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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Religion in post-war Calliope 4

[Final part]

As I said, it was all about the children. If they were raised in the 'other' faith, the implications on a personal level could be enormous, or so it seemed. Most times the decision to cross the line was life-changing. A very bright girl destined to go places might get married off and start producing babies at nineteen and not stop till she was forty plus, the family's ambitions for her unfulfilled, even if she were happy with her life.

   If the family became Protestant, then Catholic members worried that their grandkids were destined for hell, not having been baptised in the faith, thus fearing that they had failed in the one truly religious duty that mattered.

   One thing was certain. Each could not easily retain his or her own faith, except on a most private basis. It was usually all or nothing on the quite rare occasions where it happened at all, but there was much nipping in the bud. The church where they were married signified which "all".

   This wasn't restricted to Catholic-Protestant connections either. If a C of E/Presbyterian marriage was on the cards, it could also be a matter of family honour as to which church it was, as again that would determine the religious fate of the kids. Once in, there was no turning back.

   It wasn't really about dogma, it was about family. "Religious" rivalries often are. In Northern Ireland, where are the theological debates? There are none. It's about land, money, jobs, power ... anything but theology.

   In Australia, there remained an element of class as well, the invisible luggage from very old rivalries and hatreds between British Protestants and Irish Catholics. As descendants of Irish immigrants, many Australian Catholics were lower class (by timeworn and inaccurate definition), although it was not really recognised as such in little places like Calliope. Yet the Catholic church itself was well away from the township centre – in the town as it was then – where they could practise their mysterious rites without anyone else having to know about them.

   Amongst themselves, in the playground, children were hardly aware of it, except for the occasional spouting of propaganda on religion overheard from adult conversation. What mattered at school to the kids were sporting ability and grades, often in that order.

   But it was always a matter of interest to discover the religion of three people - the teacher, the policeman and the publican. God only knows why. It made not a scrap of difference in practice to the way they did their job, but somehow it just mattered.

   I hope that you realise I am voicing old prejudices here, playing the game of "them" and "us", and I certainly have no convictions that makes one sect of Christianity any "better" than another to me. Each "tribe" had its place, but when it came to the crunch, community in the wider sense was always more important than creed. 

   We could not afford any holier-than-thou nonsense in our family. A quick survey shows that strict sectarian boundaries were a luxury a close-knit family like ours could not have afforded.

   After all, judging by the Bible she left behind, my grandmother on my father's side must have been a Catholic who crossed the line to marry a man who, my sister tells me, seems to have been one of the original trustees of the stark little Union Church sketched here. Their children, twelve in number, were married either as C of E or Presbyterian, nominally at least. As well, there were times in little communities when there weren't that many available spouses in good nick, and people had to be less picky than they might have been otherwise; individuals and families. There are, for example, many names on the War Memorial Monument just up from this church.

   Of my parents' children, we have managed to squeeze in three intermarriages within the Protestant camp, and two between those born into Protestant and Catholic households, with no blood on the congoleum. 

   Admittedly, most of these marriages were just a few years beyond the 1950s, coming into the time when the worst of this nonsensical prejudice was being swept away by social change. Family and job mobility tell the story. This resulted in breaking the stranglehold of the extended family over the nuclear. 

   ...which is just a bad academic way of saying kids moved away from the power and influence of their wider family.

   All is not what it seems, that's what I meant, in spite of some of the arrant prejudice I've been spouting. 

   Here endeth this epistle. Please turn to Hymn Number 365, O God Our Help in Ages Past.


  1. Hi Denis. Encouraged by your various epistles on religious ties I checked out eBay to see what was available - not having actually worn one for about ten years or so. Seems they are all imported - i.e. no home-grown examples. (Could be a deep message, or maybe an opportunity, there?)

    Anyway, this one - - looks the goods, and I'm further encouraged by the note at the bottom that I would be buying from 'a smoke free home'.

    And I now look forward to your musings on the bible belt, good quality hair shirts, and fisherman's shoes.

    ps a long way of saying: hope you are feeling ok, if irascible. ;)

    1. I would love to be wearing that with my PJs when the Mormons next visit. It does look very Jehovah's W, doesn't it? Thanks for the good wishes! Not really keen on the rest of the attire you suggest. I have my own hair shirt.

  2. Just read all 4 articles and yes, it was just like that! I remember my mother comnenting our neighbour was a nice lady DESPITE being a Catholic!

    Wonderful writing, my friend!

    1. Thanks Robyn! It's amazing, isn't it, what people based their judgments on. Well, we still do have to face our own prejudices, but having lifelong friends who are Christian [all sorts] Muslim, Buddhists, Wiccans, agnostics and atheists [and Joan :)], proves to me that goodness of heart has nothing to do with the labels.

    2. Interesting to see myself under a label of my own :). We'll all find out soon enough what lies ahead, but until then, I don't rely on my own senses alone to tell me the shape of the earth.

    3. I thought you might like that! I must say I'd never have taken you for a Lutheran....

    4. Fortunately my family was not religious. Religious affiliation was just a tag, a box that you had to tick in those days. Everyone had to have a religion.

