By Charles Stevenson, South Australia Regional Meeting
The present editorial committee will lay down the task of producing The Australian Friend at the end of this year, and a new editor or editorial committee is yet to be appointed. A suggestion has been made to change it to an online journal within the next few years. So, it seems timely to reflect on the history of The Australian Friend to date.
The seed that developed into The Australian Friend goes back to the 1852-53 visit of Robert Lindsey who did much to encourage and develop Friends in Australia.
His report to Meeting for Sufferings led them to suggest to the various meetings in the Southern Hemisphere that they write epistles to one another. This idea was immediately taken up and its idea was best expressed by an Epistle from Tasmania Yearly Meeting dated 4th of 5th month 1856:
We should be glad to see the various meetings in this hemisphere more closely united in that bond of Christian fellowship which Epistolary communications are calculated to promote.
A far bigger step was an actual journal, long advocated from far distant Rockhampton. As with most Quaker ventures the time was not considered right, as Friends were too few in numbers.
Opposition to the venture was best expressed by the Epistle from the Annual Meeting of Friends in Tasmania to Adelaide, 20th of 3rd mo. 1883:
Yet as regards the commencement of a periodical with the object of bringing into yet closer union the various communities of Friends in the Australian Colonies we are of the opinion that the time is not yet come when it would be advantageous to enter upon such an undertaking. We rather think with you that the monthly journals issued in connection with the Society of Friends in Great Britain could be taken with advantage of to meet the end desired …
Thus, as with many Quaker ventures, The Australian Friend began independently, ‘entirely unofficial’, as reported in the first edition in ‘Seventh Month’ 1887. Eventually it became part of the General Meeting (as our Yearly Meeting was known until 1964).
Surprisingly, The Australian Friend, ‘A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal’, was established in Hobart, in the very meeting which had so staunchly rejected the idea!
The first editor was William Benson, an able man who served the Society in a number of capacities. He was descended through his mother from Margaret Fell. Managing a shipping enterprise, he moved from colony to colony and was at various times, the clerk of Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart Meetings, the clerk of the 1888 Intercolonial Conference of Friends and the 1901 General Australasian Conference which set up the General Meeting for Australia (as a quarterly Meeting of London Yearly Meeting). It was edited for 32 years by various members of the Benson family.
The Australian Friend remained in Hobart for 27 years. It then moved to Sydney for the next 52 years with a change of name: The Australasian Friend, and from 1935 to 1946 The Friend of Australia and New Zealand. It reverted to the title The Australian Friend in 1947.
In 1967, under the editorship of Michael Tolley, The Australian Friend moved to Adelaide and then to Melbourne until it returned briefly to Hobart in 1982. Since then it has been produced in Adelaide, then Canberra, and finally Brisbane.
Right from its inception the journal was bi-monthly, until Alistair Heron decided that the December issue should be omitted. The Brisbane editorial team made it into the present quarterly.
The Australian Friend kept isolated Friends in touch. It was a powerful means of sharing views, providing news of interstate Friends between General Meetings. It became a cherished part of one’s Quaker life. Together with the annual General and later Yearly meetings, it was crucial in binding together an Australia-wide Quaker community. No secular journal has lasted as long.
Friends today enjoy much more ready access to items of news and interest via the Quakers Australia website. Regional Meeting newsletters, too, now thrive and appear more regularly and can be produced faster than an edition of The Australian Friend. (These newsletters began at different times, the Adelaide Circular Letter being the earliest, 1926, as a means of contact with Friends in Western Australia, then under the care of South Australia.)
- William Benson (Hobart) 1887—1889.
- William May (Hobart) 1889—1895.
- Charles Henry Robey (Hobart) 1895—1899.
- Joseph Francis Mather (Hobart) 1899—1914.
- William Benson (Sydney) 1914—1925.
- Emma E. Benson (Sydney) 1925—1930.
- E. Sydney Morris (Sydney) 1931—1934.
- A. Dorothea Benson (Sydney) 1934—1942.
- Margaret L. Benson (Sydney) 1943—1946.
- Stanley and Dorothy Gregory (Sydney) 1947—1956.
- Eric B. Pollard (Sydney) 1956—1966.
- Michael J. Tolley (Adelaide) 1967—1971.
- Alistair Heron and Donald Groom (Melbourne) 1972.
- Diana Pittock (Melbourne) 1973—1977.
- Ross Cooper (Melbourne) 1978—1981.
- David Evans (Hobart) 1982—1984.
- Topsy Evans (Hobart) 1985—1988.
- Charles and Elizabeth Stevenson (Adelaide) 1989—1995
- David Purnell and Christine Larkin (Canberra) 1996—1999
- David Purnell (Canberra) 2000—2001
- Queensland Regional Meeting (Brisbane Local Meeting Friends*) 2002—2010
* Susan Addison, Tony Arden, Edwin Clarke, Duncan Frewin, Jude Pembleton, Susan Wilson and Bevan Wiltshire from Brisbane Local Meeting at various times served on the editorial committee; Susan Addison and Duncan Frewin serving 2002—2010.