- From the Murray to the Sea: The History of Catholic Education in the Ballarat Diocese
This attractively produced, extensively referenced, and well illustrated study traces Catholic education from its earliest days to the present in the area which became the Ballarat Diocese in 1874. When Victoria became a separate colony from New South Wales in 1851, it inherited a publicly funded system of denominational schools as well as a parallel system of government schools. The Catholic Diocese of Melbourne, established three years earlier, now covered the whole of the new colony. Provision of Catholic education, as for other Australian dioceses, was a priority, and, with the secularizing Victorian Public Education Act of 1872—which withdrew funding from the denominational schools—became a matter of urgency for the diocese and of resulting public conflict in the colony. Blee traces this conflict in the context of the sectarianism of the times which it exacerbated. She feels that accommodation with the government could have been negotiated and that Catholic parents, through the policy-driven retention of Catholic schools, became deprived of choice and the personal religious education of their children. However, as her later documentation indicates, Catholic parents responded with marked generosity to the hierarchy's summons to shoulder the financing of these schools.
The book covers substantial changes in educational organization and practice from the early schools subsidized by the government, through the nine decades of withdrawal of public funding, to the current now forty-year span of restored and then considerably increased government aid. Parallel with this is traced the initial situation where Catholic parochial schools in general were lay-staffed, through the era of predominant employment of teaching religious when aid was withdrawn, to the by now ubiquitous return of lay staff with the restoration of aid. The middle interval, from the vantage point we now have, calls for in-depth, Australia-wide research into the resolution and sustained effort to maintain a system of schools become, for so many decades, totally reliant on Catholic expenditure of commitment, energy, and finance. This was at cost to all sectors involved, whether clergy, lay people, or religious. For those interested in the long-term evolutionary movements of history, it seems that, under a guiding Providence, so many nineteenth-century-founded teaching institutes were available to staff these schools and that that era has now passed. Previous eras in the long history of the Church have seen similar births and deaths, accompanied by new challenges.
Jill Blee knows her Ballarat diocesan area well and re-creates with telling detail incidents and circumstances of its pioneering years, its subsequent gold-based prosperity, and its present solid establishment as a significant Victorian regional city. She draws on much relevant contextual history:Irish depopulation [End Page 360] and emigration which predominantly supplied Victoria's Catholic population; the nature of colonial spread and settlement; the significance of key personalities, whether of public or more local prominence, in the story she unfolds. She has taken a wide canvas for her study, and, while giving it authentic flavor and atmosphere, some clarifications are called for. For example, on pages 68-70, the Presentations were not forced to accept enclosure (this came from the Sisters themselves); the Bar convent is in the city of York; both Teresa Ball and Catherine McAuley built their centers of operation from their own resources; the Mercy constitutions followed the Presentation (and Brigidine) in having independent foundations, while the Sisters themselves became the most numerous in the English-speaking world. Only solemn-vow orders were required to seek dowries; there were other institutes which, from their own constitutions, sought dowries, a stipulation often modified in practice. Should the tuition fee for the Catholic Central Training College in Melbourne be 80 pounds a year (hardly 800 as given in the text, p. 103)?
This book remains a significant contribution to Australian regional history.