Amish In Australia?

Do Amish live in Australia? One family is being described as such in a major profile in the Sydney Morning Herald. The McCallums live in the countryside of the Australian island of Tasmania. Gregory and Bethany, ages 41 and 42 respectively, have eight children, and live in a way that resembles the Amish – dressing plainly, using horse-drawn vehicles, and forgoing public electricity and much technology.

Until about ten years ago they lived an otherwise “modern” life, running a movable poultry structure business. At first description their conversion seems to have been driven first and foremost by tech aversion (others have done similarly – see Eric Brende’s book Better Off for an example of one person’s adoption of a plain lifestyle driven by concern over technology).




Gregory had something of an ephiphany while reading Henry and the Great Society, a tome published in the late 60s described as popular among Amish and Mennonites, which tells the story of American farmer whose simple peaceful life is gradually upended after public electricity and its accompanying technologies come to the farm. This led them in a plain “Amish” direction.

But there also is religious conviction in this family’s story, which gives them more of a claim to an “Amish” life than those who simply wish to live deliberately through limiting use of technology:

Her parents were Baptist Pentecostal and she was home-schooled with American conservative religious texts in Newcastle, NSW, and on a farm in the South Australian town of Laura, 222 kilometres north of Adelaide. Bethany became more devout than her parents, believing – to her mother’s consternation – that the Bible instructs women to cover their hair.

Gregory, meanwhile, grew up 30 minutes north of Laura on a farm at Booleroo Centre, lost his dad to cancer at 16, fell into hard partying and became a fervent Christian at 21. When the couple married a year later, an acquaintance told them about the Kauffmans, an evangelical Amish-Mennonite family from Alabama who had moved to Brisbane.

They were the first Christian family the McCallums had met in which the women wore a scarf on their head (otherwise they were pretty liberal: they drove cars and used the internet). In 2004, the McCallums joined the Kauffmans’ new church, eventually settling in Gympie. Eight years later, they went it alone in Scottsdale.

The McCallums have apparently had several families who attempted to join them, but no one has been able to stick. But can you be Amish living as a solitary family?

“To be truly Amish, you really need to be part of a community,” says the Reverend Mark Hurst, a pastoral worker for the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand. “In the US, an Amish district would have at least 10 to 15 families.” In Australia, he says, we’ve only had a few “lone wolf” Amish families, mostly American or Canadian immigrants.

Amish life happens in church community, and to have regular church services, ministry is needed. In the past, when fledgling communities have been started in remote places in the US, Amish from other settlements would visit them so they would be able to have at least semi-regular church services. Without that support and that religious element, it’s hard to live a fully Amish life as Hurst notes.

Daily Life

The McCallums live a frugal lifestyle, spending about $60 per weekly shopping trip, and operate a roadside stand selling produce, canned items and baked goods, described as their main source of income.

How does this family use technology? In a lot of ways, its sounds not at all unlike how many Old Order Amish families would approach tech:

Gregory burrows into his pocket for a navy handkerchief and wipes his glasses. He’s a thinker, a questioner: part-farmer, part-philosopher. And he needs to be. He’s not against technology but, like the Amish, assesses everything on its merits: is it good for his faith and family? He allows some of the fruits of progress: a petrol-powered lawnmower, a petrol motor on the clothes washer (“A little motor for my wife is just a good thing to have,” he says). There’s an infrequently used diesel generator for the welder, grinder and drill, and a big diesel pump for vegetable irrigation. But, of course, there’s no TV, because its depictions of violence, adultery and parental disrespect represents “the breakdown of our moral fibre”. There are no mobile phones, which Gregory happily discarded, but there’s a landline in the shed. The internet is also not allowed because of the risk of children seeing its “ungodly filth” (pornography). But Gregory and Bethany go online at the local library, often to order what they need.

They in fact may even be considered more austere technologically, as it’s later noted they have neither a fridge nor freezer. Their car, which they held onto for some time, was sold in 2016.

Driven by religious conviction?

As for their reasons for living as they do, the piece seems to first emphasize more worldly reasons, such as self-reliance, family life, a healthy lifestyle, and a drive to anti-consumerism.

