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Baha'i Archives-Western Australia-Thoughts

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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 …

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.”

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  • 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
  • 2. 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
  • 3. 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.
  • 4. 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, prosepoetry 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---
  • 5. 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. -----------------------FOOTNOTES-----------------------------------------------(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. Ron Price
  • 6. 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. -----------------------FOOTNOTES-----------------------------------------------(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. Ron Price