Garry Duncan, Wies Schuiringa, Mark Johnson, New South Wales Regional Meeting; with contributions from past Australian Friend editors.

From humble beginnings with a difficult task in connecting Friends across a vast land mass in an age of slower moving transport, the Australian Friend set about creating a Quaker community in the Antipodes in 1887. This year has seen the Australian Friend move from the care of Queensland regional meeting to that of New South Wales. The other significant change for AF has been its launch onto the internet under the inspiration of Ian Hughes and a team of volunteers. Such a new forum has opened the possibility of the Australian Friend not only being more accessible to the Yearly Meeting – and primarily focussing upon the needs and interests of the meeting in a digital age – but also beyond it and, too, beyond Quakers.

The Australian Friend now continues to minister to its primary Australian Yearly Meeting audience, but in many ways is now also a vehicle of outreach far and beyond the Yearly Meeting. Now being online, as many people both nationally and globally who may be curious about Quakers can now access the Australian Friend as a resource, and also engage with the life and thought of the Australian yearly meeting.

Being online also means both opening and deepening Quaker thought and life to a larger and more enquiring global community of Friends, and that of the diverse world beyond Friends. With this in mind, the current editorial team has encouraged a broadening and deepening quality of articles from our contributors so to speak to as many readers as possible. From articles ranging from the more rigorous to the more ‘warming’, we hope that the breadth and depth of both our local and now international readership is engaged.

Several Brisbane Friends agreed to take on editing The Australian Friend in 2002. They had in mind a collective editorship, with a committee making decisions together and the individuals taking on the chores for different issues. That was a comfort to Duncan Frewin back then, since he hadn’t done much editing before, and watching very experienced editors like Susan Addison at work was a revelation. Working together like that was a good example of the ups and downs of any co-operative project. They came up with better ideas after the discussions, but group decisions take time. And time was a problem when articles arrived late, after the editorial meetings. Eventually cost pressures saw the AF reduce from five issues a year to four.

Editing turned out to be one of the pleasures of Duncan’s life: Writing an article is risky – you offer yourself, your thoughts and words to the world. If the right words come to you, they are a gift to the reader. So sometimes there was the pleasure of finding a gem of an article that spoke directly to me. But if the words weren’t just right, the thoughts come out skewed, and you can feel ‘exposed’. So then the pleasure was working with the author to make their ideas clearer to the reader, sometimes even discovering together what the kernel of the message really was. Always it meant making a deeper connection with the author. The other gift that the authors gave was the gift of trust – allowing us to meddle with their words in trust that our changes would be useful. For all that I am extremely grateful.

David Purnell and Christine Larkin remember when they took over as editors in the 1990s at the time the AF was produced five times a year in hard copy, and was still the main form of communication across the Yearly Meeting community:

This meant that it was the vehicle for (a) substantial articles on spiritual thought and Quaker concerns; (b) Quaker Service Australia stories from around the world and Indigenous Australia; (c) details of action taken for peace and social justice by YM officers and committees in relation to government; (d) notices about major events including Yearly Meeting, RM gatherings, and FWCC conferences; (e) a page for children and families; (f) poetry; (g) book reviews; (h) stories about the lives of particular Friends within the YM; and (i) changes of membership.

The timetable was tight. Each edition required choosing and assembling material by us as editors in consultation with a conscientious committee, getting it formatted by a trusty assistant (Peter Farrelly) and making sure it reached the distributor (National Mailing and Marketing) in time to be dispatched at the beginning of the relevant month. We managed to stick to this timetable despite some stressful moments. Occasionally this process was complicated by the need to include inserts (eg YM registration forms in September).

Overall enough material for the journal was received in a timely manner, although on occasion we did seek contributions on particular themes. There was a ‘letters to the editor’ section that ensured some feedback from readers, and provided the occasional challenge.

They were heartened to discover copies of the AF in the library at Swarthmore College when we spent time at Pendle Hill Quaker Centre in USA in 2000.

Charles and Elizabeth Stevenson edited the Australian Friend for seven years, 1989-1995. This was the period when computers were just coming into general use. Thus, almost all articles and news came through the post, hand written or typed. This meant much work for the editors in preparing camera-ready copy for the printer. The Australian Friend was then set up for the actual printing, after having been returned to us for checking. How elusive were those typing errors!

