BOOKS: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
STRUGGLE AND ACHIEVEMENT, by Hal G.P. Colebatch
, August 4, 2007
The long battle for state aid to religious schoolsSTRUGGLE & ACHIEVEMENT:
A History of the Parents & Friends' Federation of Western Australia Inc. (1954-2004)
by Dr Hal G.P. Colebatch
(Perth: Parents & Friends' Federation of Western Australia Inc.)
Softback: 192 pages
Rec. price: $22.00Western Australia — known for much of the 19th century as the Swan River Colony — had several educational pioneers over and above its many dedicated Catholic, generally Irish-born, teaching nuns and brothers who worked in arduous conditions without payment.
The first was former New Zealand premier, Governor Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld, a Catholic, who set about ensuring his fledgling Perth-based administration helped the Church and the colony meet its educational needs.
The key outcome was the Elementary Education Act (1871)
that created the "dual system of subsidised government and church schools".Sectarian onslaught
This worked well until the early 1890s when an Old World-style sectarian onslaught was unleashed by John Winthrop Hackett, whom Perth historian Professor Geoffrey Bolton once dubbed "WA's cultural commissar in the 20 years before his death in 1916".
Hackett, whose sizeable assets (though not his willed funds) posthumously helped finance, in the 1920s, the building of the University of WA, owned and edited Perth's main newspaper, The West Australian
. He was also a member of parliament, a senior freemason, a leading identity in the Anglican Church, and a confidant of the colony's first premier, John Forrest.
Hackett dogmatically opposed state assistance for church schools (including aid for Anglican education) — a stance that led him to target leading Anglican clergyman and educationalist, Dean Frederick Goldsmith.
Goldsmith was a Tractarian, so was regarded by Hackett as a quasi-papist, since that movement had split 19th-century Anglicanism across Britain's Empire into High and Low Churches.
The third was Perth's Catholic Archbishop Matthew Gibney, who doggedly opposed fellow Irishman, Hackett, and fought to retain public funding for primary and secondary education.
It was Gibney, more than anyone, who promoted Catholic education state-wide for half a century, from 1863 until 1913, when he retired.
The year 1895 saw Hackett's political and press campaign, and his lobbying efforts (both public and clandestine), against assistance to Catholic schooling winning out.
So strong was the dour Hackett that even Forrest — who favoured Weld's dual system — buckled to the "cultural commissar" and reluctantly agreed to withdraw financial assistance under that year's Assisted Schools Abolition Act
That act, the Hackett statutory ban on government funding for church schools, remained an insurmountable barrier until the mid-1960s when what became known as State Aid was incrementally restored.
Hal Colebatch, the well-known poet, writer and lawyer, in his book, Struggle & Achievements: A History of the Parents & Friends' Federation of WA Inc (1954-2004),
concisely sets out how this restoration was brought about by the dogged efforts of the WA P&FF.
Interestingly, the seven post-1895 go-it-alone decades saw the number of primary and secondary convents, schools and colleges grow across metropolitan Perth-Fremantle, the initially booming Goldfields, and later the huge agricultural region extending from Geraldton in the north to Esperance and Albany in the south, an area nearly the size of Victoria.
All sizeable mining and farming townships became venues for the type of Catholic school so well depicted in Father John O'Brien's poem, The Old Bush School
'Tis a queer, old battered landmark that belongs to other years;
With the dog-leg fence around it, and its hat about its ears,
And the cow-bell in the gum-tree, and the bucket on the stool,
There's a motley host of memories round that old bush school.
But the ongoing capital and other requirements needed to meet the post-war baby-boom meant the Catholic Church's teaching orders' ability to meet them, as they had during the previous 70-years, was approaching breaking point.Foreseen
This was foreseen at least a decade earlier by several clerics and laymen, which helps explain the P&FF's formation within a decade of the end of World War II.
Colebatch says in his introduction: "While it is not unknown for some historians and other writers to lose admiration for their subject as their research progresses and their knowledge grows, here for me the reverse has been the case."
By the mid 1950s, he writes, "the over-riding issue for the P&FF, as it was for the Catholic system as a whole, was to reverse the [Hackett-devised] statutory ban on state aid, which was condemning the whole Catholic education system to a hand-to-mouth, shoe-string existence".