But the family also seems driven by genuine religious conviction – there are multiple mentions of hymn-singing and a description of the nightly Bible reading. In one passage Bethany discusses her desire to live a “godly life” and have a very traditional submissive female role…in turn the writer describes her words as “jarring” and feeling like “my poor inner feminist is having a seizure of some sort.”

They’ve also been trying to get recognition and spiritual support from Amish:

Gregory says he’s working towards getting spiritual guidance and accountability from an Amish group, probably in the US; and how they’d like to build a community of like-minded families. Earlier in the day, he’d taken a phone call he’d been waiting a month for. It was from an American man who, like him, turned Amish mid-life. Gregory wanted to see how he was going. “The fellowship of stubbed toes [in dark houses],” Bethany calls it. Through Anabaptist networks, Gregory has found several men like him, but communication is difficult. He writes letters (“It takes 23 days for a letter to get to Kentucky!”), then the men often have to drive to a community phone to call him. This is the genius of Facebook groups, I think. If they accepted the internet, newly Amish people could share tips on where to get the best butter-churners with a finger-swipe.

Sadly, the McCallums’ efforts to build an Amish community have so far failed. One family – the ones who joyously destroyed their phone on the ferry – tried for a year, near Launceston. But going carless was a stretch, and they returned to Victoria. Another family planning to move asked, last-minute, if the horse and buggy was a must. Yes, said Gregory. They didn’t come. Another family moved up the road from the McCallums. But, despite promising to go without the car, after a year they just couldn’t. Gregory, pained, doesn’t want to seem exclusionary, but he’s been clear. He wants a horse-and-buggy church. “It’s led to a strained relationship between us,” he says. The families no longer drop into each other’s places for tea or fellowship (worship) on Sundays. “We see them on the roads,” he says. “We wave at each other.”

They do fellowship with a plain-dressing conservative Mennonite church of around a dozen families, founded by Canadians outside the city of Launceston in 2010.

Amish or not (…yet)?

So are the McCallums Amish? It’s probably more accurate to describe them as a plain Anabaptist or Anabaptist-ish group at this point, for reasons including their dress (see Gregory’s mustache and the female family members’ dress styles), lack of a local church community and lack of fellowship relationships with other Old Order Amish.

Perhaps at some point they will be able to achieve that–but will probably need to increase their numbers, add at least a couple more families to their community, and have ministers ordained by another group of Amish so they can have regular church services, given their vast distance from any other Old Order Amish church.

That question aside, this is a pretty remarkable look at a family living a plain lifestyle in a culture with relatively few plain people, on a sparsely-populated island on the other side of the world. Worth reading in full.

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    28 Comments

    1. OSIAH HORST

      Amish or Not

      Amish or not (…yet)?

      So are the McCallums Amish? It’s probably more accurate to describe them as a plain Anabaptist or Anabaptist-ish group at this point, for reasons including their dress (see Gregory’s mustache and the female family members’ dress styles), lack of a local church community and lack of fellowship relationships with other Old Order Amish. (Quote)

      The dress is not Amish, having a piano and an accordion would not be acceptable in most Amish communities that are as conservative as the McCallums are. But the lifestyle – the choices they have made -WOW! Can they sustain this? What happens when the girls get a bit older? What marriage partners would be available? They don’t seem to be that far from the Hutterite type colony so that might be an option.

      1. It is an interesting mix Osiah…it seems they would need to grow their community relatively soon, given that their oldest are in their mid to late-teens. Though they do fellowship with the plain Mennonite church.

        1. joseph van loon

          Amish in Australia

          We are well acquainted with the family in question and can testify that they do not fellowship with the only plain Mennonite church (Nationwide)in Tasmania situated in Deloraine where we live which is some 134kilometres from the McCallum’s home, a long trip in horse drawn wagon up and down the mountains! They do know some of the Mennonite families and interact on occasion when any of them visit them.
          As for Elisabeth’s question contact them by writing to the author of the article and ask her to forward your letter to them, it is not our policy to give people’s contact details perhaps the author will help you.
          And joining the Hutterite colony would most certainly not fit in with the McCallum’s desire/insistence of a “horse and buggy church”

          1. roess

            contacting McCallum

            I am sorry for being stupid with computers but I can’t find the contacts of the author of the article anywhere either.

