PHOTO: Francis Brabazon 1946
Francis Brabazon was born in England in 1907. His family moved to Australia when he was a child and he grew into young adulthood living and working on a farm in Victoria outside Glenrowan. In the late 1920’s due to severe drought he moved to the capital city of Melbourne seeking a better economic future.
During this time he discovered art and felt a strong calling to be an artist. He took piano lessons, began painting classes, started writing poetry, and educated himself by spending long hours reading in libraries and bookshops. He exhibited his early paintings at the first exhibition of Australian Modernist Art held in 1941 and published his poetry in the new literary magazines of the day.
He was driven by the quest to find the relationship between beauty and truth and this led him to study Eastern philosophy and culture and in particular the writings of Hazarat Inayat Khan who in 1910 introduced Sufism to the West and established the Sufi Movement.
Meeting Meher Baba
While studying Sufism in the mid-forties Francis began to read the Discourses of Meher Baba and could see that these “were the work of no ordinary man” and immediately felt a strong yearning to meet him.
This opportunity came in 1952 at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where Meher Baba was staying at the Meher Spiritual Center which was created for him as his home in the West.
PHOTO: Meher Baba at Meher Bpiritual Center, USA, 1952
Being in Meher Baba’s presence for the first time Francis was made aware of his divine authority:
He looked as I had imagined a Sadguru to look – a man who is nothing and everything, a man who is dead and alive, a man who has gone through everything. He is quite small, short and slight. His eyes are the most remarkable thing about Him, very large eyes, and they are constantly moving. In an ordinary person we would call it restlessness, but not Him. He did not convey that at all, but conveyed activity.
At a critical moment Meher Baba asked forthrightly if he would obey his wishes and Francis freely consented. Following this announcement Meher Baba gave Francis his first order: to return to Australia without delay and “plant a rose garden in Australia for Baba,” in other words, to spread his message of love and truth.
On his return Francis became active in giving talks and arranging meetings in which people could hear about Meher Baba. His poetry also at this time changed and began to reflect Meher Baba’s message and its implications for daily living.
1956 Meher Baba visits Sydney and Melbourne
Several times in the fifties Francis visited Meher Baba in India at his invitation. Then in August 1956 Meher Baba visited Australia for the first time and stayed in the sandstone house at Beacon Hill, Sydney, later called Meher House that Francis had designed and gradually built over several years as a Centre for Meher Baba in Sydney.
PHOTO: Meher Baba at Mascot Airport, Sydney, 11 August 1956 en route to Melbourne, photo taken by Robert Rouse
In December 1957, Meher Baba expressed his wish to visit Australia again, in the following year. The expectation was that he would once more stay at Beacon Hill, but instead he expressed a preference to visit the State of Queensland and meet his lovers there. In his desire to please his Master’s wish Francis courageously set off to find a suitable venue in Queensland having never before visited the State in his life.
1958 finding a suitable site in Queensland
In his travels to find a suitable site Francis reached Palmwoods, about one hundred kilometres north of the capital Brisbane, and camped for the night. The next morning, through conversation with a local farmer, he heard of various farms for sale in the surrounding area. During the day he went to inspect several of these farms. Eventually he visited an eighty-acre property on the summit of nearby Kiel Mountain with panoramic views across cane fields to the ocean in the east and to rolling blue hills in the west.
This was, as far as Francis was concerned, the end of his search. Immediately he sent a detailed cable to Meher Baba describing the property and after receiving the reply “excellently suitable”, went ahead and purchased the land.
Avatar's Abode June 1958
By 3rd June 1958, under Francis’s watchful supervision, accommodation for Meher Baba and the disciples accompanying Him, and all other preparations on the property were completed just in time for Meher Baba’s arrival. During his stay, which lasted until the 7th June, Meher Baba gave discourses, told stories and met with people individually and in large gatherings as he had done on his previous visit to Sydney in 1956.
Meher Baba was impressed with the beauty of the property and named it Avatar's Abode and said it would become a place of world pilgrimage.
After this event, in January 1959, Francis again set off to India at Meher Baba’s invitation. This visit lasted for the next ten years during which time Francis became his Master’s disciple-poet.
PHOTO: Francis (far right) with Meher Baba (centre) and men mandali, 1960s
Meher Baba's poet
'Stay With God'
Soon after his arrival, Francis’s greatest work, Stay With God, a work that Meher Baba had directed him to write and which he had been working on for several years, was finally published. This is a monumental work by any standard. Its central theme is the periodic incarnation of God in human form and how this is the way God “stays” with us and the most direct way for us to “stay” with Him.
In philosophic terms Francis also described this event as “the occurrence of Reality in illusion” and heralded Meher Baba as this same One Reality come again.