Colebatch's account highlights several important mid-20th century notables who, through the P&FF, were able to reverse the 1895 Hackett statutory ban.
Two key ones were Paul Donnelly, a scientist, and Bill Roberts, deputy crown solicitor, who found a loophole in the Hackett-inspired (if not Hackett-drafted) legislation. This allowed the WA Government, if it desired, to assist non-government schools.
(Roberts subsequently settled in Brisbane where he helped launch the Queensland Catholic Schools Parents and Friends' Federation).
Colebatch writes: "The reason, briefly, was that Section 2 of the Act was solely concerned with 'elementary schools' which were legally defined by a previous Act, the [Weld] 1871 Elementary Education Act
, and which the [P&FF] Council argued, no longer existed."
Until the P&FF, and thus someone like Roberts, no one had bothered to scrutinise this key primary source. That was the crucial break-through.
Crucial also was the energetic and farsighted Donnelly who, before reaching Perth in 1947, "had been involved in the English Catholic Parents and Electors' Association to overhaul the provision of assistance to non-state schools in the form of running costs and 50 per cent of capital maintenance (increased to 75 percent in 1959)".Overhaul
English Catholic schools had received assistance since the 1902 Balfour Government's Education Act. Britain's 1944 Education Act, introduced by the Churchill-led wartime coalition government, had resulted in a complete overhaul of schools funding.
Donnelly himself had played a role in this and, when he arrived in WA, he brought with him a letter from the Archbishop of Southwark to Perth's Archbishop Redmond Prendiville outlining the importance of Britain's moves in this direction.
Says Colebatch: "It is thought that this letter influenced the WA bishops, and particularly Archbishop Prendiville, to put their weight behind the formation of a state-wide organisation which, in addition to other activities, would be a political pressure-group for State Aid."
Donnelly, Roberts and several others — Bill Mahoney, Maurice McGovern, Jim Durack and Ivan Keogh (all P&FF councillors) — gave tens of thousands of hours of free time lobbying politicians (state and federal) and undertaking other back-up work, which Colebatch outlines.
But his study isn't significant just for WA's educational scene, since senior P&FF members were catalysts in gaining State Aid nationally.
The Victorian P&FF had been formed in 1958, largely because of Cedric and Margaret Gartland who reached Melbourne from Perth the previous year, and the NSW Parents' Council for Educational Freedom emerged in 1962.
Although there were few tangible gains from early lobbying of WA's major political parties, the P&FF in September 1959 began devising a national plan for the institution of State Aid.
Donnelly, ever aware of developments in Britain, made several crucial trips interstate, accompanied by other councillors. By 1962, the Australian Parents' Council (APC) emerged.
National lobbying thereafter was increasingly aimed at the non-Labor (i.e., Liberal and Country) parties. This was because, ever since the 1955 Labor Party split, the breakaway Democratic Labor Party's candidates had been directing voting preferences to block the Australian Labor Party from gaining government at state and national levels.
Non-Labor party leaderships Australia-wide knew that backing State Aid was one way of helping win DLP preferences. This could, and did, mean that their candidates were elected in marginal seats, directly resulting in the formation of non-Labor governments.
Colebatch shows that the P&FF-inspired 1959 national plan, plus Labor's split, were crucial to the ultimate victory of State Aid.
"In 1965, the [Sir David] Brand Liberal-Country Party Government legislated to provide in WA the first per-pupil recurrent operating funds anywhere in Australia for children in non-government school," he writes.
"This was initially an amount of 10 pounds per head for secondary students, and two years later these payments were extended to primary students.
"Meanwhile, the ALP's attitude to State Aid was also changing.
"By 2004, the eight affiliates of the non-denominational APC represented about 300,000 non-government school-children, of whom 75 per cent were Catholic.
"Also in 2004 the WA P&FF's Laurie Eastwood was elected as the first WA president of the APC."
While Governor Sir Frederick Weld would undoubtedly have approved of the P&FF's first half century's achievements, both in WA and as a national catalyst, John Winthrop Hackett, who had devised the statutory ban for aid, would have felt otherwise.