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Indigenous Australian Traditions

Since British settlement


Statue of Christian pastor, Aboriginal activist and former Governor of South Australia, Sir Douglas Nicholls

European culture and Christianity have had a significant impact on the Indigenous Australians. As in many colonial situations the churches both facilitated the loss of Indigenous Australian culture and religion and also facilitated its maintenance. The involvement of Christians in Aboriginal affairs has evolved significantly since 1788. Around the year 2000, many churches and church organizations officially apologized for past failures to adequately respect indigenous cultures and address the injustices of the dispossession of indigenous people.

In the Torres Strait Islands, the Coming of the Light Festival marks the day the Christian missionaries first arrived on the islands on 1 July 1871 and introduced Christianity to the region. This is a significant festival for Torres Strait Islanders, who are predominantly Christian. Religious and cultural ceremonies are held across Torres Strait and mainland Australia.

Prominent Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson, himself raised at a Lutheran mission in Cape York, has written that missions throughout Australia's colonial history "provided a haven from the hell of life on the Australian frontier while at the same time facilitating colonization. Prominent Aboriginal Christians have included Pastor David Unaipon, the first Aboriginal author; Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls, athlete, activist and former Governor of South Australia; Mum (Shirl) Smith, a celebrated Redfern community worker who, assisted by the Sisters of Charity, work to assist Aborigines.; and former Senator Aden Ridgeway, the first Chairman of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. In recent times, Christians such as Fr Ted Kennedy of Redfern, Jesuit human rights lawyer Fr Frank Brennan and the Josephite Sisters have been prominent in working for Aboriginal rights and improvements to standards of living.



Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'í House of Worship, Sydney.

The Bahá'í Faith in Australia has a long history and a growing visible presence in the country since 1922. A Bahá'í House of Worship exists in Sydney, dedicated on 17 September 1961 and opened to the public after four years of construction. The 1996 Australian Census lists Bahá'í membership at just under 9000. The 2001 second edition of A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police and Emergency Services added the Bahá'í Faith in its coverage of religions in Australia and noted that the community had grown to over 11,000. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 17,700 Bahá'ís in 2005.



St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Since the arrival of the first Christian settlers on the First Fleet of British ships in 1788, Christianity has grown to be the major religion in Australia. Consequently, the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter are public holidays, the skylines of Australian cities and towns are marked by church and cathedral spires, and the Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia.

The churches with the largest number of members are the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Australia and the Uniting Church in Australia, Pentecostal churches are also present with megachurches being found in most states (for example, Hillsong Church and Paradise Community Church). The National Council of Churches in Australia is the main Christian ecumenical body.

Australia has an extensive network of Christian schools and around 20% of children attend Catholic schools.

For much of Australian history, the Church of England in Australia, now known as the Anglican Church of Australia, was the largest religious affiliation, however multicultural immigration has contributed to a decline in its relative position, with the Roman Catholic Church benefiting from the opening of post-war Australia to multicultural immigration and becoming the largest group. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and other congregations associated with non-British cultures have also expanded.

In his welcoming address to the Roman Catholic World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, said that Christianity had a positive influence on Australia: "It was the" (Christian) "church that began first schools for the poor, it was the church that began first hospitals for the poor, it was the church that began first refuges for the poor and these great traditions continue for the future." Christian charitable organizations, hospitals and schools have played a prominent role in welfare and education since the Colonial times, when the First Fleet chaplain Richard Johnson was credited as "the physician both of soul and body" during the famine of 1790, and was charged with general supervision of schools.

Today, the Roman Catholic education system is the second biggest sector after government schools, with more than 650,000 students (and around 21 per cent of all secondary school enrolments). The Anglican Church educates around 105,000 students and the Uniting Church has around 48 schools. Smaller denominations, including the Lutheran Church also have a number of schools in Australia. There are two Roman Catholic Universities in Australia, Australian Catholic University opened in 1991 following the amalgamation of four Catholic tertiary institutions in eastern Australia and the University of Notre Dame Australia which is based in Perth.

Catholic Social Services Australia's 63 member organizations help more than a million Australians every year. Anglican organizations work in health, missionary work, social welfare and communications; and the Uniting Church does extensive community work, in aged care, hospitals, nursing, family support services, youth services and with the homeless, and especially throughout inland Australia. Christian charities such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Salvation Army, Anglicare, and Youth Off the Streets receive considerable national support. Religious orders founded many of Australia's hospitals, such as St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, which was opened as a free hospital in 1857 by the Sisters of Charity and is now Australia's largest not-for-profit health provider and has trained prominent Australian surgeons such as Victor Chang.

