Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Research notes
TAGS: Bahai history by country
LOCATIONS: Australia
add tags
This document is part of Bahá'í Communities by country: Research Notes. Posted separate from the other country notes because it is long enough to be a stand-alone essay.

Baha'i country notes:

by Graham Hassall

British settlement in Australia commenced in 1788, to the detriment of the nomadic Aboriginal inhabitants whose occupation of the continent dated back 50,000 years. From federation in 1901 until recent years, the Australian nation remained an outpost of European culture, although in closer proximity to the peoples of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Although a Christian nation, secular influences are equally apparent in this increasingly multicultural society of almost 17 million people.

The Bahá'í Faith was brought to Australia in 1920 by Clara (d.1960) and Hyde Dunn (d.1941), both of whom had met `Abdu'l-Bahá when he visited California. The Dunns responded to Abdu'l-Bahá's call in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, to bring the Bahá'í teachings to Australasia. Hyde Dunn taught the Faith extensively as he worked his way around the Australian continent as a travelling salesman. The first Australians to become Bahá'ís, late in 1922, were Oswald Whitaker, a Sydney optometrist, and Effie Baker a Melbourne photographer who later worked for Shoghi Effendi in Haifa 1925-36. After Hyde Dunn's death in 1941 the Guardian referred to him as "lion-hearted", and posthumously named him a Hand of the Cause. Clara Dunn was named Hand of the Cause in 1952, and took part in the convocation of Hands in Haifa in 1957.

Among the most significant of Bahá'í visitors to Australia were Martha Root in 1924 and 1939, and Keith Ransom-Kehler in 1931-32. The former gained unprecedented media coverage for the Bahá'í community, while the latter attracted to it several able administrators and teachers, notably Hilda Brooks of Adelaide, who became the first secretary of the National Assembly.

Institutional development

The National Assembly of Australia and New Zealand was established in 1934, on a foundation of three local assemblies - Sydney, Adelaide, and Auckland (NZ). In 1936 the National Assembly first issued its news-organ, the Bahá'í Quarterly. Sydney Local Assembly was incorporated in November 1937, and Brisbane by April 1957 (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 107), and it seems, by 1953 (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 150). Adelaide was not incorporated until November 1962.

Shoghi Effendi said Australia was "impotent to extricate herself" from world conditions (World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 31). In Advent of Divine Justice he referred to the "solid achievements, spiritual as well as administrative" in Australia. (68). see Messages to the Bahá'í World, 21.

In 1938 the first summer school was held on a property at Yerrinbool, south of Sydney, eventually donated to the National Assembly by Stanley and Mariette Bolton. A National Hazírá was purchased in Sydney in 1944 at the instigation of Shoghi Effendi. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s efforts were made to expand the Australian Bahá'í community beyond the state capital cities, and a six-year teaching plan (1947-53) enlarged the community to 14 Local Assemblies and 45 other localities.

At the commencement of the Ten Year crusade there were about 60 Bahá'í centres in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 148). In October 1953 Shoghi Effendi directed hand of the Cause Mr Furutan to visit Australia and New Zealand, and directed Clara Dunn to continue her efforts in the two countries also (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 172). At Ridván 1954 the Guardian announced the purchase of land "to the west of the Bab's resting place" which was to be registered in the name of the Israel branch of the NSA of Australia and New Zealand (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 70). This might be the same purchase, the registration of which was being "expeditiously carried out" as mentioned in the Guardian's 1956 Ridvan message (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 95).

In his Ridvan message 1957 the Guardian noted the convening of teaching conferences for South Australia in Adelaide, for Tasmania in Hobart, and for New South Wales in Sydney, as well as the holding of a Post-Convention Teaching Institute in Sydney (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 114).

During the course of the Ten Year Plan the Australian National Assembly was incorporated and Shoghi Effendi was instrumental in establishing a Branch of the National Assembly in Israel, in 1954. Also in 1954, Clara Dunn appointed two Auxiliary Board Members, Thelma Perks (d. 1988), who later served as a Counsellor on the Australasian Board, and H. Collis Featherstone, who was appointed a Hand of the Cause in the Guardian's last message, in 1957. In the same year, the New Zealand community established its own National Assembly. In May 1958 Sydney hosted one of four intercontinental conferences called by the Guardian to mark the mid-way point of the Crusade (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 124, 125). Mason Remey was directed to attend the Sydney conference, and to bring a portion of earth from the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, a lock of His hair, and a reproduction of his portrait. In the same message the Guardian called for representatives of the Australian NSA to be at the Djakarta conference. The earth was to be placed in the foundations of the Sydney temple (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 129).

