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Bucknall, Frederick John Graeme (1909–1995)

by David Carment

The Reverend Graeme Bucknall was a modern pioneer in the Northern Territory. Although he lived there for only a relatively short period during a long and distinguished life, his contribution was considerable.

As a churchman, he did much to make Christianity more accessible and relevant to Aborigines and people of various ethnic origins who lived in the Territory’s more remote locations. As a historian, he contributed much to the knowledge and understanding of the Territory’s past, especially central Australia. His work for the National Trust helped ensure that some of central Australia’s most important historical structures were preserved and properly appreciated in the wider community.

He was the son of Chester Clissold Bucknall and his wife, Rachel Agnes, nee Holmes. He was educated at the Drik Drik State School and then Ballarat College. After employment with a forestry company in Victoria and Tasmania, he decided in 1932 to become a Presbyterian minister. He studied in Melbourne, gaining an arts degree from the University of Melbourne in 1940, and a bachelor of divinity from the Melbourne College of Divinity in 1947.

He had married Jean, daughter of George and Elizabeth Williamson, on January 15, 1938, in the Brunswick Presbyterian Church, Melbourne. Jean proved to be an ideal partner, and their marriage was consistently happy. They had five children.

Between 1939 and 1959, he served as a Presbyterian parish minister in country Victoria and in Melbourne. In 1960, he was appointed director of the department of home missions for the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, a post he held until 1970.

He was widely recognised as an inspiring speaker and a sound administrator. This resulted in him serving as vice-convenor of the board of the Australian Inland Mission between 1962 and 1970 and moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria from 1966 to 1967.

In 1970, Bucknall and his wife moved to Darwin, where he took up an appointment as the first executive officer of the United Church in north Australia, a position he occupied until 1974. It was in the Northern Territory that his childhood experience growing up in an isolated bush community proved useful.

He was conscious of following in the footsteps of the great Presbyterian leader Reverend John Flynn, the famous ‘Flynn of the Inland’. He was especially interested in developing Flynn’s concept of a ‘mantle of safety’ for those people of various races who lived in northern Australia’s most isolated areas.

However, he regretted in 1974 that there was what he called a ‘culture/language barrier between cattlemen and urban man in the Northern Territory. On the rare occasions when the station people are in town, they neither feel at home in church nor understand the language.’

More positively, he could look back on ‘the phenomenal development in the relaxed and shared relationships between black and white members of the United Church during the last four years ... We are on the exciting journey to a truly indigenous church.'

Original publication

  • Australian, 23 November 1995

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Carment, 'Bucknall, Frederick John Graeme (1909–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bucknall-frederick-john-graeme-172/text173, accessed 15 September 2019.

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