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Rolland Arthur (Rollie) Busch (1920–1985)

by Angus A. Edmonds

This article was published:

Rolland Arthur (Rollie) Busch (1920-1985), Presbyterian and Uniting Church minister, theologian and chaplain-general, was born on 26 October 1920 at Windsor, Brisbane, eldest of three children of Arthur Emil Busch, a pork butcher from Germany, and his Queensland-born wife Harriet, née Beck. `Rollie’ spent his childhood at Toowoomba, attending local state schools until he was 15 when, to assist his family financially, he became a telegram-boy with the post office. In 1938 he enlisted in the Militia. Commencing full-time duty with the 25th Battalion on 17 September 1941, he served in the signals platoon and rose to sergeant in March 1942. He transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in July and took part in the battle of Milne Bay, Papua, in August-September. On 2 July 1943 he was commissioned as a lieutenant. He was posted to headquarters, New Guinea Force, where he became staff captain (air maintenance). From January 1944 he served with various movement control groups. Mentioned in despatches, he returned to Australia in March 1945 and was employed as a railway transport officer. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 1 May 1946 and worked briefly for the Queensland Department of Public Works.

Having decided to become a Presbyterian minister, Busch studied part time to gain his matriculation and in 1948 entered the University of Queensland (BA, 1951; MA, 1954). On 14 August 1948 at St John’s Church of England, Penshurst, Sydney, he married Evelyn Mavis Smith, a nurse whom he had met in New Guinea. Graduating with first-class honours in philosophy, he lectured (1951-62) part time at the university in that subject while enrolled as an external student of Melbourne College of Divinity (BD, 1953). He studied divinity at the Presbyterian Theological Hall within Emmanuel College, University of Queensland (BD, 1955), gaining first-class honours in Old Testament and New Testament. On 16 February 1954 he was ordained and inducted into pastoral charge of St Giles’s, Yeerongpilly, Brisbane. He spent a year at Union Theological Seminary, New York, graduating (1958) master of religious education.

Busch was professor of New Testament studies in the Presbyterian Theological Hall (1961-78) and in the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Joint Faculty of Theology (1968-77). He also taught Biblical studies part time (1961-74) in the faculty of arts, at the University of Queensland. As principal of Emmanuel College (1962-78), he oversaw a 50 per cent increase in college membership and the admission of women in 1975. Theologically he was a liberal within the mainstream Protestant neo-orthodoxy. Although he was influenced by Rudolf Bultmann and other leading twentieth-century theologians, his thorough training in philosophy allowed him to assess critically both received and current theology. He gave a large degree of freedom of interpretation to both staff and students.

Convener of the Queensland Church’s department of Christian education (1960-63) and board of local mission (1970-74), Busch was State moderator in 1972-73. He played a leading role in establishing the Uniting Church (1977), and served (1977-79) as moderator of the Queensland synod. In 1978 he supported the Aurukun and Mornington Island Aboriginal communities, who were resisting the Queensland government’s efforts to bring them under State control. For his ongoing commitment to the Indigenous people’s struggle for justice, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress made him an honorary member in 1985. In 1979-85 he was foundation principal of Trinity Theological College, Brisbane. On 21 May 1982 he was installed as president of the national assembly of the Uniting Church for a three-year term. A leading ecumenist since the 1960s, he served as chairman (1985) of the Brisbane College of Theology.

In 1954 Busch had been appointed chaplain, 4th class, in the Citizen Military Forces. He was promoted to senior chaplain, headquarters, Northern Command, in 1963 and chaplain-general (Presbyterian) in 1968. From 1979 he was chaplain-general (Uniting Church in Australia). Placed on the Retired List in 1981, he served on the Religious Advisory Committee in the Services from its inception that year.

Believing in faith in action, Busch was an advocate of the Church’s ministry to hospitals. He was Queensland branch chaplain to the Order of St John of Jerusalem (1973-85) and to the Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (1984-85). By the 1960s he was considered a national authority on bioethics. He supported the establishment (1984) of an in-vitro-fertilisation program at Wesley Hospital, Brisbane, and served on the hospital’s ethics committee.

Busch was 5 ft 5 ins (165 cm) tall, with brown hair, increasingly silver in latter years. He had a warm personality; his face was open, engaging and quite handsome, with welcoming blue eyes. His analytical mind enabled him to see issues clearly and quickly, and on occasions he presented his point of view very forcefully. He was known for his humour: rejecting the sometimes too laudatory opinions of his admirers, he once told a colleague: `Sainthood is all right for you Christians, but I have to be practical’. Appointed OBE (1978) and AO (1984), he appreciated the titles of office and the prominence of position. He could be anything but gentle if crossed, particularly by those whose opinions or motives he held in low esteem. Nevertheless, far outweighing such human idiosyncrasies were his great gifts as an administrator, a teacher, a communicator and a leader. He had also written a family history, Emil’s Children: The Story of a Saxon Immigrant Family in Australia (1974).

Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died of myocardial infarction on 19 July 1985 in Sydney. After a funeral service with full military honours in Brisbane he was cremated. A portrait by Lola McCausland is held by Emmanuel College.

Select Bibliography

  • N. W. Wallis, A Man Called `Rollie’ (2001)
  • Life and Times, 14-27 Aug 1985, pp 1 and 8
  • Busch papers (University of Queensland Library)
  • Busch sermons and addresses (Trinity Theological College, Brisbane)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Angus A. Edmonds, 'Busch, Rolland Arthur (Rollie) (1920–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 October, 1920
Windsor, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


19 July, 1985 (aged 64)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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