Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum – 1910

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

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

Design 29: Creating a Capital

View of Canberra from Mount Ainslie

Canberra viewed from Mount Ainslie with the War Memorial in the foreground (the green dome), the white buildings of the old parliament house on the avenue across the lake leading to the new parliament house on Capital Hill. Photo by Alan Perkins.

This is the year of Canberra.  The celebrations of the centenary of its founding mark a point where Canberra can reflect on its past.  The one hundredth anniversary which coincided with one of my daughters moving to Canberra has caused me to rethink my attitude to the city and recognise that as a place I should take it more seriously.

A couple of months ago I wrote a review of an exhibition about the designers of Canberra, Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin that was held at the National Library of Australia.  Recently I visited a related exhibition held at the National Archives of Australia about the competition for the design of Canberra and the early glimmerings of the emergence of the capital. Continue reading

Quietly Pushing Barriers Aside

Every student attending Hamilton High School photographed standing outside school building in 1953

This photo of Hamilton High School in Victoria was taken when my mother was in Form 1 (year 7) in 1953.

This week came the disappointing news that the participation in Maths by girls in their final year of school in New South Wales is declining significantly.  In 2001, the first year when students were no longer required to study a Maths or science subject in year twelve in order to qualify for university entrance, 90.5% of girls studied Maths whereas 96.9% of boys did.

The disparity between the genders in participation in Maths was already noticeable in 2001.  Ten years later this disparity has worsened.  By 2011 girls participation in year twelve Maths had dropped to 78.2%.  The participation of boys had also decreased but not to such a degree.  In 2011 90.2% of boys studied year twelve Maths.

Rachel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at University of Sydney noted that this problem is partly due to the attitude about girls and women being bad at Maths.

There are many, many examples of girls and women excelling in Maths.  Jane Gleeson-White has highlighted the stories of three Australian women who are clearly brilliant at Maths.  She could have listed many more.

Unfortunately some dismiss these women as being ‘unusual’ (which is often code for ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’). Yet the story about Clio Cresswell, senior lecturer in mathematics and statistics at University of Sydney, caught my eye.  It is not the tale of success in maths one would expect.  Cresswell told Jane Gleeson-White that she struggled with maths at school.  What led Clio Cresswell to ultimately succeed in maths at a high level?  Read Jane Gleeson-White’s post to find out!

In this post I want to highlight a story of an ordinary woman and her quiet determination to participate in science and to study Maths.  She was not brilliant at Maths but she enjoyed it and wanted to pursue it. Her story demonstrates some of the subtle and not so subtle barriers that dissuade many women from studying Maths and Science.

This woman is my mother. Continue reading

Historical Evidence – Sometimes we will never know

Photo of front of two story red brick school building

Dorcas St State School, South Melbourne designed by Charles Webb and built in 1880

This post started as a simple report of a few presentations at last week’s Buildings, Books and Blackboards conference in Melbourne, then it became more reflective than a report before finally morphing into a discussion about how historians construct history.  Conferences are gatherings where historians learn and share.  However, as a result of writing these blog posts about the conference, my learning from the conference has continued well after the close of the event. Continue reading

Public Education: It’s Not Just About Schools

Mildura Carnegie Lirary

Mildura’s Carnegie Library with WWI memorial tower.
Photo by Mattinbgn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When we talk about public education we immediately think of schools. Increasingly we are recognising that education is a life-long endeavour and with the explosion of the internet learning outside of the classroom and formal education systems is gaining increasing prominence.  Last week at the Buildings, Books and Blackboards conference in Melbourne we were encouraged to recognise that ‘public education’ throughout the last two hundred years has always encompassed more than the activities conducted in a school classroom.

This conference was about public education in the true sense of the word ‘public’.  Schools and libraries were considered important sites of learning. The libraries of the mechanics institutes played an important part in the education of many people.  This conference covered it all; the history of schools, libraries and mechanics institutes.

A highlight of the conference was the session about the Carnegie Corporation in the Antipodes.  Andrew Carnegie founded the corporation in order to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”  Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin observed, “[t]he corporation will take from the shoulders of its founder the task of personally attending to his pet hobby of founding libraries here, there, and everywhere.”  The Morning Bulletin went on to note that the Corporation would also fund “technical schools, institutions of higher learning” etc. (Morning Bulletin, 23/12/1911, p. 6). Continue reading