            Would it be possible for you to help me know how to contact her?

            I wrote to them postal putting simply the name of their town and their family name, it seems the town only has 2000 people in it and anyone living like that do is probably pretty well know in the area so maybe they will get it…

            1. Joseph

              Re address for Elisabeth

              A letter addressed to the McCallum family, Springfield, Tasmania 7260 should reach them, only a dozen houses there.

              1. roess
            2. Email contact for article author

              Elisabeth I did a little checking and below is what I found on the Herald’s site as far as contacting authors.

              The journalist’s name is Melissa Fyfe so this will explain what her email address should be:

              ‘Contacting our journalists
              Individual staff members can be contacted using the initial of their first name followed by their surname then @fairfaxmedia.com.au. Some staff may have a slightly different format for their email, so in the event your email is returned to you as undeliverable, please contact us on 02 9282 2833.’

            3. Diane

              For myself

              I am a widow and want to join Amish christian group in Queensland if you can link me up please

              1. Diane widow

                Hi just asking if you can forward on my email to Diane I am in Queensland and looking to join an Amish community also
                Please and thank you
                Tony

          2. Fellowship question

            Joseph thanks for your comment, interesting to hear from someone who knows the McCallums personally.

            You mentioned they do not fellowship with the only Plain Mennonite church in question – so would that be an error in the article, or maybe more likely in my understanding of it?

            Below is what I paraphrased from the original piece. On re-reading it I see now it’s probable I misunderstood “That family” to mean not the McCallums but another family that they were acquainted with:

            ‘Sadly, the McCallums’ efforts to build an Amish community have so far failed. One family – the ones who joyously destroyed their phone on the ferry – tried for a year, near Launceston. But going carless was a stretch, and they returned to Victoria. Another family planning to move asked, last-minute, if the horse and buggy was a must. Yes, said Gregory. They didn’t come. Another family moved up the road from the McCallums. But, despite promising to go without the car, after a year they just couldn’t. Gregory, pained, doesn’t want to seem exclusionary, but he’s been clear. He wants a horse-and-buggy church. “It’s led to a strained relationship between us,” he says. The families no longer drop into each other’s places for tea or fellowship (worship) on Sundays. “We see them on the roads,” he says. “We wave at each other.”

            That family is now fellowshipping with a conservative Mennonite group at Deloraine, about 50 kilometres west of Launceston, set up by Canadians in 2010. The leader of that church, Harold Weaver, declined an interview for this article but explained, via an email from him and his wife Phyllis, that the church is attended by 12 to 14 families. Gregory tells me their dress code is strict and modest, with the women wearing white caps and men not allowed whiskers. Musical instruments are banned, he says, but cars and mobile phones are allowed, as well as email (but not web browsing).’

          3. Margery Burton

            For myself

            I live in Brisbane and I’m a 56 year old widow and looking for the right way to find my way, I am born again christian but had bad experiences it doesn’t feel right, please can you help me.

            1. Murray Forbes

              Reply to Margery Burton

              You wrote : For myself

              I live in Brisbane and I’m a 56 year old widow and looking for the right way to find my way, I am born again christian but had bad experiences it doesn’t feel right, please can you help me.

              Hello Margery, Your brief story is a common one. I can help by saying trust in Jesus and ask him for guidance. If you seek him with your whole heart and put your trust in him, he will lead you by the still waters as prophecied in the 23rd Psalm. All of the promises contained therein shall be yours in abundance. God bless you as you seek his face in prayer and supplication. Jesus says ask and you shall receive that your joy may be full.

      2. alinta

        the mcallum family

        hi alinta here,

        sometime in the near future i would like to live with them ,

        very interesting people spoken to them on the phone

        from alinta ,

        but one hutterite group left tasmania and have gone back to south america

        kind regards

        from alinta.

    2. roess

      contact

      Hello,

      How can we contact the McCallums?

      God bless,

      Elisabeth

      1. alinta

        contact the mcallum's

        hi elizabeth

        alinta here

        you can contact them by phone

        kind regards

    3. John May

      Amish in Australia

      Thinking about these Amish like folks in Australia. I wonder if it would be better if they would just go Solar then to have Petro for their washers and lights. Also how do there children go on Rumspringa, when’s it time. Riding a bicycle would be to far. And there dress and picture taking. Well most Amish do NOT go for that. For joining other Amish, it’s going to be a heartache exspecilly for their children. Good luck!

