Memorial and National Assembly in Australia
This article continues the account of the recent Far Eastern trip by the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel. The last installment concluded with their departure from New Zealand. This article catches up with them as they arrive in Australia.
MILTON HENSCHEL and I were relaxed, sitting in our seats on the second deck of the big Tasman Empire Airways Solent flying boat and talking over our scheduled arrival at Sydney. In just a few hours we would be there and then we would go to the branch office in Strathfield. We would eat something there, and then, I said, “Let’s go to bed early.” This was Friday afternoon, March 16, 1951. We were due to get up the next day at 5 a.m. and be on our way to Perth, the principal city on the western coast of Australia. We would reach there late Saturday night, there would be three sessions at the Perth assembly and then we would leave by plane at 11:15 p.m. Sunday and fly all night back to Sydney.
There it was! Sydney, Australia, and the big steel bridge and beautiful harbor. Splash! The big boat hit the water. A flying boat is not like a land plane. It slows down in a hurry. The bay was calm when the plane touched the blue waters. There was a sudden slowing down and then the sensation of sinking. But you sink only to the right depth.
At the landing what a crowd there was to greet us! We saw some people we knew and many faces we remembered from our previous visit. And there were many new faces too. There was Roy Moyle, the acting branch servant for Australia, accompanied by a new arrival from America, Ted Jaracz. It was 5:30 p.m. when we landed and after 7 p.m. by the time we motored out to Strathfield after clearing customs. The Bethel home looked nice and the garden around it was well kept. It was truly like coming home to enter the portals and see many members of the family who were there at the time of our previous visit. We were sorry we did not have much time with them, but we felt the need of rest.
At 7 a.m. on March 17 we were at Mascot airport and by 7:30 we were flying on a Trans-Australia Airlines Skymaster toward Melbourne. Brother Moyle was with us. An unscheduled stop was made at the capital, Canberra, but no additional passengers boarded the plane. Rumor had it that the prime minister was supposed to be en route to Melbourne. So on we went and when we reached Melbourne’s Essendon airport we spied a large crowd and a banner saying “Welcome, Brothers”. The passengers wondered what was going on; we knew. Well over a hundred of the publishers had come out to see us. A number of newspapermen were there and interviewed me, taking photos. It was an unusual event for Essendon airport for such a crowd to assemble when the passengers were not disembarking.
On to Adelaide we flew and there again we found a lot of brothers awaiting us. There were perhaps eighty at Parafield, and it was good to see them. They too were talking about the coming convention. They wished us a good visit to Perth, and then we took off once again. We flew along the south coast of Australia and then out over the desert. At dusk we flew over the famous Australian gold-mining center of Kalgoorlie and then landed at Perth at 8 p.m. We had flown almost 2,300 miles that day and we were travel-tired. We went to the home of the brothers where we were to sleep and had a visit with them and some refreshments. Then to bed.
PERTH, W. A.
“I’m glad I could come over and save you that long trip to Sydney,” I told 870 of Jehovah’s witnesses and their friends in the Town Hall, Perth, capital of Western Australia. Everyone seemed to appreciate that expression and I learned afterward why it brought forth a warm burst of applause—barely a hundred of the audience would have been able to get to the national assembly in Sydney.
Prior to our arrival the assembly had been going on for two days. Most of the daylight hours had been spent advertising the public address. Friday night’s service meeting had been bright and helpful, they said, and the points were driven home with good demonstrations. The ministry school had followed, taking in the first lesson in the analytical study of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. It had aroused the interest of all and whetted the appetite for the coming regular study of its features. Comments were made to me that the attendance at the theocratic school was sure to pick up. No one would want to miss any of this special study of the Greek Scriptures. Early Saturday morning there had been a baptism service. Sixty-one had been immersed.
Then, as the brothers put it, came the big day. Sunday was to be a day of sessions from nine in the morning till nine at night. Brother Moyle from the Strathfield Bethel started it off, followed up by Brother Henschel. Then I spoke on the subject of morals and conduct within God’s organization. Brother Rees, the circuit servant, said afterward: “This hard-hitting, unrelenting, yet kindly talk had the audience on the edge of the seats, intent on every word. One lady, attending her first meeting, said she had never heard that kind of talking before, and she was delighted. The hall really buzzed with discussion after that talk.”
Next was the public meeting at the Capitol Theatre. The thermometer was getting uncomfortably near 100 and the call of the beaches was very strong. How many would come to hear a Bible lecture? Three o’clock saw 1,291 present to hear the conversational address, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land.” At least half of that number was made up of the general public and people newly interested in the good news. When the hall cleared afterward I talked with the pioneers about Gilead and future prospects. Of the twenty-nine pioneers present, fourteen filled out preliminary applications for Gilead training and foreign missionary service. It is hoped all will prove worthy of being called.
