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Education and secularity

In the first settlements, it was assumed that the Church of England was responsible for all education. In 1825 Australia's first archdeacon, Thomas Hobbes Scott, was appointed 'Visitor' to all schools, and one-seventh ofthe land of New South Wales was vested in the Church and Schools Corporation, an Anglican monopoly, to finance the education system. This arrangement failed, largely because a much greater percentage of the population was non-Anglican than in England.

In his Church Act of 1836, the Governor of New South Wales, Richard Bourke, offered state aid to the major denominations to assist them in building churches and paying the stipends of their ministers. This Act was duplicated in other Australian colonies with far-reaching effect. They effectively bankrolled sectarian rivalry, which was to become a major theme in Australian religious and social history. The other side of that coin, however, is that the colonial populations were very well supplied with religious services and pastoral care, with typically four churches (Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) being built in even small towns, all of about the same value and therefore prestige, and often on opposite street corners near the centre of town. Then, when one of the four decided they should update, by replacing their Georgian colonial building with a neo-Gothic one, the other three quickly followed suit. Anthony Trollope, visiting Australia in 1871-2, observed, 'wherever there is a community there arises a church, or more commonly churches ... Thepeople are fond of building churches.'2

Bourke also sought to subsidise the school systems offered by the various denominations, supplemented, in places where there were no church schools, by a common curriculum taught in one school. This failed owingto opposition from the Anglicans, who wanted to retain their educational monopoly, but by 1880 'free, compulsory and secular' education was established in New South Wales and close to that year in the other colonies and in New Zealand. These state systems, which allowed religious instruction from visiting ministers, were not the product of anti-Christian feeling. They were what the majority of the Protestant laity wanted, systems which would allow the Christian religion a positive role in developing civic-mindedness in the rising generation. Until the 1950s the state education systems achieved that end and were, arguably, Protestantism's finest achievement in the realm of social engineering.

Roman Catholics, influenced by Pius IX's condemnation of secular, state-controlled education, created and funded with considerable sacrifice their own

2 Trollope, Australia, p. 240.

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