“Saints Shine in Perth, Western Australia’s ‘City of Lights’” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 76–77
With a population of nearly 1.5 million, Perth is the largest city in Western Australia. Known as the wildflower state, Western Australia is home to exotic plants like the underground orchid and the parasitic orange-flowered Christmas tree.
Perth’s long, white beaches are popular with families, although everyone keeps an ear open for shark warnings from the helicopter patrol.
Called the “City of Lights” by Friendship 7 Astronauts as they orbited past the city at night in 1962, Perth was first named by British officers and their families who settled the Swan River area in 1829.
The first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in Perth in 1888, and many modern local Church members can trace their ancestry back to the converts of those early missionaries.
Chris Hannan, a member of the Perth Seventh Ward in the Perth Dianella stake, is the great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Eacott, the stranded survivor of an 1830 shipwreck. His grandchildren later joined the Church.
Chris’s grandmother was baptized in the sea in 1924. “It took a few years for grandfather to follow,” she says. “When my parents moved to Whyalla, my mother was a tireless worker in the Church. I remember walking miles to go to meetings.
“The Church helps me appreciate being a wife and mother,” Chris adds. “Teaching skills to children and keeping a journal also help me appreciate the struggles of my Eacott ancestors as they tamed acres of bush at Mandurah while living in a wattle-and-daub hut.”
The Hannans are typical of the mobile Australian population. This is their second stay in the Dianella stake, which covers most suburbs north of the Swan River.
Another LDS pioneer was Sarah Dodemeade, who joined the Church in South Australia in 1898 and later came to Western Australia. She was the only active member in an area missionaries had visited with little success in 1888. Two years later, residents of the gold town of Kalgoorlie stoned the missionaries and ran them out of town, but a kind policeman smuggled them aboard an Adelaide train.
Sarah’s descendants, the Coffey, Elliott, and Leighton families, are today members of the Perth Second and Heathridge wards.
Missionaries returned to the area in 1907, and the Church in Perth gradually grew stronger after their return. Among the new converts were Jane Davis and her three sons, who were baptized in 1909. In 1923, William Davis donated land for the first chapel; and in 1928, a son, Colin Davis, became the first missionary to serve from Western Australia. Jane Davis became Perth’s first Relief Society president in 1925. Davis women in every generation since have served as Relief Society presidents.
Knowledge of gospel principles and high moral standards have made a difference in the lives of many Perth Latter-day Saints. Jason Leighton, a thirteen-year-old deacon in the Heathridge Ward, says his membership has made him “choosy about my friends.” He is sensitive about how they behave and the kind of language they use.
Jason’s friends reflect the cosmopolitan mixture of students in Perth schools. “My best friends are Baptists and Muslims,” he says. “Their parents are pretty strict about keeping Sunday holy.” The only Latter-day Saint in his class, Jason often invites his friends to Young Men activities.
David McMeechan, mission leader for the Heathridge Ward in the Perth Dianella stake, is the only Latter-day Saint fire officer among a crew of a thousand firemen. “Because of the Word of Wisdom,” he says in his broad Scottish accent, “I feel better able to cope with post-fire exhaustion than can the average fireman of my age.”
A member of the Firefighters Christian Fellowship, David often finds himself discussing religion and the gospel with others in the association.
Jim Parsons, a counselor in the Heathridge Ward bishopric, works as a prison officer. Because of his Church affiliation, he is often called “the Reverend” by his fellow officers. When his son, David, left to serve a mission, the other prison officers were surprised to learn of the dedication and personal sacrifice required of missionaries. This insight gave them increased respect for the missionaries they see serving in their own neighbourhoods.
Those missionaries continue to have success. Molly Dexter had been searching for the right church, but until a missionary asked her if she knew about the Apostasy, she knew she had not found it. She was baptized in January 1988.
Another convert, nineteen-year-old Jo Anne Bowden, was baptized in November 1987. She had been teaching at a swimming club on Sunday, and after her baptism she told her employers she couldn’t continue doing so. The classes were moved to Saturdays.
The Church continues to grow in Perth. Eighty-seven-year-old Muriel Dawe of the Southern River stake remembers knocking on Leederville doors when she was only fourteen. “There was persecution then, but we delivered tracts to anyone we could,” she says. Muriel’s parents joined the Church in 1910. Back then, members met in a two-story house where the missionaries lived. Today Perth has two stakes with more than four thousand members.
That growth is due in large part to missionaries and members alike whose exemplary lives and dedicated service are radiating gospel light in the “City of Lights” on the shores of Western Australia.
Correspondent: Jean L. M. Hicks is ward music chairman and Relief Society in-service leader in the Heathridge Ward, Perth Dianella stake.