September 1983 it undertook, with the Assembly's encouragement and support, a ‘Bahá'í Information Week'. Invitations were distributed to 1,500 academic staff, and more than 100 copies of a specially prepared poster were displayed. Books were presented to the Deans of the Universityís ten faculties, and many inquirers attended a week-long series of lunchtime seminars.

The growth in numbers of youth in Randwick prompted the appearance of a newsletter for youth. The first issue of Youth News, which appeared in July 1979 under the editorship of Jane Hassall and Rosemary Vellas, announced a series of youth deepenings, ‘working beesí at the House of Worship, and even a picnic at Bobbin Head. Other social events were held in nearby Centennial Park.

The Hassall home in Day Avenue continued as a centre of activities throughout the 1980s. These were related to Davidís responsibilities as an Auxiliary Board Member for the Sydney Hunter and Manning Region, to Judyís involvement in public information and media, or Graham and Janeís involvement in youth activities. Regional newsletters for these years frequently advertised events at Day Avenue. The June 1982 issue, for instance, carried the notice:

New LSA members: Attention!

Discussion/workshop for new LSA members

On Saturday 3rd July, Auxiliary Board Member David Hassall will be conducting a Discussion/Workshop for newly elected Local Spiritual Assembly members who have not served as such before.

The function, which is being held at Judy and David Hassallís home, 20 Day Avenue, Kensington, will start at 6pm sharp with a put luck dinner, after which there will be informative talks and discussions which should be of assistance….

The next newsletter, for July 1982, carried notice of a ‘Publicity Seminar':

With the dramatic increase in publicity and interest shown by the media, State Information Officer, Judy Hassall, invites all local publicity officers from Spiritual Assemblies, and anyone interested in publicity, to a seminar on Saturday, 24 July at 7.30 at 20 Day Ave, Kensington. ….

The other Bahá'í homes in the Community were equally busy. Aaron Blomeley, Assembly secretary, was co-ordinating teaching activities in Sydney preceding and following the International Conference held in Canberra, while Pamela and Noel were busy planning and carrying out travel teaching trips to country towns.

In 1984 Randwick Assembly co-ordinated a Bahá'í exhibition at the Royal Easter Show. A notice in the Regional Newsletter announced:

The Bahá'ís of Randwick have decided to undertake a display of Bahá'í material at the Royal Easter Show, to be held from 13-24 April 1984. They have done this with the clear knowledge that it will not be a success without the assistance of all the Bahá'ís of New South Wales.

This is a Show which inevitably attracts over a million people from all around NSW and is an opportunity to present the Faith to visitors from the country areas, and to all strata of Society in Sydney itself. Bahá'í displays have been held here in the past, but not since 1970. With the extra number of Bahá'ís in NSW we should be able to make 1984 a good year.

A large workforce of people will be needed to erect the display and then to man it for 12 hours per day, seven days a week. Volunteers will be needed and do not be shy just because English is not your mother tongue.

The Assembly estimated that the Easter show project would cost $1500 and called on the surrounding Bahá'í Communities to assist with donations.

Persian Bahá'ís

There were by the mid-1980s many Iranian Bahá'ís in Australia, who had fled Iranís 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Randwick Community became very involved in the resettlement of refugee families who arrived in large numbers at Endeavour Hostel, where many of Australiaís refugee and migrant population stayed on arrival. For several years Randwickís Nineteen-day feast was transformed from a regular and small gathering of familiar faces into a welcome for large numbers of Persian Bahá'ís, distressed at having fled their homeland, and anxious about their future. Every available car in the Community was mobilised on Feast evenings to transport refugee families to and from the hostel. Speaking little English and carrying tales of persecution and flight in their hearts, many families turned to the Assembly for assistance in making important decisions about the future. Where should they live? What should they study? When could their families join them? Although few of these families settled in Randwick, the Community was never again as small. The pattern of constant turnover in membership continued, and the Community's core of more permanent members continued to provide the steady support that allowed for continuity in Community life, and Assembly development.


