In the closing part of 1891, Mrs. E.G. White, accompanied by her son, William C. White, and a number of others from the United States, joined the staff of conference workers in Australasia.
As the fruitage of some seven years of labor in that field, there were at that time about a thousand Adventists. Among them were a goodly number of fine young people who had an earnest desire to take some part in the proclamation of our message. But they lacked the essential education and training, and there was no place in their homeland where such training could be secured.
So determined were they to obtain the needed training for service that they had been crossing the Pacific to attend our schools in the United States. When Mrs. White reached Australia, twenty or thirty of them had already gone abroad for this purpose. The sending of these young people so far away, together with supporting them in their schooling, was a heavy burden upon their parents and friends. This cost, and the expense of their return, was conservatively estimated at $25,000; but apparently there was no other way of training the necessary workers, for there seemed no possibility of establishing an advanced school in Australasia in the then near future.
It was not long after Mrs. White's arrival in Australia, however, that a message came from her to the Conference Committee, stating that she was instructed by the Lord to tell us that we should establish a school. This message was timely and welcome, yet it caused us serious perplexity. How could we, with only a small constituency, and most of these poor in this world's goods, succeed in such an undertaking?
After prayerful study and counsel, it was soon decided to call upon Seventh-day Adventists in all parts of Australasia to unite in establishing and maintaining a school. To purchase was, at that time, out of the question, but commodious buildings were
secured at reasonable terms on St. Kilda Road, one of the most attractive boulevards in the city of Melbourne. This rented building was furnished simply, and on August 24, 1892, a term of sixteen weeks was begun with about thirty students in attendance. Their ages ranged from fifteen to fifty years.
Mrs. White took a keen interest in the work of the school. Frequently she would give counsel to the faculty, and address the students. On one occasion, in the midst of a rousing address, she seemed to lose sight of her immediate surroundings, and impressively directed our attention to the great mission fields to the north, and east, and west of usChina, India, South America, and Africa. Some of these great, fields had not yet been entered by Seventh-day Adventists, while in others but a small beginning had been made. She told us most. clearly and forcefully that a great work would yet be carried on in all these fields. It was amazing to us, at that time, to hear her declare that what had been developed in North America would be repeated in those missionary lands. We were still more astonished when she said that young people trained in the Australasian school would be sent as missionaries to the lands mentioned.
We were overwhelmed by the great scope of activity and development outlined with such assurance. To enter those countries; learn the difficult languages; make disciples; organize churches; establish schools, printing houses, and medical institutions,in short, to duplicate what had then been developed in North America, and to send missionaries Jrom our little Australasian school to help do it,all this seemed like the wildest kind of speculation. Our poor minds were too narrow and our vision too constricted to follow the great sweeping advance outlined to us in this address:
But some who were present have lived to see those staggering predictions strikingly fulfilled. Our work is now firmly established in India, Burma, Malaysia, China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines,to the north and west of Australia. A great work
is being done in South America and Africa. What had been developed in North America in 1892 is already practically duplicated in some of these fields. Moreover, young men and young women, trained in Australia, have gone to every one of these mission fields,save, possibly, South America.
The school proved helpful and satisfactory to the students during the first year. Encouraging reports were sent out to parents and friends; and so many others decided to attend the next year that it was found necessary to rent a third building. Thus progress was being made in this new undertaking.
But all this time we were being counseled through the spirit of prophecy that this place in the city was not suitable for a permanent school. Our school, it was declared, should be located and developed as follows:
1. Located in the country, away from the large cities.
2. Provided with sufficient land for farming, gardening, fruit growing, dairying, and the like.
3. Furnished with varied industries for the employment of students on a basis remunerative both to the school and to the students.
4. Operate industries with such efficiency as to give the students skill, lead them to estimate rightly the value and dignity of labor, and to make them self-reliant men and women.
Here is some of the written instruction given us:
Where shall our Australasian Bible School be located? I was awakened this morning at one o'clock with a heavy burden upon my soul. The subject of education has been presented before me in different lines, in varied aspects, by many illustrations, and with direct specification, now upon one point, and again upon another.
Never can the proper education be given to the youth in this country [Australia], or any other country, unless they are separated a wide distance from the cities [Italics mine].
