Race, nationality and religion in Australia
The Irish Catholics, the labour movement and
By Bob Gould
the working class in the 19th and 20th centuries
The influence of the Catholic Irish on the emergence of a
Australian national consciousness has been relatively neglected in
general histories of Australia, including leftist ones. For instance,
in No Paradise for Workers, 1988, by Ken Buckley and Ted
Wheelwright, the impact of the Irish Catholics on the labour movement
is presented, without evidence, as essentially conservative.
Miriam Dixson, the one-time leftist labour historian, now
turned conservative populist, focussed a major part of her book, The
Real Matildas on the allegation that "backward" Irish women
retarded women's rights in Australia, and she has now, in The
located the Irish influence as the major source of undesirable
negativity towards her artificially reconstructed Anglophile version of
The often missing presence of the Irish Catholic dimension in
general Australian history has flawed a lot of liberal and leftist
Australian historiography, including much labour history. This absence
or understatement of the influence of Irish Catholics makes many
histories of Australia in the 19th century mysterious and sometimes
A current example of this is Stuart Macintyre's Concise
History of Australia,
in which the Irish Catholics are almost invisible. This makes
Macintyre's short history considerably inferior to the short histories
of Manning Clark and
Russell Ward, with which it will inevitably be compared.
The neglect by many historians of the critically oppositional
of the Irish Catholics in Australian society lays the way open for
ahistorical concepts such as the one developed by Miriam Dixson, in
she celebrates retrospectively her imaginary hegemonic "Anglo-Celtic
core culture" in the 19th century.
In reality, that was a period of the sharpest conflict between
underclass consisting of the Irish Catholics and the other oppressed
social groups, on the one hand, and ruling class British Australia on
the other. Further to this point, it is not really possible to get an
accurate fix on class formation in 19th century Australia without fully
understanding the oppositional role of the Irish Catholics, which
contributed constantly to democratic upheavals and fed into the
emergence of a distinctive Australian working class, and late in the
century, a Labor industrial and political movement.
The "debate on class" among labour historians can't be
or resolved in any rounded way without reference to the considerable
social and political influence and impact of Irish Catholics in
Australia, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which has
so far been neglected or obliterated by some historians, of whom
Macintyre is representative.
The older liberal and Marxist labour historians, Manning
Turner, Brian Fitzpatrick, Russell Ward and Rupert Lockwood, are much
more comprehensive and accurate in their coverage of the role of the
Irish than the later, "new left" historians, such as Humphrey McQueen
Right-wing historians, such as Geoffrey Blainey, Allan
Miriam Dixson either neglect the influence of the Irish, or are
positively hostile to them, like Dixson. For that reason, when Robert
Hughes' ground-breaking The Fatal Shore was published, one
striking aspect of that book was its healthy correction to this neglect
of the Irish. Hughes's book has been the most popular work about
Australian history ever, which of course has not endeared him or his
book to some dreary professional historians, whose narrowly focused
institutional histories often suffer badly by comparison with the
robust social history of Hughes.
One academic "Marxist", of the arid
postmodernist sort that passes for Marxism in academe nowadays,
attacked Hughes in an academic journal for being not "historically
materialist" enough, whatever that may mean in this context.
The high-profile right-wing populist, Paul Sheehan,
obviously dislikes The Fatal Shore intensely. In my view,
Hughes's book (along with Eris O'Brien's The Foundation of Australia)
is the necessary starting point for any overview of the origins of
Australia. Over the last 15 years there has been a development of a
specific discipline of Irish Australian studies by people like Oliver
McDonagh, Keith Amos, Colm Kiernan, Patrick O'Farrell and now Tom
Keneally, located both in Australia and in Ireland, and we are indebted
greatly to the work of this school.
Although this discipline of Irish-Australian cultural studies
not yet been comprehensively incorporated into general Australian
history, it has provided a large and growing body of work, which will
inevitably contribute to the development in the future of a balanced,
liberal, leftist, Marxist Australian historiography, into which the
Irish Catholics and their enormous political, social and cultural
influence will be properly incorporated.
One of the first things to understand
Australian history, national consciousness and the labour movement in
the 19th century is the demographics of Australian population
growth. This, of course, can't be separated from the more traditional
Marxist approach, which deals with the development of the economy,
and the emergence of the capitalist class and the working class, but
those areas have been studied extensively, while the
religious and ethnic make-up of 19th century and early 20th century
Australia has been largely overlooked
The indefatigable demographer, Charles Price, and
computer, have thrown a lot of light on the numerical significance of
The convict period
The raw statistics of the convict era are illuminating:
people were deported to Australia as convicts, of whom 28,000 were
women, about 22 per cent were Irish Catholics, and
possibly even more had been because of the large number of convicts who
did not state a religion. The more significant figure, however,
is the breakdown among the women. A massive 47 per cent of the convict
women were Irish Catholics, a figure that has only been noted by
historians in recent years, particularly by Kay Daniels and those who
together the Atlas and Statistics volume of the 1988 Australians,
A Historical Atlas published by Fairfax, Syme and Weldon.
This statistic about convict women is of
significance, for instance, for anyone engaged in the current practice
of family history who manages to locate a convict in their ancestry.
There are about three chances out of five, statistically, that their
convict ancestor, male or female, was an Irish catholic.
In another chapter, I advance the proposition that anyone who
ancestors here before the gold rush that began in the 1840s has a high
probability of having some Aboriginal ancestry as well. The most
the Irish and the Aboriginals, contributed enormous amounts to the gene
pool of White Australia before the gold rushes.
In a book that is very important to this inquiry, The
Irish Emigrant Experience in Australia
edited by John O'Brien and Patrick Travers, 1991, there is an extremely
useful chapter by Jakelin Troy, in which the author, in describing the
origins of "NSW pidgin", the beginnings of the distinct
Australian dialect, documents in enormous detail the constant contact
with, and interaction between, Irish convicts and Aboriginals on the
expanding edge of European settlement in NSW.
Pre-Gold-Rrush convict Australia was mainly an open-air
outpost of British imperialism. In the early years the
British ruling caste feared and hated their convict slaves,
particularly the Irish, and the rulers of the colony were in
considerable fear for many years of Irish revolts, one of which took
place in 1804 at Castle Hill.
The military and civilian dictatorship of the British deprived
Irish Catholics for 30 years of the consolations of their religion, and
tried to enforce conformity to the established Anglican church, but
these efforts were totally unsuccessful. The Irish would have nothing
to do with
the religion of the English oppressor and, indeed, most English,
Scottish and Welsh convicts would have nothing to do with the Anglican
Church of the English ruling class either. The church parades
and the flogging parsons, who doubled as brutal magistrates in convict
society, were part of the established order, which was the obvious
enemy of all the oppressed: Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh.
The battle of the Irish Catholics for religious freedom in
Britain's penal-colony, military-dictatorship early NSW
The colony commenced life as a harsh military dictatorship.
Eris O'Brien's important book, Foundation of Catholicism in
Australia (two volumes, Angus and Robertson, 1922) has this to say
about the religious arrangements in the new colony:
At Phillip's departure from it in 1792, it has been
reckoned, the population of the convict settlements at Sydney and at
Norfolk Island was 4414; of these one-third were Catholics.
It was not merely the absence of their priests that made the
Catholics hard, but the fact that they were compelled to attend
Protestant religious services, against which they had ever held
conscientious objections. On November 9, 1791, Phillip issued the
following regulation: "Every person will regularly attend divine
worship ... The Commissary is directed to stop 2lbs of meat from every
overseer, and 1.5lbs from every convict, male or female, who does not
attend divine worship."
Governor Hunter, his successor, had similar ideas. In his
before the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1812, he stated
that he had given a general order that he expected the people to attend
divine service, sent constables around the town with directions that,
if they found anyone idling during the time of divine service, they
were to put them in gaol and settle the point next morning.
Governor King acted in like manner until in 1803 certain
instructions came from England; then he judged it expedient to grant
unto the Revd. Mr Dixon a conditional emancipation to enable him to
exercise his clerical functions as a Roman Catholic priest ... which
permission shall remain in full force and effect as long as he, the
said Mr Dixon (and no other priest), shall strictly adhere to the rules
and regulations which he has this day bound himself by oath to observe."
These regulations are worth quoting insofar as they give a
of the times and of Catholic disabilities, which otherwise could not be
so well described:
"Regulations to be observed by the Rev. Mr Dixon and the
Catholic congregations of this colony
"1st. They will observe, with all becoming gratitude, that
extension of liberal toleration proceeds from the piety and benevolence
of our most gracious Sovereign ...
"3rd. As Mr Dixon will be allowed to perform his clerical
once in three weeks at the settlements of Sydney, Parramatta, and
Hawkesbury, in rotation, the magistrates are strictly forbid suffering
those Catholics who reside at the places where service is not
performing from resorting to the settlement and district at which the
priest officiates for the day.
"6th. And to the end that strict decorum may be observed, a
number of the police will be stationed at and about the places
appointed during the service.
"7th. Every person throughout the colony will observe that
has sufficiently provided for the punishment of those who may disquiet
or disturb any assembly of religious worship whatever, or misuse any
priest or teacher of any tolerated sect."
The regulations emphasisd the fact that tolerated sects
grateful for small mercies. But even this toleration was of short
duration. Fathers Dixon and Harold, who had been deported as persons
implicated in the Irish rebellion, reached Sydney in 1800, and Father
O'Neil in 1801; but their status as convicts prevented the carrying out
of their priestly functions.
Father Dixon celebrated the first public Mass in Australia
15, 1803, probably in the house of James Meehan; but his work was
officially brought to a close in 1804 by an order withdrawing the
privileges previously granted, probably because he was suspected of
connivance at the disturbances of that year. He may, however, have
continued to minister privately to his people until his departure in
1808. The period of suffering and privation then began anew, and
continued until the arrival of Fathers Conolly and Therry in 1820.
During those 12 years the plight of the Catholic convicts
was deplorable. A hint of the state of public opinion on the relative
positions of the Anglican and Catholic Churches is given in Judge
Burton's book dealing with this period: "Wherever the British flag is
planted, there, by that very fact, the Protestant church becomes the
national and established fact." In many Protestant minds this mistaken
idea admitted of no qualification; and there is no reason, in most
cases, to doubt their sincerity. It will be necessary, then, to enter
the atmosphere in which they lived, and to credit them with all the
honesty that they can claim. But it is difficult to justify, even
according to their ways of thinking, the unmitigated savagery and
severity with which they punished those who claimed conscientious
exemption from Church of England services. James Bonwick, a Protestant
writer on early Australian history, draws a startling picture of
Catholic disabilities. "New South Wales in the beginning," he writes,
"was regarded as England over the way, and absolutely attached to the
Church of England, and Catholics could expect no favour. All had to go
to church; they were driven as sheep to the fold, and whatever their
scruples, they had to go ... If a man humbly entreated to stay behind
because he was a Presbyterian, he incurred the danger of a flogging. It
is said that upon a similar appeal from another who exclaimed :I am a
Catholic", he was silenced by the cry of a clerical magistrate, "Go to
church or be flogged".
Roger Therry paints a similar picture. Writing of facts that
familiar to him, he says: "the local Government of New South Wales
promulgated a regulation that the whole prison population
indiscriminately should attend the Church of England, under penalty of
25 lashes for the first refusal, 50 for the second, and transportation
to a penal settlement for the third refusal. Regulations made by
Macquarie, enforcing attendance at church on all convicts - and even on
ticket-of-leave men - will be found in vol. vii of the Historical
Records of New South Wales ...
This condition of affairs continued until the arrival of the
Rev. Jeremiah O'Flynn in 1817, when for a few brief months the Catholic
faith was taught surreptitiously by a priest whose admittance to the
colony was unsanctioned.
Because he had not asked permission to come to the colony, and
persisted in ministering to his Irish flock without authority, Governor
Macquarie, after a few months, summarily deported Father O'Flynn.
Macquarie's regulations. The magistrate had to be informed
the location of Sunday Mass so police could be present to monitor
In 1820, when London finally gave permission for Fathers
Connolly to come to the Colony, they were given a stipend of a hundred
pounds per annum, which was insultingly only a third of that paid to
the Anglican chaplains. Macquarie also presented them with a set of
regulations, some of which make fascinating reading.
I shall now advert to some points, which are more of
necessary local arrangement and political expediency in this colony,
that what I have already dwelt on, and shall preface them by observing
to you that the melancholy effects lately produced in England by large
popular meetings under the itinerant political demagogues, long
practised in the arts of faction, and ripe for anarchy and confusion,
having made the enactment of certain laws, in regard to future
assemblages of people, a matter of absolute necessity in order to
restrain the excesses to which they were becoming every day more and
more dupes, it will be incumbent on the Government to tread in the
steps of those of the mother country, in order to avert the evils
arising out of such popular meetings. In order, therefore, to guard
against large meetings taking place under any pretence whatever, unless
when called together by the proper legal authority, it will be expected
and required of you:
1st. - That, when you shall have fixed on certain stations
you propose to celebrate service, at regular periods, you transmit to
me, or the Governor for the time being, a return of the places you
shall have so determined on, whereby I shall be enabled to judge of
their fitness, and when approved by me, I shall transmit authority to
the magistrates to permit the assemblage of your congregation at those
particular places. But no meeting or assemblage of Roman Catholics,
consisting of more than five persons, for the celebration of the rites
or service of your Church, is to be convened or held at any other place
or places than those approved in the foregoing manner unless leave for
their special purposes shall have been first had and obtained from the
magistrate residing nearest to the proposed place of assemblage, and
notice of the time, at which the intended meeting may be proposed to be
held shall also be given to the said magistrate, whose permission must
be obtained before such meeting or congregation shall be assembled.
There it all was. If you didn't front for the Anglican
parade in the first 30 years of the colony, you could be starved or
flogged, and often were. The extract from the regulations of the
relatively liberal Governor Macquarie indicates clearly the deep-rooted
political fears of the danger of "sedition" involved in political
freedom for the Catholics.
Eris O'Brien's bald account of the British military-religious
dictatorship in early NSW is rather rivetting to a modern eye. It goes
a long way towards explaining the animosity of Catholics and the
secular working class and other nonconforming religious groups towards
the Anglican Church, which has persisted into modern times. (This
extract also underlines the insulting and cavalier way in which Stuart
Macintyre treats this question of religious persecution in early NSW,
in his Concise History of Australia, by considerably
understating its importance and failing to even name the deported
Allan Grocott has written a very detailed and thorough account
of the relationship of convict society to religion, Convicts,
Clergymen and Churches. Attitudes of convicts and ex-convicts towards
the churches and clergy in New South Wales from 1788 to 1851. This
300-page book thoroughly documents from diaries, memoirs and eyewitness
accounts, the attitude of convict and ex-convict and native-born
"currency" Australia, to religion.
The Catholics, by and large, although little schooled in their
religion because of the absence of priests in the first 30 years, hung
on doggedly to their connection with the Church, because it was part of
their national identity in opposition to British Imperialism. The
non-Irish section of the convicts loathed and distrusted the Anglican
Church because of its association with the ruling classes, but they
didn't have the same hostility to Catholic priests and the Catholic
religion, because the Catholic Church didn't have those ruling-class
The extraordinarily greedy, brutal and sanctimonious flogging
parson/magistrate, Samuel Marsden, was the epitome of the upper-class
religion that the convicts hated.
A curious phenomenon that Grocott documents again and again is
attitude to religious consolation of convicts about to be executed, of
whom there were hundreds over the period. They frequently rejected the
Anglican parsons, and they would make their peace with God, if they so
wished, to a Catholic priest, even if they weren't Catholic.
Those who verbalised their reasons for this, said that they
that the priests, being bound by the secrecy of the Catholic
confessional, would keep their secrets, whereas the Anglican parsons,
being servants of the State, would treat their confessed secrets like a
policeman would, if he were to hear their confession.
Manning Clark on convict Australia
Since Manning Clark's death, there have been a series of
attacks on him, supplemented by the bizarre, vicious and totally
eccentric proposition that he was a KGB agent. In fact, Clark was a
complex, serious historian, whose historical inquiry produced in him a
number of interests in conflict and tension.
As a historian, he was fascinated by Lenin and the Russian
Revolution, but he also had an enormous interest in and respect for the
contribution of Irish Catholics and the Catholic Church to Australian
society. In 1956, well before he was famous, he published two
groundbreaking articles on the origins of the convicts transported to
eastern Australia between 1787 and 1852.
The following extracts from the second of these articles (Historical
Studies, Australia and New Zealand,
November 1956), are of enormous intrinsic value to the thrust of this
investigation. In these articles, one sees the first development of
Clark's views on the role of the Irish Catholics in Austalia, and their
significance in the development of the labour movement, a theme that
later ran through the whole of Clark's groundbreaking six-volume
Much of the animosity to Clark from conservative historians is
product of their hostility to the entirely accurate picture Clark draws
in his history of the enormous historical importance of the development
of the labour movement in Australia, including the contribution of the
Irish Catholic strand to it. The following extract also does
considerable damage to the notion of Clark as some sort of KGB agent.