Then back to the Perth Town Hall for tea and the evening meeting. It began with an experience session that had a unique setting, to say the least. The company servant at Pingelly, W. A., explained that in his company there were “New Australians”, as recent immigrants and displaced persons from Europe are called; also there were old Australians, or the aborigines, and ordinary Australians. He had representatives from each category on the platform and called on them in turn for their experiences. For half an hour the hall resounded with applause as now a native, only just learning to read and write, then a European who is struggling with the language, related their experiences. It was moving indeed to hear those new Australians tell that the first witnesses they saw after arriving in the country were the aborigines, the original Australians. Experiences like these certainly gladdened the hearts of the conventioners with new vigor and warmth.
Next Brother Henschel spoke on Jehovah’s judgments, drawing heavily on the Bible record for proof of his points. Then I spoke on matters concerning divine healing. Eyes opened wider and wider, heads nodded approvingly, pens raced along the lines of notebooks, as old ideas were replaced with Scriptural truths. They did enjoy the true-to-life illustrations!
At the airport at 11 o’clock that night a crowd gathered to say farewell. A last wave, and they were out of sight in the dark, but still in our memories. What a blessed gift God has given us—memory! We had not seen much of the city, but we saw the publishers of the Kingdom and those we wanted to think about.
We were due in Adelaide in about five and one-half hours. We landed at daybreak and found eight of the publishers at the airfield. They had risen two hours earlier. Some would not be able to go to Sydney and we were sorry about it with them. They would await reports of returning conventioners.
At 7 o’clock we were in a Convair liner heading toward Sydney, 847 miles away. When we reached the proximity of the Blue mountains the weather looked very bad. There were heavy black clouds ahead and the hostess said we might be unable to land at Mascot airport. It was raining hard at Sydney. While we awaited definite word on whether or not we would land at Mascot the clouds appeared to break apart and soon we could see the red roofs of the outskirts of Sydney. It was 10:40 when we landed on the wet runways, but wet or not it was good to see them, and soon we were at the Bethel home once more. It had been raining a great deal and we hoped the downpour would cease, because the convention was soon to open.
SYDNEY, N. S. W.
On March 22 the scene which greeted the spectator’s eye at the Moorefield Racecourse, Kogarah, Sydney, was indeed unusual. Yes, there were thousands of people present but not one horse! People were milling around the bookie stands but no one was betting, or even interested in horse racing, Australia’s national sport. For this was the occasion of the National Assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses, “Jehovah’s Praise Theocratic Assembly,” scheduled for March 22-25. And what a delightful setting it was! For days prior to the assembly the weather had been anything but kind, with downpours of rain which transformed the firm soil into soft, sticky mud. One day before the assembly was to begin the weather cleared, with beautiful blue, clear skies which lasted throughout the entire program. The nights were balmy and beautifully lighted by the full moon rising over the bay.
The Australian brothers were truly delighted with the many provisions made for their comfort and convenience during their stay. In all, 28 separate departments catered to the delegates, outstanding of which were the cafeteria and the caravan camp. The entire arrangement was similar to the International Assembly in New York and one was struck with the efficiency of the organization, as a peak crowd for Australian conventions was reached. From the grandstands the audience enjoyed a feast for the eyes. The platform was patterned along the lines of the New York platform, but much smaller. Large white letters spelled out the words “Jehovah’s Praise Assembly”. Flowers banked each side of the speaker’s platform. In the background the jade-green lawns of a golf course and the well-clipped race track provided a beautiful setting for the stage. In the far distance could be seen the blue waters of Botany bay, where Captain Cook first landed in Australia, and the white sands of the beach. The speakers themselves had a commanding view of the three grandstands and the tent. During the sessions hundreds would sit comfortably on the lawns around the main grandstand and listen. In all, everyone appreciated the open-air setting with plenty of room to move about, lovely shady trees, ample facilities and ideal weather.
When upward of four thousand people come together, one would expect to find a great variety among them, particularly when they come from places as far as three thousand miles apart. There were visitors from Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, the island of Tasmania, and some even made the voyage from New Zealand. In Australia, however, there is no accent change as one journeys from one state to another, so, apart from a few wide-brimmed hats and country drawls, it was not possible to detect a Western Australian from a northern Queenslander. Company servants, pioneers and circuit servants from all these states made interesting reports during the convention, showing how progress is being made in large cities and in country places.
