While reading the Tablets of the Divine Plan, American Baha’i Clara Dunn looked up from her page and voiced a sincere plea to her husband Hyde Dunn:
“Let us go where Abdu’l-Baha wished to go.”
Where had Abdu’l-Baha wished to go? In the Tablets of the Divine Plan He said:
O that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of [Baha’u’llah] in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the divine teachings! This, alas, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.1
These tablets, written to the Baha’is of the United States and Canada in 1916 and 1917, set out strategies for ensuring that the Message of Baha’u’llah could be learned about in every corner of the world.
Clara made her plea in 1919, only two short years after she and Hyde Dunn had married. At that time, the couple was almost in a state of poverty. For many, the idea of leaving home at the ages of 52 and 65 respectively, and immigrating to a foreign land without any financial backing would be ludicrous. Hyde Dunn, unhesitatingly, answered with these words:
“Yes, we will go.”2
Clara and Hyde Dunn arrived in Australia in April 10, 1920. By 1930, Hyde had visited more than 700 towns through his role as a travelling salesmen, which provided both a means of sustenance for the couple as well as the opportunity to share the Baha’i teachings in every major city and town in Australia.
At the time of Hyde’s passing in Sydney in 1941, the message of the Baha’i Faith had been taken to every Australian state, Local Spiritual Assemblies were established in Sydney, Adelaide and Auckland (as sharing the principles of the Baha’i Faith in New Zealand was also a goal), Baha’i groups were active in many key cities, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia was established in 1934, and the country’s Yerrinbool Baha’i Centre of Learning had been inaugurated.
Following on from her husband’s passing, Clara continued to march forward in utmost dedication for the work of the Cause. Even when she was well into her 70s and 80s, she travelled across Australia and New Zealand assisting local communities with their teaching endeavours. She passed away in 1960.
This year, the Baha’is of Australia celebrate 100 years since the Dunns’ arrival. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia has asked communities across the country to take the year between April 2020 and March 2021 to mark this milestone through a range of endeavours which shed light on the Baha’i Faith’s early years in this country, while also promoting the spirit of inclusiveness, oneness and community carried to our land thanks to Clara and Hyde’s sacrifices. According to the National Assembly,
Individuals, communities and institutions will consider how the centenary might be celebrated at the local level, in a manner that is coherent with, and lends impetus to, the community-building work under way in many localities throughout our country, drawing on the knowledge and capacities gained through the bicentenary efforts to continue expanding the circle of unity, embracing more and more of our fellow Australians at a time unique to our nation.
…in these coming months, as this period of special potency continues, it is timely to reflect on our identity as a community and the contribution we have made to Australian society over the past century. In this light, let us ceaselessly toil to increase our contribution in the decades to come. Against the historical backdrop of the heroic achievements of our spiritual forebears, holding high the standard of the current series of Plans, let us build further capacities to be of service and arise to further the mission they began a century ago.
With this guidance in mind, and taking into consideration the social restrictions in place owing to the current health crisis, my community of Ballarat will be thinking creatively about how we can mark this special occasion, but more importantly, how we can continue our efforts to work shoulder-to-shoulder with more and more people in the process of community building (even if that means we have to shift all of our efforts online temporarily). For the entire mandate of the Baha’i Faith, the mandate which Clara and Hyde Dunn carried to these shores, is that of oneness, and it is the promotion of this principle which will remain at the core of all we do in the coming months.
This centenary is also particularly significant to the Ballarat Baha’is because of the city’s historic connection to the Baha’i Faith. Australia’s first Baha’i woman, Euphemia (Effie) Baker, was raised in Ballarat and I’m always quite proud to proclaim this fact! Living at the Ballarat Observatory under the care of her astronomer grandfather Captain Henry Baker, Effie was imbued with the passion and skills that led her to becoming one of the most notable photographers in Baha’i history. It was her work which appeared in Nabil’s Narrative: The Dawn Breakers, having been instructed by Shoghi Effendi to travel to Iran (as a single white woman in the 1920s, mind you!) and take photos of some of our most significant holy places, many of which have since been destroyed.
Effie heard about the Baha’i Faith during one of Clara and Hyde Dunn’s talks in Melbourne. She, along with Oswald Whitaker, was the first to accept the Message of Baha’u’llah following the Dunns’ arrival. To know of Effie’s connection to Clara and Hyde, as well as to my home-city, definitely gives me the warm and fuzzies. It is our hope to feature some celebrations on her home turf at the Observatory, where she once stood, gazing up at the starry sky in faithful admiration.
Shoghi Effendi named both Clara and Hyde Dunn Hands of the Cause of God – Hyde posthumously, in 1951 and Clara in 1952. Initially, after learning of Hyde’s passing, Shoghi Effendi wrote to Clara:
With feelings of overwhelming sorrow I learned of the loss of that greathearted, that high-minded, that exemplary disciple of Abdu’l-Baha, Hyde Dunn, but I rejoice at his elevation to so exalted a seat among the immortals in the Abha Kingdom and his reunion with a Master whom he served so lovingly and valiantly, so effectively & so long. He, the spiritual conqueror of the continent of Australasia, will, by his spirit, his example and accomplishments, continue to inspire the rising generation in that far-off continent and indeed throughout the Baha’i World. The memory of his deeds will shed imperishable lustre on the annals of the first century of the Baha’i era.3
There is no doubt that this year in particular, the Australian Baha’is will be turning to the Dunns’ valiant example as their source of inspiration, and continuing to cultivate those seeds lovingly sowed one century ago in promotion of the oneness of mankind.
With many thanks to Graham Hassall for his knowledge and words regarding the history of the Baha’i Faith in Australia, as published in the March edition of The Australian Baha’i. Article titled: Spiritual conquerors of this wide, brown land