Ireland was to export to Australia something more than the
human wrecks of grinding poverty, and the rebels against the foreign
oppressor. The Irish brought with them the values of men who had fought
for centuries to preserve their religion, their culture and their
material resources against the Anglo-Saxon. The town thief in Great
Britain, as we have seen, was contemptuous of the laws against theft,
and proud of his criminal record, but opposition did not extend beyond
his own narrow experience of the law. Neither by temperament nor by
experience did he feel the necessity to extend his criticism from the
law of theft to the law in general. The Irish contempt for the law had
no such limitations. The laws, which were designed to restrain the
lawless habits were treated with ridicule. The sanctity of an oath was
disregarded to protect the guilty from punishments disproportionate to
their crimes. Evasion or trampling upon laws treating poverty as a
crime was held to be a meritorious act. So in Ireland necessity created
and sanctified lawlessness. Transportation did not purge their minds of
such sentiments. The Irish were the leaders of the ill-fated convict
rebellion in 1801; they played a major role in bushranging, stamped it
as the Irish equivalent of the agrarian riot, and thus encouraged the
idea that all methods were justifiable provided the motive was to take
down the mighty from their seat, and send the rich empty away.
It is true that economic security in Australia gradually
Irish from the use of violence for political and social purposes, that
they came to accept the hustings and the ballot box as political
methods rather than the faggot, the knife and the gun. However in their
long fight with the laws of the Anglo-Saxons the Irish had a loyal
ally, and that was the Roman Catholic Church. This close association
between the Church and the grievances of the Irish was the germ of its
alliance with radical politics in the history of Australia. In Ireland
the Church was almost entirely dependent on the peasants for its
income, and the essential condition for the approval of the peasantry
was opposition to the English domination. "The priest", as a Protestant
observed at the end of the 18th century, "must follow the impulse of
the popular wave, or be left behind on the beach to perish". The
convicts were the cause of the transplanting of this association from
Ireland to Australia. Father Therry protected the convicts from
excessive punishments, and rescued them from the clutches of sadistic
masters. Father Polding went further; he condemned the convict system
because it was creating an aristocracy of wealth, "the worst of all
tyrannies", he said, and one in which "the children grow up with all
the degraded propensities of slave holders". So during the
transportation period the priests of the Church had shown an active
sympathy with the underdog, and had criticised the foundations of that
society. Fifty years later, in 1891, a prince of the Church, Cardinal
Moran, justified the use of the strike by the workers to secure wages
which would enable them to live in comfort and respectability. Thus the
priest has been at the side of the workers in the main phases of their
history in Australia - mitigating their suffering in the dark days of
discipline by the lash, castigating the iniquities of excessive
economic inequality, and supporting desperate methods to increase their
mite of material well-being. Incidentally it would be interesting to
examine how far the Church's teaching has persuaded its followers not
to expect too much from human endeavours, and imprinted on the Labor
movement through its renegades apocalyptic notions of human
regeneration. Such speculations are however outside the scope of this
inquiry. We must be content with noting that the convict system was the
occasion for the transplanting from Ireland of the alliance between the
Church and radical politics, and this surely had a far greater
influence on the history of Australia than the Scottish martyrs, the
Dorchester labourers, or any of those few convicts whom sudden economic
disaster had driven to petty crime. Indeed the enforced association
between the town convicts, with their twist to the ideals of social
equality and fraternity, and their contempt for the laws of property,
and the Irish convicts, with their irreverence for all the laws of the
Anglo-Saxon and their long-standing alliance with the Church of Rome in
their struggle against poverty - this was the seed from which great and
mighty trees were to grow in our history.
The man who wrote the above, Manning Clark as a young
KGB agent? What a heap of rubbish. On the evidence above, he was more
likely to have been an agent of the Vatican! Perhaps the loopy
investigators who have been looking for his Order of Lenin, should
start digging for his Papal Knighthood. In fact, secular humanist,
liberal and labour movement historians of Protestant background, of the
old school, like Manning Clark and Russel Ward, got on very well with,
and were in fact influenced by, the Catholic historian, Dr Eris
O'Brien, who ended up Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn, and whose pioneering
and seminal work on the convict era, The Foundation of Australia,
first published in 1937, was the original source book on the brutal
British Imperialist origins of convict Australia.
The almost complete secularisation of the non-Catholic section
the Australian working class, commenced quite decisively in convict
times, and the later development of the labour movement, is very much
the story of the alliance between the Irish Catholic section of the
proletariat, and the irreligious bulk of the working class.
The British Government introduces assisted migration to the
Australian colonies, and the immigration schemes are swamped by the
land-hungry, famine-driven Catholic Irish, including some of my
Before, during and after the gold rush, the British capitalist
authorities, in their desire to develop Australia, invested capital and
organised the immigration of workers to develop the country and produce
profits for the capitalist class.
To encourage immigration they organised a wide variety of
migration schemes, starting with the Wakefield scheme for orderly
settlement of South Australia. This development of sponsored migration
happened to coincide with the crisis in Ireland and its explosive
population growth, which peaked at about 8.2 million at the time of the
disastrous famine imposed on Ireland by British imperialism in the
1840s by means of the notorious Corn Laws.
The problem and paradox for the imperialist development of
Australia was that, due to the Victorian boom in England, it was often
hard to get migrants from England, even with the economic incentive of
cheap passage, but the starving, land-hungry and politically
disaffected Irish were clamouring to come to Australia.
Reading the threatened racist responses of the
ruling class to the mass Irish immigration of the 19th century is very
like reading Pauline Hanson, Geoffrey Blainey or Paul Sheehan writing
about Asian migration in the 20th century.
A constant theme, throughout the middle part of the 19th
until about 1880, was the very tangible fear of many of the upper class
representatives of British-Australia about the flood of Irish Catholics
into the Australian colonies via the assisted migration schemes. For
instance, John Dunmore Lang's fascinating pamphlet, republished in 1978
by the Library of Australian History, called The Fatal Mistake
is an almost comical assault on the practical result of the Wakefield
scheme, which was that the Irish Catholics were pouring in because the
immigration agents in England, who worked on commission, found them
easier to get.
John Dunmore Lang is famous for the frequent outbursts he made
how the "Papists" were swamping the colony, whenever he travelled in
southern NSW around Young, Booroowa or Goulburn, places like that,
which in the 1860s and the 1870s got to be almost 50 per cent Irish
British Imperialism and the invention of the "White Race"
There is a very useful book called The Invention of the
by Theodore W. Allen, published by Verso in 1994. This book is a
detailed Marxist study of how the British developed an ideology of
racial supremacy and manufactured the notion of the "British White
Race", in the course of conquering Ireland and dispossessing the native
Irish of their land, particularly in Ulster.
The notion of the "British Race" manufactured in the course of
conquest went on to be the model for notions of the "White Race" in the
United States, and the "British White Race" in Australia. This
deliberate manufacture of the idea of the "British White Race" was
carried on during the whole period of the colonisation of Australia and
underlies the conflict between the British ruling class, on the one
hand, and on the other, the Irish, the original Aboriginal population
and the Chinese in Australia.
A striking expression of this British-Australian racism in
is encapsulated in the person of Bishop Broughton, the first Anglican
Bishop of Sydney and Primate of Australia. While in internal Anglican
church politics he was a moderate high churchman, he was also a rabid
anti-Irish, anti-Papist like John Dunmore Lang, and he repeatedly
agitated against the "Irish Catholics taking over the colony".
He was also the initiator, the chairman and the driving force
number of years of the first committee, composed of important members
of the Sydney British establishment, campaigning against Chinese
immigration to Australia in the 1850s!
The rabid racism of the local rulers of British Australia was
constantly reinforced by pressure from the Colonial Office, where, from
1813 to 1847, as Permanent Secretary, Sir James Stephen, a member of
the Clapham sect of evangelicals, was the dominant personality.
In a major study of his private papers in 1964, Rupert
discovered a constant preoccupation on the part of Stephen with keeping
out the Chinese from the Australian colonies, keeping out other
Europeans and severely limiting the Irish, in favour of developing the
colonies for the divinely selected and sanctioned "British race". This
prejudice was systematically implemented by Stephen in his long tenure
at the Colonial Office.
John Dunmore Lang and Caroline Chisholm
Caroline Chisholm, the lady for a long time on the currency,
competent middle-class Englishwoman, a convert to the Catholic Church,
who emigrated to Australia from India with her army officer husband in
the 1830s. Being an energetic woman, with philanthropic interests, she
initiated a program of assisting migrants to the Australian colonies,
getting them work, ensuring them initial accommodation, etc, from which
she extended her activities to organising assisted emigration from the
U.K. to Australia.
Later in life, she also campaigned against the squatters in
of free selection, and for universal suffrage, vote by ballot, and
payment of members of parliament, all the most radical demands of the
day. She was an effective and persuasive public speaker, which was a
very rare accomplishment for a woman in the middle of the 19th century.
She strenuously defended the rights of Chinese and Indians to
migrate to Australia. Unfortunately for her, the social circumstances
of the period ensured that the majority of assisted emigrants were
Irish Catholics and, being a civilised human being, she did not
discriminate against her co-religionists. All unbiased observers said
that she was completely impartial in matters of religion.
Nevertheless, her personal adherence to the Catholic religion
provoked the bigot John Dunmore Lang into a series of quite
extraordinary attacks on her immigration activities, which he continued
for many years. The flavour of these attacks can be seen from the
following extract of Lang's words from Margaret Kiddle's excellent
biography of Chisholm.
Mrs. Chisholm is a Roman Catholic, of no common caste, a
perfect devotee of the Papacy. In all her efforts on behalf of
emigration she is completely identified with the Romish priesthood of
New South Wales ... her whole and sole object is to Romanize that Great
Colony and by means of a second and, if possible, still greater
land-flood of Irish Popery under the guise of a great scheme of
National Emigration, to present it in one time to God, the Virgin Mary
and the Pope, purified, or at least in the fair way of speedily
becoming so, from the foul and pestilential heresy of Protestantism!
This opinion, he declared, was held by some of the most
influential colonists of New South Wales.
Dunmore Lang's sectarian religious animosity to Caroline
echoed in the 20th century in a "leftist" and "feminist" hostility to
Chisholm, of which the following venomous extract from Stuart
Macintyre's A Concise History of Australia (the only reference
to Chisholm in the book) is typical:
The family was one such device. In 1841 Caroline Chisholm,
the wife of an army officer, established a female immigrants' home in
Sydney to rescue single women from the mortal sin to which they were so
perilously exposed. She accompanied them into rural areas and placed
them in domestic employment under suitable masters in the hope that
matrimony would follow. To end the "monstrous disparity" between the
sexes and rescue the colonies from "the demoralising state of
bachelorism" was her aim, so that "civilisation and religion will
advance, until the spire of the churches will guide the stranger from
hamlet to hamlet, and the shepherds' huts become homes for happy men
and virtuous women". In this scheme of "family colonisation" the women
were to serve the men as wives and mothers in order to reclaim them to
Christian virtue; or, as she put it, they were pressed into service as
Macintyre once considered himself a Marxist. Karl Marx's
historical aphorism was "history is whole cloth". No whole cloth here
for Macintyre. Chisholm is slandered because her activities assisting
the immigration of tens of thousands of poor, single women, mainly from
Ireland, to a much better life in the Australian colonies, and fighting
hard for their welfare when they got here, was conducted within the
then dominant social and cultural atmosphere, in which she inevitably
had to operate.
In 1990 an enthusiast in Brisbane reprinted Chisholm's short
novel, Little Joe, from its serialisation in the Empire
newspaper of the 1860s. This novel further reveals just how progressive
Caroline Chisholm was. Among the other radical causes listed above, she
was also in favour of the total withdrawal of government financial
support for all religion, including her own Catholic Church.
The best piece about Chisholm by far, is the chapter on her in
Strength of Spirit. Pioneering Women of Achievement,
by Susanna De Vries, published by Millennium Books in 1995. This
chapter goes into intelligent and sympathetic detail about Chisholm's
radical activities, and the strong support given to them by her
husband, Archie Chisholm.
Macintyre's barbed paragraph about Chisholm in his Concise
even has a smidgeon of the religious bigotry of Dunmore Lang, without
spelling it out too explicitly, in the nasty little reference to mortal
sin and Christian virtue. Macintyre deliberately avoids direct
reference to Chisholm's Catholicism, but he gets it in anyway. Her many
other popular and democratic activities, which were widely commented on
at the time, don't get a mention. Some Marxist!
"The monstrous regiment of women." The dangers presented by
Catholic women migrants, from the point of view of Imperial British
Demographically the most significant aspect of this mass
of Irish Catholics related to the women. A sub-section of the general
assisted migration scheme was several special schemes for single women
to correct the sexual imbalance in the colonies from the convict period
and the gold rush.
The problem was that to fill these schemes for single women it
necessary to scour the workhouses of England and Ireland, and after the
famine even the English workhouses were crowded with single Irish women
who were anxious to migrate to the colonies. As a result, something
like 85 per cent of the single women brought out under these schemes
turned out to be Irish Catholics. The comical, racist and bigoted
attitude of the British-Australian ruling class to these women is
expressed in the following extracts, again from the wonderfully useful
book, The Irish Emigrant Experience in Australia:
But not everyone was impressed by their looks. An Anglican
clergyman who saw them at Plymouth said they were very strong, short,
with a thick-set frame of body and stout-limbed. "They certainly, poor
things, could not boast of much beauty or personal attractions ... On
the whole I would say they were better calculated for milking cows and
undergoing the drudgery of a farm servant's life than to perform the
office of lady's maid." (page 38)
It was decided that the Irish workhouse girls should be
separate ships, as the Emigration Commissioners were of the opinion
that "their habits and manners make them very unacceptable companions
to English emigrants". (page 38)
A charge that the matrons and Mr Moorhouse, the Protector of
Aborigines, had called the orphans "Irish Brutes" was denied, but they
admitted to addressing them "under certain provocation", as "dirty
brutes". (page 53) (The Irish female emigrants were automatically
placed under the control of the Protector of Aborigines.)
The really vehement attacks came from the Melbourne Argus,
with charges such as this: "... it is downright robbery to withhold our
funds and lavish it upon a set of ignorant creatures, whose whole
knowledge of household duty barely reaches to distinguish the inside
from the outside of a potato, and whose chief employment hitherto has
consisted of some such intellectual occupation as occasionally trotting
across a bog to fetch back a runaway pig." When the Irish rallied to
defend their own the Argus scoffed: "but Paddy, dear funny Pat
... boldly takes his stand by his thick-waisted orphan, and rashly
risks the character of the whole body of the bright-eyed daughters of
Erin, upon his success in proving the dumpy darling a Venus de Medici
in personal beauty, a Lucretia in purity and propriety of conduct, and
a Mrs Rundell in housekepping and culinary skill." (page 57)
The real fear of the Argus was that "the orphan's
was to marry and convert "irreligious" bushmen with the result that
"the mother will dictate religion to the family and every one of those
girls will some day be the centre of a Roman Catholic circle." (page 57)
Well, it wasn't quite the elaborate conspiracy that the Argus
proclaimed, but the very large sponsored female migration of Catholic
Irish women in the 19th century did have some of the effects that they
It is really quite bizarre that the two modern books by Miriam
Dixson, The Real Matildas and The Imaginary Australian
reproduce a very similar view of the influence of Irish Catholic women
in Australia to the reactionary outlook of the British triumphalist Argus
in the 19th century, quoted above.
Multiculturalism started in Australia with European settlement
1788. The Irish Catholics were the first ethnic minority, and
Aboriginal Australians were rapidly reduced to being an ethnic minority
in their own land.
Once again, I am obliged to refer to the work of Charles Price
his redoubtable computer. Doing a breakdown, in his inimitible way,
trying to track the ethnic makeup of Australia in 1978, from all the
past censuses and migration records, he came up with the following
figure, of about 3 million "full equivalents" of people descended from
Irish Catholics on their mother's side and 2.25 million on the father's
side. This notion of "full equivalents" of people, of course,
understates the cultural impact, because, throughout the 19th and
indeed the 20th century, the products of mixed marriages usually came
to identify with the Irish Catholic "other" in the Australian culture.
The late 19th century was also the period leading up to the Ni
Temere Decree of the Catholic Church, which insisted that the children
of mixed marriages be brought up Catholics. By and large, the secular
working class partners in mixed marriages didn't mind this too much. As
I have indicated above, the Catholic Church wasn't seen as the enemy in
the same way as the Anglican and other Protestant Churches were, and
this, of course, explains the large number of members of the Catholic
community, both prominent and humble, with English or Scottish names.
There's almost no Catholic family that doesn't have a
non-Irish component from these circumstances, and this contributed
massively to an increase in the weight of the Irish Catholic community
in Australian life. An interesting feature of the 19th century was that
Irish Protestants often married Irish Catholics because they had
national origins and experience in common.
