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Grindrod, Sir John Basil (1919–2009)

John Basil Rowland Grindrod, an Oxford graduate steeped in the traditions of the Church of England, might have been seen as a conservative with a limited contribution at a time of social change and challenges to the faith.

But in his long career in Australia he proved worthy of the challenges, emerging as progressive, innovative and willing to grapple with the thorniest issues.

The former archbishop of Brisbane and primate of Australia, Sir John pursued ecumenical ties, rationalised the previously oppressive Anglican position on remarriage of divorced persons and addressed the issues of HIV/AIDS and the mistreatment of Aborigines. He helped produce the first modern liturgy published in Australia, the Australian Prayer Book.

Sir John, who died on the Gold Coast last Saturday after a long illness, was born in England, to Edward Grindrod and his Tasmanian-born wife, Dorothy. He attended Repton School in Derbyshire, Queens College, Oxford and Lincoln Theological College at Liverpool University.

In World War II Grindrod fought in Europe as a Royal Marines commando. He had killed, he said on becoming primate in 1982, having chosen between two evils – "to be killed or to kill".

He thought then that he and the opposing Germans were both caught in forces of evil greater than themselves. "We should not fly a flag of 'I am right, he is wrong' but 'Lord have mercy'," he said.

Demobbed as a captain, Grindrod returned to university, considered becoming a medical missionary, but married Ailsa Newman, an Australian, in 1949. He did his first curacy at Hulme, Manchester, from 1951 to 1954, when he came to Australia.

Grindrod went to Rockhampton, then to Christ Church, Bundaberg, from 1954 until 1956, when he returned to Manchester as rector of All Souls, Ancoats. In 1960, with two young daughters, the Grindrods returned to central Queensland, where he was rector of Emerald.

Appointed archdeacon of Rockhampton in 1961, he became rector of St Barnabas, North Rockhampton.

In 1965 Grindrod was appointed vicar of Christ Church, South Yarra, and the following year bishop of the Riverina, NSW. He stayed until 1971, when he became bishop of Rockhampton.

In 1978 he was appointed chairman of the Liturgical Commission of the Anglican Church.

The Australian Prayer Book, published that year, was the first new prayer book authorised in Australia, finalising what had been more than a decade of experimentation with trial liturgies. One of the issues had been the replacement of Elizabethan English by vernacular expression.

The Australian Prayer Book was intended to stand alongside rather than replace the Book of Common Prayer, but it was widely embraced, and within two years its Second Order of Holy Communion had become the preferred liturgy in most parishes.

In 1980 Grindrod was appointed archbishop of Brisbane in succession to Felix Arnott. His wife, Ailsa, died in 1981. The following year he became primate of Australia. He was knighted in 1983, the year he married Dell Cornish, the widow of a bishop, and became stepfather to her three sons.

Sir John urged stronger ecumenical ties and, in 1984, signed a declaration to work towards greater unity with the then Catholic archbishop of Brisbane, Francis Rush. Grindrod was also involved in passing controversial church regulations including remarriage of divorced people. The changes made it easier for a divorced person to gain permission from a bishop to remarry.

He oversaw regulations freeing up processes for the ordination of women as deacons and tackled contemporary issues, such as establishing a church task force on HIV/AIDS.

In 1988 the primate officially acknowledged the past mistreatment of Aborigines, making a public apology on behalf of the Anglican Church. His commitment went beyond mere words. He formulated a ministry to Aborigines in Brisbane, using an Aboriginal pastor, Henry Collins, and encouraged the Brisbane Synod to have parishes offer a small percentage of their income to fund the pastoral work. He presided over the consecration of an Aboriginal bishop, Arthur Malcolm, in Townsville, in 1985.

He was of gaunt and ascetic appearance but, said the current Archbishop of Brisbane and Anglican Primate, Dr Phillip Aspinall, a man of the people who displayed empathy and compassion to all. He could laugh with the people. He had said on becoming primate: "I am like a father of the family, to give some guidance."

He loved the Australian bush and, in retirement, planted rainforest trees in recovered swampland.

Sir John Grindrod is survived by his wife, Dell, two daughters and three stepsons. His funeral is to be held at St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, on Monday.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 2009

Citation details

'Grindrod, Sir John Basil (1919–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/grindrod-sir-john-basil-16912/text28800, accessed 15 November 2018.

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