My honours thesis is about Queensland’s Bible in State Schools referendum of 1910. In this referendum Queensland voters were asked if they agreed with the following proposition:
Are you in favour of introducing the following system into State Schools namely:-
The State schoolmaster, in school hours, teaches selected Bible lessons from a reading book provided for the purpose, but is not allowed to give sectarian teaching;
Any minister of religion is entitled, in school hours, to give the children of his own denomination an hour’s religious instruction on such days as the School Committee can arrange for;
Any parent is entitled to withdraw his child from all religious teaching if he chooses to do so?
This referendum is part of a bigger story which started with the introduction of ‘free, compulsory and secular’ education in Victoria in 1872. The Victorian parliament stopped funding religious schools and ordered that secular education only should be given during regular school hours. South Australia passed a similar act in 1875 as did Queensland. The ambition was to create a State school system to which all parents would be happy to send their children, whether they were Protestant, Catholic or Jewish. It was the beginning of the era of universal education in Australia.
New South Wales also passed a ‘free, compulsory and secular’ education act in 1880, but they continued to allow ‘general’ religious instruction given by the classroom teacher and ‘special’ religious instruction where clergy visited the school and gave denominational religious instruction. Of the bigger states, New South Wales was the only state remaining that allowed religious instruction conducted by representatives of the churches during school hours. In Victoria, South Australia and Queensland agitation started for the adoption of the ‘New South Wales system’ in their states. Tasmania adopted the New South Wales system of religious instruction from visiting clergy in 1885. After campaigning led by an Anglican priest, Rev D J Garland in Western Australia that state adopted the New South Wales system in 1893.
The campaign for religious instruction in state schools in South Australia led to that state holding the first referendum in Australia in 1896 (‘South Australian Referenda‘). Victoria held a referendum in 1904 on the issue (The Argus, 16/6/1904, p5). The South Australian referendum did not pass, the Victorian referendum was inconclusive. I was interested in the Queensland referendum in 1910 because it did pass. Referendums are only held on matters of great concern to a society and as we know, referendums rarely pass in Australia. I discovered a fascinating episode of Queensland’s history where women, Labour politicians and the Protestant organisation, the Bible in State Schools League were embroiled in a public debate about an issue that had politicians from around Australia watching nervously, fearing what might erupt in those sectarian times.
Rev D J Garland had moved to Queensland from Western Australia in the early years of the twentieth century. As the organising secretary for the Bible in State Schools League he led the campaign for religious instruction in Queensland. After the referendum he moved to New Zealand and led an effective campaign for the reintroduction of religious instruction in New Zealand state schools, but World War I intervened and he became a chaplain for the troops. After the War he was instrumental in establishing ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand.
My thesis, Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy, is now available for download from the University of Sydney eScholarship Repository.
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- Campbell, Craig. 2014. ‘Free, compulsory and secular Education Acts’, Dictionary of Educational History in Australia and New Zealand (DEHANZ), 28 February.
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- Mansfield, Wendy M, ”Garland, David John (1864 – 1939)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, Melbourne University Press, 1981, pp 619-620.
- Photo of Rev D J Garland. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.Neg 193923.
- South Australian Referenda, State Electoral Office, South Australia, 2005.