Notable Australian Christians have included: Mary MacKillop – educator, founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and the first Australian to be recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church; David Unaipon – an Aboriginal writer, inventor and Christian preacher currently featured on the Australian $50 note; Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne – a controversial voice against Conscription during World War I and against British policy in Ireland; the Reverend John Flynn – founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, currently featured on the Australian $20 note; and Sir Douglas Nicholls – Aboriginal rights activist, athlete, pastor and former Governor of South Australia.

Sectarianism in Australia tended to reflect the political inheritance of Britain and Ireland. Until 1945, the vast majority of Roman Catholics in Australia were of Irish descent, causing the British majority to question their loyalty to the British Empire. The first Roman Catholic priests arrived in Australia as convicts in 1800, but the Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 alarmed the British authorities and no further priests were allowed in the colony until 1820, when London sent John Joseph Therry and Philip Connolly. In 1901, the Australian Constitution guaranteed Separation of Church and State. A notable period of sectarianism reemerged during the First World War and the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland, but the significance of sectarian division declined dramatically after World War II. There was a growth in non-religious adherence, but also a diversification of Christian churches (especially the growth of Greek, Macedonian, Serbian and Russian Orthodox churches), together with an increase in ecumenism among Christians, through organizations such as the National Council of Churches in Australia.

One of the most visible signs of the historical importance of Christianity to Australia is the prominence of churches in most Australian towns and cities. Among Australia's oldest are Ebenezer Chapel, and the Anglican St Matthew's, Windsor, St Luke's, Liverpool, St Peter's, Campbelltown and St James Church, Sydney, built between 1819 and 1824 by Governor Macquarie's architect, Francis Greenway. St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney was built to a design by William Wardell from a foundation stone laid in 1868, the spires of the cathedral were not finally added until the year 2000. Wardell also worked on the design of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne – among the finest examples of ecclesiastical architecture in Australia. The Anglican St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne in the iconic hub of the city opposite Flinders Street Station. Adelaide is known as the "City of Churches", but churches extend far into the Australian Outback, as at the historic Lutheran Mission Chapel at Hermannsburg, Northern Territory. Along with community attitudes to religion, church architecture changed significantly during the 20th century. Urban churches, such as the Wayside Chapel (1964) in Sydney, differed markedly from traditional ecclesiastical designs. In the later 20th century, distinctly Australian approaches were applied at places such as Jambaroo Benedictine Abbey, where natural materials were chosen to "harmonize with the local environment" and the chapel sanctuary is of glass overlooking rainforest. Similar design principles were applied at Thredbo Ecumenical Chapel built in the Snowy Mountains in 1996.

The Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter are national public holidays in Australia. Christmas, which recalls the birth of Jesus Christ, is celebrated on 25 December during the Australian summer (although on 7 January by some Eastern Orthodox) and is an important cultural festival even for many non-religious Australians. The European traditions of Christmas trees, roast dinners, carols and gift giving are all continued in Australia, but they might be conducted between visits to the beach, and Santa Claus is said in song to be drawn on his sleigh by six white boomer kangaroos.


Auburn Gallipoli Mosque was built in the classical Ottoman style by Sydney's Turkish Muslim community.

The first contacts that Islam had with Australia was when the Muslim fishermen native to Makassar, which is today a part of Indonesia, visited North-Western Australia long before the British settlement in 1788. This contact of South East Asian ethnic groups of Islamic faith can be identified from the graves they dug for their comrades who died on the journey, being that they face Mecca (in Arabia), in accordance with Islamic regulations concerning burial, as well as evidence from the Aboriginal cave paintings and religious ceremonies which depict and incorporate the adoption of Makassan canoe designs and words.

In later history, throughout the 19th century following British settlement, other Muslims came to Australia including the Muslim 'Afghan' cameleers, who used their camels to transport goods and people through the otherwise unnavigable desert and pioneered a network of camel tracks that later became roads across the Outback. Australia’s first mosque was built for them at Marree, South Australia in 1861. Between the 1860s and 1920s around 2000 cameleers were brought from Afghanistan and the north west of British India (now Pakistan) and perhaps 100 families remained in Australia. Other outback mosques were established at places like Coolgardie, Cloncurry, and Broken Hill – and more permanent mosques in Adelaide, Perth and later Brisbane. A legacy of this pioneer era is the presence of wild camels in Outback and the oldest Islamic structure in the southern hemisphere, at Central Adelaide Mosque. Nonetheless, despite their significant role in Australia prior to the establishment of rail and road networks, the formulation of the White Australia policy at the time of Federation made immigration difficult for the 'Afghans' and their memory slowly faded during the 20th century, until a revival of interest began in the 1980s.

