Civil Rights, History, Now

The right to vote has been a struggle the world over. Agitation for the right to participate in the election of the government is a common them in the history of many nations. Associated with the right to vote are a host of related rights: the right to equal access to public venues, the right to equal access to education, to equal treatment by the law…

In recent weeks there have been many fiftieth anniversaries of momentous events of the Civil Rights era. The Civil Rights movement had its heart in the United States but pulsed throughout the world. Recently in Australia the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘Student Action for Aborigines’ freedom ride was marked by the original freedom riders revisiting the places in country New South Wales where in 1965 they had shone the spotlight on how Aboriginal people were barred from accessing public venues. Aboriginal people had already gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1962, but it was not until the end of 1965 that Queensland became the last state to granted Australia’s indigenous people the right to vote in state elections.

Nearly two weeks ago thousands of people marched across a bridge in Selma, Alabama to mark the anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1965. It had been fifty years since an orderly group of people had marched across the same bridge in their quest for African-Americans in that locality to be allowed to vote. At this bridge they were repelled by police who charged with batons, tear gas and horses. Broadcast live nation-wide, this unprovoked attack by police galvanised the nation and contributed to the passing of the Voting Rights Act by Congress.

At the foot of the same bridge two weeks ago, President Obama’s oratorical powers were unleashed. It was a speech replete with a rhetoric that spoke truth and was delivered with the rhythm, the pauses, the softness, crescendos and diminuendos that are rarely heard from public speakers in Australia.

President Obama’s speech had depth of content. It was a lesson on how to use history to meet the needs of society today. Throughout the speech President Obama reiterated the exceptional nature of the United States, yet as pointed out on the ABC, ‘The Drum’ website, most of his comments are applicable elsewhere in the world. Obama had pertinent things to say about drawing on history to inspire change today. Before I highlight these passages take the time to view his entire speech via the video above. Continue reading

Sausages and Australian Elections

After casting their ballots voters around Australia were greeted by cheery volunteers raising funds for their local school.

After casting their ballots voters around Australia were greeted by cheery volunteers raising funds for their local school.

Sausages and elections go hand in hand in Australia.  The schools and community centres which are used throughout the country as polling booths take advantage of elections to do some much-needed fundraising.  The most popular fundraising event is the sausage sizzle.

DSCN9935 White BreadAll that is needed is a barbeque, sliced white bread and tomato sauce to make a sausage sandwich.  Often fried onions are included.  I have no idea why manning the barbeque is traditionally a male thing.  In my family it isn’t.

But I digress.

Stumbling Through the Past was born a little over three years ago on the day of the last Federal election in 2010.  I was writing up my thesis which included discussion of the Federal election of 1910.  Writing about the Federal election of one hundred years ago was an obvious topic to launch my new blog. You can read that post here.

So I had to write an election day post today to celebrate the third anniversary of Stumbling Through the Past and pay homage to the event that helped me start my blog.  But what to write about?  I had planned to write a serious post about technology and elections, but it has been an intense week this week.  I was in no mood to write a serious post.

It came to me when I saw that “#sausage” was trending world-wide today on Twitter:

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Seeking Information about Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910

I have added a brief page outlining my current research interest – religion in state schools. Click the tab above and find out more.

Throughout my research on Queensland’s Bible in State schools referendum of 1910 I have been surprised at the absence of photos of the 1910 federal election and state referendum.  There were plenty of cameras around in 1910.  Commentators at the time talk about the posters, the badges and ribbons worn by supporters of issues and candidates on polling day, and the prominence of women in the canvassing.  Surely some photos have survived to today?

Members of the executive committee of Queensland's Bible in State Schools League

Executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League. Source: John Oxley Library

The campaign for the Bible in State schools referendum was conducted by volunteers throughout Queensland.  The minute book of the executive of the Bible in State Schools League is held at the John Oxley Library and I have tracked down the minute book for the Warwick branch of the League.  Branches of the League were established throughout Queensland.  Where are their records?  Women were important for fundraising and campaigning.  Do you know where the records of the Women’s branch of the Bible in State Schools League are?

I am interested in reconstructing the voting process on polling day.  With the help of a report in The Brisbane Courier I am taking a close look at voting at the Bulimba School of Arts.  I am interested in any photos of this building prior to World War I.  Naturally accounts of the day written by people who were there and photos of the polling booth and those who were manning it would be icing on the cake.

