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

Women and Archival Silences

Rows of floor to ceiling shelves.

Records of women's history are often missing or obscured in archives such as these, but with creativity and persistence historians can do a lot to recognise the enormous contribution of women to our society in the past.

Archives are not neutral.  We can’t keep everything so choices have to be made and those choices reflect the values of the people making the decisions about what to keep and what to discard.  In the past people such as women, non-Europeans, Aborigines, the poor etc were not considered important contributors to our history so their stories are often not portrayed in archival records, or they were obscured in the archives by the social conventions of the time.  If the archival records were taken at face value they would reveal a distorted view of the past.  It is the job of historians to be alert to this distortion, to question the records and to look for the fleeting clues that indicate that there is something missing.

Women are often the subject of archival silences and diminution.  I confronted this when researching for my honours thesis about the Queensland ‘Bible in State Schools’ referendum of 1910. In this article one of Brisbane’s major newspapers attributed the passing of the referendum to the role of women.  Just five years previously most women in Queensland had been granted the right to vote at state polls.  A statement in the Anglican Church’s newsletter, The Church Chronicle, indicated that women didn’t just vote, they immersed themselves in the campaigning work.  This was an era when women were not considered important contributors to politics, yet they were being publicly acknowledged for their significant contribution by major media outlets.  I wanted to know more. Continue reading

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 perkinsy1@gmail.com.


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