Australia Baha'i History in Western Australia

Aug 2009
George Town Tasmania Australia
Over a three year period from 2005 to 2007, I posted several instalments on a Baha'i history of Western Australia at a site entitled: THEHEYDAY.COM. That site was discontinued, revised under a new name and, for various reasons, my posts were lost or deleted due to problems associated with several people posting inappropriate material at the site. I did save some of the history which I wrote in those posts and I include it below--and trust this will be a safe place. This history is far from comprehensive but it may be useful to others with an interest in this subject. Inshallah!-Ron Price, Tasmania:cool
Part 1:
Historians in the future will find in this emerging world Order of Baha’u’llah, especially in the last six decades, since the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth in 1953(1) and the beginning of that ninth stage of history as the Guardian called the Ten Year Crusade, a rich archival base among the many local and regional Baha'i institutions in Western Australia. There are now thousands of archives emerging in local and regional Baha’i communities around the world. The archives in WA are but a microcosm of this enormous field of paper and now electronic data. These archives " offer our knowledge an extra bonus”, says Arlette Farge in her book Fragile Lives(2). They are not so much the truth as the beginnings of the truth and, she goes on, they possess “an eruption of meanings with the greatest possible number of connections with reality.”

For most of the Baha’i community at the local level, archives are just so much paper in old boxes. Sometimes, rarely, there exists an individual or a local Baha'i community with an obsessive tendency to admit too much meaning to archives. Usually local Baha'is regard most of the archival material as irrelevant circularized correspondence, dusty old minutes and letters that could easily be discarded without any loss. But the rare gem and, for assiduous research students, useful resources are often found amidst such irrelevant material. The historian must learn to see the forrest amidst the individual trees and detect old growth forests worth preserving from new shoots and useless undergrowth that contributes little to the history. History and its documents tell the story of so many different lives: impoverished and tragic, rich and joyful, mean and lackluster personalities, saints and heros. There is also a certain grandeur, humour, absurdity and irony to be found in the fine detail. Archives are both seductress and deceptive mirror of reality. They can falsify and distort the object being studied; they can be too facile or too ambiguous a means of entering into a discourse with history. They can tell very little of the real events of Baha’i community life. They can often be just a pile of dry bones transferred from one graveyard to another.

There have been many Bahá'ís who have been travel teachers to the north, east and south of Perth in Western Australia in the half century from 1958 to 2008. They have helped at shows, talked at public meetings, visited Bahá'í friends, driven long distances and taught the Cause, whereever possible, en route. The fifty-year history, 1958-2008, will not describe the experience of all the travel teachers to the NT. Many deserve a mention, but I will say a few words here about Helen Gordon. I include only a brief reference to Helen and her husband Don; any detailed account of their activity since 1975, over 30 years, in and around the outback: north, east and south of Perth in WA would be a story unto itself. It is a story that goes back to 1975 in Derby, continues to Narrogin in 1997 and then to Tom Price. It can be read in much more detail in back issues of Bush Honey, a magazine of the Outback Project of which Helen is now the editor. This story of Helen and Don includes the Kimberley and many country towns in Western Australia.

Occasionally they drove to Darwin from Kununurra in the 1970s to help with events organized by the Darwin LSA. They also travelled to Melville Island to visit Jackie Aipierspack, a Baha'i on that remote island in the NT. I give a special mention to Helen because of all those travel teachers in those fifty years, most did not stay in the region. Helen and Don have worked from Derby to Narrogin, to Kununurra for over thirty years 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 this region, as representatives, models, 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. For more details of Helen's experience and those of others in the last decade see the journal Bush Honey in its first 24 issues.

Nearly thirty years ago, in 1982, I began to collect information, notes on the history of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory and outback WA. I continued this activity for the years I lived in the NT, 1982 to 1986, the years I lived in the northern part of WA, in South Hedland, 1986 to 1987 and in Perth from 1987 to 1999. Over the next nine years I tried to discontinue the exercise, but something kept bringing me back to this narrative account. In 2000 I began to write instalments of this history for the Northern Lights, a Bahá'í monthly newsletter for 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 and the first fifty years of Baha'i experience in outback WA: 1958 to 2008.

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 of the NT c/-Mrs. Debra Bisa, the secretary back in 2002. Debra has since then been the editor of Bush Honey until very recently; her files are full of archival resources for up-and-coming students of the history of the outback in WA. 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.

I sent Debra and the Baha'i Council a booklet of poetry and in the introduction to that booklet I pointed out that I had begun writing poetry about the same time as I began writing the history of these regions, in 1982. It was to this poetry that my writing interests had become centred. I also said that I had turned my attention to the internet which seemed to be a much more fertile ground for the teaching work. I was amazed at the progress of the Cause in those twenty years that I had been gathering historical data and at how much of a foundation of historical material I had 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 into the first fifty years of this history and, indeed, much of the history of Baha'i communities all around the world.

