Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By the Rev. A. E. David, M.A.

London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1908.

Chapter I. Introductory

AUSTRALIA is no longer "the great unknown land" which it was to our forefathers. The growth of Australasian commerce and the increased facilities for intercommunication have changed all that, and have bridged the eleven thousand miles which separate the great island-continent from the heart of the Empire. None the less there are many aspects of life in the southern seas about which the knowledge of the average Englishman is all too scanty, and in judging of the problems which the life of the Church in this new world presents some acquaintance with the general configuration of the country, the effect of soil and climate upon the [1/2] development of industries, and the distribution of population, together with the special conditions which tend towards the formation of a distinct type of character, are necessary. No apology, therefore, is needed for making at the outset a brief reference to the chief physical features of the land, now the home of a growing nation.

Australia must be conceived of as an immense continent three million square miles in extent, and carrying a population of about four million inhabitants. Compared with other continents which have the coast-line indented by large gulfs, and push out great peninsulas into the sea, it is singularly compact. In fact, its coastline is smaller in proportion to its area than that of any other continent. Broadly speaking, its surface consists of immense plateaux and plains which are separated from the coastal valleys and belts of low-lying country fringing the sea by a strip of highlands running from north to south along the eastern coast, bearing the general name of "the Great Dividing Range." In the south-eastern corner of Australia this range tends westwards, traversing the whole of Victoria, and ending near the south-eastern border of South Australia. The [2/3] position and character of "the Dividing Range" has great influence upon the climate. The chief rain-bearing winds, blowing from the east and meeting these highlands, provide the coastal districts with a plentiful rainfall. But beyond, the rainfall is scanty and irregular, growing less in proportion to the distance from the eastern coast. Hence the interior of the country suffers from dryness, and, as the evaporation is rapid, Central Australia is normally arid, and at recurring intervals subject to periods of prolonged drought which render close settlement impossible. This feature is also intensified by the position of the Dividing Range, which naturally forms the main watershed. The rivers flowing eastward are necessarily short, but some of them are of considerable volume, creating large estuaries which form magnificent natural harbours. Of those flowing westwards, the only river of any size is the Murray, which, rising in Queensland, traverses nearly the whole of Australia, and drains into the Great Australian Bight through a shallow lake near Adelaide. Other rivers flowing west, such as the Diamantina and the Barcoo, lose themselves in the desert sands, or trickle into the salt lakes of the interior.

[4] When the contrast between coastal Australia and the interior is considered-the one district well watered and possessing short but navigable rivers, the other arid and lacking rivers communicating with the sea-it is not surprising to find that the bulk of the population has settled near the coast. Indeed, it is estimated that some four-fifths of the total of four millions reside within one hundred miles of the sea-line. The centres of settlement, dotted along the seaboard, are necessarily separated from one another by great distances, and in the early days when intercommunication was difficult the country was split up into different states for the purposes of government. Each of these states lay around its capital, a seaport town, which formed the centre of population and trade, and from these, during recent years, have been constructed railways extending in some cases far into the interior. Sydney and Melbourne, for instance, not only possess magnificent harbours, but are the centres of large railway systems on which the produce of the interior is conveyed for shipment to all parts of the world. These coastal districts are largely agricultural, and contain small towns which form farming centres. The interior, or "back country," [4/5] is given up to grazing, where vast flocks of sheep and herds of cattle are depastured on grazing "runs," which in the more remote districts equal in extent some of the smaller English counties. The distribution of the mineral wealth of the continent is sporadic, and follows no known law, consequently large mining centres have sprung up in districts which otherwise would not have been closely settled, such as Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in West Australia, Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria, Broken Hill in New South Wales, and Charters Towers and Mount Morgan in Queensland.

The Australian, it will be seen, thus dwells either in the large state capital, the population of which is often congested, or in the agricultural districts immediately behind the coast, which are capable of, and are actually, supporting a rapidlyincreasing population; or in the mining townships, or in "the back country," with its grazing areas. The city man speaks of the rest of Australia under a comprehensive title as "The Bush." Dwellers in the agricultural districts speak of the country further inland as "the back country," whilst those who live in the "back country" have behind them a region, often [5/6] desolate and partly unknown, which they call the "Never Never Land."

To a population thus living under very different conditions the Church has to bring her message. In the early days of colonization the first workers, wholly inadequate in numbers, consisted of chaplains to the various convict settlements. Then came the period of "free" settlement, when squatters were able to acquire by purchase, or rent on leasehold under easy terms from the Government, vast tracts of country on which to graze sheep and cattle; and these men, not altogether unmindful of their responsibilities to their employees, gave at times generously towards the work of the Church. But recently a change has been wrought in the pastoralist industry, for owing to a variety of causes, private ownership of "runs" is being transferred to banks and other financial institutions, which, as corporate bodies, have a weakened sense of their obligations to those whom they employ. Next there followed the discovery of gold, accompanied by feverish rushes to localities difficult of access, and mushroom towns sprang up almost in a night, where previously there had been stony ridges or sandy wastes. This sudden shifting of the population [6/7] into small and densely-crowded areas made heavy demands upon the resources of the Church. Finally, there has come the era of the farmer and "selector," who, owing to the refrigerating accommodation provided by the modern steamer, are able to convey their perishable produce to the markets of the world. This last development is likely to be solid and permanent, but it has presented a new problem in connection with the supply of spiritual ministrations in the less settled states which will tax severely the organizing power of the Church to solve.

