PERTH, Australia — Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, between Perth and Johannesburg, lies a point that is the furthest geographic distance from Church headquarters in Utah.
Both of these cities are the first landfall, in their respective directions, to that point on the Indian Ocean. And now, with the dedication of the Perth Australia Temple, both cities have temples, marking a significant landmark: Today sacred edifices circle the globe.
The Perth Australia Temple, the 106th to operate internationally and the fourth in Australia, was dedicated Sunday, May 20, by President Gordon B. Hinckley in four separate sessions attended by 2,773 Church members.
Servicing the 12,000 members who live in Western Australia, the new temple is located on the site of the Perth Australia Dianella Stake Center.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, who participated in the dedication with President Hinckley, called the events in Perth a major milestone in the history of the Church. "With the dedication of this temple on the other side of the earth from Salt Lake City, we are seeing fulfilled the oft-stated prophecy of Church leaders over centuries that temples would eventually circle the globe," he said. "This is a significant event in the on-rolling destiny of the Church and in the progress of the kingdom of God on earth. There is wonderful symbolism and imagery in today's temple dedication for which all of us can be truly grateful."
In spite of traveling the lengthy distance from Salt Lake City direct to Perth with only two overnight rests, President Hinckley was full of characteristic vigor and humor. From the moment the Perth saints began to file into the temple and nearby chapel in the early morning, and as President Hinckley spoke his first few words at the opening session, a powerfully manifest spirit was evident which endured throughout the day.
Even the forecast rain, after months of dry weather, could not dampen the spirits of those who witnessed the special events of the day. Indicating that the heavens were watching over the proceedings, the rain held from falling until President Hinckley completed the cornerstone ceremony outside the temple and returned inside for the remainder of the first dedicatory service.
Area president, Elder Kenneth Johnson, said that all who attended the sessions felt tender. "You could see in President Hinckley the tenderness," said Elder Johnson. "When the choir sang, to watch the congregation, it was very difficult. I had difficulty singing just to see the people facing me who were struggling to sing. It was one of those very memorable experiences. You read of them in Church history and in the scriptures, but I think this morning we repeated something of a very special nature."
Perth was settled by the British in May 1829. Named after a town in Scotland, Perth was the first British colony in Australia that comprised only free settlers. The early settlers in a number of other Australian cities were convicts. Over the years, the state of Western Australia, with Perth as its capital, has thrived through the discovery of minerals and other natural resources, gold being one of the most notable.
The first recorded Church official to visit Western Australia was assistant Church historian, Andrew Jensen, in the early 1890s. Jensen ultimately reported to the Church that, "because of the gold-rush fever that had gripped the population, it was not a good time to send missionaries to the West."
The first missionaries finally began their work in Western Australia in 1907. By 1913 the Subiaco Branch in a suburb of Perth had 26 members. In 1925 the first chapel was built to accommodate these early Latter-day Saints.
Among those who joined the Church during this early period was Lillian Macmillan who was in the celestial room during the first Perth temple dedicatory session. Sister Macmillan, who was congratulated and welcomed by President Hinckley at the beginning of the session, was baptized in January 1932 at 17 years of age, along with other members of her family.
"I've been waiting for 70 years for this to happen," said Sister Macmillan after the session. "I'm so happy that we now have a building such as this at our doorstep."
A period of growth and expansion followed in the 1950s when Western Australia shared in the accelerated national migration program. Newcomers, from all countries of the world, joined the Church. Antonio and Rosa Grinceri, who came from Italy to Australia as children with their respective parents, joined the Church 19 years into their marriage. They are parents of three boys and three girls. One of these is Elder John Grinceri who now serves as an Area Authority Seventy for the Church.
The 1960s and 1970s saw membership swell to 2,000 with small branches being organized in the sparsely vegetated country areas of the state. Into the 21st century, with four stakes and more than 10,000 members, the saints of Western Australia have come a great distance. Yet, their remoteness from other parts of Australia and Church headquarters in Utah continued to bring its own set of challenges. The announcement two years ago of the building of the Perth temple has resolved the most significant of those challenges.
The Western Australian members may well have been in President Hinckley's mind when he spoke at the November 1997 General Conference of new smaller temples being built to service "many areas of the Church that are remote, where the membership is small" to "make the blessings received therein more generally available."
For the saints in Perth, a visit to the nearest temple in Sydney took great sacrifice. As far as Los Angeles is from New York, the trip required days of driving or expensive air travel and the taking of vacation time to be able to participate in the sacred ceremonies of the House of the Lord. Before the Sydney temple was dedicated in 1984, the Saints traveled to Hamilton, New Zealand — an even greater sacrifice.
Now, with four operating temples — in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth — and a fifth presently being constructed in Brisbane, the 104,000 Australian saints may still need to forgo certain luxuries to visit their nearest temple. However, for those located in the state capital cities, the days of struggle and monetary discipline to do so have nearly come to an end.