While the majority of Irish Protestants were British
there were, however, a significant minority of them who were republican
nationalists, and even several of the Fenian prisoners deported to
Western Australia were Protestants.
Towards the end of the 1880s and the start of the 1890s,
were up around 30 per cent of the population, a proportion they didn't
reach again until the past 10 years or so. This recent rise in the
Catholic proportion of the population is, once again, from mass
migration, over the last 40 years from, however, countries other than
Land hunger and the Irish
The constant migration of the Irish to Australia in the latter
of the 19th century was deeply linked to the desire for land. It was
chain migration from certain districts and regions in Ireland, fuelled
again and again by the possibility of acquiring land and setting
oneself up as a small farmer in the new country.
Patrick O'Farrell has done useful research into the letters
Irish in Australia to their families at home, documenting the land
hunger in Ireland and the possibility of satisfying this desire for
land in Australia that constantly stimulated the chain migration.
O'Farrell has also established that most Irish migrants to Australia
came either from the south-western counties of Clare, Tipperary and
Cork, or from Ulster.
In Australia the constant agitation of the democratic interest
the colonies for breaking the grip of the pastoralists over land, came
significantly from the Irish. In the 1860s the democratic agitation for
access to land culminated in the Robertson Land Act in NSW and similar
acts in other colonies, allowing for "free selection" of small farms
within large pastoral holdings.
In the subsequent vigorous rush of free selectors to get a bit
land, and the land wars with the pastoralists that ensued, the Irish
figured very prominently, and were probably a majority of the free
selectors. The Irish who didn't manage to get land, or who failed as
farmers, became a very large proportion of the growing urban
proletariat in the developing colonial cities.
The spectacular way Irish immigrants began to dominate certain
in rural NSW is described and analysed in an important recent book, The
Kingdom of the Ryans
by historian Malcolm Campbell. He studies particularly the area around
Young and Booroowa, where the population of Irish background got up to
around 50 per cent of the population.
The whole south-west slopes area of NSW had a much higher
and Irish population than the average, as did the Bathurst area, the
Mudgee area, the Dubbo area and the Forbes, Wilcannia, Bourke region,
among others. An interesting demographic feature of NSW is that all
those rural or provincial areas of high Irish Catholic concentration in
the 19th century still have a significantly higher proportion of
Catholics than the average in the state. Those regions have also been
the main regions in rural NSW where, from time to time, in various
electoral upsurges, the Labor Party has won rural seats.
In the Historical Studies of Australia and New Zealand
Series, published in 1964, a quiet Marxist historian, D.W.A. Baker, who
taught most of his life at the ANU, published the best article on the
Robertson Act, The Origins of Robertson's Lands Acts. This
shortish article is a gem, but one paragraph is in particular worth
Again, pointing to the land laws as the reason, the same paper [the People's
observed that "the working man here has no chance; a labourer he is,
and a labourer he must continue". A correspondent of the same paper who
signed himself "AN IRISH LABOURER AND REPUBLICAN" put the same idea in
more forcible language:
"Fellow-Workmen, there can no longer be a doubt that the
aristocracy of this colony, the men who have battened upon convict
labour, and who have heretofore sent more of their fellow beings to the
gibbet and the triangles than the most abominable slaveholders of the
West India Islands, or of the Carolinas - have formed a vast conspiracy
to defraud you of the proceeds of your labour, and to reduce you to a
state of vassalage worse even than that of the miserable Coolies, with
whom Towns and Company are about to deluge the land ... you have been
compelled to fly from your native lands to escape the galling yoke of a
merciless despotism in the shape of monarchy, and its blasphemous
attendant an Aristocracy. And when you expect to find a new home in
this new land, capable of supporting millions of your fellow men, you
can no more secure an acre of land unless at 50 to 100 times its value,
than you can secure it in the domain of the Duke of Norfolk, Devonshire
or Northumberland, in order that a few cormorant squatters may
monopolise the whole of it ...
Shirley Fitzgerald on the Irish in Sydney
In 1987 Shirley Fitzgerald, who is now the Sydney City
Historian, published her quite extraordinary book Rising Damp.
Sydney 1870-90, which is by far the best and most ingenious
historical and sociological study of the early development of Sydney.
Quite a bit of this book is taken up by a study of the Irish
Sydney because they were such a large, significant and socially mobile
section of the population. Fitzgerald has made excellent use of all the
documentary material available to chart their social movement and
activity, because what happened to the Irish in Sydney tells you a
great deal about the city as a whole.
First of all, Irish Catholics were around a quarter of the
population. They were heavily concentrated in the inner suburbs and the
city, and there were many fewer of them in the middle-class outer
suburbs, but there was a fairly high concentration of Irish servant
women in the very rich suburbs, where they were domestics in the homes
of the upper classes. A study of marriage records and rate books shows
that the Irish men were already noticeably socially mobile up the
occupational ladder, a process that has continued into the 20th century
Many of the Irish in Sydney had started their immigrant
in Australia in the bush, but moved to Sydney, obviously because of the
greater opportunities in the city. The marriage records show a certain
social mobility "downwards" on the part of the Irish women.
Shirley Fitzgerald's explanation for this is that the very
surplus of marriageable Irish women over Irish men in the colony made
it necessary for a number of them to marry whoever was available, and
the racist prejudice of the English middle class against the Irish
limited their marriage opportunities as well.
Another obvious phenomenon noted by Fitzgerald is the much
number of Irish Catholic women, than men, who married non-Catholics,
which gets us back to Charles Price's statistic about the 3 million
Australians descended from Irish women, as against the 2.25 million
descended from Irish men.
Shirley Fitzgerald's very useful and original work is
supplemented greatly by a new book of history and archaeology, Inside
by Grace Karskens. Karskens demonstrates from the archaeological and
historical record of The Rocks the enormous and vibrant influence of
the Irish in The Rocks, particularly the Irish women. Many of the Irish
women married seamen and ex-seamen from the four corners of the globe
and the children of these unions contributed to the growth of a
vigorous, independent-minded, trade-union-oriented, largely Catholic
proletarian community in Australia's oldest locality.
The Irish national question in Australia
The 19th century was one of constant struggle for national
independence in Ireland. First of all, the struggle for Catholic
emancipation, which succeeded in 1829. Secondly, the national rising in
1848. Thirdly, the Fenian agitation from the 1860s to the 1880s. And
finally, the land war in Ireland, led by Michael Davitt and the Land
League, in the 1880s, followed immediately by the parliamentary
campaign for Home Rule, led by the charismatic Charles Stuart Parnell.
The Irish who came to Australia were profoundly involved in,
affected by, each of these stages in the national struggle in Ireland.
Australia was also a place of deportation for Irish rebels, starting
with the convicts from the rebellion of 1798, continuing with the young
Irelanders like John Mitchell, exiled to Tasmania in 1848, and
culminating in the Fenian prisoners deported to Western Australia on
the Rougemont, the very last convict ship in 1867.
In the Catholic Church in Australia, as it got organised,
a conflict between the English and Irish interest, but by the middle of
the century, the Irish interest won out, and from then on Irish priests
and bishops predominated in the Catholic Church.
Initially, the Irish hierarchy of the Catholic Church in
were a bit ambiguous in relation to the national struggle in Ireland,
and a number of the Bishops reflected the ultra-conservative strand of
the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, which came to be associated in the
public mind in Ireland and Australia with Cardinal Paul Cullen.
This strand of the Irish hierarchy was rather hostile to the
national movement, particularly to the Fenians, but the masses of
Catholic Irish, both in Ireland and Australia, while in religious
matters they were loyal to the church, often tended to ignore the
Cullenites in matters of politics. The constant Fenian mobilisation
from the 1860s to the 1890s became a mass movement in Ireland despite
the opposition of Cardinal Cullen, and it had a great deal of impact on
the Irish in Australia.
The definitive work on the Fenians in Australia is The
Fenians in Australia
by Keith Amos (UNSW 1988). The spectre of Fenianism in Australia
reached fever pitch in 1868, when a deranged Irishman called O'Farrell,
who appears to have been a rather nutty lone wolf with no connection
with the Fenians, tried to assassinate Queen Victoria's younger son,
Prince Alfred, during the first royal tour of Australia.
That old humbug, Henry Parkes, the dominant NSW politician in
immediately launched an amazing sectarian witchhunt against the Irish
for his own political purposes, the poor deranged O'Farrell was hanged,
and Parkes milked an alleged Fenian conspiracy for all he could get
politically, for the next 10 years. (Parkes' demagogy is well studied
in Robert Travers' excellent deconstruction called The Grand Old Man.)
A curious by-product of this event was the foundation of Royal
Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown, Sydney. When the Duke was
wounded, the authorities suddenly discovered that there wasn't a
hospital suitable for "someone of quality" like the Duke, and as a
result the rich and famous of Sydney raised money to start a hospital
of sufficient prestige, and they called it Royal Prince Alfred. It's
one of the delicious ironies of history that RPA has grown into the
main metropolitan and rather proletarian hospital in the inner city and
has for many years been a stormy centre of trade union activity in the
health system in NSW, particularly in the nursing profession.
In the 1980s, at the time of the 100th anniversary of RPAH, a
curious correspondence took place between the RPAH administration and
the office of the Governor of NSW. On seeking a copy for exhibition of
the official document making RPAH a Royal hospital, the RPA
administrators got the embarrassing response from the Governor's office
that no trace of any permission could be found, but that, nevertheless,
as RPAH was a good institution, it could now be confirmed as Royal.
This raises the culturally significant but rather academic point as to
how many of the hospitals and other institutions which claim to be
Royal actually have the letters patent to justify the title.
The real Fenians in Australia
While Irish men and women who sympathised with the Fenians had
nothing to do with O'Farrell's assassination attempt, there were a
large number of them, and despite periods of proscription of Fenianism
by the Catholic hierarchy, they were quite active. For a start, a
number of the civilian Fenian leaders who were deported to Western
Australia were pardoned in the early 1870s, on condition that they
didn't go back to Ireland, and many stayed in the Australian colonies.
A couple of them even acquired a stone quarry in Petersham,
The great Irish cause in Ireland, Britain, the United States and
Australasia in the 1870s was the campaign to liberate the military
Fenian prisoners still held in durance vile in Western Australia. They
had committed the unforgiveable crime, from the point of view of the
British ruling class, of organising a very nearly successful
15,000-strong Fenian military conspiracy inside the British Army in
One of the military Fenians, John Boyle O'Reilly, an early
socialist, had, after a saga of extraordinary adventure, escaped on an
American whaler to the United States, where he settled in Boston,
became the editor of a Catholic paper, The Boston Pilot and
became a major leader of the Irish national movement in the United
States. Along with that other extraordinary military Fenian leader,
John Devoy, who had become the leader of the "legal front" for
Fenianism in the United States, the Clann Na Gael, O'Reilley set about
organising the rescue and escape of the rest of the military Fenians
still convicts in Fremantle.
The story of this escape is recounted in Amos's book, in other
books, and in a recent biography of John Boyle O'Reilly, called Fanatic
Heart, by A. G. Evans, published by the University of W.A. Press.
Also published in November last year was The Great Shame,
Tom Keneally's magisterial and comprehensive, although rather
slow-moving, coverage of these events and of Irish immigration to
Australia, which has deservedly become an instant best seller.
O'Reilly, Devoy and the Clann Na Gael bought themselves a
sturdy Boston whaler, the Catalpa
and hired themselves an upright Yankee whaler captain from New Bedford,
Captain George Anthony, and a crew. They sent agents under assumed
names to Western Australia via Sydney, who, in a chapter of amazing
incident, made contact with the Sydney Fenians who owned the stone
quarry, and who had also been collecting money in Australia and New
Zealand to rescue the military Fenians, which they immediately handed
over to the agent of the Clann Na Gael, Martin Breslin, who went on to
Western Australia, to organise the escape.
Breslin made contact with Fenian sympathisers in Perth and
Fremantle, including several Catholic priests, particularly the "Fenian
priest", Father John O'Reilly, and the redoubtable Father McCabe, who
had already helped organise the earlier escape of John Boyle O'Reilly.
The chaplain to the Fremantle convict prison, Father J. Carreras, a
Spaniard, was the go-between with the prisoners in the jail.
There were many contretemps, adventures and problems,
including a confrontation between the Catalpa
and a British gunboat, during which Captain Anthony pointed out that if
they shelled the American flag on the high seas, a war might be
started. In the face of this prospect, the gunboat gave up, the rescue
was completed, and the rescued prisoners settled in the United States.
It's recorded that Irish were celebrating throughout the
the release of the Fenian prisoners, even as far away as the streets of
Omaha, Nebraska. In the course of organising this rescue, some Fenians
even cut the undersea telegraph cable north of Darwin, as a result of
which the vindictive British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was
actually speaking in the British parliament to successfully defeat a
bill moved by Irish nationalists for the release of the Fenians after
they had been rescued, and he didn't know about it because the cable
had been cut.
The amazing thing about the Catalpa Fenian conspiracy,
that it involved hundreds of people in Australasia, the United States,
Ireland and Britain, and yet it was not leaked to the British
authorities. Such was the rebel sentiment of the Irish in Australasia
in the 19th century.
I have a theory that the Catalpa incident would make
greatest adventure film of all time. It would sell in every market in
the English-speaking world. It has Australians, Irish, vicious British
ruling class characters, upright Yankee captains, sea adventure and
whaling - one hell of a film script!
Constant sectarian turmoil in the 19th century
Throughout the 19th century, from the gold rushes onward, when
migration from Ireland really got going, there was constant sectarian
turmoil in the Australian colonies, initiated by Protestant bigots. In
these conflicts, the Catholic Irish often gave as good as they got, for
instance in the sectarian riots in Melbourne in the early 1840s.
Politicians like Parkes soon learned to wield the sectarian
against the Irish Catholics for their electoral purposes. But the Irish
Catholics soon learned to mobilise Irish votes in their own interests,
and the sectarian issue seesawed in elections to the various colonial
The Irish Catholics, broadly speaking, were in the forefront,
the cutting edge, of every democratic agitation in the colonies, and in
two quite extraordinary incidents of physical rebellion, first of all
the Eureka Stockade, which defined Australian national sentiment ever
afterwards, and then the Kelly outbreak, an allegedly criminal
explosion which, however, had a pronounced Irish republican tinge.
Michael Roe's important book, Quest for Authority in
Eastern Australia 1835-1851,
published by the ANU Press in 1965, was based on his thesis, which was
supervised by Manning Clark. A major part of this pioneering work of
intellectual history is a detailed description of the location of the
Catholic religious community, largely on the leftist democratic side,
in the conflicts of the period covered.
By contrast, Protestant religious groups were by and large
on the side of the conservative squatting interests, the enormous
influence of which Roe powerfully describes. Another important book
that describes the democratic turmoil in the Catholic Church in that
period is Hierarchy and Democracy in Australia 1788-1870 by
T.L. Suttor, which is sympathetic to the English Benedictines rather
than the Irish clerics, and gives a very detailed account of the
Within the Catholic community itself there was a fair amount
factionalism and turmoil, with the laity often asserting their rights
and interests against the clergy. In the 1860s and the 1870s there was
a fairly constant anti-clerical mood anytime the local Catholic clergy
set their faces against a new forward development of the national
movement in Ireland.
The Irish Catholics in Australia, while generally identifying
closely with Catholicism, as one of the symbols of their national
identity, were anything but putty in the hands of their priests. There
were some Irish Catholic bishops in Australia who were
ultra-conservative, like the extraordinarily greedy and avaricious
Archbishop Goold of Melbourne, and also Archbishop Quinn of Brisbane,
who after starting out in a more progressive way, became an
ultra-conservative authoritarian in old age.
Bishops like Goold and Quinn faced a constant turmoil of
and often colourful opposition from their flock, and usually lost out
in the end in these conflicts. Over time, the radical sentiment of the
Irish Catholic rank and file, stemming both from convict experiences in
Australia, and experiences in Ireland, had a profoundly radicalising
and democratising impact on their clergy. It soon became a feature of
Catholicism in Australia that the clergy did not often move too far
away from the Irish and Australian nationalist and democratic
sentiments of their flock.
Archdeacon John McEncroe
The transitional leader in the Australian Catholic community
the English Benedictines and Cardinal Moran was Archdeacon John
McEncroe. After his ordination in Ireland, McEncroe went to the United
States for a number of years. In early life, as a priest, he suffered a
bit from the occupational hazard of the celibate Irish Catholic clergy,
in that he became a pronounced alcoholic. After a number of years of
alcoholism, he recovered and took the pledge and he made a new start in
his priesthood in Sydney, where he became the senior Catholic cleric in
Not unlike many recovered alcoholics, he showed enormous
his leadership of the Catholic community. He was an occasionally
autocratic and irascible kind of man, but his Irish Australian flock
idolised him and understood him well. His basic instincts were leftist
and democratic, given the context of the time, and he engaged in fairly
long-lived political interventions in the Australian colonies, on the
He was a vocal and public opponent of the continuance of
transportation and of Wentworth's self-interested scheme for a "bunyip
aristocracy", to the defeat of which he was a major contributor. At the
mass meetings in Sydney called to discuss Wentworth's proposals, the
most damaging speech, which was decisive in drowning Wentworth's
proposal in ridicule, was made by the silver-tongued young Catholic
lawyer, Daniel Deniehy, in which Deniehy, during an hour-long address,
made the devastating quip about a "bunyip aristocracy".