My first point of call on these questions are libraries and local history groups in Queensland, but I thought I would also throw the question over to people in the virtual world.  Was your great grandmother one of these canvassers?  Did your great grandfather belong to one of the branches of the Bible in State Schools League?  Was your church hall the site of one of the public meetings of the Bible in State Schools League?  Maybe you have photos or posters that were used on the day or during the campaign?

Please feel free to share your information in a comment to the blog below or contact me at


  • Photo of the executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League, State Library of Queensland, Neg. 121189.

Musings on Democracy – Part 1

Write about democracy my supervisor said.  I immediately felt overwhelmed.  Democracy is such a big concept, developed over centuries since the Ancient Greeks.  It is a also a loaded term – wars have been fought over it and it has been incorporated into political ideologies.

The way to cut this task to size is to recognise that democracy is but a word.  It only develops meaning if we choose to give it meaning by discussing what it is, what practices contribute to it and practice democracy in action.  It is what what we define it to be and therefore over the ages it changes.  We change, our circumstances change so the practices of democracy will naturally change also.

Two Party System

In answer to the Resident Judge’s question, the Federal election is cited as the first Federal election of the two party political system that Australia has practiced for a century.  The non-Labour groups had united federally in 1909.  This move was called fusion.  If you want to learn more about the thinking behind Alfred Deakin’s decision to join the new anti-Labour party I thoroughly recommend Judith Brett’s account in Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class.

The Labor party won the 1910 election.  The Sydney Morning Herald (29/4/1910, p8) attributed this to the ‘education, agitation and organisation’ undertaken by the Labor party.   After the election Alfred Deakin called on the Liberal party to give greater attention to this (Sydney Morning Herald, 15/4/1910, p 7).

‘How to Vote’ Cards

The names of political parties were not printed alongside candidates’ names until after 1983.  This made it important for the political parties to distribute ”How to Vote’ cards (Hughes:  1992, p 96).    The Brisbane Courier noted with satisfaction that ‘many of the fairer sex’ were seen entering a booth carrying the ‘model ballot papers’ published in the newspaper for the Liberal supporters. (Brisbane Courier, 14/4/1910, p 5).


What really interests me is the participation in political processes outside parliament.  The role of women was particularly noted in The Brisbane Courier and not just for registering to vote, they were involved in the campaigning too.  In the Federal electorate of Oxley,

… it was noticeable that outside every booth the work embraced in the general term “canvassing,” including the turning up of voters’ names on rolls, and the direction of who to vote for and how often, was left almost entirely to the women… (Brisbane Courier, 14/4/1910, p 5).

The women’s organising committee of the Labor party in New South Wales were noted for their ‘herculean efforts’ in canvassing (Sydney Morning Herald, 29/4/1910, p 6).

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The Federal Election – 1910/2010

It was the 2010 Australian federal election that finally motivated me to create this blog, something I have wanted to do for several months.  During the day of the election I was reading newspaper accounts of the federal election held 100 years ago in 1910.  I have been in the habit of writing e-mails to my supervisor with odd snippets from my research and wrote one about the 1910 Federal election.  During one of my breaks I checked the latest post of one of my favourite blogs, The Resident Judge of Port Phillip.  The 2010 election had inspired the Resident Judge to share some stories from the New South Wales election of 1843.  Well I just had to share, so I posted some comments about 1910 on her site.  The Resident Judge asked if I was researching this for my blog.  I started to write another comment with excuses for the fact that I did not have a blog, when I thought, this is it.  I have got to stop being a ‘gunna’ (going to do it) and commit words to web.  So here ’tis…

In 2010 the polling booth staff and counters are largely anonymous, not so in 1910.  Not only were they named in the newspapers in 1910, but polling staff were assessed on their performance in counting the votes.  Mr. H. L. Archdall, returning officer for Rockhampton, had been ‘so complete’ in his organisation that the count was finished in ‘almost record time’.  “Mr. Archall certainly deserved credit for his smart performance’ said Rockhampton’s The Daily Record (14/4/1910, p. 6).  Pity the hapless presiding officer in Fortitude Valley.  The Brisbane Courier (14/4/1910, p. 5) said that the counting of the Valley votes were finalised at the Home Office, ‘Mr. Thornhill Weedon, the returning-officer being somewhat slow.’

This has made me ponder the organisation that goes behind elections in Australia.  If you are also curious, check out the Australian Electoral Commission website.  They explain how votes are counted here.  Unfortunately the only time we get to hear about the administration of elections is when something goes wrong, like it seems to have in the seat of McEwan on Saturday.  Yet the impression I have is that 99% of the time the Australian Electoral Commission does a good job of organising elections in Australia.

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