During Australia's Five Year plan, 1974-79, objectives focussed on the attainment of legal status for Local Assemblies, on provision of pioneers for international goals, and on enrolment of minorities in Australia into the Bahá'í community. 50 Local Assemblies were to be incorporated and a Publishing Trust was established, in 1975.

Hand of the Cause H. Collis Featherstone joined 81 delegates at the 1979 National Convention for the launch of the Seven Year plan, 1979-86, during which, successful National Teaching conferences and youth conferences were held, and difficult objectives such as opening remote Flinders Island were achieved. Other achievements were literary. In 1982 an affiliate branch of the Association for Bahá'í Studies held its first conference in Australia, at Yerrinbool and in 1984 "Herald of the South", a magazine first produced jointly with the New Zealand community in 1925 was re-established.


The incorporation of National and Local Spiritual Assemblies in Australia was made difficult by the nature of the country's State laws. Bahá'í Holy Days received recognition from the Department of Education in Victoria by 1953 (Messages to the Bahá'í World, 4, 150). By 1973 Bahá'í Marriage Certificates had received recognition.

With the resurgence of persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran that followed the 1979 revolution the Australian Bahá'ís entered a period of extensive contact with government officials and mass media. The Australian government was active in its defence of human rights for the Bahá'ís. In August 1980 the Minister for Foreign Affairs asked the Iranian Charge d'Affaires to inform the Iranian government of the Australian Government's concern about the persecutions of the Bahá'ís in Iran, and in September notice was given of a motion about the persecution in the House of Representatives. In February 1981 the Senate adopted a resolution deploring the persecution, and in August a similar resolution was adopted by the House of Representatives. In March 1982 the government established a special humanitarian assistance program, under which Persian Bahá'í refugees were eligible to migrate to Australia.

The Bahá'í community made representations to the heads of Commonwealth Governments when they met in Australia in September/October 1981, and in 1982 extensive media coverage was gained on government television programs (ABC) and "60 Minutes". Concern at the situation in Iran permeated the international conference held in Canberra in 1982 attended by 2,400 Bahá'ís from 45 countries, and at which were present Hands of the Cause Collis Featherstone, and Dr Ugo Giachary, who represented the Universal House of Justice.

Since 1984 the Australian Bahá'í community has been involved in Peace activities at national and local level. In 1984 the National Assembly submitted a statement on peace to a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. The Promise of World Peace, a statement by the Universal House of Justice, was presented to the Governor General, Sir Ninian Stephen in October 1985, and one year later, the Governor General attended a service in the House of Worship to mark the International Year of Peace. In 1986 the Australian National Assembly sponsored a "Peace Exposition" in the Temple grounds that attracted 10,000 visitors, and received a "Peace Messenger" award from the United Nations for activities throughout the Australian Bahá'í community. Peace Festivals were successfully organized by Atherton, Caboolture, Fremantle, and other Local Assemblies.

International work

In the years 1953-63 the National Assembly of Australia and New Zealand carried out one of the 12 Ten Year Crusade plans mapped out by Shoghi Effendi. The Australian Bahá'ís pursued both domestic and international objectives. In the Indian and Pacific Oceans Australians were to open the Admiralty Islands, Cocos Island, Mentawei Islands, New Hebrides, Portuguese Timor, and the Society Islands; and to consolidate the Bahá'í communities of the Bismarck Archipelago, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Zealand and Tasmania. Six members of the 1953 National Assembly members were among the pioneers to these destinations. When Australia and New Zealand were unable to send a pioneer to the Mentawei Islands, and Iran was similarly unable to send one to the Solomon Islands, the goals were swapped: Dr and Iran Muhajer opened the former, and Alvin and Gertrude Blum moved from New Zealand to the latter.

