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Dougan, Alan Abernethy (1909–1982)

by Robert Willson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Alan Abernethy Dougan (1909-1982), Presbyterian minister, was born on 4 March 1909 at Ashfield, Sydney, second son of Stewart Abernethy Dougan, grocer, and his wife Mary Jane, née McCook, both born in New South Wales. Alan was educated at Canterbury Boys’ Intermediate High and Sydney Boys’ High and the University of Sydney (BA, 1930; MA, 1960). At the Presbyterian Theological Hall of St Andrew’s College, within the university, he completed his studies for the ministry, winning the Mitchell prize (1932).

In March 1933 Dougan accepted the call to the pastoral charge of Balranald and was ordained and inducted by the Murrumbidgee presbytery. On 10 January 1935 he married Elsie Stewart, a schoolteacher, at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney. He was appointed minister at Blayney in 1936 and at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Bathurst, in 1939. His keen interest in worship and liturgy, to which most of his fellow Presbyterian clergy were unsympathetic, caused him to be regarded as a ritualist. He served in New South Wales as a chaplain in the Militia (1940-42) and in the Royal Australian Air Force (1942-45). Committed to pastoral ministry, he worked among migrant communities and served as the foundation chairman of the Scots School, Bathurst.

Dougan was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales in 1956. Next year he was appointed principal of St Andrew’s College, where he remained until 1974. He completed a master’s thesis on religion in the department of anthropology and served (1964-69) on the senate of the university. Interested in the links between art and religious faith, he was a committee member and judge for the Blake prize for religious art. The corporate trustees of the Presbyterian Church and various boards and committees of the Church also engaged his interest.

Dougan was a member of the Joint Commission on Church Union, which wrote the 1964 Proposed Basis for Union of Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists in Australia, which envisaged bishops and further links with the Church of England in Australia. He supported this ideal with the emphasis on the fullness of the catholic faith in the proposed `Uniting Church’. Because of a dislike of episcopacy in all three denominations, but especially among Presbyterians, a second, revised basis of union in 1971 dropped this objective. Dougan wrote that the second version was a repudiation of the catholic faith, was deliberately vague in essential matters of doctrine, and did not contain a clear confessional statement. When the Uniting Church in Australia was formed in 1977, he remained a Presbyterian although distressed by divisions within his Church and the growing fundamentalist emphasis among Presbyterian clergy after the union.

Author of fourteen entries for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Dougan published reflections on historical and liturgical issues and a book on the controversies generated by the theological views of Professor Samuel Angus. In 1979 he declined nomination as moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia because of poor health. Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, he died on 22 May 1982 at Mona Vale, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. I. Jack, The Andrew’s Book (1989)
  • R. J. Willson (compiler), Reverend Principal Alan Dougan, M.A. (2004)
  • Minutes of Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia in the State of New South Wales, 1933-82
  • H. Clements, The Presbyterian Struggle 1970-1977 (PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, 1983)
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Robert Willson, 'Dougan, Alan Abernethy (1909–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 2 July 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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