Pious Diligence in Australia
The first issue of Australia’s Fraser Coast Chronicle was not that impressive—a four-page tabloid printed in a slab hut in Maryborough. It sold for only sixpence, but it was a start.1 This small venture in November 1860 would join with many others to generate a flood of publishing success. By the turn of the century, its editor, Charles Buzacott, would be a newspaper magnate. Furthermore, and not coincidentally, he was a Christian, a Protestant in particular.
The Protestant angle is intriguing. By the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Australia’s chambers of commerce were almost totally made up of Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, and Baptist businessmen and industrialists. The percentages ranged well beyond the Protestant share of the general population,2 and arguably, their pastors get much of the credit.3 From the pulpit and the pages of church publications, these ministers taught the “Protestant work ethic” of serious, systematic labor and thrift.4 For them, “work was a calling from God in which individuals could demonstrate their piety by working hard.”5 Here are denominational examples:
1. Presbyterian: The February 1897 Presbyterian and Australian Witness claimed that “honorable success in business bears witness to character. It means that a fellow man called to do his work in his calling has not been idle and careless flinging away his opportunities and denying his duties. It means that he has not yielded to the lower impulse of his nature and done foolishly, to the weakening of his mind and body.”6
2. Methodist: The January 1891 Queensland Christian Witness and Methodist Leader taught that “to labour is to pray . . . The Gospel has a constant part of its power in the large honour which it puts on labour. . .”7
3. Anglican: The October 26, 1899, Church Standard proclaimed, “By steadfast patient, persevering work we are to cultivate the garden of the soul which God has commanded to each one to dress and to keep. And in your work you are not alone. You are called to work together with God.” The Anglican Church Chronicle of Brisbane added, “Our Lord’s very nourishment was working. Work is a splendid tonic. Try it Children!”8
The predominant Catholic message was different. As Sydney’s Archbishop Kelly said in the Freeman’s Journal, labor was best understood in light of the Genesis curse: “[Labour] for Adam and all his children is the fundamental law of life [because] all must spend themselves and be spent by mental and physical exertion for maintenance in life.”9 For the Protestants, productive work was a sign of regenerating grace; for the Catholics, talk of grace centered on the sacraments, not the workplace.10 This “stifled enterprise,” or so said Patrick O’Farrell in his book The Irish in Australia. And as the February 1899 Catholic Press observed, “At the technical college at Ultimo the proportion of Catholic students is shamefully small at ten percent! We have yet to learn the virtues of self-help and independence.”11 To their credit, the Catholics had diagnosed the problem and begun to retrace their steps.
Among the Protestants, “rags-to-riches” stories abounded: The Buzacott brothers, including the above-named Charles, began as apprentice printers, but later owned major newspapers. William established the first Baptist church in Rockhampton;12 John Struth rose from the position of apprentice engineer to the ownership of a major engineering works in Sydney;13 Charles Hoskins began his life as a mail boy and failed gold miner. Before he was done, his factory made the steel water pipes for Sydney—and he helped establish a Presbyterian church in Lithgow.14
Unfortunately, Australia’s spiritual work ethic degenerated into a largely secular work ethic, with emphasis on “self-made men” instead of “God-fashioned men.”15 But the base for prosperity was laid by men who honored God with their lives. Theirs was, of course, a biblical work ethic,16 one which many Catholics have embraced, to the glory of God and the great benefit of their cultures. Australia began as a British prison colony in 1788, but her fortunes vastly improved as “prisoners of Christ” led out in industry and commerce, as well as in their churches.
“About the Paper,” Fraser Coast Chronicle Website, http://www.frasercoastchronicle.com.au/info/aboutthepaper, (accessed November 3, 2004).
Kevin Blackburn, “The Protestant Work Ethic and the Australian Mercantile Elite, 1880-1914,” The Journal of Religious History 21 (June 1997): 193-208.
For instance, Presbyterian representation was more than twice their national share of people (13%). On the other hand, 23% of the population was Catholic (Blackburn, 198), but less than 10% of the wealth were Catholic (Blackburn, 195, 199). Instead, Methodists, Anglican, and other Protestants occupied most other positions of economic prominence (Blackburn, 200-202).
See Kairos Journal article, "The Real Biblical Work Ethic."