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Albiston, Walter (1889–1965)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Walter Albiston (1889-1965), Congregational minister, was born on 25 July 1889 at Moonee Ponds, Victoria, son of Herbert Rowbotham Albiston, clerk, and his wife Eva Jessie, née McCure. He grew up in Ballarat where his grandfather, Rev. Joseph Albiston, father of A. E. Albiston, was minister of Barkly Street Methodist Church. After education to the sixth grade at state schools, he lived for a time on a relation's farm at Beech Forest. Through a school friendship he attended Dawson Street, Ballarat, Congregational Sunday School and Christian Endeavour, passing through a religious crisis in 1906. He moved to Malvern to continue under the tuition of Rev. G. W. Legge, while employed as an enameller of bicycles, and was accepted as a home missionary by the Congregational Union of Victoria in 1908, serving as assistant at Bruthen in Gippsland. In 1909 he entered the Congregational College of Victoria with a reputation as a 'powerful preacher'; he was ordained in 1914. On 26 December that year at Huonville, Tasmania, where he had served as student pastor, he married Gladys Marsh.

Albiston first ministered at Warrnambool, earning a reputation for vigorous support of conscription and Empire loyalty in the controversy with Archbishop Mannix. He became so involved in the campaign that he returned to Ballarat before the Federal election of 1918, founded the Victorian Protestant Federation, of which he remained secretary for forty-six years, and issued a manifesto in opposition to the 'Mannix-Ryan Combination'. With Herbert Brookes he was a founder of the monthly Vigilant: through its pages a relentless campaign was waged on such issues as government funding of religious hospitals and schools and alleged Roman Catholic lobbying of government for special consideration. The activities of Mannix, John Wren and others were continuously investigated. In 1920 Albiston opened the federation's office in Collins Street, Melbourne. Having made his home at North Balwyn in 1922, he gathered the East Kew (later North Balwyn) Congregational Church where he was deacon and frequently preacher.

In October 1925 Albiston was elected secretary of the Congregational Union of Victoria and Home Mission superintendent, taking up his duties after a world tour. His appointment coincided with the adoption of a new constitution designed to increase efficiency and to make the Union more influential in the life of its constituent churches. During his thirty-one years in office, Albiston pursued these aims vigorously. A natural administrator, he had a retentive memory and a good business sense. He initiated lay-preacher training and camps at Torquay for young men. A convinced ecumenist, he was a foundation member of the Joint Commission on Church Union and helped to lay the foundations of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Albiston was elected secretary of the Congregational Union of Australia and New Zealand from 1941 until 1954 when he became president. In this capacity he sat on many committees, including the Federal Inter-Church Immigration Committee. He served as president of the Congregational Union of Victoria in 1937-38 and 1957-58. In 1941 he had been appointed part-time chaplain with the Royal Australian Air Force and later visited war zones; before retiring in 1961 he had become principal chaplain for 'other Protestant denominations', with the rank of air commodore.

Regarded as a 'gifted controversialist', Albiston was tireless and vocal in his pursuit of social justice, and earned the respect of political and trade union leaders over social issues. Despite his strong Protestant bias his ecumenical interests broadened in later life to include the Catholics, with whose chaplains he had good rapport. A Freemason, he held the position of grand chaplain and was a foundation member of several lodges. A colleague described him as 'an elder statesman, a pillar of the Church, a man to lean on'; though a strict disciplinarian, he was also a man of 'very tender and quick sensibilities'. He was a keen and able sportsman, captain of eleven of the twelve Australian Rules football teams of which he was a member in Tasmania and Victoria, and a cricketer till his early fifties; three of his sons and a grandson were League footballers. An outstanding marksman, he observed the opening days of duck and quail shooting as well as the opening of the trout season. He died of myocardial infarction on 2 January 1965 when fishing on the River Murray near Tocumwal, New South Wales, survived by his wife, two daughters and six sons, of whom one was in the Congregational ministry.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Rivett, Australian Citizen: Herbert Brookes (Melb, 1965)
  • E. M. McQueen, The Story of a Church (Melb, 1966)
  • Victoria Congregational Year Book, 1914-65
  • Congregationalist (Melbourne), Feb 1965
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Jan 1965
  • Vigilant (Melbourne), Jan-Feb 1965
  • Congregational Union of Victoria papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Albiston, Walter (1889–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/albiston-walter-4989/text8289, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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