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Introduction

 

The following article presents a report by Jordan Baker, as part of her history assignment when she was in year 10 at North Sydney Girls’ High School.   For this assignment she interviewed her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother about their lives as girls; and the changes they had experienced; particularly in respect of the freedoms they were allowed.

Her early talent is evident in this report and after graduating in Arts at Sydney University, Jordan's career has encompassed journalism at the Sydney Morning Herald as well as several earlier roles in the media, leading to her present position as News Editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Inspired by her project I have recorded what I know of my mother's experience; and those of her mother and her mother's mother.  They were in England but have some striking similarities; as well as contrasts [Read more...]

Her conclusion in year 10, that the world is now more dangerous for children than it once was, is interesting but would no doubt be more nuanced today. 

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the level of violence in Australia, as measured by the homicide rate, is at the same level, or lower, than it was 80 years ago.  The Institute notes that violent crime tends to follow demographic trends; particularly the number of young men aged 18 to 24; and is culturally driven, being much more prevalent in some communities than others.  After accounting for historical non-reporting (think of children in care) the incidence of rape and other crimes against children appears to be considerably lower today.  Stranger danger has actually decreased. 

It may well be due to greater parental vigilance and tighter constraints but society is now significantly less dangerous to children than it was back then.  The main increase in physical danger to children is due to cars and other motor vehicles. The greater use of vehicles to drive children about may thus have actually decreased child safety overall.

But, again according to the Institute of Criminology,  public opinion surveys continue to show that violent crime is one of the most prominent concerns of Australians.  This high level of concern is undoubtedly media driven.  'If it bleeds, it leads'. 

Nowadays if there isn’t a good violent crime locally for the media to report, one from interstate or overseas will do; with pictures of course; and let’s repeat the news fifty times; with an on site reporter; as it happens; with updates every few minutes; relayed over every news channel that will take a feed.

Jordan’s great-grandmother simply had no way of knowing that it was more dangerous for children to roam about when she was a child.  The news was strictly local.  Parents were oblivious unless they heard about a local incident ‘over the back fence’; or at the Baby Health Centre. 

Jordan’s great-grandmother also recalls the Catholic school - State school tensions when she was a girl.

When I was a school child I recall that both sides of the Christian divide had rhymes of abuse, handed down from earlier generations; just as recalled by Jordan’s great-grandmother.  Christian sectarian rivalry and hatred between Roman Catholics and Protestants was once a defining feature of Australian society.   

There was considerable pressure on Catholic parents to send their child to a sectarian school.  But not all parents complied.  Despite increasing levels of taxpayer funded subsidy, Parochial Catholic schools had very low rates of academic achievement.  I went to State schools with many Catholics, easily identifiable when we were separated during scripture periods, whose parents wanted a better quality secular education for their children; or could not afford private school fees.  Wendy's parents were among these and she and her sister attended State schools.

Elsewhere on this site I have referred to Ned Kelly; the sectarian polarisation around him; and the hatred he expresses in his famous 'Jerilderie Letter'.  Jordan’s distant cousin on her maternal grandfather's side, Les Darcy, became another such rallying point for oppressed Catholics [read more...]. 

This sectarian enmity was largely dissipated in the cultural revolution that was the 1960’s. 

Seen in retrospect the 60's was a technology, wealth and education driven cultural watershed.  Following this watershed, the role of religion in lives of people changed dramatically; particularly throughout Europe and Australasia.  Traditional societal power balances were upset, sometimes violently.

In the 50's the word 'black', applied to a person, was highly derogatory and/or patronising; equivalent to 'nigger' (as in Little Black Sambo who ran around and around the tree, chased by a tiger, until it turned into butter).  The Black Power movement in the 60's changed all that; there was desegregation in the US and Australia; miscegenation, once illegal as in Show Boat (1927) became an acceptable norm Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).

Women got the right to equal pay; the first step towards full gender equity.  The 'pill', the IUD and, failing those, abortion on demand, gave women control over their reproduction.  No-fault divorce freed unhappy or discontented couples to form new relationships and extended and enriched family alliances; that demonstrably benefited many children; including those mentioned on this website.

It was impossible in the 1950's that there could be a black president in the US; a black four star general; or a black, female, Secretary of State. 

It was impossible that there would be a female, atheist, Australian Prime Minister; living in an open de-facto relationship; and visiting other Heads of State with her partner as consort. 

It was impossible that the future king of England and Australia etc, future titular head of the Church of England, would live openly, for years before marriage, with his future wife, a commoner who's great-grandparent was a pit worker;  or that the future Danish King would take as his wife an Australian girl he met in a bar in Sydney; or that either would take such a person as their official consort to State occasions before marriage. 

It was impossible that there would be a female Christian Priest; or Bishop.

In Western cultures these changes are society wide.  Almost no one considers marriage until they have lived with their partner, often more than one; and almost everyone subscribes to gender and ethnic equality.  

The concept of 'class' as an hereditary position, or right, is collapsing in favour of merit; defined by personal qualities: education; abilities; potential; and achievement.  In-breeding is no longer seen as 'good breeding'.

These changes happened coincidentally with the reformation of religious institutions that previously upheld traditional power relationships like: class, gender and racial distinction; as well as supporting traditional sectarian enmities. 

In the Census of 1954 nearly 90% of Australians were Christian of whom only a quarter were Roman Catholic. Almost 50% of Australians reported regular church attendance and only 10% of Australians reported no religion.

But by 1966 those reporting no religion had almost doubled to 18.3% and churches were all reporting a steep decline in attendance. 

In response to post-war challenges to traditional religion, particularly in wealthier countries, the Second Vatican Council had made root and branch changes in Roman Catholicism. The council's four sessions from 1962 to 1965: modernized the liturgy; made sweeping changes to the priesthood and nuns and their religious life; enhanced the role of lay Catholics; and above all opened dialogue with other churches and non-Christians.

Today the change has continued. In the 2006 Census Australians reporting no religion had risen to 29.9% and non-Christian religions had also grown, particularly Buddhism. Only 7.5% of the population reported regular church attendance.

While the Pentecostal movement has been growing, the loss of support overall is most strongly felt on the protestant side of the 450 year old Christian Reformation dispute.  Hardest hit have been the more traditionally protestant Presbyterian and Methodist (Uniting) churches. 

Now Roman Catholics (25.8% of the population) are the largest denomination and make up nearly half of all Christians in Australia. 

 

Jordan's report follows...

 

 

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