BETA

Town's crier a good member-missionary

Oldest to hold post in Australian Commonwealth is valued by city

HOBART, Tasmania — "Our first settlers were hand-picked by the best judges in England," say euphemistic residents here. The less-charitable are quick to add that is because many Tasmanians descend from "cut-throats and felons," the convicts who were sent by the British Crown to build up the far country of Australia.

But to be fair, when the colonies in Tasmania needed a blacksmith, it was not a good day for a blacksmith in England to come up in court for judgment whatever the charge, they note. Whomever the convicts were — sent abroad for a slaying or stealing a loaf of bread — they were pioneers who left a reputable legacy of pillared buildings and a peaceful posterity.

Many of the convicts' stone buildings still stand, lending a feeling that Victorian England was not so very long ago, as well as a reminder to avoid doing anything that would land you in court. Their descendants in this land down and under the land down under are many, and they are proud of their ancestors' accomplishments. Some 450,000 people live in Tasmania, a part of the Australia Commonwealth, which is an island first settled in 1804. Of these, some 2,600 are members of the Church. The first missionary visit was made about 1854, but the first baptisms came in 1894, and Latter-day Saints have been present since then, said Wayne Fox, Hobart Tasmania Stake public affairs director.

"Tassie," a multiple-use word that describes the country, a resident, or its most famous animal with attitude, the cat-sized Tasmanian Devil, has been isolated from the outside world for much of its history. In some ways, say the residents, the isolation has been an umbrella — not a wall, but an umbrella — against trends of the modern world. In other ways, problems have slipped in so that its society faces all the issues of its neighbors in Australia, though not in the same abundance.

It is a Church member, Vic Garth, who, as a town crier, officially welcomes most visitors to Tasmania. Brother Garth has been "crying ever since 1987," he said, and at 90 3/4, as he likes to list his age, is the oldest active town crier in the Australian Commonwealth and perhaps the United Kingdom. He is likely the most photographed man in Tasmania as tourists and the Lord Mayor of Hobart alike are pleased to stand by his side before the lens. Despite his age, he continues such duties as shaking hands with visitors — 17,000 of them already this year — along with 45 visits to a market area, 10 visits to Parliament, 45 visits to the Royal Hobart Hospital and visits to schools, festivals, conventions and television appearances.

The key to his success, he said, "is to stay alive." But he cares for the people he meets and they notice and appreciate it, said his oldest daughter, Jan Beadle, who now accompanies and assists her father. He was chosen for the post after a city councilman saw him in a theater performance.

Before being selected, and before retiring, he was a master photographer and photojournalist in England and Canada. In 1947, he and his late wife, Irene "Midge" Weale Garth, who were married after a four-day courtship, saw a newspaper ad that Mormon missionaries were coming and invited them in. The Garth family, which by then included children, listened to the missionaries, then held a vote and all were baptized into the Church in 1947 in England.

After their baptism, they started meetings in their home, the first such meetings held in Reading, England. To promote the Church, Brother Garth placed an ad in a local paper and hired the largest hall in town. More than a thousand people attended and from this came the nucleus of a branch that is now a stake.

In the early days, they met in an agricultural hall. The family walked to the site, said Sister Beadle, "my mother carrying a baby, my father carrying a baby, and all of us [children] pushing the organ on a pram, because they wouldn't let us store it there. So we pushed this organ down past a pub, and every Sunday they'd yell out, 'Can't you sell it yet, mate?' "

"Every missionary we met was tops," she said. Missionaries often held street meetings. She said the children were instructed to heckle the elders until a crowd gathered, then to disappear. Just as the branch was going well, Brother Garth was transferred from Reading to Southampton, and again they started the Church from nothing. Worse, the missionaries had been mistreated in town — tossed into the dock pond by rowdies — so they had been removed.

Brother Garth was a friend since school days of the mayor there, so he and the mayor arranged for the missionaries to present her a copy of the Book of Mormon. A newspaper article followed that quoted her asking the citizens to be kind to the missionaries. Soon missionaries returned and a branch was organized.

"It built up beautifully and we had some wonderful people there," said Sister Beadle. "Then the opportunity came to for us to move to Canada, and we left."

They moved to Port Erie, Ontario, and again started the Church by "doing our missionary work. We did it with the best we could offer, in the name of the Lord. In doing so, He blessed us immensely. It was just incredible."

The family moved to Tasmania in 1970, and was very pleased to find that here, the Church was already well-established.

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