There is no essential difference between the mode of life adopted by the citizen of an Australian town and his English urban brother, allowance being made for modifications caused by climate. But in the "Bush" a new type of Briton, with distinctive faculties and characteristics, is being evolved, who in the future is likely to prove the real backbone and dominant influence in the country. These men, who live on the land, represent the best type of Australians, and there is much which is attractive in their character. They are hospitable, warm-hearted, and generous, and in maintaining these traits they are only carrying out the traditions of the "Bush" [7/8] where help in any form of adversity is naturally claimed and as naturally given. Sentiment and religion are closely connected, and if the Australian appears careless of the outward observances of religion, his attitude is the result of lack of opportunity rather than of any inherent incapacity or dislike for religion itself. He is not so much irreligious as non-religious, because the claims and duties of this side of his nature have not been adequately placed before him; and it is the experience of the majority of workers that he is more responsive to spiritual appeal than is the case with the average Englishman. But in the "back blocks" his experience of religious teachers has not always been fortunate, and he may have been the victim of some disreputable soi-disant evangelist whose life and doctrine were in strong contrast to one another. The "Bush" is full of traditions as to the doings of such men. Australia is still a young country, and the most obvious of the Australian's faults are those of youth, which, so far, has been untouched by the chastening discipline of life. As the country grows older there can be no question that at least some of these will disappear, for he is the product of a strange environment. If he be boastful, he lives in a land [8/9] absolutely destitute of the monuments of ancient civilization, and is far removed from personal contact with nations of the old world, in the life and achievements of which he could find standards of comparison. If he be given over to the gambling spirit, which assumes with him different shapes and forms, the uncertainties of the climate under which he lives make the taking of speculative risks a natural and normal condition of his life. If he be immoderately devoted to various kinds of sport, the open-air occupations, with their unconscious training of eye and hand, combined with the monotony of his toil and the absence of loftier interests in his immediate surroundings, sufficiently account for this attitude.

Thus the old Anglo-Saxon race, cradled in northern seas and disciplined by nature in her sterner moods, is producing a new type in the sunny South. Some of the old rugged traits may be disappearing, but their place is being taken by others more versatile and supple, in the growth of which there seems to be no exclusion of ancient grit and determination, for in the struggle against adverse natural conditions by which the waste places of the land are being peopled, courage and [9/10] endurance of a high order have been displayed which afford the brightest promise.

"Not as the songs of other lands
Her song shall be,
Where dim her purple shoreline stands
Above the sea!
As erst she stood she stands alone,
Her inspiration is her own." [The Secret Key, and other Verses, by George Essex Evans.]

The young nation, as this latest poet of Australia's life implies, is growing up and becoming conscious of its strength. But the environment is full of temptations which constitute a serious menace to the moral future of the Commonwealth. Here is the Church's call and opportunity. In more potent form and larger measure she must provide those elements in the "inspiration" referred to, which alone can prove the safeguard to national life and character.

In this connection it must be borne in mind that the position of a Colonial Church differs in one respect widely from that enjoyed by the Church of the motherland. For good or for evil, the conception of the Anglican Church as the recognized Church of these new nations has [10/11] passed away. In Australia, though numerically predominant over any other single religious body, and though not without leaders of great ability in the past, the Anglican Church has not succeeded in maintaining a position of prominence in civil affairs. She is merely one among other religious agencies, organized apart from the State, which recognizes her existence only as a body corporate, holding property, like any other joint-stock company, in virtue of articles of association. As an observant writer has remarked, "The first impression on the mind of a new-comer to Australia is the entire obliteration of the Church (the term is used in its widest sense) from the political landscape." [Church and Empire, p. 154.] This position, however much it may be deplored in regard to secular education and similar questions, is not without certain compensating advantages. The Anglican Church has been left free to develop upon her own lines, subject to no limitations other than those which she has imposed upon herself, or which are imposed by the possession of trust property; and her exclusion from the region of temporal power has led her to use her influence through other channels more [11/12] spiritual and more in accordance with the design of her LORD, Who spoke of the work of the Church under the terms of "leaven," "salt," and "light." Thus, though the position of the Church is less obvious to the eye than elsewhere, this fact by no means necessarily indicates that her influence is less real in the hearts and consciences of the people. That opportunities have been missed, and openings, which offered possibilities of advancement, declined, it would be idle to deny; but the blame does not rest solely upon the Church in Australia. From the very outset of her history to the present day she has been struggling with a well-nigh insuperable task. Scantily endowed and insufficiently staffed, she has had to cope with demands utterly beyond her resources. The tide of immigration from the old country which set in last century brought tens of thousands to the shores of Australia, the majority of whom at the outset of their venture could contribute little or nothing to the support of a local Church, but added enormously to the cost and difficulty of supplying spiritual ministrations. The Mother Church was not altogether unmindful of the daughter's needs. The assistance received through the Society for the Propagation of the [12/13] Gospel and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was invaluable in the early days, and without this help it is difficult to see how any actual Church extension and educational work could have been carried out, small as these were. But the Mother Church, as a whole, never realized how vital were the necessities which Bishop after Bishop asked her to supply; and even to-day, when so large a proportion of the revenues of Australia are transmitted to the pockets of British investors and shareholders in Australian stock and other securities, it is the very few who recognize that this far-off land in the South has the right to claim a part of their dividends.

It would seem, however, that a new era is beginning to dawn for the Church in Australia. The sense of nationality is becoming more and more potent; and the growth of an indigenous clergy, especially in the southern states, imbued with this national spirit, is a factor which must influence her future. The development of provincial organization, also, within the last few years is not without its significance. Animated by national sentiment, and strengthened by greater coherence, if the Anglican Church in Australia be true to her mission, she will gain a vast field of [13/14] spiritual influence which, as the power of the Commonwealth increases, will be not without effect upon the destinies of the whole Anglican communion.

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