Territories to be opened to the Faith 1953-1963


1. Admiralty Is - Violet Hoehnke, July 1954.

2. Cocos Is - Frank Wyss, June 1955.

3. Loyalty Is - Daniel Haumont, October 1955.

4. Mentawei Is - Rahmatu'llah & Iran Muhajir, February 1954.

5. New Hebrides Is - Bertha Dobbins, October 1953.

6. Portuguese Timor - Harold & Florence Fitzner, June 1954; Jose Marques, July 1954.

7. Society Is - Gretta Lamprill, & Glad Parke, October 1954.

Territories to be consolidated

ASIA: 1. Bismark Archipelago 2. Fiji 3. New Caledonia 4. New Guinea

AUSTRALASIA; 1. New Zealand 2. Tasmania

In ten international collaboration goals during the Nine Year Plan (1964-73) Australia assisted the National Assemblies of the South Pacific, South West Pacific, North East Africa, and Tanganyika and Zanzibar acquire properties. A Continental Pioneer Committee was established to assist with the settlement of pioneers in the nine year plan. Australia assisted with the establishment and incorporation of a National Assembly in the Bismarck Archipelago and New Guinea in 1969 (the National Assembly of Papua New Guinea).

During 1974-79 pioneers embarked to Fiji, Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Laos, Malawi, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga and Vietnam. Assistance was to be given to Fiji in the translation of literature, and to several Pacific Assemblies in the acquisition of Haziras - the North West Pacific (Yap, Guam, Pohnpei and Majuro) and South West Pacific (Vila).

The Australian Bahá'í community has been responisible for opening several small islands surrounding the continent. Primary objectives of the Ten Year Crusade included the opening of Bathurst and Groote Islands and resettlement of Admiralty and Cocos Islands. The goal of opening Bathurst Island was the last of Australia's Nine Year Plan tasks. A pioneer was accepted for employment on the islands' Aboriginal reserve on 29 April 1973, and on 24 April the Universal House of Justice Cabled "CONSIDER ALL AUSTRALIAN GOALS FULFILLED". Christmas island, an Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean, had achieved one Local Assembly by 1986.

Joseph Dobbins Jnr., who worked on Groote Island 1966-75, was followed on that island for lesser periods by Tom Jones (six months) and Tony and Allison Scott (one year). In the nine year plan members of the Andilyaugwa tribe became Bahá'ís and by 1973 there were 2 localities on the island. Melville Island, off the coast from Darwin in the Northern Territory, was opened to the Faith by 1967, but the pioneers had had to leave by 1973 (see Wellspring of Guidance, 103). Several Bahá'ís had travelled to Norfolk Island, off Australia's east coast, on short-term tourist visas, and in 1989 Colin Dibdin secured a professional post there, becoming the first pioneer to the island.

Work among indigenous people

Efforts to attract Aboriginal Australians into the Bahá'í community began in South Australia and the Northern Territory in the 1950s and in the same decade the first Iranian Bahá'ís settled in Australia. Goals during the Nine Year Plan 1964-73 included translation of literature into Bainings and Panaras languages; and the enrolment of Aboriginals. By 1968 the Bahá'í community included members of the Andilyaugwa (Groote Island), Bunanditj, Jirkia Minning, Junjan, Minen, and Narrogin tribes. The first Aboriginal Bahá'í, Fred Murray (1884-1963) of the Minen tribe, attended the 1963 London World Congress.

During the Five Year plan 1974-79 Bahá'ís from Turkey and Papua New Guinea visited Australia to assist with teaching in the Turkish and Aboriginal communities, and by 1979 the goal of establishing 3 Local Assemblies in Aboriginal areas had been exceeded by 4. By 1983, however, there were just 4 Local Assemblies in Aboriginal areas. Teaching projects had been carried out in the islands of Torres Strait, and efforts were also made to attract members of the Chinese and Greek communities in Australia to the Bahá'í Faith.

Following National Convention in 1985 an important meeting took place in Onslow, in the far north-west of Western Australia, between members of the National Assembly, the Carnarvon Bahá'í community, and Onslow Aboriginal elders. Discussion focussed on the essence of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings and the Aboriginal way of life. Acceptance of the Faith by Herbert Parker, an important tribal elder, in 1985, and Jack Malardy leader of the Karradjarrie people, La Grange, in 1987 led to a similar entry into the Bahá'í community of more than one hundred Aboriginals. Similar results have occurred in North Queensland.

In August 1994 the National Spiritual Assembly presented a statement on "Aboriginal Reconciliation" to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

Distinctive contributions

When plans for a House of Worship in Tehran were frustrated by a wave of persecution in 1955 Shoghi Effendi announced the construction of two others, in Kampala, and Sydney. When a first Temple site was repossessed by the government a second 7 acre site acquired in February 1956. Plans to build the Temple were officially announced at the 1957 convention. After four years construction, the dedication of the Temple in September 1961 was attended by Hands of the Cause Ruhiyyih Khanum and Collis Featherstone, and by Jessie Revell, representing the International Bahá'í Council.