We need schools in this country to educate children and youth that they may be masters of labor, and not slaves of labor.
Manual occupation for the youth is essential. The mind is not to be constantly taxed to the neglect of the physical powers [Italics mine]. The ignorance of physiology, and a neglect to observe the laws of health, have brought many to the grave who might have lived to labor and study intelligently.
Habits of industry will be found an important aid to the youth in resisting temptation [Italics mine]. Here is opened a field to give vent to their pent-up energies, that, if not expended in useful employment, will be a continual source of trial to themselves and to their teachers. Many kinds of labor adapted to different persons may be devised. But the working of the land will be a special blessing to the worker.Fundamentals of Christian Education, chap., Work and Education, pp. 310-327.
As we studied this great outline, we felt it necessary to remind Mrs. White of what it would mean to a small constituency, few of whom owned their homes, to purchase high-priced land, erect necessary buildings, and establish, equip, and operate the industries called for. We told her that the task seemed utterly impossible. While acknowledging all these difficulties, she steadily pointed to the blueprint of the school that had been shown her.
This led to the appointment of a committee to make diligent search for a suitable location in the country. There was much searching, and much disappointment. Good land was found in desirable places, but the cost was absolutely prohibitive to us. No landowners made us any good offers. No community in all the country had any interest in our proposal to establish a school on the land. So everywhere we faced indifference and high prices.
Some good places were found, but the price ran from $75 an acre up. At last we found a block of about fifteen hundred.acres, located at Cooranbong, about seventy-five miles north of Sydney. It was offered at a very low price,about three dollars an acre. The price seemed alluring, but the land itself was disappointing. Most of it seemed to be poor, sandy, and hungry. We were disappointed, and were divided in our judgment in regard to its purchase.
On May 24, 1894, Mrs. White went with the committee to examine the property. The day was spent in going over the various parts of the large estate; but when night came, no decision had been reached. The following morning the committee again met, and examination was resumed. Of this Mrs. White wrote at the time to her son, J. E. White:
Before starting we had a most solemn season of prayer. My heart was drawn out in earnest prayer for the Lord to guide us in judgment. He alone could indicate to us what was His holy will. The decision of this day meant much to every one of us; for it would be settled whether or not the school should be located in this place. I also felt most earnestly for Brother McCullagh who has been quite feeble, and prayed that the blessing of God might rest upon him. Our hearts were melted with the softening, subduing influence of the Spirit of God. We did believe that we received the things we asked of the Lord. All present seemed deeply moved, and several earnest prayers went up to the throne of grace. My faith increased, and I knew the Lord would teach us and lead us, and this He did do. There was perfect unity in making the decision to purchase the fifteen hundred acres of land at the price of four thousand five hundred dollars.E. G. White Letter 82-1894.
The brother referred to was in declining health, and seemed to be succumbing to tuberculosis. When we arose from our knees, this brother described the experience which had come to him. He said that while Mrs. White was praying, there passed through his body a sensation which he described as an electric wave, and immediately he realized that he was healed of his disease.
Thirty-five years later I met this man on a street in Sydney, in good health. He told me that he had never had a trace of tuberculosis since that morning in the fisherman's hut, where we knelt in prayer.
This powerful manifestation of God's presence with us made a profound impression upon all. Mrs. White said in substance: Brethren, God is here with us! Why did He come so near and grant us this signal blessing? I accept it as evidence that we are in the right place! We agreed then to take the property.
But the doubts entertained by some returned to disturb themand us. The counsel of land experts who were consulted was disquieting. W. C. White, writing to the Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, under date of June 10, said:
Nearly all of the men of influence with whom we have come in contact, shake their heads when we speak of the district. The Department of Agriculture after examining samples of the soil, said it was sour, and would require a ton and a half of lime to the acre. Then the Government fruit expert was sent up to examine it, and his report I will enclose with this. True, it was a rainy day, and we were short of time, and he did not see the best of the place, and yet, it sometimes makes me feel blue, to hear all of these men who know a great deal, condemn the place.
