Sectarianism and schooling

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Sectarianism was one of the most virulent strains in Australian political life.

Religious adherence now plays a small and marginal part in most Australians’ lives, but the memory of sectarian hatreds still lives on through the debates over education.

For a long time the Catholic Church had an ultramontane vision for Australian culture. From the 1870s, secularists began to take over education systems of the Australian colonies. Catholics rejected this and removed their children to be educated by nuns and borthers, of whom there were many, especially from Ireland.

Secularists and Catholics were at knife-point for the next century or so, until in the 1970s Gough Whitlam funded Catholic schools using a formula that was supposed to be blind to sect, but was not. Since then, more and more private schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic schools have found themselves in receipt of federal funding.

Parallel to these systemic schools in all colonies were the elite, usually Protestant independent schools. These schools are particularly prominent in Victoria.

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