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Elaine and John Telford



December 24, 1939 – November 1, 2023

October 1, 1937  –  July 21, 2022

The banner represents the Reconciling Work in New South Wales that Elaine was involved in (she is second from right).


The words on the Reconciling Banner read:  open our hearts to the experience of others …  accept our traditional wisdom  …  acknowledge the past  …  heal ourselves  …  and teach others.


A moving memorial service (see recording above).  The closing comments by an Aboriginal woman who worked closely with “Queen Elaine” was powerful and followed by a water cleansing ritual used by the various tribes at a funeral. She leaves a rich legacy.  We are honored to have worked with her (and John) who passed 18 months ago)  in our time in Australia and connections in later years. Grace and peace,

          ~~  Lynda and John Cock



Dear Colleagues,The Funeral Service for Elaine was very enriching.  Many stories from family and friends were told. There were about 200 people in attendance. Elaine and John had worked at Oombulgurri, and Murrin Bridge, in Australia, Zambia, and Hong Kong. They also worked for many years with a State Government organization:  Reconciliation NSW.  This was work connecting First Nations and the rest of us together. Elaine was deeply loved, and will be missed. I hope you were able to see the Service on video connection. Greetings from  down south here. With love and with grace and peace in our hearts.

          ~~  Isobel Bishop


What a wonderful joy-filled, missional woman — and part of the Telford Duo, anchors among so many dear others, of the Spirit Movement in Australia. In this recent season of All Saints celebrations in our churches, I name Elaine and John as I sing, “For All The Saints.” With deep thanksgiving for being among Those Who Care across the globe, for so many decades of our family’s life. Grace and peace,

          ~~  Marilyn Crocker

Janeen and I remember John with great admiration and affection when he came to Mowanjum in mid-1971. He came from Bordertown (South Australia) as a professional agricultural advisor on behalf of W.D. Scott and Co, a respected Management Consultant firm. His visit came at a time when the Mowanjum Community Reformulation program needed to gain some credibility regarding its nascent economic enterprises. John’s valuable report and his practical advice to our endeavours was greatly appreciated as it could be used as “evidence” that what was being proposed was viable. His employers of course had no idea that John (and Elaine) had been energised as recent RS-1 grads. John came at a time when things were really going well and we believe that his experience of meeting significant First Nations leaders such as David Mowaljarlai and being briefly part of the corporate life of the Order played a part in leading him with Elaine to become part of the movement’s life and mission and to their life-long commitment in support of First Nations’ people.


 Then in 1994 I (Jonathan) found myself in close collaboration with John when we were part of the nation-wide team contracted to promote the aims of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation an initiative of the Australian Government at the time. John and Elaine were co-coordinators (with an Indigenous colleague) for New South Wales as I was with Kingsley A-Hang for South Australia. I was not at all surprised to discover at the first national planning meeting held in Canberra that John and Elaine were to be engaged in this historic venture. John had a marvellous way of working sensitively and collegially with First Nations’ people, a tribute to his quiet strength, hopeful outlook and down-to-earth emphasis.


Over the years whenever we visited Sydney and attended the Pitt Street Uniting Church, we were always glad to briefly catch up with John and Elaine and hear of their ongoing commitment in support of First Nations’ people. We pay a heartfelt tribute to John at this time of his completed journey and recognise the great loss that Elaine and the family will deeply feel. We give thanks for all the ways John touched our lives and the incalculable ripples of grace his life has made with so many both near and far.

          ~~   Jonathan and Janeen Barker



When Susan and I had our first overseas assignment around 1973, it was to Melbourne with John and Elaine. John and I spent many, many hours together covering the state of Victoria by car, mainly raising funds for Oombulgurri. Alas, I needed cultural contexting as did nearly all Americans assigned to Australia, contexting that John patiently provided. There is an asymmetry of understanding between Australians and Americans; Australians usually had a good cultural understanding of Americans because, among with other things, Australian TV was full of American content. But Americans thought they were back home, but they were not, and completely missed how different Australian culture was from their own.

John took the lead on our development calls. He explained why. The American style would be something like (I’m exaggerating for effect here, but not much) : “Oombulgurri is a fabulous community that moved back to their original village. After a comprehensive development plan was created, they rapidly moved to self sufficiency. Now their whole future is bright! You can contribute support for this success!”

The Australian style would be more like: “It’s been rough. When the Oombulgurri people tried to move back to their land, there were big setbacks. Some men got drunk and burned down some community buildings. Some people tried to plant crops but they didn’t come up. Many wanted to move back off their land and go back to town. In the midst of all the difficulties there have been small victories. There have been days when a few hours of visionary story-telling might make one think there just might be a small opportunity for progress. Would you be able to contribute  to this effort?”

The folks we were talking to wouldn’t have believed an optimistic American-style story of miracles about to happen. But when John opened his mouth and spoke with obvious authenticity and realism about a very difficult situation with glimmers of hope, people responded. John was humble and self-depreciating, but projected an integrity of quiet strength, and a strong underlying conviction and vision that belied his modest style. Susan and I deeply appreciated the time we spent with John and Elaine.

          ~~  Tim Wegner


Elaine I remember from Africa where she tended to speak less but when she did whatever she said needed to be heard.  With love, respect and remembrance

            ~~  Larry Philbrook


A woman of indomitable spirit. Beloved wife of John (deceased). Loving mother of Kathryn, Michelle and Amanda. Cherished Gran of Jessica and Hamish. Dearly loved elder sister of Kathleen, Ian and Frank. A lifelong commitment to social justice which touched the lives of many.