One brief passage from the report of the fruit expert will indicate the nature of his advice:
From what I can gather, the objects of the society are to start a colony of a certain sect or denomination and to erect a college in connection with the colony for the purpose of educating missionaries who will receive an agricultural and horticultural training in addition to their purely missionary training. Therefore, in order for the undertaking to be a success, it is my opinion that the society will be unwise to select the land I visited.
Even after we had made the first payment on the land, we were advised by the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture that to forfeit the deposit would be a small loss in comparison with what we should suffer were we to locate on this block of land.
The report of our own misgivings, together with the supposedly expert counsel given to us, naturally caused serious concern on the part of the Foreign Mission Board, whose cooperation it was necessary for us to have if we were to make the enterprise a success. The Secretary, writing under date of October 30, gave this as their judgment:
You delay further operations, at least as far as any further financial outlay is concerned, in connection with this tract, until such time as a full meeting of the Board here might be able to consider the matter, and advice given with reference to the same.
When this counsel was received, we had no misgivings in voting, on August 27, to delay further proceedings at Cooranbong until we have time to consider the question of location. The work of surveying was stopped, and the whole matter was held in abeyance, until November 20, when action was taken to continue payments for the property.
It was only the firm, unwavering counsel that came from Mrs. White that finally led the committee to proceed with the enterprise. When the unfavorable report of the Government fruit expert was received, W. C. White and I were requested by our associates to inform Mrs. White. This was a painful and embarrassing task, but we endeavored to do our duty. When we had made our statement, she calmly said: Is there no God in Israel, that ye have gone to the god of Ekron for counsel? She reminded us of the experience of prayer and healing on the occasion of her visit to the place, and assured us that from that time she had felt no anxiety.
On one occasion she quoted words from the heavenly messenger spoken to her for our assurance, They have borne false witness against the land. Repeatedly she assured us, God will spread a table in the wilderness.
Some years later, addressing those bearing responsibilities in the Avondale school, she related an incident that had given her courage. She wrote:
We are much pleased to have the privilege of hearing how greatly the blessing of the Lord is resting upon the Avondale School. How pleased I should be to see the grounds as they are now, looking as I was instructed they might look under proper, intelligent cultivation.
In the darkest hour of the establishment of the Avondale School, when the outlook seemed the most discouraging, I was sitting in the hotel in Cooranbong, then used by our people, completely wearied out by the complaints made regarding the land. My heart was sick and sore. But suddenly a great peace came upon me. Angels seemed to be in the room, and then the words were spoken, Look ye. And I saw flourishing, cultivated
land, bearing its treasure of fruit and root crops. Many resources were spread out before me, and wherever my eye was directed, I saw prosperity.
I saw the school filled with promising students. All seemed to be helped, by the inspiration of well-organized efforts, to stand and work upon a high platform. There was so large a number of pleasant faces that I could not fail to understand that the light of the Lord's countenance was lifted upon them.
A great light and peace came upon me. I was so blessed that I praised the Lord aloud, saying, His word is fulfilled, God will spread a table in the wilderness.E. G. White Letter 36-1907.
It was Mrs. White's letters that caused the Foreign Mission Board to withdraw their objections; and, upon receipt of this word, we in Australia went forward with our plans to establish the school at Cooranbong.
It fell to my lot to lead out in raising money for the land we had secured. My own courage was at a low ebb. Doubtless my personal misgivings helped to make it impossible to interest our brethren and to persuade them to give toward the enterprise.
Thus months passed, with but little progress having been made. Then in August, 1896, we learned that Mrs. White had borrowed $5,000 from a personal friend, and had lent it to the school for the erection of buildings. This generous act of faith and courage on her part made a powerful impression on our hearts. We felt much condemned, and confessed our wrongs in allowing our unbelief and dallying to increase the burden, perplexity, and heart sorrow of the Lord's servant. From that day forward, our faith, courage, and zeal in and for that school never wavered. We were able to throw all our energies into the effort to provide the buildings.
Our first unit consisted of two buildingsa small dormitory, and a dining hall and kitchen. We were so short of funds that in finishing the dormitory we were obliged to call for volunteers to give free labor. Work was continued into the night, some holding lighted candles while others drove nails. Only those who
were on the ground and passed through the struggle can realize how great it was.
