The executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League. They were all men but this photo fails to convey the importance of the work of women in the campaign. Source: John Oxley Library
My honours thesis, Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy, is now available to download from the University of Sydney eScholarship Repository. In it I explore a fascinating era of Queensland’s history where women, Labour politicians and the Protestant clergymen of the Bible in State Schools League were key participants in a public debate about whether Bible lessons should be reintroduced in Queensland’s state schools. These lessons had not been held in public schools since the introduction of Queensland’s free, compulsory and secular education legislation in 1875.
I loved doing the research. At times I was sitting in the Fisher Library at University of Sydney silently remonstrating with the politicians as they were debating the issue in parliament. At other times I was incredulous. The Legislative Council spent twenty-one hours debating the issue and this was after the referendum had been passed by Queensland voters! I was a bit suspicious of the Hansard recorder. The debate was rather sparse at around two o’clock in the morning. Was he taking a cat nap?
Women were instrumental in the campaign for the passing of the referendum. The Bible in State Schools League was in financial trouble and turned to women to help them out. Not only did women rescue the organisation financially through their fundraising, they wrote letters to newspapers, were part of delegations who visited parliamentarians about the issue and were conspicuous as they manned the polling booths on the day of the referendum. However, while researching this referendum I was mindful of the fact that women do not all think the same way. Sure enough newspapers such as The Worker had letters from women who opposed the introduction of Bible lessons and expressed their opposition to the referendum to the Bible in State Schools women at the polling booths. Continue reading →
‘Secularism or Democracy? Associational Governance of Religious Diversity by Veit Bader, (Amsterdam University Press, 2007).
This is a comprehensive book that explores issues of religion and state such as what role should religions have vis-a-vis the state, the role of secularism in government and society and how the state can deal fairly with the various religions. The author, Veit Bader, is an emeritus professor of sociology and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. This is an academically rigorous book. It is most definitely not bedtime reading. However, if you want a deeply thought and carefully argued book that does not shirk difficult questions or pose glib solutions this book is for you.
Over the last week I finally got a chance to try out the tools that Wragge (aka Tim Sherratt) has devised to mine digitised historic Australian newspapers accessed through Trove. This post is about the results of applying his tools. If you want to do this yourself check out Wragge’s posts, Mining the Treasures of Trove (Part 1) and (Part 2). Firstly let’s look at Wragge’s graph of a topic that I have been writing about this year – floods.
Wragge's graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers since the early 19th century.
Wragge has produced the graph above showing the occurrence of the word “floods” in Australian newspapers digitised and accessible on the Trove website. As we would expect the word is mentioned more in years when there was severe flooding such as 1893.
Dana St. Primary School, Ballarat. Built in 1856. (Source: Wikimedia)
We all know that the meaning of words can change over time. Words such as gay and cool are used in ways not contemplated one hundred years ago. Historians need to be aware of this when reading old texts. In my research of the education debates in the Australasian colonies from the 1860s to 1914, I had to understand what the word ‘secular’ meant at the time. It is much more complex than I would have ever imagined. The word ‘secular’ has not just changed – it has undergone an extraordinary transformation. Continue reading →