My thesis is about Queensland’s Bible in State Schools referendum of 1910. It 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 shcool and gave denominational religious instruction. Of the bigger states, New South Wales was the only state remaining that allowed religious instruction. 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, p4). Neither of the referendums passed. 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 thought there must be an interesting story behind the Queensland referendum, and my research has supported my expectations. There were some very interesting personalities involved in the Queensland debates about religious instruction. Rev D J Garland moved to Queensland from Western Australia and led the campaign for religious instruction in Queensland as the organising secretary for the Bible in State Schools League. After the referendum he moved to New Zealand and led a very effective campaign for to reintroduce religious instruction in New Zealand state schools, but World War I intervened and he became a chaplain for the troops. Afterwards he was instrumental in establishing ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand.
You will note that the published references I have drawn on for these comments are mostly old. This reflects the lack of interest in the nineteenth cenutry religious instruction issues by Australian historians over the last thirty years. Given the prominence of the religious instruction debates in parliament and society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries I believe that it is time to revisit this historical issue.
- A G Austin, Australian Education 1788-1900: Church, State and Public Education in Colonial Australia, (Carlton, Vic: Pitman Pacific Books, 1972).
- A G Austin, Select Documents in Australian Education 1788-1900, (Melbourne: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd, 1963).
- Manning Clark, A Short History of Australia, (New York: Nal Penguin Inc, 1987).
- J S Gregory, Church and State: Changing Government Policies towards Religion in Australia: with particular reference to Victoria since Separation, (North Melbourne: Cassell Australia, 1973).
- Wendy M Mansfield, ”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.