HINDSIGHT : ABC RADIO NATIONAL
11 & 18 OCTOBER 2009
This powerful and revealing radio series, written and produced by
Siobhan McHugh with original music by Melbourne composer Thomas
Fitzgerald, explores the religious bigotry and post-colonial tensions
between English (Protestants) and Irish (Catholics) still prevalent
in Australia only two generations ago. Based on three years research
and over fifty oral history interviews, the series explores the
family feuds occasioned by Protestant/Catholic mixed marriage and the
virtual social apartheid that at times resulted from systemic
discrimination against the Irish Catholic underclass until the 1960s.
The series also contests the use of the misleading term 'Anglo-Celtic
Australia' to denote non-indigenous Australia prior to the mass
immigration that followed the Second World War.
. Not in Front of the Altar
In pre-multicultural Australia, marrying across the Protestant/
Catholic Divide was consorting wth the enemy for many families. Mixed-
religion couples describe being estranged, disinherited and vilified
in a society where a quarter of the population (Catholics) was barred
from applying for some private sector jobs and Freemasons and
Catholics jostled for control of the public sector. The Catholic
Church showed its disapproval of the 'impediment of mixed marriage'
by relegating such ceremonies to a cheerless setting away from the
main altar, out of sight of family and friends. Yet from the 1890s to
the 1960s, one in five Australian weddings was a mixed marriage.
. Between Two Worlds
Children raised in a mixed marriage had to negotiate a delicate
balancing act. Until 1966, the Catholic Church required both parties
to pledge in writing that all children would be raised Catholic. Some
compromised by raising the boys Protestant and the girls Catholic.
Some Protestant parents refused to comply; others were assiduous in
nurturing their children's Catholic faith, even after the death of
the Catholic parent. Some children were secretly baptised and raised
in one parent's faith unbeknownst to the other - eventually a source
of enormous family conflict. In a society polarised between the two
main religions, children of mixed marriages were torn by divided