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COLLECTIONSPublished articles, Biographies
TITLEThe Australian-New Zealand Bahá'í Connections
AUTHOR 1David Brown Carr
TITLE_PARENT75 Years of the Bahá'í Faith in Australasia
PUB_THISAssociation for Bahá'í Studies Australia
ABSTRACTHistory and relationship of the early Australian and New Zealand Bahá'í communities, the magazine Herald of the South, and some brief biographies.
NOTES This document is no longer available at its original host; mirrored from
TAGSAustralia; Bahá'í history by country; Herald of the South (magazine); New Zealand
CONTENT The Australian and New Zealand Bahá'í communities have enjoyed a special close relationship over the last 75 years. The purpose of this paper is to explore that relationship, not in any great depth, but to illustrate the great debt that the New Zealand Bahá'í community owes to its cousins across the Tasman.


Let us begin by looking briefly at the history of relations between the two countries. Australia's links with New Zealand have been long and varied. Traders, missionaries and escaped convicts from New South Wales settled New Zealand's shores in the early 1800s. For a short time, in 1839-40, New Zealand was even officially part of New South Wales. "Trans-Tasman commuters crisscrossed in search of gold and work in the mid-nineteenth century.... By the 1880s, New Zealand was regarded as one of the Australasian colonies, like New South Wales and Victoria an outpost of British manners in a Pacific sea."[1]

There was serious talk of federation in the 1890s, and New Zealand delegates took part in the conventions which prepared for federation. It was generally thought that a significant section of the New Zealand population wished to become part of Australia. However, in 1901, the New Zealand Commission, instructed to investigate the desirability of entry into the Australian Commonwealth, advised that New Zealand "should not sacrifice its independence".[2] A leading opposition MP argued that there were 1,200 reasons why New Zealand should not join the Federation - every one an intervening mile of the Tasman Sea.[3] Few people reminded him that the sea voyage from Perth to Sydney was in excess of 1,200 miles.

From 1901 New Zealanders have taken for granted their political independence. For nearly a century, to quote one observer, New Zealand and Australia have moved on "mainly parallel, though separately determined courses. Similarities exceed differences: both nations are English-speaking, affluent when compared with their Asian and Polynesian neighbours, and are Westernised enclaves set in an Asian, Polynesian and Melanesian ocean."[4]

However, dissimilarities have also developed. After World War Two, Australia opened its doors to large-scale immigration from central and southern Europe, and later Vietnam, thus becoming more cosmopolitan. "New Zealand has been more restrictive in its immigration policy, preferring the British, tolerating the Irish, and insisting that the work-ethic-dominated Dutch were worthier of entrance than were the Italians and Slavs.... A special relationship with the Cook Islands, with the former Western Samoa mandate, and with other Pacific Islands, has allowed a considerable influx of Polynesian migrants."[5]

For most of this century, until quite recently, the close contacts which existed for much of the last century between the two countries have been loose and infrequent. "What remained was a feeling of comradeship and friendly rivalry in which the Australians regarded the 'Kiwis' as genteel country cousins while the latter professed to see the 'Aussies' as coarse fellows whose ancestry, in the interests of courtesy, should be ignored."[6]


Surprisingly, the first Bahá'í in the South Pacific was neither a pioneer nor an Australian but a New Zealander. Her name was Margaret Stevenson, and she became a Bahá'í during the lifetime of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, about 1912.

Margaret's sister Lillias had attended 'Abdu'l-Bahá's address to the congregation at St John's, Westminster, London in 1911. When another discourse He had given, at City Temple, London, was printed in "The Christian Commonwealth" (March 27, 1911), Lillias sent a copy to Margaret. When a friend of Margaret's sister named Dorothea Spinney visited Auckland in 1912, she stayed with Margaret and Lillias and talked to them about the Bahá'í cause and her meeting 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

To quote Margaret Stevenson's own words:

"As a child, I used to wish I had lived when Christ was on earth. As Miss Spinney spoke, I remembered my childhood's wish, and the thought came to me that I too might have denied Him as so many others had done. It was this secret thought that made me seriously think of what I heard from Miss Spinney, and through God's grace and mercy I was enabled to grasp and believe in Bahá'u'lláh and His message. Naturally, I told others about it, but though they appeared to be interested, nothing more came of it. Mrs Blundell, who also had read 'The Christian Commonwealth', was the most interested, and we had many talks. Miss Spinney had given me some Bahá'í books, and I sent to America for more and also subscribed to the Star of the West Bahá'í magazine."[7]

No doubt you will be all too aware that the English-born couple, John Henry Hyde Dunn and his wife Clara arrived as pioneers in Australia from the United States in April 1920, in response to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan.[8] During John Hyde-Dunn's holidays at the end of December 1922 and early January 1923, they visited New Zealand. Meetings were held in the home of Mrs Sarah Blundell in Remuera, Auckland, and it was there that Margaret Stevenson met the Dunns, who were most surprised to meet another Bahá'í. Margaret wrote:

"On being introduced, I noticed the Bahá'í ring on his finger. I was also wearing one, and turned my hand to him. When he saw my ring his pleasure and astonishment will always be something to remember, for when Mr and Mrs Dunn arrived in Auckland they did not know there was a believer in New Zealand."[9]

It was at Margaret Stevenson's home that what Mrs Dunn called "the first Bahá'í Feast" took place in January 1923, at which a flashlight photograph was taken which later appeared in the Bahá'í World.

