Australia

The white population of Australia, from the first settlement in 1788 to the end of World War II in 1945, was almost entirely of British origin. The Church of England, which is in process of changing its name to the Anglican Church of Australia, was the predominant religious force throughout this period. It was, until the 1850s, a distant branch of the “established” church in England, but from the 1860s adopted a synodical form of government. The first synod of the diocese of Sydney was held in 1866. It continued, however, to import its bishops from England; the first Australian-born archbishop, Marcus Lawrence Loane, was elected to Sydney in 1966.

The origins of Christian ministry in the colony of New South Wales go back to the First Fleet, mainly of convicts, whose chaplain was Richard Johnson.* Samuel Marsden, the second chaplain, became involved in the police administration of the colony as a magistrate and in the establishment of Parramatta, west of Sydney. History does not substantiate his reputation as “the hanging parson.”

Until the 1830s all education in the colony, of both convicts and free settlers, was in the hands of the Church of England, which was paid in land grants known as “glebes.” By the 1970s, such lands as the church retained were valued in millions of dollars, providing an endowment inconceivable when the grants were made. In 1836 W.G. Broughton* became first bishop of the diocese of Australia, thus severing a connection with the diocese of Calcutta.

In the early days of the colony, ministrations by Roman Catholic priests to the convict settlers were forbidden, though there were many Irish political prisoners. This situation was changed by law in 1820, but until 1844 in some places all prisoners were still forced to attend Anglican services. J.B. Polding, OSB, was appointed bishop of Hiero-Caesarea (titular) with jurisdiction over Australia in 1834, and an independent see was set up in 1841 and soon subdivided. Many Irish Roman Catholics entered Australia in the gold rush of the 1850s.

Immigration after World War II brought great changes to the Australian situation. Many immigrants were of S European origin, and with their higher birth rate this vastly increased the proportion of Roman Catholics. By the 1972 census the proportion of Anglicans to Roman Catholics had leveled. Whereas in 1851 fifty-two percent were Anglicans, twenty-six percent Catholics, five percent Methodist, and ten percent Presbyterian, in 1901 the figure was thirty-nine for Anglicans, twenty-three for Catholics; in 1966 it was just over thirty-three for Anglicans, twenty-six for Catholics, as a result of immigration.

A more realistic assessment than census figures, however, needs to be applied to appreciate the relative strength of the churches in Australia. Only one definitive sociological survey has been taken of Australian attitudes toward religion, and it revealed that of those who said at the 1966 census that they belonged to a particular church, actual attendance figures were: twenty-one percent of Anglicans went to church usually (more than once a month), sixty-nine of Catholics, forty-one of Methodists, thirty-four of Presbyterians. While this may lead to the conclusion that in fact Australia has become a Catholic country, the figures need to be amended to allow for Sunday school attendance.

Today the Church of England has organized itself into twenty- seven dioceses, of which the largest are the metropolitan dioceses of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. A national general synod brings together representatives of the dioceses (which are autonomous). The church is self-supporting, receiving government grants only for independent schools and for some kinds of missionary work. The church maintains missions in the north of Australia and scattered inland towns among aborigines, but has come under strong criticism for allegedly neglecting aboriginal customs and civil rights. In fact, anthropologists suggest that the full-blooded aborigines would have died out in the 1930s if the missions had not sustained them with food and medicine at a time when the majority of Australians were expressing very little concern. Control of the mission towns has now passed to the federal government, and the church maintains a pastoral ministry and some medical work. Australia as a nation now feels much greater responsibilty for its original inhabitants, and in 1967 a referendum by a huge majority granted full citizenship rights and equality to the aborigines.

The church supports also missionary dioceses in the South Pacific and in Papua New Guinea. Similar support is extended through the other denominations, Protestant and Catholic, throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asian region. The Australian churches are now feeling more a part of Asia and the Third World than of Europe and America.

One of the unusual problems of church extension in Australia is the extraordinary distance and isolation of many people in the outback. The Bush Brotherhoods, founded in 1903, serve the outback by providing low-cost and sacrificial ministry and evangelism in those areas. The Bush Church Aid Society provides clergy and medical staff for the new mining towns of Western Australia and Queensland as well as some outback towns.

Theological training is now indigenous, and relatively few Australians seek overseas degrees. All denominations conduct their own training courses, and most maintain their own colleges in each state. Theological scholarship tends to be conservative, partly because of the distance from overseas radical thought, partly because of the conservative nature of the Evangelical tradition within the Anglican Church and the Irish conservatism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

R. Hamilton, A Jubilee History of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria (1888); P.F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (1894); E. Symonds, The Story of the Australian Church (1898); J. Colwell, The Illustrated History of Methodism (1904); J. Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (1905); A.E. David, Australia (1908); H.N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia (2 vols., 1911): F.W. Cox, Three Quarters of a Century-South Australia Congregationalism (1912); E.M. O'Brien, The Dawn of Catholicism in Australia (2 vols., 1928); R.A. Giles, The Constitutional History of the Australian Church (1929); H.E. Hughes, Our First Hundred Years-Baptists in S Australia (1937); F.J. Wilkin, Baptists in Victoria (1939); J.G. Murtagh, Australia: The Catholic Chapter (1946); J.C. Robinson, The Free Presbyterian Church of Australia (1947); R.S.C. Dingle (ed.), Annals of Achievement-Queensland Methodism (1947); R. Bardon, The Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland (1949); M. Loane, History of Moore College (1955); H. Mol, Religion in Australia (1971); P. Hollingworth, The Powerless Poor (1972).