Most of what I have written about the years 1958 to 2008 was written years after the events, from a distance, from second and third-hand accounts, although I have often drawn on anecdotes and 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 or the life of the person providing the anecdote. Looked at another way, an attempt to write the history of the first fifty years of Bahá'í Faith in outback WA took place in the last twenty-five years, 1983-2008, of that fifty year period and especially in Baha'i newsletters like those of the regional councils and in Bush Honey.

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. This inability to see significance or, more accurately, the inability to write down the story for what reasons, may be a reality of history for anyone at any time in the long centuries and millennia back to the beginnings of the emergence of written history from oral, in the west with Herodotus and Thucydides in the 5th century BC and among a number of Old Testament writers in the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.

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 in which we are engaged. Many of the apparently small dramas we participate in during our work for the Faith remain just that: small dramas. In many ways this is quite understandable for life must go on amidst a sea of the quotidian and the trivial. A start has been made, though, to the writing of this history and future historians will, I hope, find the resources I gathered of some use.

With the archives of the Bahá'í Councils of the NT and of WA and their predecessors the RTCs(BROs), the archives of the LSAs, the Groups and the isolated believers in the NT and in outback WA, there will be material for more than a rough sketch of the history of the Cause during the years 1958 to 2008. As I presented my booklet of poetry to the Regional Council of the NT in 2002, as a going-away present, so to speak, I bowed out of history writing in these vast regions.

I was thirty-eight when I put the first piece of paper in a file on this history and now I am sixty-three, a quarter century of time. 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 and to writing on the internet which was just then emerging as a fertile field for Baha'is all around the world. I will soon be on an old-age pension and I have been able to devote more time to what I am finding to be a very enriching teaching activity of internet writing. Poetry, prose-poetry in my case, allows me to write history as well as material from many other disciplines, to post it on the internet and interact with literally thousands in varying degrees of intimacy from meaningful to meaningless.

This history is a trace of my life, a trace of my time in the NT and northern WA when the call in Australia to go north of Capricorn was raised throughout the country in 1982. With this trace I have also recounted traces of the experience and contribution of other Baha'is. I will include some of those experiences in Part 2 of this account in the nest posting.

It is difficult to grasp the nature and the meaning of these earliest years of the Cause in the NT and outback WA. The implications of what occurred, the significance of the historical transformation that resulted both within the Cause and in the wider secular society of which it is and was a part---in the years 1958 to 2008--is difficult to appreciate although easy to document as it has been done in many forms in the print and electronic media. They were turbulent years for so many of the believers in those years as they were for mankind. As that first half century closed in the last decade, 1998-2008, a "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 this brief survey of the history of outback WA in this first post and the second one which follows.

(1) Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957(1944), p.351.
(2) Arlette Farge, Fragile Lives: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth Century Paris, Harvard UP,Cambridge, Mass., 1993, Introduction.
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Sep 2010
Normanton, Far North West Queensland
Ron - Hi I was a Bahai in Wanneroo in 84 - I remember purchasing a Land Rover for the Bahai's in Carnarvon at that time from a mate at my dads garage for them to use for their teaching work. (They funded it)

We fitted an Air Conditioning unit to it so they could travel teach in some comfort, I think that fitting eventually damaged the radiator.

Interesting times considering Wanneroo also had a infamous covenant breaker living in the area.

We left WA in 86 to go to the Peace Expo and pioneer to wherever we ended up :yes:

That turned out to be a few locations in FNQ

Cheers Tony
Aug 2009
George Town Tasmania Australia
History of the Baha'i Faith in WA: Parts 2 and 3

Apologies to LordOfGoblins for that opening long post. I post below another long item, Part 2 of that history of the Baha'i Faith in Western Australia. Part 3 will follow in the next post to conclude the history that I put down on paper years ago. I trust what I have written here in cyberspace is of some use to Baha'is in WA, in other parts of Australia, indeed to the international Baha'i community around the world---and, of course, others with an interest in this new world Faith.-Ron Price, Tasmania
History of the Baha'i Faith in Outback WA:1958-2008-Part 2

In many ways this abbreviated history is very inadequate, somewhat serendipitous and lacking in a tidy sequential order. Perhaps at a later date I will give some order to this pot-pourri of material and anecdotes, analysis and observations. But not yet. Let me, though, give you one account of an event I participated in and then conclude with some general comments, some general impressions. At a later date I hope to add more than what readers will find in this second post.

