My Recollections of the 1958 Intercontinental Baha’i Conference in Sydney

Australian Intercontinental Conference, with Baha’is from 19 countries in attendance, March 1958. Photo courtesy of the Baha’i International Community.

Shoghi Effendi, in his 2 October 1957 cable, announced a series of five Intercontinental Conferences, one of which was to be held March 21- 24 in Sydney, the oldest Baha’i community in the Antipodes. His cable also announced the appointment of an additional eight Hands of the Cause, one of whom was Mr. Collis Featherstone, the chairperson of the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia.

Imagine the excitement of the Australian Baha’i community when they read this message.

On a personal note, I had heard of the Baha’i Faith in 1956 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Featherstone. At that time, before becoming a member of the Baha’i community, one had to study and understand the contents of the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha. An understanding of the Covenant was a vital part of becoming a Baha’i, so I studied this “immortal Document” and later that year, I became a Baha’i.

My contact with the Featherstone family remained firm and it was with a flurry of excitement that I approached Mr. Featherstone to express my rapture at his appointment as a Hand of the Cause. He dampened my enthusiasm with the question, ‘In this contingent, the Guardian has appointed eight Hands. What great challenges lay ahead?’

On Monday, 4 November 4, 1957, that question may have been answered. From the Holy Land, a cable was sent to all National Spiritual Assemblies stating, in part:


The passing of Shoghi Effendi was totally unexpected and the believers felt a global loss. The Universal House of Justice was yet to be established. Where was our leadership going to come from? Reassurance was given later in the same cable:


The Hands met in Bahji and on November 25th, in accordance with the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, they appointed nine of their members as Custodians of the Baha’i Faith. With firm assurance of guidance from the Hands, preparation for the Intercontinental Conferences proceeded with enthusiasm.

Again from a personal note, getting to Sydney from Adelaide presented a challenge–one that was taken up by myself and fellow Adelaide Baha’i, Joe Dobbins Jnr. We bought two 20-year-old Hudson Terraplanes, neither of which was in good condition. Over the coming months we cannibalised one of these vehicles and built the second into a workable proposition. Without power steering, it drove like a truck and the suspension meant you felt every bump on the road–and Sydney was 1,450 kilometers (about 900 miles) away. But by early March 1958, we were on our way.

We arrived in Sydney early and used the time to meet and greet visitors flying in from overseas. The Featherstone family was in town and a young Mariette Featherstone was one of the welcoming party. I remember enjoying a ferry ride with Mariette and Lucy Giordano. Lucy was one of the earliest members of the Australian Baha’i community, joining the Faith in 1936 while living in Adelaide and twenty years later she was an inspiration to young Baha’is such as myself.

Before the start of the 1958 Conference I also caught up with Latu Tu’akihekolo, representative of the Baha’i community from Tonga. He suggested we should go to the foyer of the Hotel Metropole to meet Mr. Michitoshi Zenimoto, who later, in 1985, was appointed as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Asia.

‘Have you met Mr. Zenimoto before?’ I asked.


‘Then how will you know him?’

‘Have faith, young man,’ was Latu’s reply.

We arrived in the foyer at the appointed time and Latu pointed out an Asian gentleman standing on his own. ‘Perhaps that’s him.’ With these words he moved close to the gentlemen and to the surrounding air he uttered the words, ‘Allah-u-Abha.’ On hearing this, the small built Mr. Zenimoto turned and virtually folded into Latu’s embrace–a memory still seared onto my mind.

Nearly 300 Baha’is from 19 countries gathered at the Ḥaziratu’l-Quds to hear Hand of the Cause Mr. Featherstone open the Conference and then the message from the Hands in the Holy Land was presented, followed by a tribute to our beloved Guardian. We, the audience, sat spellbound.

Four other Hands were present: Mother Dunn who resided in a small flat which was part of the Ḥaziratu’l-Quds, Miss Agnes Alexander, Mason Remey and Mr. Zikrullah Khadem.

The conference commenced with a profoundly moving ceremony at the Ḥaziratu’l-Quds and we were privileged to view the photo of Baha’u’llah. What did it look like? I do not know. Tears filled my eyes and I walked out onto the verandah of the Ḥaziratu’l-Quds to lean on the railing. I was soon joined by a 21-year-old Peter Khan, who later became a member of the Universal House of Justice.

We looked at each other, burst into tears and then retreated to quiet weeping. The cycle continued until Mother Dunn came out of her small flat and said, ‘I think you boys should come in for a cup of tea.’ Which we did.

The next day the Baha’is travelled to Ingleside to see the progress on the building of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. Here, Hands of the Cause Mason Remey and Mother Dunn laid gifts from the Holy Land, sealing them in the centre of the floor.

On return to the Ḥaziratu’l-Quds, the spiritual atmosphere was enhanced by inspiring talks, led by visitors from around the Pacific. Many specific achievements were made, not the least being pledges amounting to over 30,000 pounds to the Temple Fund. One of the inspirational speakers was Mr. Habib Sabet who served on the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran. Shoghi Effendi granted him the title Nasiri’d-Din meaning Defender of the Faith. At the conference, in his mid-fifties, he provided motivation for us all.

The presence of five Hands of the Cause, the spirit evolving from Baha’is attending from 19 countries, the clear visibility of the oneness of humankind all added up to a spiritual atmosphere which has remained with me throughout my Baha’i life.

How lucky can I be?

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Aaron Blomeley

Aaron worked as a hydrologist in Australia and Papua New Guinea and in the 1990’s he worked as an environmental educator with the Baha’i Office of the Environment in Taiwan. He now lives with his wife on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Aaron Blomeley

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