Elizabeth brought to the editorship an innovative mind. It was her idea to have a Junior Friends’ page, and also the popular “Know One Another” series. Like her grandfather journalist she was always “sharply on the watch” for news and articles. Perhaps the chief delight of editorship was the “wrapping up” evening when they folded and enveloped the Australian Friend, after which all our helpers, many of whom were young Friends, joined for a hearty meal in a nearby restaurant.

Back in the early 1980s David Evans embarked on an exciting adventure editing the Australian Friend. It featured Ruth Haig, Presiding Clerk for YM 1982 on the front cover of the first issue, with an added supplement written by Ngaire Thorp all about The Quaker Shop in Adelaide in the following July. Each issue was special and we now keep bound volumes of these AF’s on our library shelves.

The committee would meet in time for the next issue sitting around the table. The contributions, each in a manila folder, were passed around and the committee members would tick check boxes indicating, must go in, might go in, or not this time. The editor then worked out the details.

Handing over was an adventure in itself related to Quaker process. Thinking it was time to hand over after 3 years, I asked our Regional Meeting if anybody in Tasmania was interested. As there was no response I asked Yearly Meeting to find a new editor. At Yearly Meeting, a nominations committee representative asked Topsy Evans if she would be interested. Suddenly surprised and pleased she said yes. And so for another four years the production of the AF centred in our Evans home with a slightly modified committee.

Memories of the period when either David or Topsy were the Editors are still very warm. Those were the days when the AF had to be collated and stapled by hand, by willing and sometimes not so willing members of the family and friends who walked and walked around our dining room table in Hobart, picking up the pages in order, before stapling them. The stapled copies were then sealed with sticky tape, labelled, and sorted into postcode order on the floor, ready to be presented to the Post Office. It took several attempts for the first issue or two before the Post Office was happy with our sorting. They still remember the overwhelming sense of relief when we finally achieved the desired result. The really positive side of this labour-intensive process was that every copy brought to mind the person to whom it was to be sent and gave us a sense of knowing our readership in a personal way.

Ross Cooper recalls that in his case, he believes Friends did him a great favour in appointing him editor from 1974 to 1979 when he was new to Friends – it was a commitment that kept him coming and it made Ross the centre of a lot of love and attention which he needed then.

Ross was impressed by what he was told on the day he was appointed. First Julie Gee on the selection committee assured Ross earnestly that he wouldn’t be able to please everybody, and when he returned to his dormitory Alf Clarke, with whom he was sharing the room, told him emphatically that “Friends will work a willing horse to death!” Ross was also very struck by the way the Committee sounded out Maxine on his appointment because there would be “spill-over”, something that wasn’t done when Maxine accepted appointment as Presiding Clerk.

He saw the role as being the “servant” of the editorial committee who in turn were the servant of the Yearly Meeting, but soon realized that Friends liked to have one person responsible.

The previous editor, Diana Pittock was excellent in showing Ross the ropes and he was very impressed by the way she then backed out and didn’t try to interfere like some bleeding deacon. She left it to Ross and the committee. The Committee was fantastic and he remembers Mark Deasy as having a “rapier like editing pen” and others who excelled as sounding boards about what was to be prayerfully included and what was not.

In those days there was only one real controversy, and he remembers receiving many criticisms from including a reference to Gays and Lesbian Friends meeting at a forthcoming YM. It seemed perfectly reasonable to him since we also mentioned vegetarians to be meeting there and so on, but it upset quite a few Friends in remote places like islands around Tasmania he had never heard of.

The actual process of putting the issue “to bed” was always nerve-wracking, but serendipity-like he always got just enough copy and was able to lay it out and get it published just in time every two months.

Diana Pittock was asked to become editor of the AF after encouragement by Alastair Heron, the previous editor, with whom she co-edited a few issues during 1973, and then a couple with Erica Groom that year. It was a daunting task to focus on at first, with three small children and commitments in the community too, but with the support of Barrie Pittock she agreed and edited until March 1977.

The first issue followed the visit by Charlotte Meacham to Australia from FWCC at the invitation of Australian Friends to reflect to us the situation and needs that she observed in Aboriginal Australia. Her report, Listen to the Aborigines is still relevant today and we Friends realised then how little we knew from the Aboriginal perspective. This is still so now. It was also the time of the end of the Vietnam War, with the last US and Australian troops leaving; the fall of Saigon to follow in 1975. Peace issues were firmly supported by Friends of course. So such peace and social justice concerns were at the forefront for Friends and influenced the ‘A.F.’s content.

