Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Catholics and Australian Federation

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Catholics and Australian Federation

Article excerpt

First proposals for commemoration of the centenary of Australian Federation included one for re-enactment of the 1 January 1901 procession through the streets of Sydney which had culminated in the Commonwealth inauguration ceremony in Centennial Park. This proposal was eliminated at an early stage of serious planning and the organisers played safe with a parade which was (compared with preceding Olympic Games ceremonies) so unimaginative as to be almost boring, but totally uncontroversial. A restaged 1901 procession might have helped to stimulate serious discussion of the origins and nature of the 'Australia' which had been created that year.

The original procession had at least two features which would, or should, disturb many of the assumptions of 2001 Australians and challenge current superficial versions of Australia's past. First, the original procession was overwhelmingly a celebration of Britishness, of the British Empire and, especially, of the Empire as a military security organisation. (1) Not only was it a predominantly military procession, but most of the soldiers marching and riding had been drawn from famous British and Indian regiments whose colourful uniforms and accoutrements contrasted with the drab khaki of the colonial troops. (2) Second, and more directly relevant to the subject of this paper, the procession and subsequent inauguration ceremony proceeded without official Catholic representation and publicly demonstrated the deep divisions, cultural and social as much as political, which separated the Catholic quarter (27 per cent in New South Wales) from the rest of the population in the colonies federating into the new Commonwealth.

Federated Australia had begun with an official Catholic boycott. Late on the previous day the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Patrick Francis Cardinal Moran, was informed by the secretary of the governor-general-elect, the seventh Earl of Hopetoun, that first place among religious representatives would be given to the Church of England archbishop of Sydney, William Saumarez Smith; and that only he, the Anglican Primate, would be allowed to read prayers and give blessings in the inauguration ceremonies. This represented a clear break with the procedure established in NSW, whereby precedence among heads of Churches on ceremonial occasions was to he allocated on the basis of length of time in office. (3) This would give first place to Moran, who also claimed special status (not conceded) as a cardinal.

As soon as he was informed of Hopetoun's decision, Moran sent his secretary to see the NSW premier, William Lyne, who was organising the Sydney functions and had originally been Hopetoun's blundering choice to be the first federal prime minister. Lyne's performance in the 1897-98 Federal Convention sessions earned him Alfred Deakin's contempt: 'a crude, sleek, suspicious, blundering, short-sighted backblocks politician'. (4) He had campaigned against Federation before the referenda of 1898 and 1899. Now this man confirmed to Moran's secretary that he had agreed with Hopetoun's plans for 1 January. Moran then informed both Lyne and Hopetoun that for him to participate in the new arrangements would be to connive in the treatment of Catholics as second-class citizens and that, therefore, he would take no part in any of the day's official proceedings. (5)

The Official Boycott

On the morning of I January Cardinal Moran took up a position outside the northern end of St Mary's Cathedral--of which the central section, 'The Cardinal's Tower', had only just been completed--and watched the eight-kilometre long procession go by as it came out of the Domain for a loop through the city before making its way, via Park Street, to Centennial Park. Moran was surrounded by local clergy and visiting Church dignitaries, including Archbishop Carr of Melbourne who had supported the boycott decision. On one side of the assembled clergy was a choir of Catholic school-children who, when the governor-general's coach went by, sang a special Song for the Commonwealth, a setting of Roderic Quinn's poem composed by the Cathedral Director of Music, J. …

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