Stories: Tasmania Saints
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|History, spirituality in Tasmania
From his southern Tasmanian home overlooking the Derwent River and metropolitan Hobart, Ian Oates can watch the city grow. As historian of the Hobart Tasmania Stake, he has also watched the Church grow from a district into two stakes.
Brother Oates was one of the original bishops when the Hobart stake was created in 1977 in Tasmania. His reminiscences and those of earlier members are featured in this week's Church News. August 9, 2003
By John L. Hart
Church News associate editor
GLEN HUON VALLEY, Tasmania She was a 14-year-old orphan girl with close-cropped red hair. One of her chores for the older couple with whom she lived was to milk their cow. As she milked the cow, the animal would leave off munching apples, curve its long body around and lick the girl's red hair as if the young teenager were a nursing calf.
"When I got up from milking the cow, I would have licked-up hair," recalled Gladys Emma McGuire Woolley, 91, speaking with the practiced cadence of a storyteller. She sat by a roaring fire, bundled in sweaters to keep back the chill of cold rain falling outside, and for a few minutes re-lived her girlhood.
"It was a wonderful life with those two old people." Her life with the older couple in this orchard valley, located inland about 35 miles from Hobart where the Church gained an early foothold, was also an answer to a prayer. Orphaned when her father was killed in World War I and her mother died of cancer, she was in 1926 living with an uncle who wanted to put her in a children's home.
"I ran to my bedroom and cried, 'If there's a God in heaven, please don't let me go into a children's home. Put me where I'll be happy,'" she pled.
Another uncle came to her rescue, Uncle Vic Paul. He had married a Mormon and found his orphan niece a situation helping his wife's older relatives. The valley was mostly a forest then, much as it was when the first missionaries came threading their way along the railroad without purse or scrip, knocking on the doors of tiny homes for their supper and lodging in a barn. These missionaries found success in the Huon primarily among three families, the Watsons, Woolleys and Benders. From among these families have come many Church leaders and converts.
Young Gladys was among the Woolleys' converts. "My English minister told me to have nothing to do with them," she recalled, but she came to Huon anyway.
"This place was just a forest where I am sitting, just a house dotted here and a house dotted there, and a little bit of a yard, you know, people settling. I settled in with these Woolley people.
"I wanted to know if I could go to the Church of England on Sunday instead of having to work. They said, 'There's no Church of England here,' but the Latter-day Saints were holding meetings in an old hall, and I could go there."
In the evenings after work, the Woolleys and Gladys gathered around the fire and read from the Book of Mormon. "They had bad eyesight and I had good eyesight, so I had to read to them," she said. "I thought this was a terrific story. I was looking for a love story [these sons of Lehi looking for wives]. I was disappointed it wasn't a love story, but it really was a love story.
"I kept thinking, 'This is wonderful.' I just loved the book. Before I finished reading that book, I knew it was true. This book is so true. The book's true, and I still declare it is true."
She was taught by missionaries and baptized at 16 and became part of the fabric of the Church, which then had many social functions. She remembers playing "We three jolly fisher girls" when part of the game was to "shake hands on the doorstep."
Once when a missionary was in the game, the girls changed the song to "kiss on the doorstep." The poor missionary fled in a panic and hid.
Afterward, said Sister Woolley, "We had to say 'Shake hands on the doorstep,' or not play it."
When a Church meetinghouse was planned, she was one of the youth who went knocking on doors asking for "a penny a brick."
"Some would give a penny, some a half penny," she recalled. "I knocked on a door and when they opened the door, the whole family was sitting round the table having their dinner. When I said, 'Would you give me a penny to help build the Church in Glen Huon,' the lady of house said, 'I will not give you a penny!' and she slammed the door in my face. I was stunned at the way she talked. I just stood there and I couldn't move for a while to have somebody talk to me like that. I thought everybody would give a penny for a church, surely. I just stood there, stiff as a board, and then I started to cry."
Still, the Church was completed in 1927, and "they had to clear a bit of ground to build it. After that, a lot of [people] joined the Church, and half of that lady's family joined the Church. They used to tell me what a darling old grandma she was. But she was no dear, darling old grandmother to me."
