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Hartley, Francis John (1909–1971)

by Renate Howe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Francis John Hartley (1909-1971), Methodist clergyman and peace activist, was born on 11 March 1909 at Rutherglen, Victoria, second of four children of Australian-born parents Francis Robert Hartley, engine driver, and his wife Minnie Annie Theresa, née Green, both active members of the Methodist Church. Soon after his birth the family moved to the Gippsland coalmining town of Wonthaggi where his father worked as a winch driver before opening a tailoring and pressing business.

Frank was educated at the local state and technical schools, and became a proficient artist. With his father's help, at the age of 16 he opened a mercer's shop. He was influenced by both the Methodist Church and the coalmining culture of the town, personified in his mentor Idris Williams. From 1930 Hartley studied at Otira training college and Queen's College, University of Melbourne (B.A. Hons, 1938). He entered the ministry in 1938. At Queen's College chapel on 8 April 1939 he married Marion Forrest Hamilton Thomson Lyon, a Scottish-born missionary and stenographer. His first posting was to the Methodist church at Orbost.

Church and family life were disrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Appointed chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force on 22 August 1941, Hartley served with the 7th Divisional Cavalry Regiment in the Middle East (1941-42) and in the fighting along the Sanananda Track, Papua, in December 1942-January 1943. His book, Sanananda Interlude (Melbourne, 1949), documented the tragedy, danger and comradeship of the campaign. In 1943-44 he was a senior chaplain at 7th Division headquarters in New Guinea. He was mentioned in dispatches (1943) and transferred to the Reserve of Officers in December 1945.

Posted to suburban Murrumbeena, Hartley resumed his course (which had been interrupted by the war) at the Melbourne College of Divinity (B.D., 1949). As for many servicemen, readjustment to family and work was not easy. His determination to prevent another war led to an alliance with Rev. Alf Dickie (Presbyterian) and Rev. Victor James (Unitarian). The three became known as 'the peace trinity'. They founded the Australian Peace Council in 1949 and in 1950 organized an Australian Peace Congress in Melbourne.

Hartley's public involvement in peace issues in the Cold War period eroded his popularity as a war hero, especially in the Church. In 1951 he was transferred to the Newport Methodist Church, in the western suburbs, where he found more freedom for his wider activities. That year he attended a meeting in Vienna of the World Peace Council—to which he had been elected a member in 1950—and also visited Rome, Prague and Moscow. His pamphlet, In Quest of Peace (c.1952), emphasized the importance of his meetings with the Czech theologian Joseph Hromadka. On his return, Hartley was president of the Democratic Rights Council (founded 1948) which opposed the banning of the Communist Party of Australia. Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies labelled him the 'pink parson'.

Short and stocky, with spectacles and thinning hair, Hartley was a regular speaker on the Yarra Bank. He worked tirelessly for the peace movement in the 1950s, helping to organize the Australian Convention on Peace and War (1953), a church commission report on peace and an Australian Charter of Freedom (1954), as well as travelling to international meetings of the World Peace Council. In 1955 he accepted the additional responsibilities of superintendent of the Prahran Methodist Mission. While there, he promoted community-based services—some in partnership with the voluntary sector and local government—including Meals on Wheels, homes for the aged, crèches, opportunity shops, the Somers Youth Camp and the Tyabb Training Farm.

Criticism of the Australian Peace Council as a communist front gathered momentum after the organization was proscribed by the Australian Labor Party in 1954. Hartley was described as a 'fellow traveller' for his stands on foreign policy. During the Australia and New Zealand Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament, held in Melbourne in 1959, the organizers, especially Hartley, Dickie and Samuel Goldbloom, were portrayed by the conservative press as pawns of the Soviet Union. The conference was well attended, however, and resulted in a spirited discussion of issues, especially nuclear disarmament. It marked the high point of the postwar peace movement in Australia. In 1965 Hartley and Dickie were awarded the Joliot-Curie gold medal by the World Peace Council.

The stress of these years affected Hartley's health and he suffered a stroke in 1965 while en route to the Helsinki Peace Conference. Undeterred, he won election to the Prahran City Council on a community platform in 1969. He died of cardiac failure on 5 July 1971 at Prahran and was cremated; his wife, daughter and three sons survived him. Hartley was an internationally recognized polemicist for peace in the postwar period; although his advocacy lacked an intellectual dimension, his deep commitment survived formidable opposition.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Hartley, The Truth Shall Prevail (Melb, 1982)
  • Australian Left Review, Apr-May 1967, p 55
  • Hartley papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

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Citation details

Renate Howe, 'Hartley, Francis John (1909–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hartley-francis-john-10448/text18529, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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