Tribute to Colin Peter Holden

Colin Peter Holden (TC 1972) was born in 1951 and died much too soon in 2016. His father was an engineer on the Trans-Australian railway. Both his parents died when he was young. None of this explains why Colin was such an exceptional person.

Colin was eccentric and in his early years enjoyed the impact his unusual personality had on others. His voice was high pitched with an edge to it like a saxophone played a tiny bit sharp. He spoke like a character in a 19th Century novel, and his elaborate courtesy could take you by surprise. He wasn’t a typical Aussie!

Colin was an outsider in many ways both to the Anglican Church and to academia, yet he was a faithful priest and gifted scholar. He began an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne in 1968 or 1969 and discovered he had a gift for old languages. He graduated in 1971 in Middle East studies. He then combined a Masters level theology degree with his studies in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, eventually submitting a thesis on the baptismal teaching of Theodore of Mopsuestia. None of the rest of us theology students could spell Mopsuestia let alone read the original Syriac!

Colin had a problem with his middle ear that affected his balance. He never learned to drive a car. At Trinity College, my car was volunteered to help him learn. ‘If you’re going to be a priest, Colin, you absolutely must learn to drive,’ we told him.

I didn’t ride with him; others took it on themselves to teach him. There were only two lessons – on the first, the front bumper was bashed in, on the second he bent the left front axle!

Unusually Colin owned a spinet and would invite people to his rooms in Trinity for tea and a spinet recital. Some found this social gathering odd, but the music was good. Colin was well versed in the theory and practice of early music. He translated Latin hymns into English.

He was ordained priest and worked at St George’s Cathedral in Perth and then in Bunbury’s St Boniface Cathedral. He bought a car and paid a driver. Parishioners did not know how to take this odd priest with driver in tow!

When he lived in Bunbury, he would arrive at our house in Perth, demanding that I drive him 30 minutes to the airport to get a stand-by ticket to Melbourne. When he missed one flight, he would then demand that I drive him home until the next flight and so on. In exasperation, I eventually left him at the airport to keep waiting until he got a ticket.

Out of his West Australian years came the history of Bishop Goldsmith, first Bishop of Bunbury, called Ritualist on a Tricycle. He must have worked hard to persuade the publishers to accept the eccentric title. The reason for it is quite obscure.

He returned to Melbourne, for many years one of the priests at St Peter’s Eastern Hill whose advanced ritual and reputation for eccentricity suited Colin well.

A history of the parish, Strange Happenings on the Hill, followed soon after his return to Victoria, then a run of histories of the Wangaratta Diocese, the Bush Brothers and other aspects of Anglican Church life in Australia. His Ph.D. from Deakin University was a study of Anglican culture in Melbourne.

In later years, Colin ventured into writing about the history of outsiders in art. He spent a year as Redmond Barry Fellow in Victoria’s State Library discovering the prints of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Colin’s interest arose partly from the strange coincidences that brought these precious prints to Australia.

He followed this with a study of Ursula Hoff which Colin entitled The Outsider. Hoff had arrived in Melbourne in 1939, a German-Jewish refugee escaping the horrors about to unfold in Europe.  After a short time working as a secretary at the University Women’s College, she returned to her pre-war professional training and commenced as Assistant Keeper of the Prints at the National Gallery of Victoria.  Erudite and scholarly, Hoff would rise up through the institution to become its Deputy Director in 1968.  Colin tells her story with sympathy.  Hoff was not

15 Dec 2016
Category: People