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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Australia, 1904

Looking Back

Friday August 29 2014

Looking Back: Australia, 1904

Published in the August 1904 edition






It would ill become a casual visitor to this great Commonwealth to offer any criticism on the POLITICAL SITUATION as he finds it. But he can say, without offence, that the ability of the leaders in the Federal Parliament, their eloquence, and manifest sincerity, must make a deep impression on any observer. If they are Visionaries and Dreamers, at least they are honest men. It would be wrong to say more.

On the Church life of Australia it is possible to write with greater freedom. Presbyterianism is happily united. The kindness which the ministers have shown me has been unbounded, and their fellowship and friendship have done more than anything else to make my visit a pleasant one. The future of Presbyterianism in Australia is safe as long as it rears such men.

Alas! that it must be added that the “variations of Protestantism” are as conspicuous here as elsewhere. Churches are very numerous – more numerous even than race-courses, and they are of every variety. If the country is to be kept by Christianity, something must be done to bring together its broken ranks. Already there is a movement for union between the Presbyterian, the Wesleyan, and the Congregational Churches. There seems no reason to prevent it, except the notion that Calvin and John Knox legislated for all time and every nation when they framed a polity suitable for Switzerland and Scotland in the sixteenth century. But the movement is only at its beginning, and may take years to gather sway.

Religious Instruction in schools is at present the subject most prominently before the people of Victoria. At present the state of affairs is very unsatisfactory. The teaching is entirely secular: it has been at times rabidly secular. The name of Christ has been omitted from well-known poems that they may be made suitable for general reading! [This was] felt by right-minded people throughout Victoria to be a scandal both against common sense and against the religious character of the Colony.

The only provision for religious instruction has been that, after school hours (when the children would otherwise be at play or on their way homewards), accredited representatives of the Churches are allowed to give a lesson, lasting generally half-an-hour, once a week. So little, however, is this concession taken advantage of, that there were (at the date of the last return) only 199 schools out of 1723 in which religious instruction, even of a meagre kind was given, and only 35, 201 children out of 217, 032 (or 16.4 per cent) attended the religious lesson. To allow the children of the State to grow up in ignorance of the elements of religion and morality is to imperil its safety.

Fine as the cities are, it is the great empty fields which impress a visitor most - the vast stretches on which a sparse population lives. Over them will be dotted many a cottage some day. The feeble folk of the old cities of our land will renew the vigour of our British stock amid those surrounds of unimaginable resource of wealth and comfort.

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