After Mr Dunn returned to Australia, Clara Dunn stayed in New Zealand and formed a study group. Margaret Stevenson's home was a venue for these classes for some 10 years.[10] According to one source, it was through the efforts of Mr and Mrs Dunn that the Cause in Auckland grew.[11]

A steadfast worker for the Cause, Margaret Stevenson was a member of the first National Spiritual Assembly elected in 1934, and served the Cause with devotion until her passing in February 1941, the same year coincidentally that Hyde Dunn passed away.


SARAH BLUNDELL (1850-1934)

Among the first New Zealand Bahá'ís was Mrs Sarah Blundell, who had received her early religious training from her 'non-conformist' father. Sarah had the rare distinction of being one of the first women to enter the Cambridge University Examinations in an age prejudiced against the education of women.[12]

Sarah Blundell had come to New Zealand with her husband and 7 children in 1886. A non-conformist free thinker and member of the Higher Thought Temple, she learnt of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to London in 1911 also from the "Christian Commonwealth". As a consequence, she also sent overseas for additional literature, and had many talks with Margaret Stevenson about the Bahá'í Faith. She accepted Bahá'u'lláh shortly after meeting the Dunns in 1922-23, as did her daughter Ethel. It also was around this time (1923) that Sarah's husband died.

EMILY AXFORD (1870-1949)

Also at about this same time (1923), a friend of Sarah Blundell's, Mrs Emily Axford, a widowed mother of 3 children, accepted Bahá'u'lláh.[13] She had rejected conventional Christianity, and become attracted by the New England Transcendental Movement before becoming a Bahá'í. For many years, Emily conducted public speaking classes, to help the friends overcome their shyness so that they might teach the Faith more effectively.


In late 1923 and early 1924, Martha Root gave lectures in Australia and New Zealand. Effie Baker [1880-1968], the first Australian woman to become a Bahá'í, after meeting the Dunns, attended a frail Martha on her lecture tour to New Zealand in September 1924.[14] During her hectic 12-day visit to Auckland, Martha managed to find the time to tell Sarah Blundell that Shoghi Effendi and the women of the household were eager to welcome the New Zealand friends. Sarah's daughter Ethel responded by arranging to make a journey to the Holy Land to visit the Holy Family and the Shrines.

Learning of their planned visit to the Holy Land, at Martha's suggestion Effie joined the group of pilgrims, having first sold her house in Australia. The party left from Melbourne for the Holy Land on 10 February 1925, and arrived there on March 13.[15]

The first Australasian pilgrim group consisted of New Zealanders Margaret Stevenson, Sarah Blundell (who would have been around 75 years old!), her daughter Ethel and her son Hugh (although he had not yet accepted the Faith) and Australian Effie Baker.[16] Margaret and the other pilgrims spent 19 days in Haifa, where they met with the Guardian, the Greatest Holy Leaf and other Bahá'ís at the world centre, including Corinne True. Then, at the Guardian's suggestion, they all travelled on to England, where they spent 3 months meeting the English Bahá'í community.

The New Zealand pilgrims arrived back in Auckland in December 1925, bringing with them some dust from the Tomb of Bahá'u'lláh which was placed in New Zealand soil at the Stevenson's home.[17] Effie Baker, however, after going with the Kiwis to London, returned to the Holy Land at the invitation of the ladies of the household of the Holy Family and ended up staying for the next 11 years. During that time, she even undertook arduous journeys through Syria and Iraq to photograph places in Persia associated with the early history of the Faith.[18] If you read the Dawn Breakers (ie. the full illustrated version), on a page just before the Preface, you will find Shoghi Effendi's grateful acknowledgment of Effie Baker's photographs. Thus Australia has a significant - but often unappreciated - link with that momentous book.


The first Local Spiritual Assembly in Australia, that of Melbourne, had been found in 1923.[19] In New Zealand, it seems that the believers were erroneously calling themselves an Assembly as early as 1924. This was corrected with the receipt of a booklet on the subject, and the first properly constituted Assembly was formed on 21 April 1926, with Margaret Stevenson as its Secretary and Emily Axford as Chairman.[20]

The first Spiritual Assembly of Adelaide was formed in 1930, followed by that of Sydney in 1932.