One particularly interesting experience was the formation of the LSA in Bidyadanga in 1987. I had gone with Trevor McLean and Firaydun Mithaq to this small Aboriginal community a few miles south of Broom. Trevor's story and Firaydun's would make an interesting movie for those writers and movie makers with the talents, but I am not in that league and my heart is in other places now. The three of us walked around this little Aboriginal community knocking on doors asking those who had become Baha'is in the recent years to assemble and so they did. I provided a small meal of fruit and helped the Aboriginals vote as Firaydun and Trevor organized the election since none of those assembled could read or write. Was this assembly more or less efficient than ones which had minutes, meetings on time, tea served with scones and agendas in triplicate?

There was much successful teaching in the years we were in the north and when we left to live in Perth I was conscious that the teaching opportunities, although extensive since I was still working as a teacher in a Tafe college, were severely diminished in terms of any outward results.

The fourth epoch was nearly at the end of its second year, after its launch in January 1986, when we arrived in Perth and it would continue until the second year of our sojourn in Tasmania in 2001. The House of Justice had written its Peace Message in 1986 and Baha'is had taken it around the world in their efforts to promulgate its contents. I had been living in Katherine Northern Territory at the time, although by the end of March 1986 I was living in South Hedland. A Six Year Plan had also begun in 1986 and 338 pioneers had gone out and settled in 119 countries in that Plan’s first year.

In the previous Seven Year Plan(1979-1986) some 3694 pioneers responded to the call for service. The fiftieth anniversary of the launching of the first Seven Year Plan in America in 1937 was observed while the teaching initiative had refocussed for Chris and I onto the Aboriginal people of northwest Australia. The Army of Life was unobtrusively widening and deepening. And I was heading for the age of 50, the middle of middle age. Life continued to present its perplexing and, often, tormenting questions, themselves the salt of the spiritual life.

On December 11th 1987 Chris, Dan and I left South Hedland and drove to Perth which would be our home for the next dozen years. We had been in South Hedland since March 13th 1986. My job there was as an Acting Lecturer in Management Studies and as a Public Relations Officer in the Further Education Unit. I enjoyed all aspects of life in Hedland with the exception of the supervisor I had and then only in the last year. Chris' health was poor as well and this caused increased tension in our life. When the Seven Year Plan ended in April 1986 we had been in Hedland for one month. We gave out the peace message in both Katherine and Hedland. Indeed, much teaching work was done in both towns. I will say more about our experience in Port Hedland and the experience of the Baha'i community in the outback from 1958 to 2008 in my next post in the months ahead.

Living in a city, indeed living anywhere, results in the peculiarity of that place rubbing off on your personality, perhaps your soul. What was the unique impact of Perth, arguably the most isolated city on earth, where I have lived for the next twelve years? What was the legacy I carried with me from fifteen years in Burlington Ontario from the age of three to eighteen, at such a young and impressionable age? Each geographical location carried with it different world views, left different impressions on one's psyche. Remote towns with a population of two thousand, like Frobisher Bay in the Northwest Territory and Zeehan Tasmania, had an insularity which contrasted sharply with urban agglomerations like Toronto and Melbourne with their more cosmopolitan texture and their populations of several million. In none of these places did I live for more than eighteen months. Could any of the effects of place rub off during such short stays? It was difficult to measure, although in recent decades many writers and students of the social sciences and humanities have begun to explore this and related questiions. Their explorations are relevant to this history and I am confident that in the decades and centuries in the distant future this history, which I am providing but an initial sketch, will be written with great insight and understanding. For now, though, readers must settle for a few broad brush-strokes and only a little detail and colour.

One can attenuate the deep psychological and cultural impact of the landscape of one’s homeland, in my case Canada, by emigration, by forgetfulness of days long gone, gone now for thirty-six years since I arrived in Australia in another section of this great outback, the northern part of the Eyre Peninsula in Whyalla. But it is more difficult and not altogether desireable to attenuate the impact of parents, of early Baha'i experiences, of love affairs and of the myriad interests that are part of all our lives. For they become our memories. As one gets into late adulthood(60-80) memories play a mysterious part in one's life, perhaps a foretaste of their role beyond the grave.

Can towns like Katherine in the Northern Territory and South Hedland in Western Australia, where I lived for varied periods from two to over four years, have any impact on me now, associated as they were and are with their significant population of indigenous people? What impact did I have, if any, while I lived there? I pondered these and related thoughts and wrote the following as a result after I left the north and west of Australia in July 1999:

The endless seas of snow and sand,
this ceaseless, teaming, empty land
indifference of that bush and hand
shape my soul in ways that can
and always will remain unknown,
as subtle as His Remembrance,(1)
as hard as thew and fine bare bone.