When these two buildings were finished and furnished, the first term of what is now known as the Australasian Missionary College was begun. On the first day of our new school (April 28, 1897), we realized our need of the admonition, Despise not the day of small things, for we opened the term with four teachers and but ten students. The long delay, the perplexities, and the discouragements in getting the location and in providing the buildings and equipment had caused our people to lose heart. But when it became generally known that Mrs. White was encouraging the enterprise, and that the school had really opened, a new interest was awakened, and before the term closed there were fifty or sixty students in attendance.
Thus far we had endeavored to establish this enterprise without calling upon our people in North America for assistance; but we found the grade so steep and so long that we finally appealed to them for help. They promptly responded, by offering to appropriate a sum equal to the amount we would raise within, of course, a reasonable limit. This gave us great encouragement, and with good heart our people in Australasia undertook to raise their share.
In the meantime we continued building operations, paying our share and running in debt for the amount we expected to receive from abroad. We gave our builders, and the business men from whom we purchased material, assurance that we should soon receive money to meet our obligations. We fully expected to receive this money by a certain date from America. But we were doomed to a terrible disappointment. Instead of a draft, the mail brought us the decision that, owing to financial depression, the General Conference would be unable to send their part. They advised us to delay building operations until the financial situation had improved in America. But we had already gone on with our building, and now we had no money to meet our obligations.
Moreover, Australia was then suffering from a severe drought, and some of our faithful brethren who had made liberal pledges said we must give them more time.
Then, some who had lent us money, hearing of our disappointment and embarrassment, became alarmed, and called for the payment of their money at once. The members of the school board were sorely perplexed and distressed. They knew not what to do. Naturally, they blamed themselves for going ahead without money. Mrs. White and her son offered to mortgage their places and lend the school the proceeds. They went so far as to spend thirty dollars for an official appraisement. But the appraisement being only 15 per cent of the cost value, no loan could be secured.
The situation was grave. Money had to come from some source. In our great perplexity we made earnest supplication to our God, whose work we were trying conscientiously to carry forward. Our appeal was heard and answered. Miracles were wrought for us. In a few weeks our people in Australasia raised in gifts and loans all that was required to meet all our obligations.
Thirty-eight years have gone by since those marvelous experiences, and during all these years truly wonderful developments have attended the enterprise.
Those who were entrusted with the responsibility of developing the school endeavored faithfully to follow the outline given by the spirit of prophecy. Land was cleared and placed under cultivation. Fruit trees and grapevines were planted. A dairy was provided; carpentry, painting, and printing became important industries; and a small factory for the manufacture of health foods was installed.
God's blessing rested signally upon the field and orchard at Avondale. I remember at one time, while connected with the school for a short period, I went into the vineyard, lifted up some of the heavy vines, and brought to view large bunches of the most luscious grapes I have ever seen. From the ten-acre orchard
I have helped the boys carry to the school kitchen large baskets of peaches, oranges, lemons, and apples, as fine as could be grown. So numerous and so large were the turnips in a two-acre patch that I was able to walk across without stepping on the ground.
Some years later a practical demonstration was given by Prof. C. W. Irwin, then principal of the college, of the fulfillment of the assurance, God will spread a table in the wilderness. As a large number of people surrounded long tables laden with many varieties of choice fruit grown on the property, the providences of God in the establishment and growth of the school were rehearsed.
In 1909, twelve years after the opening of the school, Professor Irwin, who had been principal eight years, wrote as follows:
As time has gone on, and we have had an opportunity to watch the work develop, we can say most assuredly, from our experience, that God led in the selection of this place. Everything that has been said about the location of the school in this place has been fulfilledeverything.
The brethren in counsel with Mrs. White had made such broad and liberal plans for the school that through my eight years' connection with it I have never yet needed to change a single plan they had laid down. God guided in the establishment of the work there; and all we have endeavored to do during these eight years has simply been to develop more fully the plans already made. I believe the working out of this has proved that God's instruction was true.