Diana did not always write a ‘commentary’, but as a Friend concerned with peace, Aboriginal and other social justice issues these tended to be aspects of Friends’ life and work that she noted for inclusion when relevant to Friends. Education, children and issues raised by Young Friends were also topics of note at the time.

Special issues were compiled. In September 1975, in International Women’s Year, a ‘women’s issue’ came together with contributions from over fourteen women Friends. It brought together women’s views on topics from peace and feminism to women in the Bible and Quaker history. Two issues, July and September 1976, were guest-edited by Young Friends and presented concerns in a fresh format. The response was the greatest the editorial committee had received and covered a wide range of views. One Friend lamented the emphasis on social justice issues and wanted more spiritual content, some delighted in the lively style and the illustrations while others found some of the language challenging. It is worth looking at what does arouse Quakers!

For the ‘A.F.’ there is always a balance of spiritual matters, Friends’ concerns and the ‘in-house’ matters of meetings and reports. Only so much can be encouraged by the editor who is largely dependent on the readers and contributors. However, the editor is influenced by what speaks to them in their Quaker life. It has been a rewarding time for all who have been editors over the years and the AF continues to encourage, challenge and bind Friends together in the life lived as Friends in the land down under.

Name changes:

– From 1887 until 16 February 1915 “The Australian Friend”

– From March 1915 until 20 October 1935 “The Australasian Friend” to show our closer links with New Zealand Friends and then “The Friend of Australia and New Zealand” until 20 December 1946.

-From 1947 onwards “The Australian Friend”

Membership numbers

1854: 284

1875: 373

1890: 517

1900: 504

1909: 551

1920: 654

1930: 783

1940: 632

1950: 711

1960: 824

1970: 976

1980: 1099

(2012): 944



From: The First Editor by Charles Stevenson

“William Benson, the first editor of the Australian Friend from 1887 – 1889 served the Society with great efficiency. He was a tall, commanding figure, “possessed of a natural courtesy”. He had the unique distinction of being clerk of three Australian Monthly meetings: Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney. This was because he managed local branches of a shipping firm. Moreover, he was clerk of the Melbourne Annual Meeting for eight years, clerk of two Australasian inter-colonial conferences of Friends in 1888 and in 1901. Not only was he involved in the selection of the first headmaster for Friends School, but it was he who, on behalf of the school committee, purchased “Hobartville” the Commercial Road site of the Friends School.

William Benson came out from England at age 19. He married Emma Elizabeth Mather of Hobart. William became editor again from 1914 – 1925 and Emma and the two daughters Dorothea and Margaret became subsequent editors from 1925 until 1946, apart from the period 1931-1934. William Benson thought the Australian Friend superseded the Epistles which Australian Meetings wrote to each other, a custom which he himself once called “epistle pelting”.

From: The Editorial by Topsy Evans

In the first issue of “The Australian Friend”, William Benson, the first editor wrote:

‘Union is strength, and if in ever so small a degree this little paper can take the place of the binding tie which knits together the weak, and separate sticks into a firm bundle, it will have found a sphere of usefulness which will more than justify the attempt.’ He saw the need for the little isolated groups of Friends in Australia and New Zealand to be aware of the “link of sympathy between us” which would give strength and encouragement to form a larger family of Friends so far from the parent body in England.

William Benson saw too, that if such unity were to be attained, Friends needed to be brought together in spirit and knowledge of each other. Travel was lengthy and expensive. The Australasian Friends’ Conference of 1901 was only attended by 19 as it was virtually impossible for the majority of Friends to gather together. In 1900 the membership was 504.

His courage in producing a subscription journal, with no financial backing other than the hope that a “Promoters Fund” would be set up (each individual Friend contributed about one pound) fills the present editor (Topsy) with admiration. The fact that he succeeded in this endeavour is a tribute not only to his courage, probable financial contribution and foresight, but also to his following of what must have been a clear leading of the spirit.

The subjects covered in the early issues have a surprising modern ring. One writer commented ‘The Society of Friends have done and are doing a good work in the peace and temperance causes, but why do they not take a greater stand against the evil of smoke?’ The controversy over the reading of novels was debated with a vigour that which sounds familiar to us in our concern over our children and the time they spend watching television. One Friend was ‘satisfied that it often has a lifelong and very damaging effect upon character, when not kept strictly within limits.’ Contributors to those early issues did not concern themselves with world poverty or personal relationships, neither did they have to consider nuclear war, AIDs or environmental problems, yet their insistence on being “involved” is still inspiring to us today.

Share This