The text of Dr Ian Walker’s eulogy was sent to Anglican Media Melbourne by Bishop Peter Watson, former Archbishop of Melbourne, who represented the Diocese of Melbourne at Dr Babbage’s funeral. The Revd Dr Norman Curry represented the Dean of Melbourne, a post held by Dr Babbage from 1953-62.

May I first of all on behalf of the Executive of the Association of Heads of Australian University Colleges & Halls (University Colleges Australia), of which I am currently Vice-President, express our deepest sympathy to Stuart’s family and the Association’s warm appreciation of all that Stuart, as a former member, did as Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne and as Master of New College within the University of NSW.

In Brian Matthews’ biography of the late Professor Manning Clark, Matthews notes that Clark agreed in 1988 to speak at a gathering at Melbourne University in honour of Stephen Murray-Smith – editor of Overland, critic, educator, writer and academic who had just died. Manning Clark began by referring to Henry Lawson’s The Bush Undertaker and agreed that in the presence of the dead, “There ought to be somethin’ sed”! He doubted, however, if he was capable of saying that “somethin’”[1]. I deeply share that sentiment, especially in the presence of this congregation, with so many who could indeed say “somethin”! So much, of course, could be said (far more than any one person can); and much has already been said and written in tribute over the last few days.

Every chapter of Stuart’s life was so full. Even his own Memoirs – that of “a Loose Canon” – launched so memorably by Gough Whitlam at New College in 2004, and with Michael Kirby’s marvellous ‘Foreword’, is still but a glimpse of a life that has had such an impact on so many and in so many ways. How can you do justice adequately to a man who walked with C.S. Lewis, ministered and served as a Royal Air Force Chaplain during the Second World War, who experienced the preaching of the Revd Martin Luther King Jr, and – in the tradition of the Apostles at Cambridge and the Inklings at Oxford – was a senior member of the Sydney Heretics Club?!  A self-described, but self-deprecating “servant of Jesus (who, as he wrote)… tried to reach out and to build bridges …”[2] Well, here we are, with all our own special reflections, gathered this morning – just one part of his phenomenal network of bridge construction (which in later years certainly included the seating plan around his Dining Room table)!

My first recollection of Stuart Babbage is a photo in The Sydney Morning Herald when he was placed on the select voting list to succeed Archbishop Howard Mowll (as Archbishop of Sydney in 1958). He did not make the final list – but nor did Bishop Donald Coggan, then Bishop of Bradford and later Archbishop of Canterbury! He did, however, make the final list in 1966, along with Marcus Loane and Leon Morris, and in the final vote was runner-up to (then) Bishop Loane. When asked by a reporter how he felt about twice being unsuccessful in the Sydney Synod elections, Stuart replied: “Providence was merciful: merciful to the diocese and merciful to me”![3] In his book These Happy Warriors, Archbishop Loane noted that in later years “long bush-walks gave a strength and intimacy to our friendship which had begun fifty years before”. He then posed the question, as many have asked over the years: “Why did such a gifted man never become a Bishop?” Perhaps it was his long residence in the United States, or, Marcus Loane suggests, “perhaps he was just too Evangelical for many”[4].

Others perhaps might have said at times “too liberal”! But that was Stuart; while uncompromising in the conversion experience and conviction he had in Auckland at the age of 16 under the preaching of Irish evangelist W. P. Nicholson and the counselling that followed by Oswald Sanders, Stuart Barton Babbage was an embracing and non-judgemental “include” in seeking in word and deed to bring the saving love of the Lord Jesus Christ to all kinds of people. In his own words, Stuart noted that he was “proud to be an evangelical with independent views”. “However I have broad sympathies and recognise the legitimacy of diversity”.[5] On his appointment at the age of 30 as Sydney’s third Dean, following Deans Cowper and Talbot, the then Rector of St Jude’s Randwick, the Reverend O. V. Abram, wrote to Stuart: “I am sure that you are entering upon your task with many ideas and plans, and hope that among them will be that of being a unifying influence in the Church of this diocese. We need that more than anything else at this time. I pray that you might be mightily used by God in this way...”[6] Stuart’s text at his installation as Dean in March 1947, 2 Corinthians 4:5, gave absolute certainty of his priorities: For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.[7]

With that priority, what a mark it was of Stuart Babbage’s leadership, courage and vision that his final sermon as Dean of Sydney in 1953 focused on the plight of Australia’s Aboriginal people and the need for national penitence, reparation and restitution.[8] A man so deeply attuned to injustice and need, and so well ahead of his time.