In 1988-89 there were 29 members in the community. New members included students Michael Curtotti and Ranjana Arasaratnam, Paul Wallace and Shidan Toloui, who married in 1985 and moved to Randwick the following February, Vahid and Lucky Tavakol, and Vicky Pontello. The Assembly appointed just two committees in that year, one for Teaching, and another for Feasts. Feasts and other gatherings were held in turn in eight homes: Azita and Changez Ahadizadeh, Bob & Fariba Bayzaee, Ata and Shokouh Eshraghi, Eva and John Grant, David & Judy Hasssall, Monireh Yamini, Mohsen & Bahia Zein, and Ranjana Arasaratnam. Firesides were being held on the first Thursday of every month at the Ahadizadehís, in Sturt Street Kingsford. Ziadollah and Aghdas Sanaei and their children Farin, Fardin and Negin, who had arrived in Australia in 1986, moved to Randwick in 1990, and opened their home to Community and youth activities.

The numbers of Bahá'í students at the University who resided in Randwick continued to grow in the 1990s, and their presence boosted the activities of the Bahá'í Society on campus, the Local Assembly and the community: among the many students were Danesh Sarooshi, who arrived in 1986 to study economics/law before moving to London for further studies in 1991; Dannyís sister Natasha, who commenced in 1991; and Milan Voykovik, who resided at New College. Other students included Katayoun Sedghi, Kourosh Farokzadeh, Arvid Yeganegi and Vahid Baskaran. In 1989 the Bahá'í Society fielded its own soccer team against such teams as the Tigers, ‘no sweatí and ‘the Stradlattersí. The Society also hosted a number of seminars, and had articles published in the student newspaper, Tharunka.

Another significant development during this period was the opening of the ‘Bahá'í Information Centreí in a shop front at 393 Anzac Parade, near the Kingsford shopping centre. Although not in a main thoroughfare, the Centre brought the Bahá'í Community to the notice of an ever-widening circle of local residents, largely through the efforts of many volunteers, including Maryam and Elham Vedadhagi, Herald Derakshan, and Khodrat Samadani.


It was in the nature of things for students to move out. But the time came too for some of the established families to move. The Blomeleys moved out of Randwick. Aaron became Executive Director of the Bahá'í Office of the Environment in Taiwan, continuing the link with Asia and the Pacific that had commenced so many years before. In 1989 the Assembly assisted the National Spiritual Assembly of Papua New Guinea with a parcel of books, which were divided amongst Bahá'í schools in Bonara and Lae.

The Hassall family also moved: Graham to Canberra, Jane and her family to Rockdale. David and Judy moved to Newport. He had retired from teaching at the University and the move closer to the House of Worship allowed Judy to carry out her activities as Public Information Officer for the Australian Bahá'í Community and as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly.

Retrospect and Prospect

Pausing to celebrate such occasions as this, the 75th anniversary of a Community's founding, allows for reflection on the achievements of those who neither desire nor acquire, any measure of fame. Randwick Community is one of the longest-established Bahá'í Communities in Australia. Its first members had brought the Bahá'í Message with them from North America in 1920, and its first Australian adherent, Oswald Whitaker, was in fact the first Australian Bahá'í. Randwickís Local Assembly has the distinction of being among the few Assemblies established before the close of the Ten Year World Crusade, a decade of world-embracing activity which called for Bahá'ís to spread out to the remaining lands that had not heard of the coming of Bahá'uílláh. Although the Community has never experienced rapid numerical expansion, its members have been consistently engaged in its promotion within the municipality and beyond. High rates of mobility in the Eastern suburbs, together with the shifting population associated with the University of New South Wales, has meant that those who did become Bahá'ís in the Community tended to re-locate within a short period of time.

However, the size of the Community was never as important a factor as the experience of Bahá'í life within it. Following the early years in which the community comprised just a few individuals, community life in Randwick has demonstrated the practice of unity in diversity. It is the story of teachers, mothers, mechanics, students, jewellers, traders, public servants, and office workers, drawling together their diverse talents in the service of common goals. The Community has comprised families of diverse cultural backgrounds, and individuals of diverse temperaments and training, coming together in a spirit of fellowship and collective endeavour, demonstrating their capacity to build a community of peace. The Nineteen-day Feast in Randwick Community, for instance, has always been an occasion for celebration and rejuvenation. Holy Days have always been observed with marked reverence. Gatherings for all purposes, whether for children, youth, or adults, have been framed in happiness, and differences between community have been settled without unbearable conflict. At a time when Australian society is still deciding whether it can remove its mantle of racism and fear of global change, the Randwick Bahá'ís have steadily, and quietly, demonstrated how the foundations of a modern, grass-roots religious community, can be laid.

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