Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mathias, Rex Collis (1907–1986)

by Brian Howe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Rex Collis Mathias (1907-1986), Methodist clergyman and peace activist, was born on 9 January 1907 at Maldon, Victoria, elder son of Welsh-born Richard Mathias, tailor, and his Victorian-born wife Edith Minnie, née Wearne. He was named Reginald Collis. Educated at state primary schools, Melbourne High School and Wesley College, Rex was employed as a journalist with the Melbourne Herald (1923-24) and the Argus (1924-32). In 1932, having been accepted as a candidate for the Methodist ministry in Victoria and Tasmania, he entered Theological Hall, Queen’s College, University of Melbourne (BA, 1934; MA, 1936). A non-smoker, teetotaller and cricket enthusiast, Mathias accepted a home mission appointment at Derby, Tasmania. He was ordained in 1936. During 1937 he studied for a diploma of religious education at Westhill Training College, Selly Oak, Birmingham, England. He was appointed a staff lecturer at Westhill, but in 1939 he returned to Australia and on 8 April at Camberwell Methodist Church, Melbourne, married Helen Hardie Watters, a nurse.

Never enthusiastic about a parish ministry, Mathias spent most of his professional life in Christian education. In 1940-44 he was chaplain at Wesley College. Appointed the founding director of the Council for Christian Education in Schools in Victoria in 1944, he was responsible for designing a syllabus for religious instruction in Victorian state schools and for editing the three volumes of Plan for Living (1944, 1945, 1948). Two years later he became the first director of the Youth Publications Department (subsequently the Methodist Federal Board of Education). Remaining in the post until 1964, he planned courses and edited religious literature for the Joint Board of Graded Lessons of Australia and New Zealand. As national secretary (1953-56) of the church’s Mission to the Nation, he collaborated with the missioner, Rev. (Sir) Alan Walker, arguing that Christian faith was relevant to all issues facing Australian society. Like Walker, he believed in a ‘whole gospel for the whole world’. He brought to the mission a professionalism that reflected his many years in journalism and long experience in publishing.

A passionate and able communicator, Mathias was not afraid to air his views publicly. In 1949-62 he and his colleague Rev. Frank Hartley were regularly the ‘voice of Methodism’ on the Yarra Bank. During the Cold War years he participated in the peace movement, which led to frequent accusations that he was either a communist or a friend of communists. ‘We meet the challenge of Communism’, he responded, ‘only if we give without strings, out of compassion for those in need, and if we fight, not another ideology, but hunger, ignorance, poverty, disease and injustice’. He was also active in Melbourne’s Peace Quest Forum and the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Notwithstanding his uncompromising views on many social and political issues, Mathias was recognised by the Methodist Church of Australasia as an outstanding leader; he was secretary (1961) and president (1962-63) of the Victoria and Tasmania Conference, and secretary-general (1969-72) and president-general (1972-75) of the General Conference. He was superintendent minister of the Canberra Methodist Circuit (1965-70), where he pursued a strong ecumenical ministry, and of Wesley Church, Geelong, Victoria (1970-75). Predeceased (1981) by his wife and survived by their daughter and son, he died on 7 April 1986 at Geelong and was cremated. His history, Mission to the Nation, was published in 1986.

Select Bibliography

  • Methodist Church of Australasia, Minutes of the General Conference, 1957-72, Minutes of the Victoria and Tasmania Conference, 1961-63
  • People (Sydney), 16 June 1954, p 40
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 Apr 1960, p 3
  • H. de Berg, interview with Rex Mathias (typescript, 1977, National Library of Australia)
  • A6119, item 1099 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Howe, 'Mathias, Rex Collis (1907–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mathias-rex-collis-14949/text26138, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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