In referring to Dr Babbage’s effective Chairmanship of the Executive Committee for the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade in Melbourne, where Stuart had become Principal of Ridley College and (as in Sydney) the youngest Dean of Melbourne, Stuart Piggin includes in his paper on the 1959 Crusades[9], a comment made by one of Melbourne’s prominent evangelicals at that time, Alan Kerr: “He was so good as Dean, that he overshadowed the Archbishop. All the papers would go to see what Babbage thought. Any comment from the Anglican Church would be sought from Babbage... He went to Ridley, but he was still a very prominent name with the rank and file, especially the other churches. The fact that he threw his weight behind the Campaign... meant a lot to a lot of people out there, as his name was so widely known.”

It was, of course, very much with the encouragement and support of Billy Graham that Stuart and his family moved to the United States (though Veronica stayed to complete her degree at the University of Melbourne) – first to Georgia, where of course he became involved in the Civil Rights movement, and then in 1967 to the Conwell School of Theology in Philadelphia, which later merged with Gordon College in Massachusetts to form the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Stuart was approached to be the first Master of New College at UNSW, but he declined, very much conscious of his obligations in the United States at that time and especially of the support that had been given by Billy Graham; however, he readily accepted the offer to become the College’s second Master in 1973, succeeding the Revd Noel Pollard. While at that time I knew little about New College, it was then that I again became conscious of this rather towering and seemingly austere but most impressive presence on the “church stage” in Sydney, especially in his period as Acting Dean at St Andrew’s Cathedral and in his and Elizabeth’s attendance at annual Cathedral University Services, addressed by preachers such as Billy Graham and John Stott. Around this time, he also became Guest Preacher at the Scots Church in Sydney, and I recall, as others might as well, him telling of the time when, after finishing preaching his evening sermon, he announced the final hymn but no sound came from the organ. He peered over the pulpit to the organ console below and saw that the organist had gone to sleep! How he echoed J.S. Bach’s Cantata Sleepers, Wake!

Dr Babbage’s time at New College began with bringing women into the all-male domain, with all the fear that had also existed elsewhere at that time, that co-residence would lead to co-habitation! The move proved to be much more settling and civilising, as the Master had envisaged. Such a move almost a decade before at Basser College had resulted in the all-male student committee walking out of the dinner at which the announcement of the admission of women was made! Stuart’s approach was determined, but much more conciliatory and well-reasoned. He appointed Sister (now Dr) Ruth White as Dean of Women, and he sought to work with the students and to respect their intelligence and their needs in some ways to push the boundaries! Ever on their wave-length and so much a part of the trends of the time, he would at times interview students dressed in a Hawaiian shirt – including the son of a former Archbishop! He, the son, was sold on New College and on Stuart!! As Master, he reached out to the University, establishing a strong rapport with University administrators and leaders across the campus. I recall in a meeting I had with Sir Rupert Myers, the University’s second Vice-Chancellor, that he praised the work of Dr Babbage in establishing a strong partnership between the college and campus – Stuart was greatly respected and gained entrée when and as required.[10] He nevertheless was not able to convince Sir Rupert of the need for a Department or School of Divinity or Religious Studies, as at Sydney University, but, as he said, along the lines that the University of NSW had established a School of Music![11]

Through forums and debates, services, guest speakers and dinners, Stuart sought to bring a Christian view of issues of the day and to challenge and expand the minds of students of the College. He was then and had been in church, community, college and campus, as many acknowledge, a clear and compelling craftsman of relating faith to contemporary literature and society. In this he set a strong foundation for the work of following Masters – Bruce Kaye, for a time as Acting Master, John Reid, Allan Beavis, and currently Trevor Cairney. What a wonderful and appropriate initiative it was in 2005 for the College to launch the Stuart Barton Babbage Fellowship to support the growth and development of promising scholars doing doctoral or postdoctoral studies at UNSW. Many of us gathered in the Clancy Auditorium in April 2007 when Stuart was awarded one of the first Honorary Fellowships of the University.

