The not-so-good old days

1 JANUARY 2003

Racial and religious intolerance is nothing new…it might be hard for Generation X to believe, but it wasn’t so long ago that Protestants looked down on Catholics who were enemies with the Freemasons…and they were almost all prejudiced against Chinese immigrants, according to Dr Robert Tierney, lecturer in the School of Marketing and Management at Charles Sturt University (CSU).

Racial and religious intolerance is nothing new…it might be hard for Generation X to believe, but it wasn’t so long ago that Protestants looked down on Catholics who were enemies with the Freemasons…and they were almost all prejudiced against Chinese immigrants, according to Dr Robert Tierney, lecturer in the School of Marketing and Management at Charles Sturt University (CSU).
 
He has contributed two chapters to People and Politics in Regional New South Wales, which was commissioned by the Sesquicentenary Committee to celebrate 150 years of responsible government in NSW. The project was overseen by Professor James Hagan, former Deputy Chancellor of CSU, who was also the editor of the two-volume book. It will be launched by Rod Cavalier, Labor Party historian and commentator and former New South Wales education minister, at CSU on Friday 28 July at 7.00pm
 
In this topsy-turvy world, you find a working class in Bathurst who didn’t vote Labor and Bathurst farmers who did, Lithgow Catholics doing deals with their traditional enemies the Freemasons, and very strong racist elements in the ALP. “During the White Australia era, the early part of the 20th century, the ALP was more enthusiastic about anti-Chinese and anti-Kanak racism than any other political party at that time,” says Dr Tierney.
 
Unlike the voting patterns in big cities, regional areas are much more likely to vote on local issues. Dr Tierney describes it as "the ideology of localism transcending loyalties to their own class. In a city like Bathurst which has a strong working class, and is historically a very strong industrial town, you have large masses of working class people, but they often don’t vote Labor.”
 
Meanwhile, there was strong support for the ALP from a quite unexpected source. “I found that during the first half of the twentieth century there was very strong support for the Labor Party by the farmers in Bathurst, whereas there was very strong support for the anti-Labor parties by the farmers in Orange. I argue that one of the reasons for that is that the farmers in Orange were wealthier, so they always voted conservatively.”
 
Conversely, the book finds that “dairy farmers have been the least likely to vote Labor. It’s partly explained by the very strong Protestant ethic of self-help, which in turn was a result of widespread Presbyterian influences among the dairy farmers. Of all the farmers in Australia, dairy is the poorest rural sector. So the poorest farmers are the most conservative and the most fiercely anti-Labor.”
 
But perhaps the most fascinating of all is the religious interference in the political process in NSW. Dr Tierney calls it “massive. During the 1950s and 1960s in Lithgow the DLP, controlled by the Catholic right, was very strong and was so determined to stop Labor from winning the seat of Hartley in Lithgow, they did a deal with their traditional enemies the Freemasons. And the man they did the deal with went on to become the Grand Mason of NSW.
 
“In Bathurst the Catholic Bishop, Albert Reuben Edward Thomas, was fanatically anti-ALP. Obviously he wasn’t Irish Catholic, he was the first English Catholic Bishop of the Bathurst diocese. For twenty years he delivered a very strong vote for the conservatives in Orange and Bathurst.”
 
Dr Tierney says the research gave him a different perspective on the Central West of NSW. “The more I looked, the more complicated it was. And the deeper I dug the more I found that I was no where near the end of the tunnel.”

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