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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Religion in post-war Calliope 3

Now, it is meet and right so to do. On marriage in our tiny township....

There was no problem if the boy and the girl were an exact religious match, like blood types. They got married in their church (any other sort of marriage ceremony being unheard of) had their kids baptised there, and went to that church on Sundays (if they went at all – it wasn't a requirement amongst Prods, but I think that the priests of the Cattleticks had strong views on that, based on Papal Encyclicals. So, they marshalled the troops to Confession and Mass as often as they could.)

   Confession. What a weird concept that was to us non-Catholics. Getting in there and routinely admitting to all the terrible things we'd done was alien to us. That was between us and the Main Man if at all; no intermediaries to blackmail us with our crimes thanks. Just not on, as Gough would say; and Gough, as all Australians know, is as close to God as we get. (Right, IBW?)

   We were glad we were born into the right tribe. The idea of confession scared the hell out of me. 

   Oh hang on, that was exactly the idea. By George and Henry Higgins, I think I've got it.

   But coming back to marriage.... that event usually had its origins in the Saturday night dance. When a boy asked a girl up to dance a few times in a row, it rarely passed unnoticed, particularly by mothers, if present. Was s/he... the other type? Acceptable marriage material or off-limits?

   Really, in most cases, that was a rhetorical question as far as religion was concerned. Everybody knew what everyone else was, except when a stranger came to the dance – a townie whose caste was unknown – and mothers, often sitting next to their daughters at the dance, would peer suspiciously at the interloper, on a number of grounds, his religious ties being one of the question marks.

   If it were a girl out to the dance from Gladstone, the boy's mother would develop a keen interest, checking out before too late what her son might be getting into (metaphorically speaking, she hoped fervently). That was something which would remain unknown until or if the boy asked her out to the pictures at the Civic in Gladstone.

   It was a matter of family honour, you see. Everyone hears about Hindu and Muslim boys and girls falling in love and wanting to tie the knot, and the fate of star crossed lovers. But in Calliope, this could be just as much a question, though not quite so ominous in its consequences. It mattered not how indifferent to religious observance the other family was – there was no way s/he was going to marry him/her if s/he didn't cross the line and get married in our church – whichever "our" might be.

   It was all about the kids. If the besotted pair were so hooked on each other that one was willing to cross that thin red line, it was OK with the winning team, whatever fuss the other family kicked up behind the scenes. But if one lot had to go to a marriage ceremony in that other church, it was often a great loss of face for family and tribe. Sometimes it wasn't to be countenanced at all. People of strong religious conviction, a dedication often discovered with great suddenness even by themselves in this time of crisis, even refused point blank to go into that building.

   Usually the ill-fated romance ended well before that point, with the relationship broken off. Girls wept tears by the million when their beloved went off to marry some other "suitable" girl. A boy would yield to his mother's emotional blackmail if applied. A jilted sweetheart sometimes never married as a result of a fatally broken romance, and served out the rest of her life looking after her aging parents, and/or being godmother to hordes of nephews and nieces if she were lucky enough to have them.

   The maiden aunt was not an uncommon phenomenon – more so, it seemed to me, than the confirmed bachelor. Men had more mobility and could move away to greener pastures, where they de-bachelorised themselves or had it done for them by some available city wench in a new place who cared not tuppence for religious impediments to Happily Ever After.

   Some spinsters (ghastly term!) even ended up at Goodna, getting regular shock treatment for their depression, and slowly went mad. To escape that looming fate, others jumped into the back seat of the next boyfriend's car after a dance, were promptly knocked up and a marriage was hastily arranged anyway, regardless of any other consideration. A bastard in the family was one thing above all that couldn't be tolerated, its presence an eternal reminder of the family's shame. It could not be. It was against nature.

   It wasn't, of course. It was just the opposite. Mother Nature and raging hormones had much to answer for, and she didn't give a flying fox about the politics of marriage in our little town.


  1. Mothers, Mother Nature, hormones, religious divides, broken romances, maiden aunts, loony spinsters, car back-seat pregnancies, unwanted bastards ...

    ... but where was God when the lights went out?

    In one of his many memorable lines, a bewildered Sir Humphrey asks Jim Hacker: "But Minister, what on earth has God got to do with the Church of England?"

    1. Life is full of mysteries, Bob!

      I think, when you read the last part of this, you'll find me saying that in the end it had little to do with theology for most of our little community, and much to do with kith and kin. I was, after all, related to half the people in Calliope!


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