Another significant event occurred in 1925. The first issue of a Bahá'í magazine was printed in New Zealand by Bertram Dewing. It was given the name Herald of the South by Shoghi Effendi who was delighted to hear of the proposal. Bertram and his mother, Amy, were among New Zealand's earliest Bahá'ís, having also accepted Bahá'u'lláh after meeting the Dunns in Auckland. It was Bertram's idea to have a Bahá'í magazine. He passed the idea on to the Dunns, who welcomed it with delight, as the same wish had been near to Mother Dunn's heart.[21]

After a trial issue in manuscript form was produced in September 1925, the first proper issue appeared in April 1926. Each issue was compiled by Bertram Dewing as editor, and a committee of five revised the articles. It was initially sent to the Sydney Local Spiritual Assembly for approval, as it was thought this step would enlist the interest and cooperation of the Australian Bahá'ís.[22]

The newly formed Auckland Assembly reorganised the system and discontinued the committee. Unfortunately, they had to discontinue sending the manuscript to Australia owing to distance and consequent delays.[23]

Bertram edited the Herald for 4 years in Auckland. When he left for Canada in 1930, the newly formed Local Spiritual Assembly of Adelaide took over the responsibility for publishing it for a time (in 1930), before the task passed to an annually appointed editorial board.[24]

As Mrs Axford put it at the 1934 National Convention, talking about the Herald, "there had been great difficulties to overcome, and much work in connection with it devolved upon a few people."[25] Sound familiar? The Guardian (in 1936) acknowledged these difficulties, "financial and otherwise", but urged the friends to continue with the magazine.[26]

Needless to say, the friends did persist, and the Herald continued to be published regularly until its so-called 'final' issue in 1960. More about the Herald later.


According to 'Some Bahá'ís to Remember', in 1932 Mother Dunn had brought back the news from her pilgrimage that the Guardian was anxious for the believers to form a National Spiritual Assembly of Australia and New Zealand as soon as possible. "On receiving this information, the Sydney Assembly began to correspond with the other Spiritual Assemblies of Australia and New Zealand for the purpose of fulfilling the Guardian's request. As a result, these Assemblies made a joint resolution to spare no pains in their efforts to hold a National Convention during May 1934."[27]

The National Convention was held in Sydney at the Bahá'í Room, 114 Hunter Street, from May 15 to 18. The Convention report notes that "the New Zealand delegates were the first to arrive, and a special meeting of welcome was arranged at which a happy time was spent in contacting the Sydney friends."[28] Of the 9 delegates, 3 were from New Zealand: Emily Axford, Margaret Stevenson and Ethel Blundell (from Auckland). There were also 3 delegates each from Adelaide and Sydney.[29] The Melbourne Assembly appears to have lapsed.

At the Convention, Mrs Dunn spoke of the formation of a national body for this continent as "a necessary link in the formation of an International House of Justice. She looked upon it as a privilege and a responsibility laid upon Bahá'ís as instruments to assist the Guardian in his work of establishing the institutions necessary for the formation of the New World Order".[30]

The National Spiritual Assembly was elected on Wednesday, May 16. Two of its members were from New Zealand: Ethel Blundell and Margaret Stevenson. In addition to the first New Zealand believer, Margaret Stevenson, the National Assembly also included the first Australian believer, Mr Whittaker.

The following telegram was received from Shoghi Effendi and read to the Convention on Thursday, May 17: "Inexpressibly gladdened celebration first historic Convention. Assure delegates abounding gratitude, fervent prayers, deepest love - Shoghi."[31]

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand was the eighth oldest National Spiritual Assembly in the Bahá'í world.[32]

The Guardian continued to encourage and support the newly formed National Spiritual Assembly. For example, in a letter dated April 24, 1935, his secretary noted Shoghi Effendi's "deep satisfaction" at the "steady progress" it was making: "Your Assembly has, indeed, truly vindicated its ability and power to function as a well-organised and united body, and this in the face of manifold difficulties which the all-conquering spirit of the Faith could alone overcome."[33]

The Guardian (in 1936) also urged the National Spiritual Assembly to take the necessary steps for its incorporation, a step he felt would give it "more stability and an added influence, especially in the eyes of the general public." This step occurred in January 1938.[34]

The second National Convention did not take place until 1937, while in the two intervening years, delegates were elected and voted by postal ballot.[35]

The 1937 National Convention was held again in Sydney, at the Bahá'í Centre. This time, 4 Local Spiritual Assemblies had delegates: Auckland (2), Adelaide (3), Sydney (2), and Perth (2), and three Kiwis were elected to the National Assembly: Emily Axford, Ethel Blundell and Margaret Stevenson. The same three New Zealand members of the National Spiritual Assembly were all re-elected in 1938.[36]

In 1939, plans to hold the National Convention in Melbourne - with the view of "encouraging and guiding the friends to re-organise their activities, and also in order to stimulate the progress of the teaching work in that centre"[37] - were rescinded so that all activities could centre on Martha Root's return visit to Australia and New Zealand. The same three members from New Zealand were re-elected by postal ballot to the National Spiritual Assembly.