The work is a book-length poem that puts into sharp relief what is of spiritual value and significance against the collected rubble of facts called history. More than its searing critique of our contemporary God-less culture, and its vast sweep of literature, mythology, and art, is the strength of conviction that comes through in what Francis has written. It is this power of conviction that gives the work its life, which elevates it, and makes it so convincing. For an increasing number of readers it is a work that marks the beginning of a new vitality in art, of a new poetry.
While living in India Francis kept alive his craft as a poet and experimented with different poetic forms and would read his work to Meher Baba as a means of entertaining him. While Francis had come to the conclusion that “to entertain the Beloved is the only valid reason for a poem” this did not limit his imaginative possibilities as a poet. What it did was give them focus. Sometimes this “entertainment” was in the form of songs of simple praise while at other times it was in poems that exposed the deep malaise that permeates all aspects of modern life when “unlove” becomes the underlying social discourse replacing love for God and neighbour.
There was one particular poetic form, however, that Meher Baba inspired and encouraged Francis to write, this was an English ghazal. It combined features and qualities of both the English sonnet and Persian ghazal.
Sometimes Francis used the form to tell a personal narrative, or discuss philosophy, make amusing comments, or to express his state of “intoxication” brought about by his Beloved. But all these can be seen as variations in the ever-changing mood of the infinite love-dialogue between the Lover and the Beloved.
Francis’s English ghazals are poems ahead of their time for they express a state of mind that is not yet part of Western consciousness. But because of this they serve to invite readers into a new understanding and experience of love that may arouse them to discover the heart of this love for themselves.
1969 Return to Australia
Later in 1969, with no further role to play in India as his Master’s poet after Baba "dropped His physical body", Francis returned to Australia. He took up residence at Avatar's Abode, and stayed in the house in which Meher Baba stayed in 1958 now called “Baba House”. There was no hot water and only basic amenities but Francis never seemed to bother about these things and happily, as he had always done, continued with his writing. But now he had to face the crushing reality of living and writing in a world without his Beloved’s presence in it.
What he did find, however, was a growing number of young people turning up at his door wanting to know more about Meher Baba. Francis saw in these young people Meher Baba mysteriously present as if He had awakened Himself in their hearts. And just as he entertained Meher Baba in India, Francis now began to entertain his Beloved in the hearts of these inquiring young people in Australia.
Anniversaries of Meher Baba's visits to Australia
In this new role Francis was active in establishing the anniversaries of Meher Baba's two visits to Australia as times of remembrance and entertainment, and wrote plays and songs to be performed on these occasions. He always encouraged followers of Meher Baba, both within Australia and overseas, to write their own plays, poems and songs and to perform them to others — to entertain the One Beloved resident in the hearts of each other.
In 1981, Francis was sent a copy of The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi by Annemarie Schimmel and was thrilled to find that the author made mention of Stay With God, calling it “a modern mystical epic”. This was a significant moment for Francis for it was the first time that his work had been acknowledged by a highly regarded international scholar. It was the sort of recognition which he always wished his work might receive, for it exposed his writing to an audience who already knew something of what he was writing about.
During the early years of the eighties, Francis health gradually deteriorated even more with the advance of Alzheimer's disease and in his last months he was confined to his bed. The community of Meher Baba followers who had settled in the area, since Francis’s return from India, cared for him until he passed away on 24th June, 1984.
PHOTO: Francis Brabazon's gravesite at Avatar's Abode
A simple ceremony marked the occasion of his funeral, songs were sung and poems read. He was buried under some pine trees on the eastern slope of Kiel Mountain at Avatar’s Abode which looks out across a valley of mostly sugarcane farms to the ocean. A large uncut rock marks his grave site upon which a simple plaque reads: Meher Baba's Poet.
Think of the men who went before, those who will come after – do not give up:
Earth, millions of times – our troubles a matter for huge laughter.
The end of every affair was in its beginning – do not give up:
The conclusion of your journey is in your singing.
- Francis Brabazon
The mp3 file below is a rare audio recording of Francis Brabazon reading:
- 'The Ballad of the Rhyming Knight' and 'After The Flood' and 'Hymn To God The Man' from 'The Word At World's End'; and
- 'The East-West Gathering'
The mp3 is a very large file (68.1 MB) and goes for just over 2 hours (02:01:06).
The audio drops out briefly from time to time in 'The East-West Gathering' recording but recommences shortly afterwards.
The Avatar’s Abode Board of Directors is delighted with the work done by Dr Ray Kerkhove in compiling the Francis Brabazon Collection Significance Assessment Report.
Although Board members had some idea of the significance of the collection few of us really appreciated its diversity and significance until we read this report.
We are all now more aware of the importance of the task we have in caring for this collection for posterity.
We hope that this report, made possible by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council’s RADF grant, might provide the basis for other successful grant applications to assist us in implementing the Report’s recommendations.
Download the Report
Ghazals with Music
Sam Saunders Music samsaundersmusic.com