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Early Catholic Schools In Australia

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Catholic schools

At least two Catholic schools were established in the early years of the nineteenth century but neither survived very long, and it was not until after the arrival of Therry and Connolly in 1820 that significant development took place. By 1833, there were about ten Catholic schools in the country. From this time until the end of the 1860s, Catholic schools received some government assistance under a variety of schemes, but campaigns for 'free, secular and compulsory' education had begun in the 1850s and it became increasingly clear that Catholic schools would not be able to rely on government aid for much longer. Between 1872 and 1893, every State passed an Education Act removing state aid to Church schools. This was a turning point for Catholic schools and, indeed, for the Catholic community in Australia. Bishops and people decided to persevere with the Catholic system. With no money to pay teachers, the bishops appealed to religious orders in Ireland and other European countries, and soon religious sisters and brothers were responding to the crisis.


For a time all the colonies of the Australasian group followed the example initiated by New South Wales in according State aid to the clergy and the denominational schools of the principal religious bodies, Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians, and Methodists. These grants were withdrawn; at once or by gradually diminishing payments; by South Australia in 1851, after they had been in force only three years; by Queensland in 1860; by New South Wales in 1862; by Tasmania and Victoria, in 1875, and by Western Australia, in 1895. State grants to denominational schools ceased when the various secular systems took effect: in Victoria in 1872; in Queensland, in 1876; in South Australia, in 1878; in New South Wales, in 1879; and in Western Australia in 1896. In all the States of the Commonwealth primary education is compulsory. In Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, it is also free. In New South Wales and Tasmania a small fee is charged, with free education for children whose parents cannot afford to pay for them. In Victoria fees are charged for such extra subjects as bookkeeping, shorthand, Euclid, algebra, Latin, French, etc. Throughout the Commonwealth the rate of illiteracy is low. "Out of every 10,000 children between the ages of five and fifteen, there could read and write in 1861, 4,637; in 1871, 5,911; 1881, 7,058; 1891, 7,565" (Coghlan and Ewing, Progress of Australasia in the Nineteenth Century, p., 455). At the census of 1901, according to the "Victorian Year-book" for 1903 (pp. 70-71), of the children of school age (6 to 13 years) in Victoria, 90.12 per cent were able to read and write; in Queensland, 84.42 per cent (Australian born children only); in Western Australia, 82.05 per cent; in South Australia, 82.00 per cent; in New South Wales, 80.35 per cent, and in Tasmania, 78.77 per cent. Hostility to the Catholic Church gave the chief impulse to the secularizing of public instruction in Victoria and New South Wales. In Victoria Mr. Stephen, Attorney-General, declared that the new Act was "to purge the colony of clericalism", and to lead the rising generation by sure but gradual steps to "worship in common at the shrine of one neutral-tinted deity, sanctioned by the State Department" (Moran, op. cit., 882-883). In New South Wales Henry (afterwards Sir Henry) Parkes was even more outspoken. Holding aloft his Draft Bill on Public Instruction, at a public meeting, he said: "I hold in my hand what will



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