Martha arrived in Perth in January 1939, in constant pain due to her seriously deteriorating health, but managed a full itinerary throughout Australia. The hospitality of the Australian Bahá'ís for Martha was matched by her welcome in New Zealand, which was her last teaching effort. There is a photograph of her with the Bahá'ís of Auckland, one of the last pictures taken of her. Martha was joined on the Mariposa (which sailed from Auckland at the end of May 1939) by Drs Stanley and Mariette Bolton, who were both chiropractors. But, according to Garis, their daily ministrations could no longer allay her pain,[38] and Martha died later that year in Honolulu (September 1939).

In February 1939, in connection with Martha Root's arrival, the Guardian wrote:

"The community of the believers in Australia and New Zealand is making remarkable progress in every phase of its activities, and deserves the highest praise in its magnificent and incessant labours. I am proud of the quality of its faith and the range of its achievements."[39]


In 1940, with war having begun in Europe, it was decided not to hold a National Convention. The new National Spiritual Assembly, elected by postal ballot, included two Kiwis: Emily Axford and Ethel Blundell.

The Guardian's secretary noted, in a letter written in November 1940, "the sorrow and distress created by the war" and "the heavy sacrifices it is increasingly imposing upon the community of the faithful throughout Australia and New Zealand."[40]

On the positive side, as a response to the war, the National Spiritual Assembly in 1940 prepared a statement on the "Bahá'í Attitude to War", which the Guardian through his secretary described as a "clear and comprehensive attitude of the believers in this vital issue of the hour."[41] The Guardian's letter indicates the statement was cordially regarded by the Australian Prime Minister, the premier of Victoria and other ministers who received it.

Shoghi Effendi believed the National Assembly's establishment of direct contact with the authorities was "a step of vital significance to the Cause in Australia and New Zealand, and is bound to pave the way for its ultimate recognition as an independent religious Faith, entitled to the same rights and privileges which other religious bodies and institutions enjoy in that land."[42]

In 1941, the same two members from New Zealand were re-elected by postal ballot to the National Spiritual Assembly. However, a tie vote for the ninth member resulted on a re-vote in the election of Hugh Blundell, also from New Zealand.[43]

HUGH BLUNDELL (1884-1976)

Hugh had been a pacifist during World War I, and according to several people I spoke to, he had been imprisoned for his beliefs.[44] Being a self-effacing person, however, this information was not something that Hugh widely disseminated.

As mentioned earlier, though not yet a Bahá'í, Hugh had gone on the first pilgrimage group to Haifa in 1925, and had been deeply impressed by meeting Shoghi Effendi. In July 1926, Hugh declared his belief in Bahá'u'lláh.[45] He became a member of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Auckland and served on it for many years, often as treasurer. For a number of years, he also served on the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia and New Zealand. In October 1957, he was appointed as New Zealand's first Auxiliary Board Member. As one of the few New Zealand believers to have met Shoghi Effendi, he was able to be a tower of strength to the saddened community after the Guardian's passing.

Although a diffident public speaker, yet in his quiet, polite, gentlemanly way, 'Uncle Hugh' gave of his time, effort and self generously. He travelled round the country regularly in his little black Austin, almost as ancient as himself, visiting and encouraging the friends. In 1958, he accompanied Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga on his visit to the Maori queen at Ngaruawahia.[46]

But to return to 1941. Despite the way, the teaching work continued. Moreover, meetings of the National Spiritual Assembly were still able to be held. Sessions were held in Sydney from December 27, 1941 to January 3, 1942. The three New Zealand members succeeded in obtaining special permits from the Minister of Internal Affairs to enable them to leave New Zealand. They were obliged to stay in Sydney more than 3 weeks before the meetings commenced, as no ship was available at a later date. The Sydney Local Spiritual Assembly kindly placed their Centre at the National Spiritual Assembly's disposal for the whole period.[47]

The Guardian was delighted to hear the news that the New Zealand members were able to make the trip to Australia, and that such a highly satisfactory meeting could be held "in such a spirit of love and harmony".[48] At the conclusion of the meeting, the Kiwis left for Melbourne to conduct a teaching campaign.[49]

Later in the war, however, it was more difficult for National Conventions and National Assembly meetings to be held. In 1943, the New Zealand members of the Assembly made efforts to reach Australia as late as July, without success. Although travel permits were granted, there were no ships available. After much negotiation, it was finally possible for Sydney members of the Assembly to travel by air to meet in Adelaide in July 1943.[50]

According to the annual report for 1943-44: "Consultations were of necessity conducted by correspondence, telephone and telegram, but the difficulty of dealing in this way with the many matters which are referred to the Assembly is considerable...."[51

