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  • Patricia Wilcox

41. A Kiwi Knight in Shining Armour


The story of a simple N.Z. Sunday School teacher - Dulcie Dive - who achieved a priceless station by pioneering to the Cook Islands.


The decade of the ‘seventies was extremely eventful. By that time the Beatles were history while Abba, Disco, and Queen were becoming big. Relentlessly grim television news detailed every tasteless event of Vietnam, Watergate, and the overthrow of the Pahlavi Dynasty, to be followed in December 1979 by the Islamic Revolution and Khomeini becoming Supreme Leader. Prior to this time, I knew nothing about that far away land of Iran that was soon to change my life forever. I was shortly surprised to learn that it was the same land I’d previously known as Persia, a mysterious place I thought I knew well (wrongly, it would later prove) from tales of ‘Alladin’ and ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, a richly beautiful land of questionable morality: of beautiful doe-eyed, scantily-dressed women dancing erotically in secluded in Harems guarded by eunuchs; in reality merely the fertile imagination of Hollywood film producers.   Meantime, the soundtrack to my own life was ‘The Logical Song’ by Supertramp which, said the song’s writer, ‘was born from my questions about what really matters in life’. No surprise then that my own life was undergoing its own revolution about what really matters. Turns out, I was indeed following 'the beat of a different drum' (yup, sung by Linda Ronstadt).   On first telling my mother that I had left atheism and become a Bahai - a religion originating in Persia in the previous century where it had grown so fast that Islamic rulers felt threatened and began to subject its adherents to brutal opposition - my mother was not as surprised as I had anticipated. In fact she even seemed to know details about it that I didn’t. In a spirit of quiet enquiry, she attended the first ‘fireside’ I held in my home for other enquirers who were keen to know more about this new faith.   I would later learn that back when she was a young girl, my mother had a charismatic young Sunday School teacher, a mere 7 years her elder, at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, Auckland, by the name of Dulcie Burns. Then, as fate would have it, this same paragon of virtue turned up in my mother’s life several years later, by which time my mother had left school with the intention of acquiring ‘specialised capacity in all office procedure’ at Brain’s Commercial College, Auckland. Here she found the same Miss Burns working as a tutor and learned how, in the intervening years, Miss Burns had become a Bahai.   When my mother completed her time at this College it was with the satisfaction that she had been their top student and awarded Dux. And so it was as a consequence of the example of Dulcie's life, all these years later, that my mother was so well disposed to my adopting her same code of belief which, at any rate, had to be preferable to my previous atheism.   My grandmother's community in Auckland was soon to be liberally sprinkled with transformative Bahai spirit as a result of the visit of the legendary Martha Root on a last visit prior to her death in Hawaii, during which she shared the words of Baha’u’llah: "Whoso quickeneth but a single soul in this Revelation, it is as though he had quickened all humanity: Him will God, on the Day of Resurrection, raise again to life in the paradise of His oneness, adorned with the raiment of His own Self, the Sovereign Protector.” And so it seems unsurprising to me that out of such fertile circumstances my own spirit might have had its painfully slow yet transformative beginnings.   Dulcie was destined to make considerable contributions to the spiritual life of the Australasian/Pacific peoples. In the 1940’s Australasian Bahá'ís were invited to submit papers to the Yerrinbool Summer School. Newly-married Dulcie Burns and fellow Kiwi Ethel Blundell forwarded papers they had written, and perhaps it was due in part to the impact of her paper that Dulcie found herself to be one of 9 delegates to the 1944 National Convention held in Australia, representing the Local Spiritual Assemblies of Adelaide, Sydney and Auckland. Two of the newly elected Assembly members would be from New Zealand: Hugh Blundell, and the newly married Mrs Dulcie (Burns) Dive, who was also elected secretary.   As background to this story, it helps to know that the two nations of Australia and New Zealand were settled by mostly British immigrants within the same few years, and so a certainly friendly rivalry has existed between the two countries who consider one another as ‘cousins’ living ‘across the ditch’ (the Tasman Sea). In the following year Dulcie Dive was again elected, but no New Zealand residents were chosen; Dulcie had by then transferred to Sydney to live and was now an adopted Australian.    The significant decade of 1953 – 1963 bought the ‘Ten Year Crusade’ and challenges given to the Australian Bahá'ís by Shoghi Effendi, greatgrandson of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Bahai Faith. As a consequence, numerous Bahá'ís left Australia to pioneer in the Pacific Islands including six members of the 1953 National Assembly. Amongst them was Dulcie Dive.   And so it was reported in Rarotonga that two women, from different countries but with the same aim, brought the Baha'i Faith to the remote Cook islands; Edith Danielsen, from the United States, and Dulcie Dive, from New Zealand but via Australia, who arrived in 1953 and 1954 respectively and were given the titles of Knights of Baha'u'llah by Shoghi Effendi.   The Cook Islands reported of her that “Dulcie Dive (1909-1962), a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia and New Zealand since 1944, left her adopted country of Australia in 1954 to be a Baha'i pioneer in the Cook Islands. Mrs. Dive had a loving nature, which attracted people to her. She is still spoken about with affection in the Cook Islands”. Their efforts soon bore fruit. In 1955, two Cook Islanders became Baha'is. A year later, the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Cooks was formed. A National Assembly of the Cook Islands was elected in 1985.   As a culmination of all the teaching activities resulting from the Crusade, at Ridván 1956 two new Local Assemblies were formed which, together with those of Auckland City and Devonport, participated in the election of the first National Assembly of New Zealand at Ridván 1957. The first National Convention of our country took place in Auckland in 1957, at the Hazíratu'l-Quds in Parnell Road. Dulcie had played a valuable role in each of the stages that finally culminated in this event.   In recognition of my personal appreciation of the role this great spiritual pioneer had played in my own life, in 1994 and twice more in the closing years of the millenium, I had the bounty of travelling to the beautiful Cook Islands myself to give papers on my recently published book “Bahai Families” and engage in related media and educational opportunities.   Subsequently I presented the N.Z. National Assembly with my own mixed media portrait of the unforgettable heroine that was Dulcie Dive (1909-1962) who had so warmly paved the way for my own recognition of the Baha’i Faith. In the years prior to her death, my mother shared with me her own acceptance of Baha’u’llah, Prophet of the Bahai Faith, as the Messenger of God for this Day.