    4. Kevin Lindsey

      Fascinating article. We were in Australia for a couple of days earlier this year so this caught my eye. As you mentioned it was worthwhile to read the whole article. Thanks

    5. Josh

      What a small world

      My family and Bethany McAllum’s family knew each other growing up. What an interesting turn of events. I myself am a Mennonite nowadays too, although where I live I’m surrounded by Amish neighbours.

    6. Is Amish Life foe Me..?

      Dear Amish Community,

      I am well educated and fed up with the demonic system we are forced to live in. I am interested in alternative/ natural ways of living life. I’m a respected song-writer/ musician. I have been a senior big band conductor at a private school as well as awful public school systems. Let me know if you’d be interested in a person like me being a part of your community.

      With respect and love.

      Shane
      Perth
      Australia.

      1. roess

        Hello Shane,

        I don’t think the McCallum family reads this post or anything on internet.

        If you write to me at familleroess@yahoo.fr I will give you their address and phone number so you can speak to them directly.

        God bless,

        Elisabeth

      2. Andy

        If you prefer fellowshipping with Mennonites instead I’m available in Perth. The McCallum’s are essentially Beachy Amish that have adopted a horse and buggy lifestyle rather than New or Old Order Amish. Leave your details and I’ll be in touch.

    7. Tammy

      I wouldn't want true Amish in Oz

      Reading about the awful things the Amish do to animals in the United States makes me think that hopefully these “Amish” are not like those in the States. The USA Amish treat their animals terribly and run puppy farm as they see animals are only here to serve man.

      1. Bill Rushby

        Tammy overgeneralizes and stereotypes

        Tammy sounds as if she really knows what she is talking about but I doubt that she has first-hand knowledge of a large sample of Amish livestock owners. She would do well to be more humble and tentative about what she “knows” and “doesn’t know.”

        1. Robert

          Overgeneralized but unfortunately true

          I would agree that Tammy is overgeneralizing about the Amish, however it is well known that the Amish do not treat their animals well in the eyes of modern day thinking. There are bad animal owners within the non Amish population but it has become a major way that the Amish have decided is a great way to make money. They say you can make more from a dog than you can from a cow.

          Years ago there was not a market for cross bred dogs, now they are considered designer dogs and people are paying huge amount for these “mongrels”. The over population is partly because of the stupid buyers that are happy to pay thousands of dollars for a mutt. But there would not be a market for these mutts if people were not producing them. They are raised in very poor conditions.

          Weather you like it or not the facts are that the Amish are a big contributor the animal cruelty seen and I’m sure that no one wants to see that in any civilized country.

          1. Bill Rushby

            ” it is well known that the Amish do not treat their animals well in the eyes of modern day thinking. There are bad animal owners within.”

            Another overgeneralization! My impression is that these comments focus on the Amish puppy business but the wording suggests that “the Amish” as a group are guilty of poor treatment of animals in general. And no documentation is provided; “it is well known” by whom??? The generalizations are not qualified in any way!

            The district attorney of our county let it be known that she will prosecute dog owners who do not provide heated shelter for their dogs in bad winter weather. And, at the time she issued this warning, there were no Amish in the county.

    8. Bob

      This is so interesting, to know that even in the 21st Century people still live like it’s the olden days.

    9. Jade

      Amish in the 80's

      My Son’s father was raised Amish here in Australia N.S.W. His family converted & became Amish in the mid 1980’s funded by the American Amish community with the hope of starting a community in Australia. I think only a few tried but no Australians joined. They would have American Amish people come to visit regularly. When they joined the church they were a family of 5 who became a family of 12 by the time they exited sometime in the late 90’s-00’s. His mother actually birthed 5 of the children in birthing type stall built by their Father in the backyard. All the children were home schooled using American Amish text books. My Son’s Father was excommunicated by his Dad which led to his early exit at the age of 16.
      Although I think there are romantic notions of Amish life, I don’t think it was an idealic upbringing for him.