Although a decade had passed since the establishment of the National Spiritual Assembly, the 1944 National Convention was only the third such occasion. It was held at the new recently purchased Hazíratu'l-Quds in Sydney, from May 19-24, purchased incidentally with generous help from the Guardian and other National Spiritual Assemblies.[52] There were 9 delegates, representing three Local Spiritual Assemblies: Adelaide, Sydney and Auckland. Mother Dunn officially dedicated the building and spoke of her meeting with 'Abdu'l-Bahá and her coming to Australia. Two members of the new Assembly were from New Zealand: Hugh Blundell, and Mrs Dulcie Dive, who was also elected as secretary.[53]

At the Sydney celebrations to commemorate the Centenary of the Declaration of the Báb, both New Zealand National Assembly members were among the speakers. After Convention, Hugh Blundell and Dulcie Dive went travel teaching to Broken Hill, NSW, for 10 days.[54]

In 1945, the election of the National Spiritual Assembly was conducted by correspondence. Although Dulcie Dive was re-elected, no New Zealand residents were chosen, as Dulcie had transferred to Sydney to live.


Following the end of the war, national committees were evolved rapidly, with New Zealanders being appointed in 1944 to such committees as the Regional Teaching Committee for New Zealand and the National Youth Committee. In 1946, Shoghi Effendi instructed the National Assembly to appoint 7 regional teaching committees, one of which was for New Zealand. Roie Deem, Emily Axford and Hugh Blundell were appointed. This was to become the planning body for teaching throughout New Zealand until 1957, as the Auckland Spiritual Assembly only had local jurisdiction.

In 1946, the National Convention was held in Sydney between May 11 and 19. Every effort was made to ensure the Convention would be a means of further uniting the believers of Australia and New Zealand and coordinating their activities, according to the Bahá'í Quarterly.[55] However, the two Auckland delegates were unable to attend as there were not available bookings: it seems so many people were enjoying being able to travel, now that the war was over.

This, plus the fact that no New Zealander was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly - other than Dulcie Dive, still the Assembly's secretary and still resident in Sydney - heightened the New Zealand Bahá'ís' sense of isolation.[56]

However, in 1949, the dynamic Alvin Blum, an American then living in New Zealand, was elected to the National Assembly, and this helped relieve the feeling of isolation.[57] Alvin was re-elected to the National Spiritual Assembly in subsequent years, but in 1954, with the Blums departing as pioneers for the Solomon Islands, no-one from New Zealand was elected to the National Assembly. The same thing happened in 1955 and 1956.


The National Spiritual Assembly, during Ridván 1947, initiated a 6 Year Plan for expanding the Faith throughout the two countries.[58]

During the 6 Year Plan (1947-53), there was concentrated teaching activity in New Zealand, aided by increasing numbers of travelling teachers from Australia and elsewhere. The teachers included Stanley Bolton Jnr and his mother Mariette Bolton in 1948. Stanley spoke several times in Auckland at the Bahá'í Centre. Mariette returned for her third visit in 1950. In that same year, Bertha Dobbins visited Auckland.

The teaching traffic wasn't completely one way across the Tasman. New Zealand Bahá'í Margaret Harnish made a teaching trip to Adelaide in 1949.

Up until this time, there had been only one Local Spiritual Assembly in New Zealand (Auckland City). However, at Ridván 1950, New Zealand's second Local Spiritual Assembly was formed, at Devonport, on Auckland's North Shore.[59]

The New Zealand Pioneer Newsheet was first published in 1951, and played a vital role in developing a close-knit community. It supplemented the often scanty New Zealand news found in the Bulletin, which contained mainly Australian news.[60]

The National Spiritual Assembly's Six Year Plan goals were fulfilled in April 1953, and indeed exceeded.[61]

The early years of the 10 Year Crusade (1953-63) witnessed a great increase in the number of travel teachers who visited New Zealand from Australia. They included Gladys Parke and Greta Lamprill, Margaret Rowling, and Thelma Perks. However, the contribution made by the Bolton family was particularly outstanding.

In late 1955, Stanley Bolton Snr responded to an invitation from the New Zealand Regional Teaching Committee and embarked on an extensive travel teaching tour (October-November). He travelled practically every day and either public lectures or Bahá'í meetings were organised each night. At his public meetings, he showed coloured slides with a taped commentary on the Shrine of the Báb, after which he gave a 45 minute talk. Whilst in the North Island, he travelled by car accompanied by Hugh Blundell, from Whangarei to Wellington via Rotorua and New Plymouth. Two radio broadcasts were made, one of 8 minutes in Auckland and one of 14 minutes in New Plymouth. In the South Island, he went to Christchurch, then headed south to Timaru, Oamaru and Dunedin, meeting a total of 10 seekers.[62]

His wife, Mariette Bolton, who had originally come with Martha Root in 1939, then again in 1948, 1950 and March 1955, returned to New Zealand for a one month visit (March to April 1956). Her itinerary included Auckland, Whangarei, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Wellington in the North Island; and Christchurch, Timaru, Oamaru and Dunedin in the South Island. Her visit consisted mostly of firesides with 7 public meetings.

