25 January, 2021

Archbishop Polding writes on being Australian

Before any sort of special commemoration was made of that day in 1788 on which the Colony of New South Wales was founded, a tension existed between loyalty to the land of one's birth and one's home by adoption, namely Australia.  As the colony of NSW and settlements in other parts of Australia were less and less populated by convicts and their offspring and more by free immigrants from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe, nationalistic tensions emerged.

A carte-de-visite photograph of Archbishop Polding taken in 1869
Colourised by the Saint Bede Studio.
Image : State Library of Victoria.

Writing at the beginning of Lent in 1856, Archbishop Polding commented on these tensions in a way that still rings true today.  If we find missing in the following words reference to the indigenous peoples of Australia, it might be observed that - by his words and deeds, the plight of dispossessed aborigines was a matter always a subject of the Archbishop's attention.  On that subject, another post will subsequently be written.

It has pleased Almighty God in His providence to bring us together in this fair land from almost all nations of the civilised earth; doubtless for a blessing, if it be not lost by our own folly and perversity.

Before everything else, we are Catholics; and next, by a name swallowing-up all distinctions of origins, we are Australians; from whatsoever land we or our parents have arrived hither, be it from Ireland, from France, from England, from Scotland, from Germany; we are no longer Irishmen and Frenchmen and Englishmen and Scotsmen, but Australians.  

The man who seeks by word or writing to perpetuate invidious distinctions is an enemy to our peace and prosperity.  The generation of today is not to answer for the follies and vices of past generations; and the man who strives by bringing up the memory of past quarrels and injuries to avenge himself for the past or the present, is endeavouring to realise the fable of the wolf and the lamb;  (1)  hatred and violence are in his own spirit.  And if one man or another be not guilty towards him, at least some ancestor (he will assert) was or would have been etc.  

Let us avoid such an unchristian spirit and all its developments.  As civilised men, as men of ordinary morality, we detest and despise it : as Catholics, we renounce and abhor it.  That man is a pest and a domestic traitor amongst us who, by naming the name of nation, or race, or class, or past injury, stirs up by word or pen one bitter feeling.  Let us banish all such topics of conversation; let us not encourage such publications as abound with them.  In such deadly wounds to Christian charity, we cannot imagine any justification, nor will we admit any dangerous extenuations on pretence of custom or expediency.

An excerpt from Archbishop John Bede Polding's Pastoral Letter published in March 1856 as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith.


1.  A description of the fable of the Wolf and the lamb may be found at this link : https://fablesofaesop.com/the-wolf-and-the-lamb.html

The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.

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