McEncroe encouraged several leading Catholic laymen, including
Deniehy, to stand for the colonial legislature, which upset the
Protestant Ascendancy in NSW no end. He even lent discrete support for
the campaign of the Catholic laity for greater say in church affairs.
His interesting and significant life is well described in the book, John
McEncroe, Colonial Democrat
by Sister Delia Birchley, published in 1986. Deniehy's fascinating life
is described in a very fine biography by Cyril Pearl, published a few
Throughout the 19th century and up to the time of the
campaigns of 1916 and 1917 there were quite a few urban disturbances of
one sort or another. They often took the form of Irish Catholic and
secular non-Catholic republicans and others disrupting public events
associated with the ethos of the British ruling class.
The classic example of this were the so-called Republican
Sydney in 1887, when public meetings to celebrate Queen Victoria's
Jubilee were taken over by the large radical section of the population
of Sydney who carried motions at these meetings condemning the British
monarchy as of no value to the democratic interest in Australia.
Another example was the activities of the "Active Service Brigade",
angry urban unemployed workers organised by Arthur Desmond during the
slump of the 1890s, who disrupted Parliament and Protestant church
Cardinal Moran comes to Sydney and turns the Catholic
community into a powerful political force
This process reached its culmination in the 1880s when Patrick
Moran, the nephew of Cardinal Cullen, was appointed to the See of
Sydney, and made a Cardinal, the first Australian Cardinal. Like his
uncle, Cullen, Moran had spent a lot of time in Rome at the Irish
College and in other capacities, and had become a shrewd Vatican
diplomat. However, even before he had been translated (moved) to
Australia he had been somewhat to the left of his reactionary uncle on
the Irish national question. (When he made a return trip to Ireland and
Rome in 1888, he submitted to the Vatican an angry secret report on
conditions in Ireland, defending Irish national rights and interests,
and pointing out, quite realistically, that further Vatican support for
British imperialist rule in Ireland would endanger the interests of the
Catholic Church in Ireland.)
In Australia, Moran was further radicalised by the democratic
amongst his flock, and he contributed his own feisty intelligence and
wit to the government of the Catholic Church in Australia and the
defence of the interests of the Catholic community. A man of some
erudition, he rather deliberately inflamed the already existing
sectarian atmosphere of the time, obviously with an eye to
consolidating the Irish Catholic tribe around his leadership.
This aspect of his activities, which has embarrassed later
historians a bit, was the three or four times he launched quite
amusing, but brutal, verbal attacks on Protestant missioneries in the
Pacific Islands. He obviously had strong memories of the notorious
incident in Irish history "Dermot King of Leinster and the Foreigners",
in which an Irish King had made an unwise and historically fatal
alliance with the first English invaders of Ireland.
Moran pointed out that many of the Protestant missioneries in
South Pacific were gunrunners who had bribed Fijian and Samoan chiefs
to convert to their church by providing them with guns to make war
against their tribal opponents (or even members of their own tribe),
and that this had been backed up by British diplomacy and the British
navy, a case of the British flag following the missioneries, a very
common phenomenon in the 19th century.
All of this was true and many people knew it, and Moran
this theme three or four times over 30 years during his Episcopate in
Sydney. Every time Moran made these attacks on the Protestant
missioneries in the Pacific, he aroused British imperial and Protestant
anger, and two or three times aggrieved protest meetings were held
against Moran on this topic in the Town Hall, attended by 40 or 50
Protestant ministers, and the angry middle-class Protestants of the
Primrose League and the Orange Lodges.
Moran's outbursts, however, had the effect he obviously
both Irish Catholic and secular democratic, particularly working class
opinion rallied to the side of the assertive and colourful Catholic
Cardinal Moran ticks off Bill MacNamara
Moran's period as Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, 1882-1911,
coincided with the foundation and development of the Labor Party from
1891 on. In the strikes of the early 1890s, the Cardinal, while
offering to mediate, generally defended the trade union side, and he
quite deliberately recognised and endorsed the reality, which was that
when the Labor Party was formed the Irish Catholic interest generally
moved into it and supported it electorally.
Being, in the final analysis, a shrewd, Rome-oriented Irish
Prelate, somewhat in the mold of his uncle, Cardinal Cullen, he
attempted to restrain what he regarded as extremist elements in the
labour movement, and he occasionally ticked them off, particularly
extremists who were backsliders from his own flock.
In 1892 W.H. (Bill) McNamara, who later became the proprietor
McNamara's Bookshop which, for 30 years was the famous centre of labour
movement and socialist politics in Sydney, and whose two step-daughters
married Henry Lawson and Jack Lang respectively, and whose son became
the leader of the Socialisation Units in the ALP in the Lang epoch in
the 1930s, was the secretary of the Sydney Unemployed Group organised
by the Australian Socialist League. To quote from Father Patrick Ford's
book Cardinal Moran and the ALP:
On 8 March, the Unemployed Executive Committee met there and
unanimously resolved: "That this meeting is of opinion that it is the
duty of the heads of the churches to make a powerful appeal to the
wealthy members of their congregations to relieve the ghastly poverty
and destitution existing among hundreds of men, women and children who
are on the verge of starvation and suffer great privations. Unless the
clergy do this they fail to carry out the principles of true
Christianity". The resolution was forwarded to Cardinal Moran in a
letter from McNamara under the address Leigh House. Moran's reply was
firm, and charged with a severity its author would probably have curbed
had he foreseen that McNamara was to publish it. It read:
"Sir, In reply to your communication, forwarded as you
state, on the
part of the executive of the unemployed, I beg to state that I have the
sincerest sympathy with the labouring classes, ministering with
devotedness to their wants, spiritual and temporal. I can attest that
there is at present, and there has been for some time past, a great
deal of poverty and destitution among the working families and small
shopkeepers, owing to the general depression of the times. We have done
whatever little lay within our power to alleviate the prevalent
distress. A good many diocesan works were carried out last year. During
the past few weeks other works have been begun, such as additions to St
Vincent's Hospital, the presbytery at Camperdown, a new church at
Blacktown, and a new school at Balmain. Should any sums be placed at my
disposal, I will be only too happy to distribute them as faithfully as
I can among the truly deserving destitute families.
"Allow me to remark, however, that there is another class
I have no sympathy. There are the professional unemployed the aim of
whose leaders is to bring discredit on the cause of honest labour, and
whose endeavour it is, by political intrigue, to sow dissensions and to
stir up evil passions among our citizens. It was hard enough in times
past to cope with mercenary and trading unemployed. Such men are styled
in France "chevaliers d'industrie" - ie, men ready to have a hand in
anything except work. They are a disgrace to the honest working class,
and they are an insuperable difficulty in the path of those who devote
their energies to uphold the advance of the best interests of the
"As regards yourself personally, permit me to add one word.
an individual bearing your name whose blatant impiety I see referred to
from time to time in the public press. I trust that you are not this
person. In writing these lines I have given you the benefit of the
doubt. But should you happen to be that individual, I consider that it
would not be wise for any honest citizen to hold correspondence with
men of such folly and delusions."
Your faithful servant,
PATRICK F. CARDINAL MORAN
Cardinal Moran shifts to the left
During the 1890s, Moran made some public interventions
he called the Continental Socialists in the Labor Party, but saying
that Australian socialism was okay, and generally endorsing the
overwhelming tendency of his flock to support the new party, while, as
the above exchange with McNamara highlights so colourfully, trying to
protect his flock against cultural contamination that might flow from
the necessary political alliance with Labor.
He was not very successful in drawing lines between his flock
the more secular sections of the labour movement, and by the early
years of the new century he shifted further to the left himself and
gave up polemicising against the left in the labour movement, in favour
of general defence of the labour movement against its opponents,
thereby recognising the reality of the deepening involvement of most of
his flock with the new labour movement and its aspirations.
The final stage of Moran's radicalisation, driven by the
radicalisation of his flock, is described by A.E. Cahill, in the Journal
of Religious History, for December 1989.
When Cardinal Moran died in Sydney in 1911 his funeral drew
more than a quarter of a million people to the area around St Mary's
cathedral. It was an appropriately spectacular ending for his 27-year
"reign". In his Catholic institutional context he had became a unique
figure: head of the local hierarchy but also Apostolic Delegate, the
Pope's representative in dealing with that hierarchy.
He had exercised a formative, if sometimes unintentional,
on the making of a distinctive Australian Catholic culture - a culture
all the stronger for the fact that, unlike the Catholics of the United
States, the Australian Catholics were overwhelmingly homogenous in
Irish ethnic origin. In the last decade of his life he was often hailed
on Irish occasions as "the greatest living Irishman".
Still, much of the population of the newly independent
remained emotionally dependent on the continuing British cultural
empire, and Moran's Catholics were, in the words of one of the most
articulate of them, "like a substance held in suspension, but never
quite in solution." ...
The results of Moran's public career, in church and society,
and remain - ambivalent. The journalists' sense of loss was certainly
not universal, even among Catholics. A few days after the funeral one
of Sydney's few really wealthy Catholics, Thomas Donovan, wrote to an
English Catholic prelate, who was himself soon to be made a cardinal:
"Cardinal Moran is dead, and relief has come to many a sore heart".
Distressed especially by Moran's public advocacy of Irish nationalist
and Labor causes, Donovan wanted outside help to ensure that Moran's
politics, the politics of a "firebrand", would be buried with him as
far as the Catholic Church in Australia was concerned. Donovan knew -
and bitterly resented the fact - that Moran had in recent weeks been
host to "envoys" of the Irish Parliamentary Party, "out here now
scouring the country for gold". But his sore heart would have been even
more relieved by Moran's death if he had known about less public
events. In the third-last week of his life, Moran had helped the first
New South Wales Labor government survive a major parliamentary crisis.
In the last week of July 1911 Acting Premier W.A. Holman, having
already lost his working majority when two Labor members resigned over
land policy, was threatened with the resignation of a third Labor
member, Peter McGarry, a Catholic. On the night of 28 July one of
Holman's ministers, Acting Treasurer A.C. Carmichael, went to see the
Cardinal at St Mary's presbytery, accompanied by another Catholic Labor
member, P.J. Minahan. Moran agreed to see McGarry the following morning
and, in his own laconic account: "Very few words sufficed to set him
right. I told him he would be known as Judas all his life, if he
betrayed his party at such a crisis". McGarry went back to pledge
loyalty to the McGowen-Holman government and to convey Moran's
"congratulations to Mr Holman on the singular ability of which he had
given proof". The Labor Party increased its strength at the next
elections and remained in government for another five years. At Moran's
funeral Minahan was the "organizer of mourning arrangements",
Carmichael was one of the leading mourners, and Holman paid tribute to
Moran's public defence of Labor, declaring that he was more impressed
with the "sagacity of Moran than with that of any other public thinker
in the Commonwealth".
Earlier in the year Moran received wide publicity for one of
most controversial examples of his advocacy of radical political
causes. In a referendum held in April 1911 the new federal Labor
government - formed in April 1910, six months before its New South
Wales counterpart - sought increased power to deal with industry and
with commercial and financial corporations and, specifically, power to
nationalise monopolies. Moran gave strong public support for the Yes
campaign, in NSW circumstances, where the majority of state Labor
ministers (including Holman) were opponents of the proposals. It was in
response to speeches (including one by Holman) that suggested the
proposals were incompatible with the idea of Home Rule that Moran made
his most forthright intervention. But within days of his first pro-Yes
statement - a statement in line with the trend of his thinking for more
than a decade - he received anxious inquiries from Cardinal Gibbons,
the senior member of the American Catholic hierarchy (and a man with
whom Moran was bracketed in Rome as "the two democratic cardinals") and
from John Ireland, archbishop of St Paul, Minnesota, a friend of
presidents and industrialists and an enthusiastic advocate of the
American way, for Catholicism as for everything else.
American industrialists and financiers had become alarmed by
possibility that Australian constitutional precedents, especially
federal government action against monopolies, might be followed in the
United States. Gibbons, with characteristic caution, referred to
American press reports that the party behind the referendum proposals,
the Labor Party, drew the majority of its members "from the ranks of
the Socialists" and yet received "the bulk of the Roman Catholic vote":
"It is this alliance of the Roman Catholics of Australia with the party
of the Socialists which has caused the surprise here." A puzzled
Gibbons asked his fellow member of the Roman College of Cardinals - in
which they were both veterans, ranking second and third in seniority -
to provide an explanation that would allay American fears. Ireland,
with candour equally characteristic, explained that he was writing from
Washington "under an urgent request from representatives of large
American industries". Whereas Gibbons had hinted at concern about
government intervention in industrial relations, Ireland stressed local
alarm about possible anti-monopoly legislation, which would exclude
from Australia "American commerce and American enterprise" and "create
a wide breach between this country and yours". Moran waited for
referendum results before replying that the alarm was premature: "the
result was a triumphant vote of No" - in fact, a 61 per cent No vote in
a very low poll. He gave no indication, however, that he had himself
been a very prominent public supporter of the "socialistic" proposals,
which he continued to advocate. In his last newspaper interview the
geographic context was different but the message was similar:
"If imperialism were to have its way tomorrow, subordinating
interests of Australia to the capitalists of London, Australia would
never develop, as she must develop, to be a great nation, and a great
benefactor, in her future destiny, to all the Eastern world.
The irreligious proletariat and small farmers and the Irish
Catholics, get together and form a Labor Party
The formation and development of the Labor Party in all the
Australian colonies was the culmination of the practical alliance that
had been developing since the convict era between the secularised
non-Catholic proletariat and small farmers, and the Irish Catholic
tribe. A mate of mine, Tony Laffan, has published a wonderful little
piece of local history about the Newcastle area called The
Freethinker's Picnic. Newcastle's Secular Hall of Science 1884-1893
(Toiler Editions, Singleton, 1998).
Two other extraordinarily useful books about the religious and
cultural aspects of the foundation and development of the Labor Party,
and the conservative mobilisation against it, are Treasure in
Earthen Vessels: Protestant Christianity in NSW Society 1900-1914,
by Richard Broome (UQP 1980) and The Better Time To Be: Attitudes
to Society Among Sydney Anglicans 1885 to 1914,
by William James Lawton. These three books between them, along with the
Parkes biography mentioned above, describe the social and cultural
factors that culminated at the time of the formation of the Labor Party.
Tony Laffan's book is a little gem. Using as a case study the
Newcastle area, in which he lives, Laffan describes the popular
mobilisation that culminated in the formation of the ALP in the 1890s.
In the 1880s the old demagogue Parkes developed a system of kicking the
Catholic can, so to speak, and mobilising Protestant opinion any time
he was in trouble with numbers in the state Parliament.
A secularist lecturer from England came to Sydney and was due
give a Sunday night lecture in a hall in Sydney, as was the practice of
the quite widespread and popular Sydney secularism. To curry favour for
electoral reasons with the Evangelical Protestant interest, who were
infuriated by the prospect of an athiest lecture on the "Lord's day",
Parkes pushed through the House a very harsh Sunday observance law to
preserve the Protestant religious "British Sunday", laws for which the
evangelical Anglicans in Sydney had been campaigning for a while, as
described in Lawton's book.
The secularist lecturer, prevented by the new laws from hiring
hall, ended up holding his anti-God meeting in Moore Park and,
incidentally, got a crowd of 10,000 people, which indicates the mood of
the times, but unfortunately, the dismal Protestant Sunday was
inflicted on NSW for a whole epoch.
In the Newcastle area, as Laffan describes, the new law had
unintended consequences. There were proportionately fewer Catholics in
Newcastle than in other areas of NSW. The Hunter region was settled
largely from the 1860s to the 1890s by Protestant miners from different
British fields, but mainly from Northumberland, who brought with them
from Britain a mixed baggage of cultural practices, ideas and religious
They were often trade unionists, but their trade union
called lodges, many of them belonged to dissenting Protestant religious
groups like the Primitive Methodistsand the Congregationalists, and
some thousands of them were members of institutions like the Royal
Orange Lodge. They also carried with them, however, from Britain a long
tradition of Sunday relaxation, Sunday sport, pigeon racing and, for
many of them, going to the pub on Sunday, in the contradictory way
characteristic of human beings.
There was already a minority secularist and socialist current
them, of people who had moved over from Primitive Methodists and
dissenting Protestant origins, to Secularism and Rationalism of the
George Jacob Holyoake and Charles Bradlaugh sort. The enforcement of
Sunday observance irritated the miners of the Newcastle area intensely.
Hundreds of them sent back their "warrants" to the Royal
Lodges and resigned, and many of them left their dissenting Protestant
churches over the issue. Rationalism and secularism spread like
wildfire in the area, culminating in the foundation of the Newcastle
Secular Hall of Science, which existed for the next 15 years, and the
history of which is of extraordinary cultural interest.