Four major Bahá'í conferences have been held in Australia. In March 1958, mid-way through the Ten Year Crusade, one of the "inter-continental" conferences announced by the Guardian was held in Sydney. It was attended by Hands of the Cause Clara Dunn, Agnes Alexander, Charles Mason Remey, Zikru'lláh Khádem and Collis Featherstone, and by Bahá'ís from across Asia and the Pacific. A second conference in Sydney, in 1967, marked the mid-point of the nine year plan and coincided with the centenary of the proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh. Following the conference Hand of the Cause Dr Ugo Giachary, present as representative of the Universal House of Justice, travelled to Apia for an audience with the head of state of Western Samoa, that lead to his rapid acceptance of the Bahá'í teachings. A third major conference in Canberra in 1982 attracted 2,000 participants. A satellite conference of the second Bahá'í world congress was held in Sydney in November 1992.


The Bahá'í Faith has spread slowly in Australia. Local Assemblies grew from 31 in 1963 (19 incorporated) to 61 in 1973, and 152 in 1986, a 54% increase for the period of the Seven Year Plan, and 17 in excess of the goal of 135. Youth had played an important role in propagation activities during the 1970s, and in April 1969 held a first National Youth Conference at Yerrinbool. In 1975 Hand of the Cause Dr Muhajir attended National Convention in Melbourne. Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone also attended, albeit for only one day, (his first attendance at an Australian convention since 1962), before flying to attend National Convention in Japan.

In the Seven Year plan Local Assemblies increasingly took the initiative in planning large-scale activities. From 1983 the Kentish community sponsored a series of annual events highlighing alternative technologies and lifestyles. Newcastle community fostered a sister city relationship with Ube, in Japan. More Persian refugees per capita were received in Australia than in any other Bahá'í community, and by 1988 Persians comprised 38% of the Australian Bahá'í community.

References in the Bahá'í writings

Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1977.

Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1970.

" Messages to the Antipodes, Bahá'í Publishing Trust: Mona Vale, 1997.

" Messages to the Bahá'í World, 1950 - 1957, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1958, pp 4,18,21, 37, 43, 54, 65, 70, 73, 83, 87, 92, 102, 107, 111, 112, 114, 119, 124, 126, 127, 128, 148, 150, 163, 164, 166, 167, 171, 172.


- "The Cause of Bahá'u'lláh in Australia and New Zealand", Bahá'í World 7, 1936-38, 159-60.

- "The Bahá'í Faith in Australia and New Zealand", Bahá'í World 8,1938-40, 90-1.

- "Clara Dunn, 1869-1960", Bahá'í World 13, 1954-63, 859-62.

Brooks, Hilda, "Annual Report - National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand 1938-40", Bahá'í World 8, 1938-40, 201-4.

Hassall, Graham "The Bahá'í Faith", in Ian Gillman (ed), Many Faiths, One Nation, William Collins, Australia, 1988.

Walker, Noel, "The Mashriqu'l-Adhkar of the Antipodes", Bahá'í World 13, 1954-63, 721-32.

Whitehead, O.Z., Some Bahá'ís to Remember, George Ronald, USA, 1983.

Bahá'í World 1963-68: SL Bolton 323-5, F Murray 368-9, 474, 478, 560, 566

Bahá'í World 1968-73: 263-4, 293, 329 youth, 350 youth, 407, 435-7, 457-8 G Parke, 489-90 P M Almond, 534-5 G Lamprill, 586, 612, 625

Bahá'í World 1973-76: 77, 122, 115, 120, 122, 128, 267-70, 549, 551-2, 582.

Bahá'í World 1976-79: 99, ,2,05, 227

Bahá'í World 1979-83: 92, 94, 96, 97, 100, 102-3, 106-8, 117, 119, 121, 123, 125, 129, 131-2, 136, 147, 159, 183-4, 186-7, 202-3, 340, 343, 345, 348-9, 351, 353, 355, 372-4, 408-9, 481, 485, 486, 496, 501, 503-7, 681 J Hutchinson Smith, 512, 528, 669, 681-2, 727, 757-8

God Passes By, 296, 308, 315, 323, 330, 333, 336, 338, 341, 355, 391, 330, 335, 336, 338, 340, 341, 378, 379, 385, 391, 400

Back to:   Research notes
Home Site Map Links Copyright About Contact
. .