Catherine Helen Spence Oration 2018 – Professor Marion Maddox

2018 Catherine Helen Spence Oration: Delivered Friday, October 26, 2018

How SA’s early leadership in education has lessons for today

Marion Maddox

In the 2018 Catherine Helen Spence Oration, Macquarie University Professor Marion Maddox examined how SA’s early leadership in education has important lessons for the 21st century.

Held at the Unitarian Church, Norwood, on Friday, October 26, the Catherine Helen Spence Oration commemorated one of the foremost women in Australian history, an influential social activist, political reformer and writer.

The Annual Catherine Helen Spence Oration on Religion and Public Life is intended to explore the nexus between liberal religious values and public policy in Australia. Catherine Helen Spence, who became an active member of the Unitarian Church in South Australia, placed herself right at the crux of this intersection.

After coming to Australia in 1839, Spence and her South Australian contemporaries led the world in improving the wellbeing of vulnerable children, developing kindergartens, child and family health nursing, and pioneering the first foster care programs to replace the institutional care of children. Born in Scotland and raised with the harsh doctrines of Presbyterianism, Spence eventually chose Unitarianism, where she met Martha Turner, Australia’s first female church minister, and. after 1878, gave sermons in the church. In her public speaking, Spence campaigned for such causes as electoral reform, public education, women’s equality and child welfare.

After first mounting a political platform in 1891 to advocate for proportional representation, Spence went on to support female suffrage and was the only woman candidate to stand for the Federation conventions in 1897. She lived to see all Australian women get the right to vote federally in 1902.

In the 2018 Catherine Helen Spence Oration, Marion Maddox, Professor in the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University, explored a central theme of Spence’s activism, the idea of “free, compulsory and secular education”.

Maddox, the leading authority on the intersection of religion and politics in Australia, examined why this was such an important concept in the history of Australian public policy; revealed little-known aspects of SA’s unique contribution to public education; and discussed how that history is relevant to education debates today.

Maddox is the author of three major works For God and Country: Religious Dynamics in Australian Federal Politics (2001); God Under Howard: The Rise of The Religious Right in Australian Politics (Sydney: Allen & Unwin 2005); and Taking God to School: The End of Australia’s Egalitarian Education, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.

The 2018 Catherine Helen Spence Oration took place at the Unitarian Church at 99 Osmond Terrace, Norwood, at 7pm on Friday, October 26.