Several secularists, one of whom was a former Protestant
were elected to Parliament from the Newcastle area and took part in the
formation of the new Labor Party, and some other Newcastle MPs shifted
over to the new Labor Party, and a durable alliance was formed between
the Newcastle section of the non-Catholic proletariat, more recently
arrived from Britain, and the Sydney metropolitan and country
non-Catholic and ex-Catholic proletariat, secularised since the convict
days, along with the Irish Catholic tribe, in the new Party of Labor.
Thus did the attempt to enforce the Protestant Sunday
unintentionally contribute to the final breaking of the grip of
Protestant religion on the whole of the Australian working class, a
circumstance that has continued to this day.
For the first few years of the Labor Party's existence, while
tendency existed from the start for many Catholics to shift over to the
new Labor Party, this did not happen all at once. Many Catholics and
Irish people were at the start well entrenched in the Protectionist
Party, previously the most radical group in the parliament, and for the
first 10 or 15 years of the Labor Party's existence, the allegiance of
Catholics was torn between Labor and the Protectionists.
Initially the Catholics weren't very influential at the
level in the Labor Party, although working class Catholics tended to
support the Labor Party from the start. From about 1901, however, the
constant conservative mobilisation against the new Labor Party, which
more and more assumed an anti-Catholic character, focussing around such
issues as liquor and Sunday sport, tended to reinforce the shift of the
Catholic population to support of Labor and intervention in the Labor
The number of Catholics representing Labor in Parliament,
minuscule initially, rapidly increased, particularly from the time of
the election of the first Labor Government in NSW in 1910. From that
year on, the electoral map of NSW, particularly in country areas,
started to show a strong correlation between areas of higher than
average Catholic population, and Labor parliamentary representation.
For the next 50 years Australian conservatives mobilised
"Rum, Romanism, Socialism and Gambling" as expressed in the ALP.
From the 1890s on, for the next 50 years, from 1891 to the end
the 1930s, there was, with various ebbs and flows, a more or less
constant sectarian Protestant mobilisation against the Labor Party. One
high point of this mobilisation was the 1904 election in NSW.
Carruthers, a conservative Premier, conducted a bitterly
campaign against the Catholics and mobilised Protestant opinion in
favour of banning liquor, gambling and Sunday sport, including even
banning art unions and raffles, which were regarded as the devils way
of financing the terrible Catholic Church, the "whore of Rome", as
sectarian Protestants put it. Carruthers won the election, but in 1907,
despite a similar Protestant mobilisation, he almost lost in the last
election before the first Labor government was elected in 1910.
In Richard Broome's words:
The Carruthers ministry was narrowly returned, but with a
reduced majority, which the "Methodist" claimed was due to the combined
forces of "Rum, Romanism, Socialism and Gambling". The
Liberal-Protestant alliance had held, but it had lost some of the
impetus of 1904. No doubt Carruthers's deflationary fiscal policy and
his piecemeal reformism had lost votes, and on the other hand Labour
was becoming more of a viable alternative. Even the Sydney Morning
admitted after the election that the suspicion and dislike of Labour
was disappearing and "it is gaining the allegiance and the help of
temperate, thoughtful men". Also the Liquor Trade Defence Union and the
Sporting League, which both supported Labour and virulently opposed
Carruthers and the wowsers, had fought hard in some electorates. These
two groups claimed to have caused the defeat of some of the militant
Protestant Liberals, namely, Booth, Law, Jessep, Anderson and
Bruntnell, who had been voted into the previous parliament by
temperance and Protestant support.
It was ever thus for the next 40 years. The labour movement
loose alliance of non-religious working class people, socialists,
rationalists and secularists, the very large tribe of Irish Catholics,
the trade unions and also liquor, gambling and sporting interests. It
was opposed by the squatting interest, the metropolitan capitalist
interest, finance capital and the British investment interests, wicho
mobilised around conservative parties with the reactionary
British-Australia rhetoric, and with the support of most Protestant
Irish Catholics: a major force in the development of trade
If you read carefully the 100 or so histories of Australian
unions or memoirs of trade union activity, the physical participation
at all levels of Irish Catholics in Australian trade unionism, is
immediately striking. This stemmed from the class position of the Irish
Catholic population at the bottom of the social pyramid in 19th and
early 20th century Australia.
This is strikingly the case in the more unskilled unions, "the
unions". An unusual, but in a way, typical example of this is revealed
in the absorbing and well-illustrated history of the Tobacco Workers
Union, published in 1988 by the union just before its amalgamation with
the Miscellaneous Workers Union, written by Alleyn Best. It describes
the battles of the Female Branch of the union - whose members were the
most super-exploited female wage slaves of all - for equal wages and
equal treatment in the union, which went on for many years.
This battle was led by Maud O'Connell, who worked for 25 years
British Australia Tobacco in Melbourne and was the leading personality
in the constant battle of the Female Branch of the union for
improvements. After 15 years of trade union and labour movement
activity, between the turn of the century and 1915, she became a nun
and founded the Grey Sisters, a new order of nuns, caring for mothers
and children in the slum areas of Melbourne.
Nuns in Australian life
Maud O'Connell's interesting and unusual life impinges on
feature of Catholic life in Australia - the explosion of new orders of
Catholic nuns founded in Australia, or Irish orders of nuns that set up
in Australia. It is not widely known, but the development of orders of
nuns in the 19th Century was a new phenomenon in Ireland as well as
During the 300 years of the penal laws against the Catholic
in Ireland (only repealed in the early part of the 19th century)
religious orders were suppressed by the British government. The very
rapid development of religious orders of nuns in both Ireland and
Australia in the latter part of the 19th century, therefore, drew
momentum both from the fact that it was now finally legal to become a
nun, and that, to a lot of spirited, independent-minded women who were
kept down in the misogynist male society in Great Britain and Australia
in the 19th century, being part of independently organised orders of
women engaged in useful social work like nursing in hospitals and
teaching, had a certain appeal, despite the pledge of celibacy.
The tough, confident and vigorous nuns who gave many of us
Australians our initial education were in a very real sense, early
feminists. Anne Henderson's important recent book, Mary MacKillop's
Sisters. A Life Unveiled, captures and describes very eloquently
the significance of the largest order of nuns, the Brown Josephs, in
Catholic schools gave their students an alternative view of
the British Empire
Irish historians, both supporters and critics of Irish
all say that the Christian Brothers schools of the 19th and early 20th
centuries were hothouses of Irish nationalism and the Irish revolution,
and helped to give birth to the Rising of 1916 and the partly
successful Revolution of 1921.
The Christian Brothers and other Catholic schools in Australia
very similar function. They educated their students in a radically
different, more hostile view of British imperialism and the British
Empire, than did the state schools. As a student at a Christian
Brothers school in Sydney in the 1950s I vividly remember the
alternative anti-British imperialist slant on Australian and world
history that we were taught during religion lessons as an antidote to
the British imperialist views of Roberts' History that we had
to study for the external exams. The very useful book, Australian
Popular Culture, edited by Spearitt and Walker, Unwin 1979, has a
wonderul chapter From Empire Day to Cracker Night by Stewart
Firth and Jeanette Horne.
This chapter describes the fantastic ideological
the public school system associated with the introduction in 1905 of
"Empire Day" which eventually became "Cracker Night", and the fierce
ideological resistance to "Empire Day" by the Catholic School system. A
few extracts from this amusing chapter are worth quoting.
At the first Catholic Educational Conference of NSW, held at
St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney in January 1911, teaching brothers and
nuns from all over the state voted to make 24 May "Australia Day" in
their schools. Empire Day, said Moran, was discredited and "even the
public schools had a difficulty in allowing flags to be unfurled"; many
of its supporters were "avowed enemies of the Catholic Church". Father
M.J. O'Reilly of St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, thought it was
unfortunate that patriotism in Australia seemed to be identified with
the British Empire League, which taught children to love England
instead of Australia, and pointed out that "everything that was best
and noblest in Australia was Irish" ... On the first Australia Day, 24
May 1911, St Mary's Cathedral flew the flags of Ireland and Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald chose the headline "NO UNION JACK
FLOWN" and reported Father O'Reilly's appreciation of the Empire
builders: ... "They are the men who cruelly oppressed their fellow
subjects in Ireland for the sake of an alien oligarchy. They are the
land sharks of the world ... Australia not England is our motherland,
the flag of Australia comes first with us." ...
On May Day 1921, 1000 trade unionists marched to the Domain.
of them tore up a Union Jack and burnt it. Those who destroyed the
flag, said Sir George Fuller, were part of "the same organisation that
had been endeavouring to defeat the British Empire, right from the days
of the Armada". Empire Day speeches three weeks later were thick with
denunciation of the incident, and the State Government was petitioned
to counter the insult done to Britain's flag by making school children
salute it every morning. The change was duly made, and saluting was
made mandatory in NSW state schools, together with the recitation of
the pledge: "I honour my God, I serve my King, I salute the flag". The
NSW Trades and Labour Council urged all unionists to instruct their
children not to attend the ceremony. It was now disloyal, commented the
Catholic Freeman's Journal, to raise the Australian flag "and
as for speaking on behalf of the oppressed - well the rack and gibbet
for men capable of such infamy". On 24 May Catholic children continued
to salute the Australian flag and to sing Advance Australia fair.
Between the wars Empire Day was celebrated in State and
schools but not in Catholic schools. While State school children learnt
that they were part of the greatest empire the world had ever known,
Catholic children were taught that May was the month of Mary and 24
May, far from being Empire Day, was Mary's Feast Day under the title
Help of Christians, also known as Australasia Day. In the opinion of
the Catholic Federation of NSW, K.R. Cramp's Story of the English
People, a widely used textbook, was "nothing more that a manual of
shameless jingo propaganda" and the section on Men who Made the
Empire was in fact about "raiders, buccaneers and land-grabbers".
Miriam Dixson's prejudiced Anglophile construction about
Irish Catholics, particularly Irish Catholic women
As one works through the physical, cultural, religious,
and political development of the Irish Catholic community in Australia
in the 19th century, it becomes easier to judge the curious
construction about the Irish advanced by Miriam Dixson in The Real
Matildas and The Imaginary Australian.
The actual development and evolution of the Irish Catholic
in all its aspects as revealed in major recent historical works,
sharply contradicts Dixson's construction. The Irish women, who she
regards as such a retarding influence, are actually revealed by the
records as predominantly a vibrant, democratic force, and Irish men and
Irish women are actually apparent as strong supporters of democratic
and social movements in the Australian colonies.
Dixson's rather unpleasant construction is actually a kind of
prejudice based on her already existing theoretical view of the
Catholic Irish, rather than any empirical inquiry into their actual
social influence in Australia.
It is another version of a postmodernist approach to history
which so called "theory" is given greater weight than empirical
historical evidence. Karl Marx's view of history as "whole cloth" is
much more useful than Dixson's "theory" in relation to the history of
the Irish in Australia.
Daniel Mannix comes to Melbourne
In 1913 the most influential rebel Irish Catholic prelate in
Australian history arrived in Victoria to become Coajutor Archbishop of
Melbourne to Archbishop Carr, and in 1916, after Carr died, he became
Mannix was born in North Cork, in the heart of the
Cork-Tipperary-Limerick area, from which many of the Irish immigrants
to Australia in the 19th century came, and which was later the heart of
the agrarian military rising organised by the IRA in the early 1920s,
which succeeded in winning the beginnings of Irish independence. Before
he came to Australia, he had a distinguished career as the President of
St Patricks College, Maynooth, the main Irish seminary for training
priests, and at Maynooth he had conformed fairly carefully to the
rather conservative mold set down by Cardinal Cullen.
As President of Maynooth he had even represented the Cullen
interest, so to speak, in a conflict with Dr Hickey over the use of the
Irish language in the seminary. Mannix was a distinguished, tall
scholarly man with, like Moran before him, a considerable Irish wit,
and like Moran before him, he was rapidly radicalised in Australia by
the strong democratic rebel Labor and Irish nationalist spirit that was
all-pervasive among his flock in Australia.
Significantly, when he arrived he adopted, as his official
motto (an ancient custom amongst Catholic archbishops) the same motto
that had served for Cardinal Moran, "Omnia Omnibus" or in English "All
things to all men," thus taking up symbolically the torch of leadership
laid down by Moran on his death.
Mannix's first political activity in Australia was to step up
campaign for the traditional Catholic demand for some state aid for
Catholic schools. After toying with the idea of a separate Catholic
party, he rapidly came to understand the Australian reality that his
flock were far too deeply involved in the labour movement to be easily
separated from it, and he very soon shifted his emphasis to mobilising
Catholics in the Labor Party for state aid, with at that stage only
In 1914 the first great imperialist war broke out. Initially,
the labour movement and the Catholic community were drawn into the war
hysteria of British imperialism, although even at the start there were
some dissenters, particularly the IWW in socialist circles, and quite a
few Irish nationalists in the Catholic community, (and some people who
As the war dragged on, however, war weariness set in, both in
labour movement and in the Catholic community. In 1916 the rabidly
pro-British right-wing Labor leader, Billy Hughes, precipitated a split
in the labour movement by attempting to impose conscription on a
Mannix, Irish Australia and the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland
Mannix has been treated rather unfairly in Australian
The best-known piece of Mannix literature is Barry Oakley's rather
funny play, The Feet of Daniel Mannix, but this is a very crude
caricature, and a basically inaccurate view of Mannix's ideas and role.
On the other hand, the portrait of Mannix in Frank Hardy's Power
while critical and a bit acid, is much fairer to Mannix and actually
captures quite sympathetically the enormous significance and influence
that Mannix and his activities had in the Australian labour movement
during and after the battles about conscription.
There are two major biographies of Mannix, one by Niall
the other by B.A. Santamaria. Both are significant but Bob
Santamaria's, in particular, suffers from the way Santamaria tends to
remold Mannix to fit his own political outlook at the time he was
writing in the early 1980s.
Santamaria leaves out the major high points of Mannix's
radicalisation in relation to Australian politics during and after the
conscription referendum, and he blurs over Mannix's intransigent
republicanism in relation to the Irish Civil War in the 1920s. Mannix
was the only Irish Catholic bishop in the world who belligerently
supported the republican side against the free staters in the Civil War.
The best thing that Santamaria wrote about Mannix was the
published in 1978, based on his speech to the Melbourne Newman Society,
which spelt out the fact that Mannix, like Moran before him, was
clearly a follower of the Irish bishops like Thomas Croke of Cashel and
John McHale, "the lion of Tuam", who strongly supported the Irish
national movement and the Land League in the 19th century, and an
opponent of both the pro-British "Castle" bishops such as Bishop
Moriarty and Cardinal McCabe, and an opponent also of the Cullen
position, which was, to quote Santamaria, "to canalise the Nationalist
impetus of the Irish to ecclesiastical and Roman rather than political
and Irish purposes". By far the most useful and revealing book about
Mannix was published in 1984 by Colm Kiernan, Daniel Mannix and
Ireland. To quote Kiernan, in Chapter 6 of this book:
The 1916 Irish rebellion was an episode in Mannix's progressive
radicalisation, not its cause. In Ireland Mannix would not have
supported the rebellion or the subsequent achievement by force of Irish
independence. He would have backed the Irish hierarchy as he always had
before; and it supported the forces of the law and order, not those of
rebellion and revolution in Ireland. Unlike Mannix, the hierarchy in
Ireland did not see the rebellion as Catholic emancipation: they saw it
as a resort to force by a minority group.
Alienated from the Irish hierarchy in distant Melbourne and
involved with the horrors of the rebellion, Mannix was ready and
willing to see things differently, "There was an old Irishman who used
to work at the West Melbourne presbytery where Dr Mannix lived, and one
evening after the rising Daniel Mannix went into the old man's room. He
threw the evening paper on to the old man's bed. 'Michael', he said,
with tears in his eyes, 'they've shot some of them." He could no longer
be identified with the Catholic Church establishment in Ireland.
Mannix strikes out independently of the Catholic hierarchy in
What was at issue in Ireland was the logic of rebellion
compared with the logic of continuity. In supporting the rebellion,
Mannix signalled his disillusion with the Irish and with the Irish
hierarchy, which had so mismanaged the O'Hickey affair that not only
O'Hickey, but Mannix too suffered. Mannix's rhetoric in supporting the
rebellion of 1916 was similar to O'Hickey's language in supporting his
own rebellion in 1909.
In his Statement to the Rota, O'Hickey commented: "I regret
that I have written in my pamphlet; I withdraw nothing; I apologise for
nothing. It is all true". Mannix's equivalent statement was, "I do not
retract one word that I have spoken. I take back nothing; I regret
nothing; I am unchanged and impenitant". Although O'Hickey was dead, he
was transmuted into Mannix, who carried on a rebellion against an
establishment that had rejected them both.