On his retirement from New College, the then religious commentator for The Sydney Morning Herald, Alan Gill, wrote an article that included a ditty: Snowy locks all flopping askew, the Venerable Master of New, Arose from his dinner, Ascetic and thinner, Sighing ‘Students will do what they do’![12]

For a number of years, Stuart continued his work as Registrar of the Australian College of Theology. He and Elizabeth moved close to the University, to a home that many of us came to know as a place of warm and generous hospitality and of care and support to a large number of international students (and to some in particular). Most of us here will have precious and happy memories of lunches and dinners hosted and, in the main, prepared by Stuart – gatherings of the most diverse range of people: Prime Ministers and Professors, Judges and Magistrates, Sirs and Ladies, Bishops and Biographers, Engineers and Financiers, Clergy and Lay, doctors and nurses, teachers and students, young and old alike! All with conversation around a candle-lit, silver-set table, and, at times, the ringing of the host’s bell with (on occasion) a response from the kitchen: “Just a minute”!! A home full of art, artefacts and books – and rugs that at times some of us would hold our breath from fear that Stuart would trip and crash to the floor! What a marvellous, inclusive and constant host he was; what conversations and connections we have all shared; and woe-betide anyone who escaped without signing the Visitor’s Book!

As Stuart undertook tasks of ministry following his retirement, again as Acting Dean at the Cathedral, at St Mark’s Darling Point and also becoming very much a part of this his Parish Church of St Jude’s Randwick, he and his family suffered the loss of Elizabeth from a brain tumour in 1984. Stuart remarked that the separation will only be for a very little while, “then there will be a joyful reunion”. Twenty-eight years later, that reunion has now taken place!

It was a wonderful privilege to get to know Stuart more closely in his ministry at St Mark’s Darling Point (and later in my own appointment at New College), as well as to know more of his family. Malcolm, of course, moved to Cranbrook School as Chaplain; both Alicia Watson and I have stayed at various times with Veronica and Sam in Detroit, with Alicia having been there only a couple of weeks ago. Veronica, Malcolm, Christopher and Tim in many ways grew up under the shadow and at times in the absence of their father, no doubt also coping with what Dr Norman Curry describes as Babbage’s “insouciant energy” in his time at Ridley[13]; but Stuart, of course, has written and has spoken with enormous love and pride of you and your families – as he has also of Daniel and his family.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1995, Stuart was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia “in recognition of services to the Anglican Church of Australia, to education and to the community”. An outspoken advocate as he saw the need in areas such as women’s ministry and human rights of all kinds, Stuart Babbage is described by historian Brian Fletcher as “one of the foremost intellectuals in Australian church circles”[14], and by Noel Debien in a 2005 ABC feature as “one of the great figures of Australian Church life... an evangelist, an agent provocateur for the Gospel... using the life of the mind as a road to the heart...”. Many of us here would have known him as a stimulating, compelling preacher and as a generous, wise and compassionate patron, guide, mentor and friend; someone whom it was an enormous privilege and blessing to know. We will miss his chuckle; his wit, his wisdom and at times his withering analysis.

Where now are the Stuart Barton Babbages?

This diocese has lost two great former Deans in the space of a few months – the tenth and now the third; the older out-living the much younger! It was Boak Jobbins’ sudden death that made Stuart even more conscious of his frailty and he asked that we meet, as we had met four years ago, to discuss his funeral. That meeting was to take place last Saturday morning; but God’s time is best, and a far more glorious meeting and reunion was in God’s plan!

Changed from glory into glory –
(Now) lost in wonder, love, and praise![15]

[1] Brian Matthews Manning Clark: A Life Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW, 2008, p.409
2 Stuart Barton Babbage Memoirs of a Loose Canon Acorn Press, Brunswick East VIC, 2004, p.xi
3 Op cit p.210
4 Marcus L. Loane  These Happy Warriors: Friends and Contemporaries New Creation Publications, Blackwood SA, 1988, pp. 72-73
5 Stuart Barton Babbage Ibid p.90
6Op cit p.64
7 Op cit p.65
8 Op cit p.94
9 Stuart Piggin “Billy Graham in Australia in 1959 – was it Revival” in ‘Lucas: An Evangelical History Review’ 1989
10 Interview with Emeritus Professor Sir Rupert Myers 13th May 1997 at New College
11 Interview with the Reverend Canon Dr Stuart Barton Babbage 19th May 1997 at New College
12 Stuart Barton Babbage ibid p.179
13 Norman Curry Proclaiming Christ: Ridley College 1910-2010 Ridley College, Melbourne VIC
14 Brian H. Fletcher The Place of Anglicanism in Australia, Church, Society and Nation Broughton Publishing, Mulgrave VIC 2008, p.171
15 Charles Wesley 1747

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