Their son, Stanley Bolton Jnr, who had first visited New Zealand with his mother in 1948, returned for a month in March-April 1957. He gave 30 public lectures and talks to a total of 1,500 to 1,800 non-Bahá'ís, and up to 4 talks in one day, in both islands. The organisations he spoke to included the Jaycees, Rotary, United Nations Association, and Women's Institutes. On one occasion, he drew an audience of 500. He also met the mayors of New Plymouth and Auckland. He also attended the National Convention and spoke at a public meeting with Collis Featherstone.[63]


At the beginning of the 10 Year Crusade in 1953, there were 71 localities in Australia and New Zealand where Bahá'ís resided, including 18 in New Zealand. Of these, 16 had Local Spiritual Assemblies, 14 in Australia and only two in New Zealand.[64]

In March 1951, the Guardian had written to the National Spiritual Assembly that he "does not consider that it is advisable for New Zealand to be separated in the near future from Australia, and come under the jurisdiction of an independent National Assembly. He considers that the present arrangement is the best one until such time as there are more assemblies flourishing in New Zealand, and he would consider the basis for a National Assembly strong enough to support such an institution...."[65]

However, in the Guardian's 1955 Ridván Message, he announced that the "marvellous progress" in the teaching work impelled him to announce the formation at Ridván 1957 of 13 new National Spiritual Assemblies, 4 in Asia, 3 in Europe, 5 in the Americas, "And lastly, one will be in the Antipodes, in the Dominion of New Zealand."[66]

In October 1954, a Hazíratu'l-Quds had been purchased in Auckland, as a future headquarters of the New Zealand National Spiritual Assembly.[67] The Guardian wrote that its purchase was "another accomplishment that merits the highest praise."[68]

As a culmination of all the teaching activity referred to earlier, at Ridván 1956, two additional Local Spiritual Assemblies were formed in New Zealand - Wellington and New Plymouth - raising the number to four. Together with the already established Assemblies of Auckland City and Devonport, they were all eligible to participate in the election of the first National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand at Ridván 1957.

The first National Convention of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand took place in Auckland between April 25 and 28, 1957, at the Hazíratu'l-Quds in Parnell Road. Hand of the Cause Clara Dunn, now in her late 80's, acted as the Guardian's representative at the Convention: this was her third visit to New Zealand. I remember being there, as a young boy. As I recall, she anointed all those present at Convention, including myself, with rose water from the Holy Land. Collis Featherstone, not yet a Hand of the Cause, represented the Australian National Spiritual Assembly. Stanley Bolton Jnr and Thelma Perks (Auxiliary Board Member) also attended. 51 believers were present, including 10 from Australia.[69]

The Guardian's comments (in a letter dated June 27, 1957) on the positive aspects of the formation of the New Zealand National Spiritual Assembly make interesting reading. It is clear he was well aware of the previous difficulties of two communities acting as one:

"They have an advantage not shared by many of their fellow National Assemblies, of exclusively administering the affairs of the Faith in a small area, which means that they can function much more efficiently. When one remembers the many years that the New Zealand and Australian believers toiled to carry on the work in those two countries, with the sea in between, and inadequate funds to provide transportation, which necessitated so much of the National Assembly's work being carried on by correspondence, one can appreciate the advantages you now enjoy."

"The formation of a new National Body in any case is an organic thing, and a new and lively flow of life will go out into all members of the Community from this Assembly."[70]

Incidentally, my father, John Carr, was a member of this first National Spiritual Assembly.

And in a letter written on his behalf in July 1957 to the Australian National Spiritual Assembly, Shoghi Effendi declared:

"The successful culmination of the long standing partnership of the Australian and New Zealand believers thru [sic] the emergence of the New Zealand N.S.A. is a source of great satisfaction to the Guardian, and no doubt to all the members of both communities.... Both your Assembly and that of New Zealand have now emerged into your permanent form as pillars of the future International House of Justice. The bones of the skeleton of the World Order are growing strong, but only the teaching work can clothe them with flesh...."[71]


The Guardian gave the fledgling New Zealand Bahá'í community specific goals to achieve in the remainder of the 10 Year Crusade.[72] In his message to the delegates gathered to elect the first New Zealand National Spiritual Assembly, the Guardian declared:

"I call upon the members of the Australian National Spiritual Assembly, as well as members of the Australian Bahá'í Community, to continue to lend their valued support to this newly pledged sister Community, and to enable it, through the extension of material assistance as well as the dispatch of visiting teachers and pioneers, to contribute, in an ever increasing measure, to the furtherance of the magnificent and colossal campaign now being so vigorously conducted in the North, in the South, and in the heart of the Pacific Ocean."[73]

In the following years, a number of Australians arose to help promote the teaching work in New Zealand. Mariette Bolton returned to New Zealand in 1959, to assist the struggling Wellington Bahá'ís to re-form their lapsed Assembly. She received assistance from the New Zealand community with air fares, but found her own accommodation. In early 1962, Thelma Perks stayed in New Zealand for 5 weeks.[74]

Australians continued to assist the teaching work during the Nine Year Plan (1964-73). The names are again too many for me to recount in full.[75]


Despite increasing ease of travel and communication between Australia and New Zealand which has taken place in the last 30 years, contemporary ties between the two Bahá'í communities can be described as limited. Attendance of Kiwi Bahá'ís at national Australian gatherings such as summer schools and Bahá'í Studies Conferences is usually minimal, and vice versa.