Mannix knew nothing of plans being made for the Irish
before Easter Monday 24 April 1916, when Patrick Pearse read the
Proclamation of the Republic from in front of the General Post Office
in Dublin. Irish historians now date "the call to arms" at the earliest
to Eoin MacNeill's The North Began in An Claidhemh Soluis
of 1 November 1913, by which time Mannix had left Ireland.
The formation of the Irish volunteers who made the
the reformation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and even Pearse's
membership of that body, all took place after Mannix's departure. It
was to be expected that Mannix was taken by surprise with the
rebellion. It surprised not only the British Government in Ireland; it
came as a shock to Irishmen in Ireland and abroad.
Mannix's immediate reaction was to criticise the rebellion,
referring to "the misguided leaders of this movement". The savage
treatment meted out to the leaders of the abortive rising convinced
Mannix that there was no hope for Home Rule. By court martialing the
leaders of the rebel movement in secret and then shooting them, the
British Government exhausted much Irish goodwill and convinced Mannix
that the issue of Home Rule had moved from the constitutional arena to
the military one ...
As already mentioned, when news of the "outbreak in Dublin"
Melbourne, the immediate reaction was to denounce the rebellion. Mannix
commented that "this outbreak is truly deplorable". He was in line with
other leaders of the Catholic community in Melbourne such as Archbishop
Carr and Dr M.N. O'Donnell, president of the Victorian United Irish
League. Unlike the others, Mannix immediately qualified his
condemnation, holding the British Government chiefly responsible. He
claimed that, by allowing the Ulster Volunteers to arm and in trying to
suppress a similar movement in Dublin, it had fomented rebellion,
"Before condemning the misguided leaders of this movement to be shot,
they should remember that leaders of another movement were taken into
the Cabinet". This reference was to the Sir Edward Carson who was
instrumental in forming the Ulster Volunteers and was taken into Lloyd
George's Cabinet. The shooting of the leaders hardened Mannix's
attitude, "There was no sign of sober restraint in the punishment meted
out to Irishmen in the recent uprising". He commented bitterly that
"these outrages will rankle in the minds of men, and they are not
likely to bring a blessing upon the British arms" ...
Mannix's commitment to anti-conscription and his support of
Irish rebellion came at the same time. They were to be mutually
supportive. Each was to subserve his most fundamental commitment, which
was the achievement of state aid through the ALP, and each would draw
him further away from the establishment in Ireland and from its
The more Mannix thought about the three issues of the war,
and the education issue, the more they merged in his mind; and the more
he dealt with the Catholic working classes in Melbourne the more
radical his politics became.
Opening a fair at the Albert Hall in Clifton Hill Parish, on
September 1916, Mannix first publicly expressed his opposition to
conscription, "I hope and believe that peace can be secured without
conscription. For conscription is a hateful thing, and it is almost
certain to bring evil in its train." He claimed that conscription would
result in the escalation of war in Europe. Most significantly, he
proposed that Australia had done enough, "Australia has done her full
share - I am inclined to say even more than her fair share - in this
war." As the war dragged on, this argument would be increasingly
telling. Finally, he proposed that "Australians ... are a peaceloving
people. They will not easily give conscription a foothold in their
Soon afterwards, at a giant rally at the Melbourne Town Hall
announced that the Catholics of Melbourne had subscribed the
substantial sum of 3700 pounds to the Irish Relief Fund. At the close
of proceedings and in response to the clamours of an insistent
audience, Mannix found himself on his feet. He told them that "my heart
bleeds for the suffering Irish people" and for the first but not last
time, he spoke in praise of "those brave men who, in the recent rising,
loved Ireland, unwisely perhaps, but too well". As the
anti-conscription campaign got under way, Mannix intermixed support for
the Irish rebellion with anti-conscription arguments in a way that was
to baffle friend and foe alike.
Protestant churches' overwhelming support for the First World
War and conscription
As we see from the above, Mannix and a considerable part of
Catholic clergy vigorously opposed conscription and were very sceptical
about the war as a whole. Even the section of the Catholic hierarchy
who implicitly supported the war mostly avoided any public statements
in support of conscription because they had to take into account the
very strong feelings of their flock, who were overwhelmingly opposed to
conscription, and many to the war itself.
The Protestant hierarchy and clergy, on the other hand, were
overwhelmingly jingoistic supporters of the war and conscription.
Throughout the Commonwealth, there were only three or four Protestant
ministers publicly opposed to conscription. The overwhelming mood in
the Protestant religious community was rabid in its support of
conscription and the imperialist war.
The Anglican Synods in both Sydney and Melbourne in 1916
supported the Yes case in the conscription referendum, and the
Melbourne Anglican Synod even demanded the arrest and internment of
"disloyalists" opposed to conscription and the war. Predictably, the
Protestant jingoes focused a great deal of their pro-war agitation
against the "disloyal" Archbishop Mannix.
This division over conscription obviously further increased
existing alienation of the trade union and labour movement from the
Protestant religion. During the conscription referendum there were many
disturbances at meetings. Anti-conscription and Labor Party meetings in
middle and upper class Protestant areas were routinely broken up by
upper class hoodlums.
In working class areas, pro-conscription meetings, which were
defended by the Police, were disrupted by the very effective tactic of
masses of young working class women being the spearhead of the turmoil,
particularly in Melbourne. The reactionary daily press constantly
claimed that these young working class women were Irish Catholics from
the surrounding suburbs, which was no doubt partly true.
Mannix's leadership was decisive in the defeat of conscription
Colm Kiernan, again:
Mannix's intervention in the anti-conscription campaign during
World War I was the culminating crisis of his career. It differed from
his support for state aid, which had the backing of the hierarchy in
Australia. Mannix was the only Bishop of the Catholic Church in
Australia in 1916 to oppose conscription. The Apostolic Delegate,
Archbishop Cerretti, ruled conscription a political issue and so the
Catholic Church in Australia would not have a policy on it, "The
members of the Catholic Church are free citizens, and as such should
record their votes in accordance with the dictates of conscience. It
would be altogether unreasonable to involve the Church, as a Church, on
an issue which its members, as citizens, in common with others, are
called on to decide ..."
Hughes knew that it was the Catholic vote which would make
difference. And Mannix ensured that he did not get it. Mannix
controlled two Catholic newspapers, the Advocate and the Tribune,
which gave the widest publicity to everything he said. This material
was noted in Catholic newspapers in the other States, and influenced
Catholics. It was also available to the lay press, which made
interesting use of it, to represent Mannix as the leader of the
anti-conscription campaign. While the voting pattern in Victoria was
not as flattering to anti-conscription as it was in New South Wales and
in Queensland in 1916, this reflected the fact that there were
proportionately more Catholics in New South Wales and Queensland than
in Victoria, and not any diminution in Catholic support for Mannix ...
His greatest contributions to the defeat of the conscription
referendum was to link it with state aid and the Irish question. These
issues combined with his standing as Archbishop ensured that Catholics
would hold firm. He dwelt on the Irish question in a way that tortured
the consciences of Australian Catholics, encouraging them to give no
ground. His argument was that England was putting down freedom in
Ireland; and the descendants of Englishmen in Australia, by not
granting state aid, were suppressing freedom of Australian Catholics;
therefore Catholics should not feel bound to fight in an English war.
This argument did not convince Protestant Australians but it did ring
true for the consciences of Catholics. In the second referendum of
1917, Mannix would extend his argument in an attempt to appeal to
He extended his political argument to include the working
He charged the Government with not doing enough for the unemployed and
thus forcing them into the armed forces. At the opening of a new
Christian Brothers School at Brunswick he told his audience that, "it
was time people faced this question of unemployment fairly and
squarely. Unemployment in Australia was not confined to war time. It
was always with them, and that, he ventured to think, was a disgrace to
the Government of Australia". He added that "one-hundredth part of the
energy put into the war would in the last 25 years have made Australia
a very different land from what it was today".
Mannix's opposition to conscription gave a lead to Catholics
firm against powerful government propaganda. Catholics were predisposed
to oppose conscription not just because of the British suppression of
the Irish rebellion, but because they did not have the same feeling for
England as "the mother country" that many other Australians
experienced. After the defeat of the first conscription referendum, at
the silver jubilee celebration of Convent of Mercy nuns in Melbourne,
Mannix made it clear that the defeat of the referendum and his interest
in Ireland were related when he commented that, "I have lately become a
Mannix's deep and wide knowledge of Irish history and the
struggle is beautifully expressed in this very subtle assertion of
having become a "better Irishman". He is obviously referring to the
situation in the 1870s when the most reactionary "Castle" bishops
brutally opposed Fenianism.
The response of Charles J. Kickham, a very important Fenian
(later chairman of the Irish Republican Brotherhood), to these clerical
traitors to the national cause, was as follows, and I quote from the
wonderful book by English Marxist T.A. (Tommy) Jackson on the Irish
national struggle, Ireland Her Own. In regard to clericalism,
Charles J. Kickham, himself an ardent Catholic, wrote:
Nothing would please us better than to keep clear of the
vexed question of priests in politics ... But the question was forced
upon us. We saw that the people must be taught to distinguish between
the priest as a minister of religion and the priest as a politician
before they could advance one step on the road to emancipation ... Our
only hope is in revolution, but most bishops and many of the clergy are
opposed to revolution ... When priests turn the alter into a platform:
when it is pronounced a "mortal sin" to read the "Irish People", a
"mortal sin" to even wish that Ireland should be free; when priests
call upon the people to turn informers ... When, in a word, bishops and
priests are doing the work of the enemy, we believe it is our duty to
tell the people that bishops and priests may be bad politicians and
Mannix obviously had this widely publicised and effective
the anti-national Irish bishops in mind when he said he had become a
Colm Kiernan, continues:
His opposition to conscription was especially important
after 4 November 1916, when Prime Minister Hughes and 23 supporters
walked out of a meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Labor Party
to form a new Nationalist Party. They supported conscription against an
opposition of 41 ALP members, most of whom were Catholics and who
opposed conscription. Charges of disloyalty were made. Mannix's backing
was important at the time when no major public figure opposed
Sectarianism was introduced into the campaign and Mannix's
participation was significant "in winning the non-Labor Catholic vote
for anti-conscription", and ensuring that the Catholic Labor vote held
firm. What emerged was a Commonwealth Parliamentary Labor Party with a
strong Catholic component. If it came to power it would probably
introduce state aid. What was needed was to put the Party into power.
Conscription was an issue which, if it took the centre of the stage,
could bring non-Catholic as well as Catholic support to the ALP. It was
in these circumstances that Mannix began to shape a more radical
political commitment aimed at seizing the opportunity to put the
Commonwealth Parliamentary Labor Party into power and so secure state
aid. Mannix was raising the issue of the rights of a minority in a
democracy. In this instance, a minority which did not believe World War
I to be a "just" war. For them, if conscription became law, they would
be required to fight. Most of those with conscientious objections to
the war were Catholics, but the issue of the rights of a minority in a
democracy was of more fundamental significance. Mannix was convinced
that World War I was anything but a "just" war. As far as he was
concerned, the waste of money and life in the war was morally wrong.
The famous "sordid trade war" speech
In a speech at Brunswick, Mannix told his audience that "when
was said and all concessions made, the war was like most wars - just an
ordinary trade war". He stressed the point, that "it was just a truism
that the war was a trade war". Prime Minister Hughes was not challenged
a year before when he said that "it was a struggle for industrial and
commercial supremacy" and that "he considered the struggle for
commercial supremacy to be one of the primary causes of the war".
To make matters worse for Mannix, his "trade war" speech was
edited in the version published in the Argus,
to read a "sordid trade war". The difference between Hughes and Mannix
on this point was that Hughes thought "industrial and commercial
supremacy" worth fighting for, while Mannix did not think them
sufficiently important to warrant a policy of conscription.
Mannix's intervention in the election campaign was critical. A
combination of the labour movement, the Irish Catholics and the fact
that many farmers didn't want their surviving children conscripted off
their farms, combined to give the anti-conscription side a slim
majority, and a majority in three states. In this defeat of
conscription the stand taken by Mannix and the Catholic vote that it
mobilised was absolutely crucial and everybody, for or against
conscription, recognised Mannix's pivotal role in the result.
An interesting demographic fact about this referendum result
that Mannix's impact was a bit greater in NSW, where there were
significantly more Catholics as a proportion of the population, and
where the fact that the Catholic newspapers reprinted Mannix's views on
conscription obviously had greater resonance with the Catholic
population than the muted pro-war stance of Sydney's Archbishop Kelly.
The critical thing to the defeat of the referendum was its
the narrowest of margins in NSW. In the second referendum, in 1917,
Victoria became the fourth state to join the No side, once again by a
slim margin. The following year, 1917 was the year of the Russian
Revolution, and a general radicalisation of the labour movement and of
the Irish Catholic community proceeded rapidly.
This centred around the anti-conscription struggle in
in Ireland, and a major general strike in Australia in 1917. The
general weariness with the imperialist war, which was the direct cause
of the Russian Revolution, spread everywhere in the capitalist world,
including Germany, France, Britain, Australia and Ireland.
In 1917, Hughes had another bite at a conscription referendum,
he was defeated by an even larger margin. In winter 1917, Mannix, at
the height of his intellectual powers and his pivotal role as a public
figure, held a series of public lectures on economic and political
questions, in which he spelt out his developing political outlook on
Thousands attended these lectures, and the final one attracted
crowd of 20,000 people who had to be addressed outside because the hall
overflowed. Once again, it's worth quoting from Colm Kiernan's book
about these lectures (page 108):
Daniel Mannix's most radical phase, the amazing 1917 winter
Mannix's first innovation as Archbishop of Melbourne was to
inaugurate a series of winter lectures in the Cathedral Hall, Brunswick
Street, Fitzroy. In the course of the lectures, he developed a radical
statement of the relationship of religion and politics, of the priest
and the people. His forthright stance increased his popularity.
The lectures were given by speakers invited by Mannix. After
paper, Mannix summed up. After the second lecture he asked, "Is it or
not a fact that we want the priests in politics? ... We come from the
people, we belong to the people, and the people own us body and soul".
He was willing, if he "could do anything for the toilers".
By the fifth lecture, Mannix was elaborating a system of
economics, "The profits of capitalists would have to be clipped very
considerably; there was no other solution of the question. If
capitalists were not prepared to surrender excessive profits, they must
be made by law to surrender them". He defended the rights of workers,
adding that "the rights of men and of workers were even more sacred
than the rights of property". He went on to claim that "profit-sharing
and the nationalisation of certain industries would go a long way to
improve the condition of the workers".
Shortly after his succession to the See of Melbourne, Mannix
installed at Raheen, a large two-storey brick house in Studley Park
Road, Kew, where he lived for the rest of his life. From there he
walked to and from St Patrick's Cathedral. By doing this he achieved a
relationship with the people of Collingwood and of Melbourne. Over the
years this became increasingly friendly. The effect of his increasing
contact was to extend his sympathy and to radicalise his politics.
By the sixth winter lecture, Mannix was assuring his
audience that "it is the bounden duty of the State to provide against
unemployment and to find work for men who are ready and willing to
work". He was jubilant, for he had found a cause. He hoped to lead the
Catholics of Melbourne out of a ghetto into the promised land, away
from subordination, to equality of status with their more fortunate
Australian brethren. The means to hand was the ballot box. He told his
audience in the Cathedral Hall: "Now, I claim to be one of the people,
to be a democrat, and a believer in the people."
Mannix believed that before anything could be done at all,
had to be brought to a speedy end. He told his audience at Newport that
"after three years of a cruel and disastrous war it is quite time to
know what all the fighting is about". He proposed that the war was made
by capitalists, competing for greater shares of the market, so that
business interests in Australia simply backed the British capitalist
system in a search for greater spheres of influence, from which they
had all hoped to profit.
At the eighth lecture, Mannix told his audience that "wars
by capitalists and ... this one is no exception. If it were not for the
capitalists, I believe there would be no war. If the capitalists were
put in their proper place, there would be an end to war for the
future". Unlike the capitalists, the people wanted peace. He told his
audience at Newport that "if the people were now consulted there would
be peace tomorrow".
While there was war abroad, there was conflict also at home,
employers, many of whom supported the war and their workers, some of
whom did not. Mannix put it that, "there is a cruel war raging - it is
virtually a civil war - between the workers and the employers". The
only good thing that the war abroad might achieve would be to awaken
people to their plight. At the eighth lecture, Mannix conceded that,
"the war is teaching its own grim, useful lessons. The workers are
awakened". Before anything could be done to improve the lot of the
working classes, peace would have to be restored. While disclaiming
socialism, Mannix said, "I must say this for the socialists, that from
the beginning of the war, the socialists and the Pope were the most
strenuous and consistent advocates of peace" ...
Throughout 1917, Mannix continued to condemn the war; and
to conscript Australians for war. He predicted that the majority
against conscription in the second referendum would exceed the first,
which it did. What he feared most was that, having lost the referendum,
business interests would take the law into their own hands, "I fear
that some of them, having failed at the referendum, are now
endeavouring to enforce economic conscription by dismissing men from
employment for no other purpose than to force them to the front". What
was most galling was that Catholics would be victimised, "I greatly
fear, however, that economic conscription is being worked in various
quarters, and I am afraid it is true, also, that the first men thrown
out of employment are those belonging to the Catholic Church".
