Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Alfred Clint (1906–1980)

by Ewan Morris

This article was published:

William Alfred Clint (1906-1980), Anglican clergyman, was born on 8 January 1906 in Wellington, New Zealand, son of English-born parents John William Clint, commercial traveller, and his wife Lilian Lancaster, née Cawdery. The family came to Sydney in 1910. Alfred attended Balmain Public and Rozelle Junior Technical schools, but left early because his father was unemployed. Radicalized by his family's poverty, he worked for the Balmain Co-operative Society Ltd's store, joined the Australian Labor Party and studied Marxism, while also teaching in Sunday School at the Anglican church where his devout, Low Church parents worshipped.

After several visits to Christ Church St Laurence, Clint was converted to the High Church Christian Socialism of Fr John Hope, with whose assistance he entered St John's College, Morpeth. He studied there for three years under the guidance of (Bishop) E. H. Burgmann. Made deacon in 1929, Clint joined the Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd, one of the Bush Brotherhoods whose mission was to bring Christianity to the outback. He agreed to enter the ministry on the condition that he could retain his trade union and Labor Party affiliations, and remained a member of the A.L.P. and the Australian Workers' Union throughout his life. Graziers were angered by his support for the workers, small farmers and unemployed in western New South Wales, and by his activities on the organizing committee of the 1930 Brewarrina shearers' strike.

On 18 December 1932 Clint was ordained priest. He completed his term with the Brotherhood in 1935, was rector (1935-41) at Weston in the diocese of Newcastle, then served at Portland, near Lithgow (1941-48). A better speaker at the pit-top than in the pulpit, he was popular with the miners and cement workers in these towns, but some parishioners objected to his radicalism and his High Church practices. At the invitation of Philip Strong, bishop of New Guinea, he became co-operative adviser at Gona, Papua, in 1948. Appointed priest warden next year, he walked from village to village helping to organize Christian co-operatives. In 1951 he spent months in a Sydney hospital with severe dermatitis and was advised against returning to the tropics. He worked briefly in the Bathurst diocese before being rescued from 'parish respectability' by his appointment in 1953 as director of co-operatives, Australian Board of Missions.

Convinced by his Papuan experiences that co-operatives were a non-exploitative and culturally consistent way of integrating indigenous people into the dominant society's political and economic system, Clint travelled to the A.B.M.'s Aboriginal missions. He helped to establish co-operatives at Lockhart River Mission, North Queensland (1954), Moa Island, Torres Strait (1956), and Cabbage Tree Island, New South Wales (1959). At Glebe, Sydney, in 1958 he founded Tranby Co-operative College, a centre for training Aborigines to run their own co-operatives.

By 1959 the Lockhart River co-operative was in a state of undeclared bankruptcy due to the collapse of the trochus-shell market. S. J. Matthews, the new bishop of Carpentaria, saw Clint as a destabilizing influence and in 1961—with the support of members of the Queensland government who considered Fr Clint a communist—prohibited his entry to Anglican missions in Carpentaria. These problems led the A.B.M. to review its co-operative department: in 1962 it was replaced by an autonomous body, Co-operative for Aborigines Ltd, of which Clint became general secretary. His subsequent efforts met with little success and a disappointing lack of government support. He also assisted the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship to lobby politicians on Aboriginal issues.

Stocky and curly haired, Alf Clint was generous, humorous, hard working and idealistic, with a simple theology in which God's plan for a co-operative society was opposed to the interests of 'monopoly capitalism'. Kylie Tennant, who wrote an appreciative account of his work, Speak You So Gently (London, 1959), called him 'the only remaining link between the Church of England and the working class'. He supported Aboriginal self-reliance, cultural self-determination and land rights at a time when these ideas were not endorsed by most White Australians. Although his vision was not realized, his greatest legacy is the success of Tranby College, with which he continued to be involved. He died, unmarried, on 21 April 1980 at Glebe and was cremated after a service at Christ Church St Laurence attended by almost five hundred Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal admirers.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Southall, Parson on the Track (Melb, 1962)
  • L. C. Rodd, John Hope of Christ Church (Syd, 1972)
  • R. A. F. Webb, Brothers in the Sun (Adel, 1978)
  • K. Tennant, The Missing Heir (Melb, 1986)
  • F. Bandler, Turning the Tide (Canb, 1989)
  • Goorialla, 2, Summer 1980-81, p 12
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Aug 1960, 4 Feb 1966, 20 July 1974, 22, 25 Apr 1980
  • Tribune (Sydney), 28 May 1980
  • N. Loos and R. Keast, 'The Radical Promise' (forthcoming).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ewan Morris, 'Clint, William Alfred (1906–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 January, 1906
Wellington, New Zealand


21 April, 1980 (aged 74)
Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.