by Jo-Anne Bruford
Bernard Francis Brabazon was born in England January 24, 1907. He came to Australia with his family as a young child. There were three brothers, and a sister who died in childhood. Francis was the youngest.
The family settled on a farm near Glenrowan in Victoria. Francis was happy growing up in this country, which he describes in The Wind of the World, although the work was hard and the times were tough. One of the older brothers, whose epic rowing boat trip down the Murray in the 1920's is recounted in The Great Australian Book of Nostalgia, described growing up on a "rock and rabbit farm."
Francis had a very close relationship with his father. He once said that they were "like brothers". His father had been a drama critic for newspapers, and there was a strong early background of literature and drama. The family was Anglican. By his early teens, Francis found that the priests could not answer his questions, so he became disillusioned with this faith.
In the early 30's Francis came to Melbourne, aiming to educate himself. This was the height of the Depression, so jobs were very scarce. He did get some odd jobs, like doing a round of early morning wake-up calls for businessmen. For a time he modeled for art classes at the Melbourne Art Gallery, where he met the young John Bruford, who was a student there. At times, he had to go on "susso" (sustenance relief), which was not handed out freely like today's dole. Recipients were required to work for it; one job was picking up stones in paddocks.
Lack of money was no deterrent to Francis's pursuit of an all-round education. He helped himself freely to books from bookshops. However, he tried to be fair; any that turned out not to be useful after all were unobtrusively returned! He attended any worthwhile concerts by confidently walking in by the musicians' entrance. He learned to play the piano. One of the flats he shared was known as "the Dump'', and although it lacked comforts and conveniences, there was a piano. He also took up amateur wrestling and weightlifting, and at one stage achieved an unofficial Australian record.
In the mid 30's, Francis met the Baron von Frankenburg, who was a Sufi teacher from the school of Inayat Khan. The Sufi group included many who later came to Baba. Francis was trained to eventually succeed the Baron as Sheikh. Francis was drafted into the army for a while, but managed to get out fairly soon. His old habit of asking questions, to which there was sometimes a silly answer, did not fit him for the military life! During the war, the Baron moved his Sufi headquarters to Camden, just outside Sidney, although a group continued to meet in Melbourne.
In 1947, the Baron gave Francis Baba's Discourses to read. He was extremely impressed, and wanted to meet Baba, but Baba was in seclusion. The Baron was also impressed, but did not actually accept Baba as Avatar. However, from 1947 onwards, readings from Baba were included in the Sufi meetings. At this time, the Baron gave Francis a ticket to the U.S. so that he could meet the Baron's own master, Rabia Martin. The Baron died in 1950. Eventually, the Sufi material was recalled by Francis, and the group studied only Baba.
In 1948, Francis acquired land at Beacon Hill. At first, he stayed on the land in just a pitched tent, where other Sufi group members visited him. The Sufi headquarters at Camden continued through until 1952.
In time Francis heard that there was a possibility that Meher Baba would visit the U.S. in 1952. He went to the U.S. and lived in New York for nearly a year, hoping to meet Baba. Fred Winterfeldt kindly arranged a caretaking job for him in the basement of a building. His duties were not onerous, and he was able to write. He eventually met Baba at Myrtle Beach, and Baba said he was to return to Australia.
The group members were contacted, and told to meet Francis at the cabin which had