More than 20,000 people rally to hear Mannix at the final
Mannix defended his intervention on conscription, "Now I may
claim to know something about the Catholic Church, and I know that the
countries in which the Church has failed most disastrously are those
countries in which ecclesiastics kept within the sacristies, and took
no interest in the temporal concerns of their people or in public
Mannix felt morally obliged to intervene, outraged by the
rebellion, convinced as he was that conscription of Australian
Catholics to fight in England's war would morally be a worse fate for
them than the discrimination they appeared to him to suffer in the
slums of Melbourne. In the outcome, he found himself opposing
conscription, which was the policy of the ALP.
Due to the growing numbers of those attending, it was
hold the final winter lecture in 1917 in the Melbourne Town Hall. Even
then, 20,000 people were unable to gain admission to the Town Hall.
They blocked the streets around to catch a sight of the Archbishop, or
to hear a few words that might be passed from mouth to mouth. Mannix
was touched by this massive response. He told his audience: "I assure
and promise you that as long as I live I shall remember you, and so
long as I have health and strength I shall fight for you." He went out
on to the balconies overlooking Swanston and Collins Streets and
shouted the same words to the audience below, which were italicised
when they were printed in the Advocate: "I ASSURE AND PROMISE
YOU THAT AS LONG AS I LIVE I SHALL REMEMBER YOU, AND SO LONG AS I HAVE
HEALTH AND STRENGTH, I SHALL FIGHT FOR YOU". He had reached the highest
moment of his career: conscription was defeated and the future looked
bright with promise.
Standing on the stage of the Melbourne Town Hall, straight,
covered in his long black cape, which reached down to his silver
buckled shoes, surmounted by a pink biretta, Mannix had achieved a
remarkable radical political synthesis, more radical than that of any
contemporary prelate. He opposed conscription and the war, wanting
better conditions for the workers, full employment and a redistribution
of wealth. He looked on religion not as a conservative influence, but
as establishing the dignity of man, "When I read what is written
sometimes by the capitalist press ... I seem to discover that we have
many who value religion mainly - perhaps solely - for the purpose of
keeping the proletariat quiet." He had achieved the status of a leading
figure in Australia.
The bitter struggle over conscription and Mannix's courageous
intelligent political leadership role, both in the Catholic community
and in the wider Australian society, was the high point of the
radicalisation of the Catholic community in Australia, and the effects
of this struggle persisted for the next 20 years in the Irish Catholic
community and the labour movement.
One feature of Mannix's activity in this period was the
way he defended the German Lutheran community in Australia,
particularly in South Australia, against the mad British jingoism
characteristic of the First World War. Mannix was both an Australian
nationalist and Irish nationalist, but also a Catholic Church
internationalist in these matters, and he became particularly vocal
when the mad jingoism culminated in the deportation of Fr Jerger, who
had the misfortune, for those times, of being German-born. (He was an
Australian citizen, and his parents had brought him with them at the
age of two, when they migrated to Australia. He was 50 when deported
Fr Jerger, a Sydney parish priest at Marrickville, had been
towards the end of the war as an enemy alien after being accused of
giving an antiwar sermon at Sunday Mass. After protracted legal battles
by the Catholic community on his behalf, which were lost, he was
finally deported a bit after the end of the war. Mannix was
particularly colourful and angry in attacking the prejudice involved in
this deportation, and passionate in defending Fr Jerger.
It is easy for historians to overlook one feature of Mannix's
in Australian, Catholic and labour history. The question of the role of
the individual in history is an old and important issue in Marxist
historiography. The broad economic and social circumstances create the
conditions for great social movements and changes, but individuals do
play an enormous and important role within that historically determined
Trotsky used to doggedly reassert the proposition that without
Lenin's powerful personal activity there would have been no Russian
socialist revolution, despite the ripeness of the objective conditions.
In the case of Mannix, he came from Ireland and began to play a
leadership role in the Catholic Church at a time when the bulk of the
Catholic population of Irish origin were now native born Australians.
The mass migration from Ireland that had been so
decisive in Australia from the 1840s to the 1890s almost ceased in the
early 1890s. By 1910 the native-born children of this Irish mass
migration were beginning to forget, just a little, the ancient wrongs
suffered by the Irish, although they were steadily acquiring a new,
more modern sense of grievance and class consciousness that stemmed
from becoming part of an emerging proletariat, then in boisterous and
vigorous development in Australia.
The magic of Mannix's leadership in the conscription
immediately thereafter, was that he brought sharply into the Australian
Catholic community a new consciousness of the Irish national question,
then at its most intense and revolutionary point of development in
Ireland, and combined this with the social, economic and political
demands generated by Australian circumstances, expressed in the
struggles of the labour movement. Under Mannix's inspired leadership,
this combination of Irish and Australian issues produced a powerful
political chemistry, and it had an enormously radicalising impact on
both the labour movement and the Catholic community. No wonder the
British-Australian bourgeoisie loathed Mannix with such an abiding
hatred. No other single individual ever contributed so much in
Australian history to a broad radicalisation of the Australian
population, except possibly NSW Labor Premier J.T. Lang in his most
Mannix announces publicly that he votes Labor
It was at Echuca that Mannix committed himself, "Dr Mannix
said he would tell them how he intended voting. He was going to vote
against Mr Hughes and his party" because "he knew that the profiteers
were going to vote for Mr Hughes". He had another reason: "He would
vote against Mr Hughes and his party because all the sectarians were on
his side - the 'Critchley' Parker gang were there, every one of them."
Then he delivered his most stinging blow: "Ranged on Mr Hughes' side
were those who waved Union Jacks ... at their celebrations rather than
the Australian flag ... He was going to vote with those not ashamed of
Australia's flag." Finally, "he was not going to vote for those who had
always been against the workers". Previously, he had commented, "I made
up my mind early not to vote with the profiteers. They are going to
vote one way, I am going to vote in the other." As the election day
drew nearer, he further simplified: "For there are some people - I do
not suppose there are many here - who prefer to vote with the
profiteers rather than vote with Catholics."
The result of the split of the conscriptionists from the ALP
that the proportion of Catholics doubled in the parliamentary Labor
Party and in leadership positions in unions and labour councils. The
labour movement throughout Australia was radicalised by these events,
and by the impact of the Russian Revolution and the postwar
revolutionary upsurge in Europe and Ireland.
Broadly speaking, the alliance between the Catholic section
secular section of the labour movement was deepened and strengthened,
the culmination of which, in one sense, was the adoption of the
socialisation objective by the ALP in 1921. In the debate at the
decisive federal Labor conference, most of the Catholics were on the
side in favour of adopting the socialisation objective.
The division between Catholics and the secular socialist left
labour movement became very blurred. At this stage quite a number of
major figures of Catholic background who later became Labor leaders or
prime ministers, like James Scullin, John Curtin and Arthur Calwell,
also belonged to the more or less Marxist and considerably secular
Victorian Socialist Party, and this did not seem to interfere in the
slightest with their close personal connections with the Archbishop.
Mannix also had very good personal relations with such
leaders of the left as Bob Ross and the redoubtable Frank Anstey MHR.
Mannix himself claimed that during the conscription battle many humble
people converted to the Catholic Church, and that the Catholic
community had consolidated its friendship and links with what he
described as the "democratic element" among non-Catholics.
In the early 1920s, the Victorian bourgeoisie, led in this
by Tory politician Herbert Brooks, mounted a vicious mobilisation
against the labour movement, of a bigoted British and Protestant
character, focussed mainly against Mannix, Catholics, and the IWW. At
the height of this sectarian mobilisation they attempted to ban the St
Patricks Day procession.
This attempted ban became a political disaster for the Tories.
sporting millionaire John Wren, an ally of Mannix, mobilised a
contingent of 10 Victoria Cross winners to head the procession on white
chargers, and the Tories were forced to cave in and allow the St
Patricks Day procession on condition that there was a British flag at
As described by Frank Hardy with great good humour in Power
Wren arranged for a rather decrepit derelict to be suitably paid to
walk comfortably ahead of the procession, with a toy British flag,
which made the 100,000 people who watched that St Patricks Day march
laugh uproriously, and infuriated Sir Herbert Brooks and his associates
In 1923, Australia had its only complete police stoppage of
when the Melbourne Police went on strike. His Eminence Archbishop
Mannix spoke at a rally in support of the police strikers, in the
Treasury Gardens, on the same platform as Tom Walsh, the secretary of
the Seamen's Union, at that time a well-known member of the Communist
Party. It is hard to overestimate the political courage required for
Mannix to speak at a rally in support of the striking police, given the
enormous public turmoil in Melbourne produced by that strike. (This is
well covered in the recent book Days of Violence by Gavin Brown
and Robert Haldane, 1998.)
Several NSW elections in the early and middle 1920s were
marked by a
ferocious Protestant sectarian mobilisation behind the conservative
parties, and against Labor and particularly J.T. Lang. The main
organising genius of this sectarian anti-Labor mobilisation was the
Bible-bashing wowser T.J. Ley, who later committed at least one bizarre
murder and possibly several others.
This polarisation of Australian society between the two
to speak, the labour movement nation including the Irish Catholics, and
the conservatives of British Australia, was deeply entrenched as the
dominant feature of Australian politics for the next 30 years.
In the early 1930s, during the Depression, Mannix concentrated
main oratory against the crimes of the capitalist system, and while not
endorsing socialism he pointed out that the masses of the world might
turn to it as a result of the world economic crisis.
For their part, the military jingoes of the old guard, the New
Guard, and the White Army in NSW and Victoria, who mobilised militarily
during the crisis years, had an interesting mix of targets for their
hostility. They based their planning on a program of locking up all the
trade union leaders, labour leaders, communist and socialist leaders
and Catholic leaders.
Michael Cathcart, has in his entertaining little book, Defending
the National Tuck Shop,
studied the activities in Victoria of the extraordinary semi-fascist
military organisation led by General Blamey in Victoria, called the
White Army. In winter 1931 the White Army mobilised all over rural
Victoria with a plan to arrest all trade union, labour, communist and
Catholic leaders, and occupy all the trade union headquaters, convents
and Catholic churches. In many rural areas, on one particular night,
the order was given for this mobilisation to proceed, although luckily
for all concerned this was countermanded before it could be carried out.
Mannix and the left part company in the 1930s
The breach between a large part of the Catholic community and
of the left came towards the end of the 1930s, and was triggered by the
Catholic hierarchy's support for Franco's side in the civil war in
Spain, the vicious development of Stalinism in Russia, and the
increasing aggressiveness of the Communist faction in the labour
Nevertheless, echoes of the earlier alliance persisted, even
after this far-reaching split. Rupert Lockwood, once editor of Tribune,
the Communist newspaper, later reminisced about an occasion on which he
simply referred to Archbishop Mannix as "Mannix" in Tribune.
The Stalinist leader, Lance Sharkey (a former Catholic himself, who had
grown up during the stirring Conscription period) ticked Lockwood off
severely for that, and said to him, "Any time you refer to his Eminence
in Tribune, you give him his full and proper title. That is
what he is entitled to."
For his part, Mannix, for reasons of global Catholic politics,
his full weight and considerable inventiveness behind B.A. Santamaria's
anti-communist Movement. Nevertheless, he parted company quite
decisively with Santamaria over the move to legally suppress the
Communist Party in 1951.
As Santamaria recounts, in his autobiography, Against the
Mannix said he didn't mind Santamaria taking his own view and
supporting the ban on the Communist Party, but for himself Mannix was
opposed to banning anybody for their political views, even the
Communists. Mannix then went forward in his old, quite unambiguous,
style to make known his opposition to the ban.
Once again, he influenced the outcome of a referendum.
acknowledged that Mannix's opposition to the ban and that of J.T. Lang,
by then another veteran anti-communist, were decisive elements in the
narrow defeat of the referendum, particularly in Victoria, where Mannix
James Griffin's attack on Mannix in The Australian
Dictionary of Biography
Jim Griffin is a quirky and interesting Catholic Australian
historian. He often comes up with entertaining, unusual and useful
pieces of historical research, like his well known articles
establishing the long-standing, and previously rather well-concealed,
political link between federal Labor opposition leader Herbert Vere
Evatt and the powerful Melbourne gambling identity John Wren.
Unfortunately, Griffin has rather a set against Daniel Mannix,
is sad in a popular historian whose work is otherwise so useful. In
1986 James Griffin's entry on Mannix in The Australian Dictionary
caused considerable controversy. He attacked Mannix for, in his view,
not being politically consistent, and questioned his scholarship and
political judgement. Some critics of Mannix claim that he was not a
very knowledgable theologian. This criticism seems to me to be bizarre,
if one considers, for instance, the careful way he framed his support
for de Valera and the opponents of the Treaty in Ireland in the 1920s,
and the careful advice and support he gave to de Valera later, on the
theological implications of deciding to take the oath to the Queen in
the Free State parliament.
Mannix was quite a considerable and well-formed Catholic
with, however, strong Irish nationalist and democratic sentiments, and
he attempted to balance all those things within the framework of
Catholic theology as he understood it. In a response to Griffin
published in 1991 in Quadrant, George Pell, now the Catholic
Archbishop of Melbourne, described Griffin's ADB entry as
"jaundiced, snide and unworthy". I am inclined to agree with Pell's
His Eminence Archbishop Mannix's intervention decided the
the three referendums that were decisive for the preservation of the
Australian democratic spirit. The life and times of Daniel Mannix
encompassed the high tide of the impact of the Irish Catholics on the
development of a radical democratic Australian cultural tradition.
It is a quite extraordinary tribute to the life and times of
Eminence Daniel Mannix, Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, that three
times in one lifetime his intervention was crucial to the defeat of
referendums that threatened the democratic spirit and traditions of
Australian life. If any individual was decisive in the development of
the basic democratic tradition in Australian politics, it was that
extraordinary figure, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel Mannix.
Jack Lang, Langism, Catholics and the left in the NSW Labor
Party in the 1920s and 1930s
Another high point of the new cultural landscape of the labour
movement after the conscription split, was the emergence of Langism in
the ALP in NSW in the 1920s. J.T. Lang, an unusual Labor politician, of
Catholic background, although not religious, had considerable
aspirations to Labor leadership. When he became state parliamentary
leader, by a whisker he consolidated his initially bitterly contested
leadership by the shrewd Bonapartist tactic of balancing between
various labour movement factions, leaning a bit to the left and
carrying out a number of the wishes of the trade unions in his first
period of government in the 1920s.
One notable example of this was the establishment of child
paid directly to the mothers of children. In internal ALP politics he
thus initially acquired both the solid support of the left, the "Trades
Hall Reds", and the radicalised Catholic ALP membership who had become
much more powerful in the party after the conscription split.
A number of his closest colleagues and supporters were people
Jack Beasley and Eddie Ward, who were both of Catholic background and,
at the same time, on the hard left of the Labor Party. (Beasley, from
the Electrical Trade Union, was for a time president of the Labor
Council led by its, then Communist, secretary, Jock Garden.) Both
Beasley and Ward went on to be ministers in the wartime governments of
Curtin and Chifley.
The striking thing about the populist Langite movement that
behind Lang was its politically radical mood and the great weight of
Catholics in it, both at leadership and rank-and-file level.
When the world Depression burst on Australia, Lang's second
government was elected in NSW, in very adverse objective conditions for
a Labor government. Lang responded to the economic and political crisis
by riding the wave of popular bitterness and anger at the Depression,
by adopting a deliberate and spectacular populist stance.
He refused to endorse the Premiers' Plan involving massive
for the bulk of the working class and public servants, and he advanced
his own scheme, immediately dubbed the Lang Plan, involving a
moratorium on interest payments to the London banks, and the creation
of government-backed credit, not unlike the measures proposed by J.M.
Keynes later in the decade.
Faced with a hostile Upper House and pressure from the Scullin
federal Labor government to accept the Premiers' Plan, he prevaricated,
and resisted this pressure. When finally dismissed from office by
Governor Game, who was clearly carrying out the orders of the London
banks, Lang baulked at the idea of the social revolution required if
the consequences of the Depression for the working class were to be
He acquiesced in the resulting loaded electoral process and
beaten in the election. Nevertheless, this election campaign witnessed
the biggest popular mobilisations in Australia up to that time,
including the enormous meeting in Moore Park attended by about half the
adult population of Sydney, just before the election.
In some respects, Sydney is a small town. As a young man, J.T.
growing up in the labour movement in the city, hung around McNamara's
Bookshop, which was owned and run by the same socialist, Bill McNamara,
who had ealier collided with Cardinal Moran.
Lang married McNamara's step-daughter, Hilda Bredt. Henry
married the other step-daughter. McNamara's son, also named Bill
McNamara, Lang's brother-in-law, became active in the ALP and in the
1930s he became the main leader of the Socialisation Units, which
mushroomed as a movement at the height of the crisis and exerted
pressure on Lang from the left.