Women’s Reconciliation Network celebrates 20 years of shifting attitudes about Aboriginal people.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 November 2023


Elaine Telford has been focused on inspiring others to help “change the psyche of the nation”. She decided to start the network after meeting “many Aboriginal lone beacons in Sydney” who worked for various organisations but had little support. Ms Telford shed a tear when she spoke about the volunteers involved in the network. “These women … have a passionate energy to try and wedge something in this arrogant colonial-based country where we have the oldest continuous living culture,” she said. During her welcome speech at this week’s event, Ms Telford told the room how she met her first Aboriginal person in the 1960s and spent 15 years living among Indigenous communities. She used the analogy of water to explain the network’s determination to “change the psyche of the nation”.  “Water can look very soft and clear but can wear out rocks, but that doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

Son of Raymond and Grace Matilda (dec). Cherished brother of June (dec), Barbara and Alan. Caring Papa to Jessica and Hamish. Much loved Uncle. Loving husband of Elaine, and loving Father of Kathryn, Michelle & Amanda. John lived a full life and will be missed dearly.


“I am away

At the camp fire in the bush, among

My own people, sitting on the ground

No walls about me

The stars above me

The tall surrounding trees that stir in the wind

 Making their own music.”


John (and Elaine) was an early member of OE/ICA in Australia and served in many ‘assignments’ in Australia and overseas since the late 60’s. Around the transition from assigned life John worked with CARE Australia in the middle-east and upon return to Australia, with Community Aid Abroad. It was around this time that I began my close association with John and Elaine. I had the honour of working with John delivering ToP facilitation training for Agriculture advisors (a role John played in an early part of his career) as well as working in Timor Leste in its post-independence years.  John and Elaine were integral members of Australia’s reconciliation movement serving on state and national task groups as well as helping develop some pioneering support materials. John remained an active member of the ICA, especially here in Australia throughout his time. For me, John most represented the power of followership in a world that overly glorifies leadership. He supported, drove and nudged into being many initiatives from the side lines.

Our deepest sympathies to Elaine and Michelle, Kathy and Amanda and their families at this time.

          ~~  Kevin Balm



May we pause to be grateful for a life lived with such exemplary service. Peace and comfort,

          ~~  Sarah Buss


John and Elaine carefully set up the transition when we replaced them in Murrin Bridge in 1981. They had done an extraordinary job catalyzing self-reliance in Murrin Bridge and had thought through all the roles we would need to play. In about 10 days they gave us a thorough history of all of ICA’s work with Aboriginal people, successes and hard learnings, and introduced us as good people to both Murrin Bridge people and the white Australian community. Ever since I have felt that they were the salt of the earth. Their passion for Aboriginal peoples’ wisdom and inclusion never wavered. When they visited us in Toronto in 2017, they brought me a rare book about Ngiyampaa people recovering their heritage.

John, along with Elaine, was a true social pioneer that catalyzed lasting change. I celebrate his life with deep gratitude.

          ~~  Jo Nelson


I too celebrate the life of John Telford.  It was a great honor and pleasure to live and work with John and Elaine Telford in the Adelaide House.  John (and Elaine) were so solid, so grounded, and so courageous that I was often awe struck by their presence and personal power.  It seemed they could carry a great many people on their shoulders. I trust their good works will reverberate across time and space beyond my comprehension. Grace and Peace, Dear John and dear Elaine.

          ~~  Wendell Refior


Dearest colleagues, especially those in Australia, I send deep condolences to Elaine and the Telford progeny, from the Crockers in Maine, USA upon learning of John’s completed life.

I know Joe spent precious time with John, unbeknownst to me, as I was either working as a teacher in Sydney, or caring for my infant twins when we were in Australia. But I know John — and Elaine –Telford are/were outstanding examples of what we, as the Order, expected and hoped we all might be: Those Who Care Unconditionally. Grace, peace and love,

           ~~  Marilyn and Joe Crocker


Deeply, deeply grateful for the exemplary life of service of John Telford. We are all blessed by knowing of his quiet courage and compassion to step across cultivated boundaries of deeply held prejudice and injustice. Life and light beyond our human limits beckons John. All is well Elaine.  In loving solidarity,

             ~~  Mary and Cyprian D’Souza


We deeply grieve the loss of John. John was an amazing man, and loved by all. We will celebrate his completed life in the Uniting Church John and Elaine attended for many years. The Funeral will be on Thursday, July 28, at 10.30am Australia Eastern time, at the Pitt St Uniting Church, here in Sydney. We are sending our heartfelt  condolences to Elaine and Kathy, Michelle and Amanda and their families. Grace and peace to you all.

          ~~   Isobel Bishop


A tribute to Elaine Telford

From dawn to dusk- a life fully lived

left us a lasting legacy that shone light

from her labour of love, her devotion to bridge

our nation’s fate of non-recognition with the first peoples’

descendants, so we can catch a fruitful glimpse

of a better tomorrow, here in this place we call home –

the ground of being, the soul of the earth,
soil and water nurtured and cared for

by ancient dwellers who respected the wisdom that oozed

from the terrain they had tracked from time immemorial

for thousands of years despite the suffering

and pain that we, new dwellers
had inflicted upon them to this day.

Yet, the embers of faith and hope
could never be extinguished in Elaine Telford’s world.

She had left us an ever-lingering smile to carry on

this loving task of living the dream, the vision

of carrying the torch for togetherness

in Caring for Country, in acknowledging all
of God’s marvellous Creation.
~~  Deborah Ruiz Wall, Newtown, 8 November 2023