Although the college opened with but two small buildings, four teachers, and ten students, those who have been closely associated with the institution during the thirty-eight years of its history estimate that the average annual attendance must have been about one hundred seventy-five. More than two thousand students have, in some measure, enjoyed the advantages of this educational institution. Hundreds of those who have had these advantages are now devoting their lives to the advancement of the cause for which the school stands. Union and local conferences, the island mission fields of the South Pacific, the educational, publishing, and medical institutions, the food factories
and vegetarian cafés, and all lines of gospel work of every kind, are under the leadership and the management, with very few exceptions, of men and women who received their education and initial training in the Australasian Missionary College. Besides those who are connected with the Australasian Division, many have gone to distant fields.
In a survey of the institution given back in 1929,six years ago,the principal of the school gave the following report:
Enrollment: College, 200; church school, 100. Number of buildings, large and small, in use, 52. Number of acres of land retained for the school, 700; cleared, 300; in orchard, 25; in crops, 50; in garden, 5; in pasture, 220. Varieties of fruits grown: apples, pears, quinces, oranges, lemons, plums, persimmons, lo-quats, and grapes. Variety of crops: oats, maize, potatoes, sorghum, vegetables of all kinds. Number of cattle in dairy, 85. Number of fowls, 760. Trades taught: carpentry, sewing, cooking, and home nursing.
Number of students employed by the school: farm, 21; dairy, 3; carpentry, 2; culinary, 25; campus, 2; halls, 8; poultry, 1; laundry, 3; bakery, 2; boiler, 2; office, 3. Total, 72. Number of students employed part time in the food factory, 112. Number of permanent workers employed in the food industry, 78. Number of faculty members, 22. Grand total employed in the school plant, 284. Amount earned by employees: outdoor students, $14,500; indoor students, $48,000; by permanent factory employees, $112,000; by faculty, $26,000. Total amount annually earned by all classes employed in the school plant, $200,500.
In the food industry department several most useful trades are carried on: health food production, electrical engineering, printing, carpentry, painting, importing, exporting, accounting.
To aid in the sale of the food products, seven food stores and vegetarian cafés are being maintained in the largest citiesthe capitals of the states. The sale of these food products has developed beyond anything the founders of the school ever anticipatedtwo million dollars annually.
To operate these branch factories, depots, food stores, cafés, and the fleet of auto trucks and auto delivery cars requires the services of a large staff. Three hundred of our people are employed the year round for this work. Adding this number to those who are employed at the school, we have a staff of around six hundred. These are all our own church members. They are all given good wages for their labor.
A large investment of money is required to carry on a work of those proportions. At present this investment is about three million dollars. It is a source of great satisfaction to our people in Australasia that this great enterprise is so efficiently managed that, after meeting the enormous expense of every kind, a good profit remains, and that this is all devoted to the advancement of the different lines of our work being carried on in the Australasian Division.
So, as we review the very trying experiences through which we passed in building up the Australasian Missionary College, we see that even when clearly and definitely called to do things to advance the cause of God, we are not delivered from difficulties, toil, and disappointments of various kinds. But we may have the assurance all the way along that if we give ourselves wholly to God, and in our work follow His directions, He makes Himself responsible for its accomplishment.Christ's Object Lessons, p. 363.
We may also feel sure that what we do in strict conformity to the call of God will prosper, and come out most successfully. Thus it has surely been with the Australasian Missionary College. In leading us to that location the Lord saw more than the land, whether good or bad. He saw the great need of making it possible for our young people in Australasia to earn means with which to pay their way through school. He saw the necessity of our being isolated from certain labor complications near the cities. He saw the large development of the industries we were to carry on, and so He directed us to the place we were able to
purchase, and placed us where we can now do the great work that He foresaw would be developed.
In all this we see the great value of the spirit of prophecy
to the people and the cause of God. It gives light and understanding far beyond
the comprehension of men. It leads us on to great undertakings from which we
would shrink because we do not see the future nor the full importance of what
we are called to do. We do not foresee the great proportions that small
beginnings may eventually reach. That was why we needed the spirit of prophecy
when the time had come to provide educational facilities for our young people
in Australasia. The church is always in need of that precious counsel to deal
wisely with the serious problems that are continually springing up to baffle
and defeat its purposes. The statement of Jehoshaphat is as true today as it
was when spoken to Israel, Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be
established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper. 2 Chron.