The members of the Socialisation Units were mainly indigenous
leftists, many of them Catholics. The Socialisation Units were caught,
unfortunately, in a bit of a crossfire. Supporters of the Communist
Party, led by Tom Payne, joined them, and attempted to wreck them,
carrying out the ultra-Stalinist Third Period strategy of the Communist
Party at the time, which involved labelling the indigenous ALP social
democrats as "social fascists", and the left ALP social democrats like
McNamara, as the worst "social fascists" of all.
On the other hand, the Lang "inner group" was embarrassed by
"socialism in our time" resolution carried through the ALP conference
in 1933, spearheaded by the Socialisation Units and McNamara. Jock
Garden, by then out of the Communist Party, and one of Lang's chief
lieutenants in the ALP, persuaded the conference to reverse this
resolution, using, among other rhetoric, the throwaway remark that
"Lang is greater then Lenin", which was immediately seized upon in a
demagogic way by the bourgeois press.
The Lang faction and Lang adopted a line of "the socialisation
credit" as an alternative to "socialism in our time", and the Langite
majority at the 1933 conference elected a new Langite leadership for
the Socialisation Units, which emphasised the "socialisation of credit"
and wound down the units.
My father, Steve Gould, who was at that stage of his life a
Lang loyalist, and something of a pundit on the "socialisation of
credit" was one of the Langites elected to leadership of the
Socialisation Units at the 1933 Conference. Steve Gould wrote many
articles in the Labor Daily, Lang's daily newspaper, under the
pen name Demos, on the "socialisation of credit".
My father was elected to the ALP state executive at the
in 1935, and was defeated along with the rest of the Lang executive, at
the "Unity" Conference at Newtown in 1939.
Even after the 1932 election defeat, and the gradual exposure
Lang's limitations as a leader in such revolutionary times, the Lang
movement remained dominant in the ALP in NSW for the next seven or
eight years until it was overthrown at the Newtown "Unity Conference".
A major feature of the Langite populist movement, both in its
tide and its later decline, was the large Catholic participation in it
at all levels. Parliamentary figures like Beasley, Ward, Tony Luchetti,
Dan Minogue, Dan Mulcahy, Joe Lomaro, R. Stuart Robertson and many
other of Lang's parliamentary supporters were of Catholic background.
So were many of Lang's internal party machine men such as Harry O'Regan
(ALP returning officer, called by his enemies "Harry O'Riggin"), Harold
and Norman McCauley, Jim Ormonde, Jimmy Graves, Plugger Martin, Paddy
Keller, A.C. Paddison, my father Steve Gould, and many others. These
Langite machine men were popularly dubbed the "Inner Group" after a
Lang caucus that was reported to always meet on a Friday night before
ALP executive meetings. After the event, very many more old Langites
claimed to have been members of the "Inner Group", than could possibly
have been the case.
After the ultimate defeat of the Langites at the Newtown
Conference", the rather diminished Langite popular movement continued,
and in the federal election in 1940, in which there was a three-way
Labor electoral split, between Official Labor, Lang Labor, and the
State Labor Party controlled by the Communist Party, the Langites
polled a respectable 30 per cent of the Labor vote, compared with 60
per cent for Official Labor, and 10 per cent for the State Labor Party.
Four Langites, including Jack Beasley and Dan Mulcahy, won federal
seats, but they immediately rejoined the Official Labor caucus.
Even after this, the Lang breakaway movement recommenced in
after Lang's final expulsion from the ALP, still led by Lang who held
both the state seat of Auburn and later the federal seat of Reid, as
Lang Labor. Lillian Fowler and Mary Quirk, both Catholics, were elected
as independent Lang Labor members in the state House, for Newtown and
Some of the Catholics in the Lang movement swung further to
in disillusionment with Lang and joined the Communist Party, such as
Bruce Millis, father of the novelist Roger Millis. The bulk of the
Catholics drifted back to the official ALP, and Eddie Ward, in
particular, became the most intelligent, determined and courageous
leader of the Labor left in the federal parliament until his untimely
death in 1962.
Some of the other Langites shifted to the right in the ALP and
helped establish the Industrial Group Movement led by Bob Santamaria as
a force in the Labor Party in NSW.
Typical of these people was the colourful Bill O'Neill, the
leader in the Australian Railways Union, and one of the most
spectacular and demagogic floor leaders of the Grouper "Mountain" at
ALP conferences in the 1950s. On the other hand, Lang's own paper, Century,
played an important role in the defeat of the Groupers in the battles
of the 1950s. Lang, who had obviously come to dislike the Santamaria
movement, allowed Jim Ormonde, one of his old internal ALP machine men,
who emerged as a major Catholic anti-Grouper in the ALP in the
mid-1950s, along with the redoubtable journalist Les Haylen MHR, to use
Century for wonderful and colourful articles exposing and
campaigning against the Grouper movement.
Lang's Century, along with the Stalinist Tribune,
became the major public source of information about internal ALP
machinations in the 1950s. Useful books about the Lang movement are
Lang's memoirs, I Remember and The Great Bust, Bede
Nairn's useful biography The Big Fella
(which, though implacably hostile to Lang from the point of view of
subsequent ALP orthodoxy, is a mine of fascinating detail and
information) Miriam Dixson's fascinating book about the Trades Hall
Reds, Greater than Lenin, Bob Cooksey's book on the Socialisation
Units and, in other veins, the memoir material about his father in
Roger Milliss's The Serpent's Tooth, and the important book
about the fall of the Scullin federal Labor overnment and the Langites'
role in these events, Caucus Crisis by Warren Denning.
The war between the Catholics and the communists in the
labour movement in the 1940s and the 1950s
The two factions in this 30-year-long war shared a number of
assumptions. Both the Catholic "moderate" faction and the left faction
over which the Communist party had hegemony were way to the left of any
major mass current in the labour movement today, on the broad social
and political questions of the time.
They shared the view that a major primary function of trade
was to struggle for incremental improvements in wages, conditions and
living standards for the working class, along with whatever other aims
the unions might pursue. Both factions, for instance, supported the
nationalisation of banking, a very radical proposition indeed by the
standards of the labour movement today.
In particular, it is important historically to absorb just how
relatively leftist was the basic outlook of the Catholic grouping, as
crystalised in the activities of the Movement, relative to Australian
politics at the end of the millenium.
A good example of the ideology of the Catholic faction is the
book Australia: The Catholic Chapter, by James Murtagh,
published by Sheed and Ward in 1946. Another example is the Catholic
Worker book, Design for Democrats, and another example is
the collection of Catholic Church Social Justice Sunday statements
between 1940 and 1966, titled Justice Now,
many of which were written by B.A. Santamaria, as edited by Michael
Hogan for the Sydney University Department of Government, 1990.
Murtagh's book, which purports to be a general history of
Catholicism in Australia, is actually two-thirds taken up by a
celebration of the politically and socially radical role of Catholics
in Australian life. Murtagh goes out of his way to point out that the
Catholic hierarchy in Australia had consistently said Australian
socialism was all right, "not like Continental socialism", and that
they had consistently defended the participation of their flock in the
labo-r movement, often on the left.
The battle between the Communists and the Groupers was a
for political hegemony in the labour movement, in which the fortunes of
war fluctuated, as I describe elsewhere. However, the dominant context,
in the 1930s, the Second World War period and the immediate postwar
years, was the general rejection by the working class and the lower
middle class in Australia of the aspects of capitalism represented by
the Depression and the war and the deep-rooted common desire for a new
order, a view equally strongly held both by secular leftists and
The Communist Party, on its side, was deeply deformed by
which was the major factor in its ultimate demise 30 years or so later.
However, the Australian Stalinist movement was, by the standards of
international Stalinism, pretty deeply leftist, and took more easily to
periods of sharp class struggle than it did to the Popular Front period.
The Catholic wing was, in its own way, deformed by the whole
of the Catholic Church internationally, if you look at the Catholic
Church in a historical materialist and non-religious way, as I do. The
Catholic Church, in most countries was, at that time, a deeply
reactionary, politically almost Medieval institution.
The exceptionalism of the Australian Catholic Church in
matters, expressed particularly in its deep rooted implantation in the
labour movement, often on the left, was really quite striking
internationally when you look at the rest of the Catholic world in the
In this period, the Catholics and the Communists had quite a
common on some questions, on the negative side. For instance, both
groups were deeply moralistic in relation to things like homosexuality,
American comics, censorship and other complex social issues.
The ultimate split in the Labor Party in the 1950s led to the
and marginalisation of the part of the Catholic strand led by B.A.
Santamaria, which became the National Civic Council, and this group's
subsequent 25-year tactical electoral alliance with the Liberals
further accentuated their sharp separation from the labour movement.
A split took place between the Santamaria group and the main
right-wing Catholic group in NSW, who stayed in the ALP. Even further
down the track, the Santamaria group itself, the NCC, split into two
wings. and ultimately the right-wing Catholic trade union forces
drifted back into the Labor Party.
On another front, the Grouper Split aided the transition of an
upwardly mobile segment of the Catholic middle class over to the
Liberal side in politics. A significant, bellicose and quite powerful
example of this group is the current Liberal minister, Tony Abbott. The
rump of the NCC is now primarily a pressure group campaigning to push
the Catholic Church to the right internally, and for the imposition of
ultraconservative social practices on the community at large.
These recent developments, however, while they are of
significance, should not be allowed to blur or eliminate the history of
the progressive, democratic effect of the very important Catholic
strand in the Australian labour movement.
The most important books about the Labor Party split of the
1950s are The Split by Bob Murray, a small Communist Party
pamphlet, Catholic Action and Australian Labor by Paul Mortier,
the recent biography of Clyde Cameron by Bill Guy, Bob Santamaria's own
reminiscences, Against the Tide, Mr Santamaria and the
by Gerard Henderson, and the small book of papers from the 1994 Seminar
on the Split organised by the Sydney Labour History Society, called The
Great Labor Movement Split. Inside Stories.
Two important trade union histories that illuminate the
industrial side of the Split are The Ironworkers by Robert
Murray, and In Women's Hands by Bradon Ellem, the history of
the Clothing Trades Union.
The overall impact of the Irish Catholics on the Australian
movement, Australian national identity and Australian life in general
The Pauline Hanson, Paul Sheehan school of Australian
shares one vital construct with some ostensible opponents, such as the
Ghassan Hage, Jon Stratton post-modernist "high-theory" cultural
critics of multiculturalism. Both these groups define 19th and early
20th century Australian history in terms of a unified national and
political culture that they describe as Anglo-Celtic. Sheehan and
company say it was wonderful and Hage and company view it as
irredeemably white racist. Nevertheless, both standpoints are
essentially the same.
This Ghassan Hage postmodernist merging together of the whole
Australian society as a "White Nation", a homogenous Anglo-Celtic
whole, ignoring the deep conflicts in the past between the two nations
in Australia, is particularly pernicious nonsense, both historically
and from the point of view of current leftist political tactics.
The practical political consequence of this quite ahistorical
approach, is that Hage and company can find no cultural opening at all
for the development of any effective, populist, anti-racist,
working-class political strategy.
The facts I have presented above demonstrate something quite
different to the historical construction presented by Sheehan, Miriam
Dixson, Ghassan Hage and Stuart Macintyre. Nineteenth-entury Australia
was, in fact, not one, but two nations, divided by religion, politics
and culture, with the Catholic community and the secular proletariat on
one side and the British-dentified upper class and Protestant upper
middle class on the other. Humanising, radicalising and civilisng
influences have come mainly from the widening of this alliance of the
Catholic community and the secular proletariat to include other groups,
such as indigenous Australians and successive waves of non-ritish
migrants, first of all Europeans and subsequently Asians and people
from the South Pacific.
The steady expansion of this alliance has been the critical
in all the progressive changes in Australian society in the last 40
years. The general social and cultural influence of the Irish Catholic
community, understood in its broadest sense to include the many
hundreds of thousands who are no longer religious, has been a critical
civilisng influence in opposition to arrogant, imperial, Eurocentric
Quite a lot has changed in Australia since the 19th century.
small aspect of this change is the emergence of a group of Janissaries,
of some people of Irish Catholic background with names like Paul
Sheehan, Tim Flannery, Tony Abbott, Michael Duffy, Padraic Pearse
McGuiness, Mark O'Connor, Frank and Miranda Devine, Brendan Nelson, who
have crossed over to the reactionary side in politics, or in the case
of Flannery and O'Connor, become ferocious opponents of the immigration
process that brought our land hungry Irish ancestors to these shores.
The Janissaries were the elite military ruling caste of the
Empire. They were recruited by kidnapping children of Christian subject
peoples, such as Georgians, Greeks, Serbs or Bulgarians, and their
raising as Muslims in this elite military caste, which effectively ran
the Ottoman Empire in the interests of its Turkish Muslim rulers.
They were usually zealous and fanatical in the pursuit of the
interests of their newly acquired Islamic religion and Ottoman Turkish
patriotism. The above public intellectuals, who defend so strenuously
the interests of Conservative establishment Australia, are very like
the Janissaries of the Turkish Empire.
The political, cultural and social impact of the Irish
Australian life should never be underestimated, and becomes even more
important in the context of modern Australia, which is now,
demographically, ethnically and culturally, a new country.
Our 19 million people now break down roughly as follows.
600,000 people of mainly Aboriginal, South Sea Islander,
Torres Strait Islander and Maori cultural identification.
About 1.4 million people of mainly Asian identification.
3.5 million people of mainly Irish-Catholic identification.
5 million people of mainly non-British European or Middle
The total of the above is about 10.5 million people.
There are also about 8.5 million people of British, Scottish
or Welsh identification.
The first 10.5 million, in combination with the secular
class and middle class section of the 8.5 million, are now a clear and
increasing cultural majority in Australia. About half of the 7 million
non-British, Asian and Pacific people are also of Catholic background,
and many of them have gone through the Catholic school system,
established initially by the Irish Catholics, and tend to merge in with
the Irish Catholics culturally.
The combined impact of this enlarged cultural stream, both
residually religious, and its secular components, is now probably the
dominant demographic force in Australian life. In this sense, the
current anguish of exponents of a mythical "Anglo-Celtic core culture"
like Miriam Dixson, Stuart Macintyre etc, can be more readily
There are really several strands in the Irish Catholic
Australia: those who retain a Catholic religious allegiance, and those
with origins in the Irish Catholic community who are no longer
For the 50 years when the Communist Party and other leftists
major force in Australian society, it was a sort of jocular truism in
left-wing circles that the overwhelming majority of left-wingers were
ex-Catholics or Catholics (or sometimes Jews) and pretty much the same
cultural tradition prevails among younger leftist groups nowadays, the
different socialist sects, and even such groups as the Greens.
Everywhere you go on the left of Australian society, you
Irish names, some still religious Catholics and some not. It was by no
means accidental that the Sydney Morning Herald could
meticulously analyse, for instance, the then High Court majority that
adopted the epoch-making, civilising Mabo decision, in terms of its
Catholic ethnicity. (Three practicing, three non-practicing.)
People of Catholic background are still not very much
across the top echelons of the financial ruling class, and among the
business elite, if you go by the record of billionaires published from
time to time in Business Review Weekly. However, the
descendants of the poverty-striken 19th-century Irish Catholics, who
arrived here either in chains or as assisted migrants, at the bottom of
the vicious caste system of British-Australia, are now ubiquitous in
the middle echelons of Australian society, the public service,
teaching, nursing, the law, journalism and broadcasting, dentistry, the
medical profession, small business, trade unions and the labour
One of us has even made it to the august position of Her
Majesty's vice-regal representative, as Governor General. This very
notable Irish Catholic Australian, Sir William Deane, once the NSW
president of the DLP, very much a practicing Catholic, has stretched
the envelope of his office by deliberately and carefully taking a
humane, leftist and progressive public stance on many current questions.
He has done this with such natural poise and grace and with
consumnate lawyer's political skill and judgement that he has won the
hearts of most civilised Australians, and reduced many conservatives to
a state of incoherent apoplexy.
The social and cultural impact of the Irish Catholic current
Australian life, including its very large secular, leftist
non-religious diaspora, has been generally progressive, and that is
still the case as the cultural alliance between the Irish Catholics,
the secular proletariat, and some progressive sections of the Anglo
middle class, has widened to include other groups, ie, indigenous
Australasians and migrants, both European and non-European.
Any real politics of progressive change in Australia has to
from a determined strategy of broadening this kind of alliance to
maximise its inclusiveness. Speaking as someone who has come mainly out
of the Irish Catholic cultural environment, as a young man out of its
religious wing, and later in life, after the loss of religious beliefs,
in its secular non-religious leftist diaspora, I take considerable
pride in its contribution to Australian society.
In my view, anyone with an even partial claim to the Irish
cultural tradition should proclaim and celebrate it proudly, with a
sharply critical eye as to its defects, but with substantial pride in
January 3, 2000