Despite this general lack of closeness between the two Bahá'í communities, there have been a number of areas of recent collaboration. For example, it is now the joint responsibility of the two National Spiritual Assemblies to rectify the precarious position of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Cook Islands. Both Assemblies have collaborated to identify retired persons and others of independent means who may be able to pioneer to the Cook Islands.

The establishment of a functioning Bahá'í school in Kiribati was first mooted in 1987 as a joint enterprise involving the National Spiritual Assemblies of Australia, New Zealand and Kiribati. In the last 8 years, representatives of the 3 National Spiritual Assemblies and the Continental Board of Counsellors have met several times to consult on the proposal, its objectives and siting of the school. The Ootan Marawa (Light of the Ocean) School opened on April 2, 1995.[76]

The National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand is promoting opportunities for youth to serve at the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar at Mona Vale in Sydney. It accepts some financial responsibility for its maintenance. Records show donations have been sent since 1968.[77]

An historic joint meeting of the National Spiritual Assemblies of Australia and New Zealand took place in August 1994. All of the National Spiritual Assembly members from Australia travelled to Auckland for the consultation. Also present were Counsellors Violette Haake, Tinai Hancock and Gayle Morrison. Among the topics for consultation were:

  • The Kiribati Bahá'í school
  • The Cook Islands
  • The proposed international teaching conference, to be held in Auckland in January 1996
  • Exchanges of youth and indigenous believers
  • The "Herald of the South", and
  • Joint audio-visual projects.

Much valuable sharing reportedly occurred.[78]

Although New Zealand has had its own Association of Bahá'í Studies since 1987, and three successful conferences have been held, collaboration with the Australian Association has become a possibility, and one which I would like to see develop. For example, one proposal being considered is for an Australasian Association for Bahá'í Studies with a New Zealand chapter.

An important area of continuing collaboration over the years has been in the publication of Herald of the South. As I mentioned earlier, the Herald was published without interruption - although with financial and other difficulties - from 1926 until July 1960, when the 'final issue' appeared. However, publication resumed in 1964, this time based in Sydney. The magazine lapsed again in December 1970, only to resume briefly from April 1974 to January 1976.

After an 8 year interval, publication began again in October 1984, on a quarterly basis as previously. At first, the Herald was printed in Hamilton, New Zealand, and since 1989 in Australia. One of the goals of the current Three Year Plan is the continuing production of this high quality journal as a foremost teaching and proclamation tool. The New Zealand National Spiritual Assembly's budget makes provision for an annual subsidy towards the cost of publication.[79]


What can we say in conclusion from a New Zealand perspective about the first 75 years of the Faith in Australia? First, that the connection between the two communities goes back a long way, almost to the very start of the Faith in Australia.

Despite the early difficulties of communication, made worse by wartime restrictions, the two communities found themselves tied together formally for more than 20 years, under one National Assembly. These were not easy years, but there seems to have been considerable unity and friendship among the National Assembly members. Throughout this difficult period, the Guardian always provided loving encouragement and support, both spiritual and practical.

Most importantly, the New Zealand community owes a large debt of gratitude to the effort which numerous Australian believers put into encouraging the growth of the Faith across the Tasman, through their travel teaching efforts in the late 1940s and the 1950s and 1960s. These efforts bore real fruit. To quote the Guardian, writing in July 1957:

"Dear and valued co-workers: ... Particularly commendable, and indeed exemplary, has been the share of the Australian believers in enabling the New Zealand Bahá'í Community to make such rapid strides, in recent years, strides that have prepared it for the assumption of its sacred and vital function as an independent community, and which culminated in the formation of a body qualified to take its place, and assume the weighty responsibilities incumbent upon it, as a distinct and separate member of the world-wide family of Bahá'í national and regional Spiritual Assemblies."[80]

Today, hopefully, we stand on the edge of an era of renewed closer ties of friendship between the two communities. What can we do to make that happen?


I am very grateful to Joan Camrass, the New Zealand National Spiritual Assembly's Archives Officer, for the provision of much of the background material used in this paper; to Marjorie Cook, for her recollections about Hugh Blundell; to my mother, Celia Carr, for her recollections about the 1950's in New Zealand; and to my wife Sandra, for her comments on this paper.


David Brown Carr is a second generation Bahá'í who emigrated to New Zealand with his parents in 1953. David has a Masters degree in Political Studies and History from Auckland University.