Without a doubt the high light of the meetings was the Memorial celebration on Friday night. This was a ‘’first” in many ways. Never before in Australia had a Memorial celebration been conducted in the open air. The significance of the occasion was emphasized by the huge full moon shining out from behind scattered velvet clouds. The emblems of bread and wine were served separately. An audience of 4,206 sat quietly in the stands and on the grass in observation as the emblems were served and 263 partook, while I gave Scriptural explanation and admonition. It was so peaceful and serene. Truly it is an event permanently on the memories of the Australians who attended.
On Saturday morning the discourse on “Baptism” was given; and what a joy it was to behold 160 rise from the audience to signify their desire to be immersed! They were thereafter transported to the beach and baptized. The press took note of this event. Then in the afternoon, after I concluded my discourse, more than three hundred of the pioneers and circuit servants assembled in the tent to consider Gilead training and working in the islands assigned to the Australian branch, such as New Guinea, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. Eighty pioneers filed preliminary applications for Gilead, while thirty others volunteered to be sent to the tropical islands for pioneer service. They showed clearly that their desire is to expand the knowledge of the good news everywhere.
With a clear blue sky above, 5,805 persons filled the stands and lawns on Sunday afternoon when I delivered the public lecture on “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land”. The listeners took in every word and warmly applauded the comforting words of the talk. It was a good witness for Sydney. The Jubilee celebration of Australia’s Federation was on, being well announced and noted by special festivities. But how different from Jehovah’s jubilee of liberty!
One thing that was to be contended with in Sydney was the power black-outs which might come at any time, due to the shortage of generating equipment in the area. Strikes and coal shortages also afflict the country. The first day there were blackouts during the daylight hours, but the brothers had foreseen this problem and had arranged for an auxiliary supply of power to keep the public-address system functioning. Because the grounds had no lighting arrangements, much work was done to install the lighting system. Jehovah’s witnesses are the first people to light this racecourse. In all, 12,000 feet of wiring was used. Loud-speakers were installed throughout all the grounds so you could sit either in the stands or under some shady Moreton Bay fig tree, or remain in a tent or house-car in the caravan camp. A great convenience to the convention departments too was the installation of their own telephone system, saving many steps when messages had to be sent or when emergencies arose.
Items specially appreciated by the conventioners were the invitation to visit the branch home and printery following the assembly and the introduction of Brother T. Jaracz, a graduate of Gilead and an American, as the new branch servant for Australia.
On Sunday night the assembly came to an end. The expressions of the publishers showed it was one never to be forgotten. They had been refreshed as they drank in the new truths, encouraged and strengthened as they found themselves better equipped and ‘armored’ for the Devil’s final onslaughts, cheered and encouraged by the sweet companionship of old and many new faces.
The spirit of the publishers in Australia is very good. It was a delight to us to see the improvement over the conditions existing during the previous visit to Australia in 1947. There is absolute unity in the work in Australia now and they have enjoyed many rich blessings from Jehovah in the field service during recent times. When we were there in 1947 they had 3,284 publishers reporting, but now the peak is up to 5,163, which shows that there is Theocracy’s expansion in Australia as in the rest of the world.
It was a pleasure to see hundreds of the publishers inspecting the home, printery and garden on Monday. We were busy about the place taking care of the remaining business to be done at the office. Our visit with the Bethel family had been too short, but there were others expecting to see us up north. That night, the 26th, we were to leave for Djakarta, Indonesia, on the BOAC Constellation. The Bethel family and about a hundred of the Sydney company publishers gathered at the Mascot airport by 9:30 p.m., when we were told to board the plane. They were a jolly lot and wonderful company. They insisted that they would like to have another big convention like the last one very soon and so we should come back to Australia and visit them again before long. We bade them farewell and took our places in the aircraft. There was a vigorous waving of hands as the huge plane slowly moved away from its position beside the terminal building. Down to the end of the field we went and there paused while the captain tested the engines. It is usually done, but when fifteen minutes passed and we were still in the identical position we began to wonder what was wrong. Finally the steward informed everyone that there was a defect in one engine and it would be necessary to return to the terminal.
At the terminal we found not one of the publishers had departed for home, so we were reunited with them and we told them they now had their second visit of the year from us. Other passengers impatiently stood or sat there while the engines were being repaired, but a theocratic traveler has so many good friends and brothers and sisters that he has the advantage over the ordinary voyager. The extra hour with the publishers was a quick one, with much joy and pleasure. Then we proceeded to the plane once more and this time it was different. At 10:55 we were off the ground on the way to our first refueling point, Darwin, an outpost on the north coast of Australia. We went to sleep.