They all lean together a castle wall
behind my mind with meaning tall:
part desert, spinifex and sea
with miles and miles of roads to Thee.

Together making such piles of noise,
an eloquence of pure spirit and poise;
unyielding silence, too, vast emptiness,
small voices still regress and egress too:
as I make my way so far from me to You.

So many demons of my desert-drought,
dry winds that blow, blow round about---
a dreary monotony some hundred years
after Warburton with his own inner fears
arrived with camels in Roebourne town.(1)
What would become of what I saw down
in those many hot, dry and dusty holes?
An emerging Order so very thin, so very bold,
a burgeoning in this spacious region with its
broken wings, birds who tried to soar,
desired to sing; indeed they had begun
to fly, but it all took time and so much more
that we all, than we all, had ever bargained for.

1 The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, 1976, p.68.
2 The town of Roebourne did not get its name until many years after Warburton arrived in the 1870s, thus completing the initial exploration of the interior of Australia. By the end of the 1970s, one century later, the Baha'i Faith had completed nearly 25 years of its initial exploration of outback WA, an initial exploration that would go on for many years to come.

P.S. Did you know that it took far more than 20 million years for birds to learn to fly? So it says in the geological-fossil record, so I am told. Don't expect a quick result from all your work in these days and on this earthly plain especially in this land with this new rain.
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Aug 2009
George Town Tasmania Australia
Any Yet Another Long Post

Part 3: Baha'i History in Western Australia:yes:

As the 1990s progressed, I ceased keeping a detailed record of the history of the Baha'i community in the NT and outback WA. In 1999 I left WA and left whatever systematic history surveys and histories would come to exist on the subject of outback WA---to others in the community. It is not surprising that such a history has yet to be undertaken. The reasons are many in a Baha'i community which has been transformed out of all recognition in the quarter century 1971 to 1996, my first quarter century, too, in Australia. The national Baha'i community went from less than 1000 in 1971 to over 10,000 souls and in WA the community increased by twenty fold from something of the order of 100 believers to nearly 2000 members.

There have been many Baha'i families who have given years of their lives and in some cases decades in places from Kununurra in the north to Albany in the south. There are others whom, like myself, came for a short time and left. The Mithaqs had lived in Carnarvon in the 1980s and the story of their experience could provide a chapter of this history unto itself, but it will be a chapter not written by me. The McLeans, the Tidmans, several Aboriginals of some distinction and status in their communities and many other indigenous people who became Baha'is in the 1980s and 1990s could be included in a survey of much that went on in the 1980s and 1990s when I lived in Western Australia.

The story of the Healing Walk planned for March of 1999 and called off on 2 December 1998 could be seen, in retrospect, as a turning point of the teaching work in outback WA. But I will now leave this story, this account, at this turning point. For it was in 1999 that I left WA and I must leave this story to others who have played a much more important role and can write much more about the Baha'i story of outback WA. I have kept only a handful of my notes and one can not write history without notes.

I will conclude this Part 3, as I concluded Part 2, with a prose-poem and hope readers have found these three posts of some value in relation to "WA Stuff."
In my last three years in Western Australia(1996-1999), as I was preparing to take an early retirement ending half a century in classrooms, 32 years as a teacher and 18 as a student, archeologists were discovering and documenting a rich heritage of rock art in northern Australia, in the Northern Territory and in the Hamersley/Dampier Region of Western Australia where the largest outdoor petroglyph gallery on earth existed, incorporating tens of thousands of engravings. This rich heritage had the effect of rewriting the history of human settlement in Australia and the world.

During this same time period, the human community, thanks to NASA, was making its final overtures for orbiting the planet Mars and finding evidence of an ocean on one of Jupiter's moons as deep as 50 km. The human community was also, thanks to the Universal House of Justice, trustee of a global undertaking which events of more than a century ago set in motion and initiated by the Prophet-Founder Baha'u'llah, was spreading out a tapestry of beauty on Carmel’s mountainside and writing the future or should I say rewriting the future. I leave the answer to this provocative question to readers. -Ron Price,"A Survey of Some Recent History," Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 1999.

As we go out into the universe
and map the past: back, back
into the world of astrophysics,
archeological and geological
eras, cycles, periods, epochs,
finding carboniferous and jurassic
anomolies and Aboriginal rock art
by brilliant artists portraying dynamic
musculature and new interpretations
unveiled by a ferro-luminescence....

As tremendous forces latent in the
inmost reality of this precious Faith
exert daily a fresh influence on my
days like unto a gentle Antipodean
breeze with all heat and cold gone
with only a clean cool freshness
remaining.....I can but recount
Thy tokens telling of Thy handiwork....

Ron Price
20 September 1997
that's all folks!