[1] Laurie Barber, New Zealand: A Short History, Century Hutchinson 1989, p.217

[2] Barber, op cit, p.218

[3] ibid

[4] Barber, op cit, p.219

[5] Barber, op cit, p.220

[6] Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand, Pelican 1988, p.232

[7] A Compendium of Volumes of the Bahá'í World I-XII (1925-1954), George Ronald 1981, p.559

[8] O.Z. Whitehead, Some Bahá'ís to Remember, George Ronald 1983, p.158

[9] Bahá'í World Compendium, op cit, p.559]

[10] Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand, Bahá'í Publishing Trust Suva 1982, p.93

[11] Emily Axford, Bahá'í World Compendium, op cit, p.560.

[12] Arohanui, op cit, p.95

[13] Arohanui, op cit, pp.98-99

[14] The Bahá'í World 1963-1968, The Universal House of Justice 1974, p.320 (Effie Baker's In Memoriam article)

[15] ibid

[16] ibid; Arohanui, op cit, p.x

[17] Arohanui, op cit, p.93

[18] Arohanui, pp.96-96

[19] Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand 1923-1957, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia 1971, p.vii.

[20] Arohanui, op cit, pp.93-94, p.99

[21] From information supplied by the National Archives officer, Joan Camrass; Arohanui, op cit, p.97

[22] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[23] ibid

[24] Whitehead, op cit, p.163

[25] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[26] Letters, op cit, p.16

[27] Whitehead, op cit, p.165

[28] Report of the First Convention of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand held in Sydney, May 1934 (supplied by Joan Camrass)

[29] ibid

[30] ibid

[31] ibid

[32] The Bahá'í World 1954-1963, The Universal House of Justice 1970, p.305. Previous National Spiritual Assemblies to form were: the British Isles (1923), Germany and Austria (1923), India and Burma (1923), the United States and Canada (1925), Egypt and Sudan (1924), and Iraq (1931). The National Spiritual Assembly of Persia also formed in 1934. (Eunice Braun, From Strength to Strength, Bahá'í Publishing Trust India 1978, p.7).

[33] Letters, op cit, pp.7-8

[34] Bahá'í World Compendium, op cit, p.160

[35] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[36] Ibid

[37] Shoghi Effendi, Letters, op cit, p.27

[38] M R Garis, Lioness at the Threshold, Bahá'í Publishing Trust USA 1983, pp.478-479

[39] Letters, op cit, p.31

[40] Letters, op cit, p.35

[41] Letters, op cit, p.36

[42] Ibid

[43] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[44] Marjorie Cook and Celia Carr

[45] The Bahá'í World 1976-1979, The Universal House of Justice 1981, p.421 (Hugh Blundell's In Memoriam article)

[46] These comments about Hugh include my own personal recollections.

[47] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[48] Letters, op cit, p.45

[49] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[50] Ibid

[51] Ibid

[52] Bahá'í World Compendium, op cit, pp.186-187

[53] Ibid; Bahá'í World Compendium, op cit, p.187

[54] From information supplied by Joan Camrass: There is an extensive report on their teaching activities in Broken Hill.

[55] From information supplied by Joan Camrass.

[56] From Margaret Ross's thesis, cited by Joan Camrass.

[57] Ibid

[58] Whitehead, op cit, p.169

[59] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[60] From Margaret Ross's thesis, as cited by Joan Camrass

[61] Bahá'í World Compendium, op cit, p.409

[62] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[63] Ibid

[64] The Bahá'í World 1954-1963, The Universal House of Justice 1970, p.305

[65] Letter of March 1 1951: Arohanui, op cit, pp.66-67

[66] Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá'í World 1950-1957, Bahá'í Publishing Trust U.S.A. 1971, p.82

[67] The Bahá'í World 1954-1963, op cit, p.395

[68] Letter of July 24 1955: Arohanui, op cit, p.68

[69] The Bahá'í World 1954-1963, op cit, p.306

[70] Arohanui, op cit, p.77

[71] Ibid

[72] Letter dated June 27, 1957: Arohanui, op cit, p.75. These include:

  • an increase in the number of Bahá'ís
  • the multiplication of isolated centres, groups and Local Spiritual Assemblies
  • the incorporation of the National Spiritual Assembly and of "firmly grounded" Local Spiritual Assemblies [the National Spiritual Assembly was incorporated in 1958]
  • the recognition of the Bahá'í marriage certificate by civil authorities and of Bahá'í holy Days by school principals
  • the rapid conversion of Maoris "and their close association with the white believers in the administration of the community's affairs"
  • the consolidation of the work "energetically initiated in the South Island"
  • the selection and purchase of a Temple site. [this was achieved in 1958]

[73] Letter dated April 4, 1957: Arohanui, op cit, pp.71-72

[74] From information supplied by Joan Camrass

[75] Ibid

[76] New Zealand Bahá'í News, July 1995, p.10

[77] Information provided by Joan Camrass

[78] Ibid

[79] Ibid

[80] Letter of July 19, 1957: Arohanui, op cit, p.77

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