The young are certainly among those who built the Church in Australia.
More than 150 years ago, a 17-year-old was called by the Lord to introduce the restored gospel to the infant colony of South Australia, where his mother and stepfather were emigrating. William James Barratt of England was ordained by Elder George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve in July 1840. He set sail soon afterward, and began his missionary work in Australia just ten years after the Church was organized.
Elder Barratt had no Missionary Training Center experience, no companion, and his mission president was half a world away in Liverpool, England. It took a whole year for him to get an answer to his letters to Church leaders. He did not even have a copy of the Book of Mormon.
“I feel like a lamb among wolves, going into a land of strangers to preach the gospel,” he wrote.
Yet with the vigor of youth, he came, he served, he testified. And he baptized Robert Beauchamp, who later became president of the Australasian Mission (Australia and New Zealand), and who in turn baptized at least 150 others.
When the Australian Mission formally opened in 1851, another teenager, 16-year-old Rosa Clara Friedlander, and her friend Mary Ann Cline, walked eight miles every Sunday to attend meetings in Sydney. They seldom missed a meeting and enjoyed choir practices. Later, Rosa Clara is remembered for her kindness in nursing a desperately ill missionary. Still later, she was commended for her courage during a shipwreck on her way to Utah.
Youth continued to strengthen the Church during the worldwide economic depression in the 1930s. The youth in Sydney’s Bankstown Branch had never heard of Mutual, so they organized their own social group, the Sunshine Club. When the mission president heard about it, he congratulated them on their initiative, then helped them organize an official youth program. Soon they were studying gospel lessons and learning dance, drama, speech, and music. Similar Mutual groups all over Australia organized hikes, balls, debates, plays, and concerts.
During World War II, young Richard Metcalf (now director of the Family Service Center for Australia) was ordained an elder. He helped keep Sydney’s Enmore Branch functioning as older priesthood leaders sailed to the battlefields. Other youth served in Sunday School superintendencies, taught classes, and spoke regularly in sacrament meetings to fill the void left by those who had gone to war.
In the 1950s and ’60s, many Australian youth were called as “labor missionaries” and worked building chapels in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney. Some, such as Neil Tracey-Smith (now a high priest in Queensland’s Toowoomba Ward), became project supervisors.
Youth and the Church in Australia belong together like the sand and surf which characterize this country’s sun-drenched coastline. In a nation of vast distances, diverse population, and geographic contrasts, young Latter-day Saints are a vibrant part of the Church landscape. Today, as in the past, the Church’s future here largely depends on you.
Compare the experiences of Elder Barratt and those who came after him with your experiences as Australian youth today. Many of you are well versed in the scriptures after years of Primary, Sunday School, Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Young Women classes, and seminary. You spend weeks in a Missionary Training Center in New Zealand before beginning missionary service with a dedicated companion. Approximately 300 young Australians are in full-time missionary service around the world, more than 100 here in your native land.
Yes, you face some challenges. In particular, you are considerably outnumbered by nonmembers at school; often just one or two of you per school are LDS. As in other countries, some of your fellow students “knock” those who want to achieve. Others pressure you to be part of some “cool” group. There are offers of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. There is an increasing drift toward unvirtuous behavior. There is widespread youth unemployment. In the heavily subsidized education system, university and technical college places are hard to get. These are sizeable tests and trials.
However, you are strong and resilient. You know how it is with Aussies. You let people know where you stand. Your wide, free country symbolizes your personality—open, honest, without pretense. You love the rigorous competition of sports like rugby, cricket, Australian-rules football, basketball, and soccer. And you love the freedom of just being outdoors.
Let these same characteristics guide you in your Church growth. Be free with the true freedom the gospel brings. Be open and honest about your testimony and your standards. Let people know where you stand concerning the Church.
You young LDS men and women know it isn’t a sacrifice to keep surfing, sunbaking, and sports for the right occasions, so that Sunday is dedicated to church and family. You know you need to make time available on other days to attend youth programs and activities. You know the Lord has given us the Word of Wisdom as a guide to health and strength. Promise now to live it, and keep your promise. You know that preparing for the temple and remaining worthy to be married there are of paramount importance. Don’t succumb to temptation. Be stronger than the opposition.
The gospel teaches Australian LDS youth to develop their personalities and talents, to learn, and to achieve their highest potential. It teaches you not to be deceived by Satan’s gospel of mediocrity. Whether scholastically, in sport, the arts, or community service, you have the ability to excel, and through your quiet achievements to bring credit to yourselves, your families, and the Church.
Apply yourselves with dedication and commitment. You will become the future bishops, Relief Society and Primary presidents, stake and mission presidents. You will be the ones to lead a much larger Church in the early years of the 21st century. In 1954, one in every 3,000 Australians was a Latter-day Saint. In the following 20 years, there was a great surge of growth, and by 1974, one in every 447 Australians belonged to the Church. Today, at the end of another 20-year period, the Saints number 87,000 out of 18 million. That’s one for every 205. In another 20 years, if the pattern for both Church and national population growth continues, one in every 117 Australians will belong to the restored Church.
As the Church grows, it will continue to bring in young people from the great variety of cultures represented in Australia. Not only those from a European background will join the Church, but Asians, South Americans, Pacific islanders, and the local indigenous people, the Australian aborigines, will receive the gospel in increasing numbers.
If we want a better Australia, a fairer and more caring country, a land of peace and prosperity, the nation as well as the Church needs a generation of righteous pacesetters, and communities of righteous homes.
We call on our LDS youth to become top students at high school and in university. In a recently introduced public affairs plan we invited you and your parents to serve in the community, to assist those who are in need whether or not they are members of the Church. Such service was evidenced at the beginning of this year, when many LDS youth and missionaries gave community service during the New South Wales bushfire crisis. Some of our young people were even called upon to help fight the fires.
We encourage you to become future community leaders who will have a positive influence on other leaders. Our dream is to see you serving as mayors and members of parliaments, as judges and leaders of tribunals, as educators and leading figures in the sciences and fine arts, and in every other field of Australian endeavor.
Remembering, too, that this is the International Year of the Family, our other great dream is that when today’s LDS youth become mothers and fathers, they will make every year one of absolute dedication to their husbands, wives, and children, training another generation in the principles of righteous living.
The Church owes much to young William Barratt and others like him. You can be the same kind of faithful servants. We challenge all of you to set examples of hope and faith—faith in yourselves, in your country, in your Heavenly Father, and in His Son’s church. Whatever your future brings, resolve to stand firm as witnesses of the Savior and his truth, “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).
Then, just as surely as sand and surf are vital to the seashore, the gospel will be vital to you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to Marjorie Newton who helped prepare historical and statistical data for this article.