She grew up to marry one of the Wooley's young relatives, Arthur William Wooley.
Members in Huon often traveled to Hobart for socials as well. The first chapel in Hobart was dedicated in 1926 on Lefroy Street and the first local branch president sustained in 1932. This branch continued with a small membership for many years. The missionaries were called home at the onset of World War II and it was shortly after the war, in 1950, when James Richard Wall, a lifelong resident of Hobart, joined the Church.
At the time, "all the members in Hobart fit in that [Lefroy Street] old hall," he said. Much as in the 1930s and 1940s, the MIA program was active and held frequent socials. Among the activities was a square-dancing group that introduced Brother Wall to his future wife, Vicky.
She belonged to another square-dancing club. "Somebody said the Mormons had a club and that sounded interesting," she said. She and a friend visited the Church and "I thought they were a bit different and to me different was strange. They were very nice and very friendly, but odd."
But her attraction held fast to the young man she met there and she continued to visit the Lefroy Street meetinghouse. She enjoyed the visits.
"Over the years, they either became less odd, or I became more odd," she said.
They were married in 1956 and she was baptized in 1960.
Social activities continued, said Brother Wall. Branch camp-outs were frequent and there were many places where the branch could go, usually with a building to shelter the women, and places for the men's tents. They went fishing, swimming and on bushball (hiking).
"We'd stuff ferns down and put the tents up. Quite comfortable, actually," he said. Once though, "when I took up the tent, right in the middle where I was sleeping, underneath the mattress, was a six-foot adder, curled up. I quickly packed off the tent, I tell you."
They had many cottage meetings, recalled Sister Wall. "There were a lot of homemaking meetings. We had a very small group when I joined, but they were very dedicated."
President David O. McKay started a South Pacific building program in the late 1950s that helped bring the Church out of obscurity. A meetinghouse in Hobart was the first local building to use laminated beams and it received press coverage that generated considerable interest. Part of that building program in neighboring New Zealand included the first temple in the South Pacific.
"I had been a member just 12 months when Jim decided we should go to the New Zealand Temple and get sealed," she said. In those days, there were no temple preparation classes and little was done to prepare new members.
"I had three and a half children and couldn't for the life of me see the point of traveling all that way just to go to Church," she said.
But "the Lord in His wisdom and kindness and never-ending mercy," was patient with her attitude "because I went in the temple [with that attitude] and came out totally converted. I remember coming out thinking, 'How can you change in that time? I hadn't understood about the Spirit, and how it can quickly teach you and lead and change you in the twinkling of an eye. I was always grateful the Lord gave me another chance."
Later she was called as district Relief Society president with the charge to unite sisters throughout the island in preparation for the first stake. They decided to hold a Relief Society meeting in the center of Tasmania where all could attend.
So she and her counselors drove across the island to meet a city councilman in hopes of gaining permission to use a local school for the meeting. On the way, their windshield blew out. They continued on. "We arrived with our hair anything but beautifully done. We were in a bit of a panic all around, but we determined to press on. We went [to meet the city councilor] exactly as we were, and told him we had traveled in this condition for the last hour."
They said, "This is how much our Church means to us."
They received permission to use the school, and made progress toward becoming a stake. In 1976, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited to see if Tasmania was ready for a stake, said Ian Oates, now Hobart stake historian.
"He didn't think we were quite ready," said Brother Oates, who remembers Elder Hinckley's congeniality and helpful suggestions. "At the time, we had three branches in the north and three branches in the south."
A year later a stake was created with John Douglas Jury as president. One of those called as bishop was Brother Oates, who had been a member just two years.
After the stake was created, "the members lifted themselves a notch or two," said Brother Oates. "We thought the Church had made some progress. Just the way we did things was different."
In 1995, a stake was created in the north at Devonport with John Robert Hargreaves as president, which considerably reduced travel expenses for members in that area.
He said other landmarks in progress included the Churchwide Pioneer celebration in 1997 during which members and their friends pulled handcarts from Hobart to Glen Huon. Glen Huon remains influential; in some areas, half the population is now Latter-day Saint.
(Go the the LDS Church News webpage and it has some great pictures that accompany this article)
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