      However, my parents sent me off to Sunday School anyway, in order to give me the opportunity to choose for myself. There I was given a pamphlet and on the back page were two images. We were told to choose one and keep it in our mind when we said our prayers at night. I could choose between Jesus dying on the cross or a baby lamb burning on an altar.

      To a child, a baby lamb, dead and on fire was not a healthy choice. All I could feel was a sickening grief for the lamb. The other guy was boring. So, yes, I made my choice as my parents wished, and chose neither.

      I forgot all that until the Minister spoke at my mother's funeral, and said, "You would no more offer your soul up to God than to offer him an omlette tainted with a rotten egg." I knew then I'd made the right decision as a child and the wrong decision as an adult organising her mother's funeral.

      I'm so glad not to be taken for a Lutheran. I suspect Luther would have been horrified as well.

  3. I think I've mentioned to you before that my beautiful mother of C of E background was in love with a handsome, well off, poetry writing Catholic man during the war. Her mother would not allow them to marry, and mum met my father, well raised at an Anglican private school in Melbourne,and went on to have a difficult, even tragic,life with him (when he was around). The Catholic man wrote to her after many years and they kept up a correspondence until mum decided it was unfair to his wife, though they had no intention of meeting. Many of her friends were Catholic, and she actually enjoyed the Catholic church more than the C of E., and went quite regularly, though never converted.

    As a child of the 50s, I was a bit disturbed by Catholics as I didn't understand why they were 'different', yet I had Catholic friends too, at different times. They went to separate schools, so it was not as easy to meet them. There was a lot of quite good natured war games between the Catholic and public high school kids when we travelled on the school bus. I was a little intimidated and resentful at the idea that they were 'saved' but I was not, a memory that has since made me wonder if the Jewish people's claim to be 'chosen ones' has not also caused a sort of 'tall poppy cutting' through the centuries.

    As for home grown religions, Aboriginal spirituality is pretty fascinating..

    Julie xx

    1. Yes, the family thing was often a critical barrier to romances and in some households are still, no doubt. The consequences could be tragic and often were.

      It was only at high school [Gladstone] that we faced the notion of separation by faith. The only religious school in town was Catholic. I don't know how much they were separated internally, boys and girls, but they did seem to me to come out with some peculiar ideas.

      I think anti-semitism through the ages has been based on jealousy at success and upon some horrific prejudices, if we think of the portrayals by Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott and many others.

      I agree that Aboriginal religion in its original form is fascinating, but don't profess to know enough to make enlightening comments. Of course I've read Songlines and the Dreamtime stories, but some of this has more to do with a piece I have ready to go on Indian myth and its value.

  4. I grew up living next door to a Catholic elementary school. I sometimes walked through their schoolyard on my own way to school (snobby school on the right side of town). Catholics in Moose Jaw were generally very poor, so going to a private school did not mean the same thing as it does in Australia.

    A group of Catholic boys used to beat me up if they caught me crossing through their school yard. This must have been the "good natured war games" Julie described. I don't remember ever getting really hurt or letting the attacks deter me from taking the short cut.

    I loved the nuns, although many were probably horrible to the kids. The nuns in their long black habits had enormous respect in the wider community and even we Lutherans called them "sister". I was disappointed after Vatican II as the nuns lost their mystique, sacredness, and specialness.

    1. I doubt if I ever saw a nun till I went to high school. Over the years many have enrolled in the Asian Civilisations units of mine, and I found them delightful – they even got their essays in on time!

      The Catholics at Stella Maris convent in Gladstone were probably no more or less socially advantaged than the rest of us, but I think quite a few got in with subsidy from somewhere. If there were any tensions there I wasn't aware of them because we went back to Calliope on the bus straight after High School got out.

      I'm also aware of how little I know about Canadian Catholicism – but then, why would I? :)

    2. I also know nothing about Canadian Catholicism, but that the Catholics of Moose Jaw were most often very poor must say something about their social status. I knew even less about my own religion, Lutheranism, until I had to organise a minister for my mother's funeral. Goddess save us from that dour, misanthropic world view.

  5. I enjoyed this series, esp. the observations about the Methodists. Having been raised one, I can attest to the accuracy of your brief description. :) Even shorter: We disapprove of practically everything. Lucky for me, my childhood Reverend preached almost exclusively from the Book Of Matthew, so we cut everyone (including ourselves) plenty of slack. :D

    I also read the latest medical posts & must say I'm amazed at your stamina & endurance. With all that's happening, you still manage to blog & Tweet. :) I guess the important thing is to do what's doable, rather than fixate on what's not (currently) possible.

    Love & supportive thoughts to you & Tracey. XXXOOO

    1. "We disapprove of practically everything." That amused me mightily. I do remember when Mr Curtis was virtually forced into dancing with a young female teacher at her sendoff and apart from the fact that he didn't want to and felt it was very wrong, he'd never done it before and was woeful at it. [There's another blog posting in that teacher but I will have to disguise her name...] Off to appointment now....


      As I'm literally just in the door I'll write a blog entry about medical matters on

      By the way, the Book of Matthew sounds my sort of text. I need all the slack I can get.

      Thanks, Peggy. It must be pretty cold in Texas [USA, not the Queensland town, for Australian readers!] right now. Oddly enough, it was just above freezing here last night.


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