In the early 20th century, most Muslims could not legally immigrate to Australia because of the White Australia policy which restricted immigration to the Europeans or those of European descent, very few of whom were Muslim. However, European Muslims from Albania and Bosnia did arrive in numbers especially in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1947, out of 7,579,358 Australian inhabitants, there were 2,704 or 0.04% Muslims.

Successive Australian governments dismantled the White Australia Policy in the Post-WW2 period. From the 1970s onwards, under the leadership of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, Australia began to pursue multiculturalism. Australia in the later 20th century became a refuge for many Muslims fleeing conflicts including those in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan. General immigration, combined with religious conversion to Islam by Christians and other Australians, as well as Australia's participation in UN refugee efforts has increased the overall Muslim population. Around 36% of Muslims are Australian born. Overseas born Muslims come from a great variety of nations and ethnic groups – with large Lebanese and Turkish communities.

Following the 11 September attacks, associations drawn between the political ideology of Osama Bin Laden and the religion of Islam have stirred debate in some quarters in Australia regarding Islam's relationship with the wider community – with some advocating greater emphasis on assimilation, and others supporting renewed commitment to diversity. The deaths of Australians in bombings by militant Islamic fundamentalists in New York in 2001, Bali in 2002–5 and London in 2005; as well as the sending of Australian troops to East Timor in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003; the arrest of bomb plotters in Australia; and concerns about certain cultural practices such as the wearing of the Burkha have all contributed to a degree of tension in recent times. A series of comments by a senior Sydney cleric, Sheikh Taj El-Din Hilaly also stirred controversy, particularly his remarks regarding "female modesty" following an incident of gang rape in Sydney Australians were among the targets of Islamic Fundamentalists in the Bali bombings in Indonesia and attack on Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the South East Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah has been of particular concern to Australians. The Australian government's mandatory detention processing system for asylum seekers became increasingly controversial after the 11 September attacks. A significant proportion of recent Asylum seekers arriving by boat have been Muslims fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some Islamic leaders and social commentators claim that Islam has suffered from unfair stereotyping. Violence and intimidation was directed against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern appearance during southern Sydney's Cronulla riots in 2005.

In 2005, the Howard Government established the Muslim Community Reference Group to advise on Muslim community issues for one year, chaired by Ameer Ali. Inter-faith dialogues were also established by Christian and Muslim groups such as The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and the National Council of Churches in Australia. Australia and Indonesia co-operated closely following the Bali-bombings, not only in law-enforcement but in improving education and cross-cultural understanding, leading to a marked improvement in relations. After a series of controversies, Sheikh Taj El-Din Hilaly retired as Grand mufti of Australia in 2007 and was replaced by Fehmi Naji El-Imam AM.

Today, over 370,000 people in Australia identify themselves as Muslims with diverse communities concentrated mainly in Sydney and Melbourne. Since the 1970s Islamic schools have been established as well as more than 100 mosques and prayer centres. Many notable Muslim places of worship are to be found in Australian cities, including the Central Adelaide Mosque, which was constructed during the 1880s; and Sydney's Classical Ottoman style Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, which was largely funded by the Turkish community and the name of which recalls the shared heritage of the foundation of modern Turkey and the story of the ANZACs. Notable Australian Muslims include boxer Anthony Mundine; community worker and rugby league star Hazem El Masri; cricketer Usman Khawaja and academic Waleed Aly. In 2013, Labor MP Ed Husic became Australia's first Muslim member of Cabinet, briefly serving as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Broadband in the short lived Second Rudd Government.




The Great Synagogue, Sydney.

At least eight Jewish convicts are believed to have been transported to Sydney aboard the First Fleet in 1788, when the first British settlement was established on the continent. An estimated 110,000 Jews currently live in Australia, the majority being Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent, with many being refugees and Holocaust survivors who arrived during and after World War II.

The Jewish population has increased slightly in recent times due to immigration from South Africa and the former Soviet Union. The largest Jewish community in Australia is in Melbourne, with about 60,000, followed by Sydney with about 45,000 members. Smaller communities are dispersed among the other state capitals.

Following the conclusion of the British colonial period, Jews have enjoyed formal equality before the law in Australia and have not been subject to civil disabilities or other forms of state-sponsored anti-Semitism which exclude them from full participation in public life.

Sydney's gothic design Great Synagogue, consecrated in 1878, is a notable place of Jewish worship in Australia. Notable Australian Jews have included the Sir John Monash, the notable World War I general who opened the Maccabean Hall in Sydney in 1923 to commemorate Jews who fought and died in the First World War and who is currently featured on the Australian $100 note; and Sir Isaac Isaacs who became the first Australian born governor general in 1930. Sir Zelman Cowen also served as Governor-General, between 1977 and 1982. The Sydney Jewish Museum opened in 1992 to commemorate the Holocaust "challenge visitors' perceptions of democracy, morality, social justice and human rights". Until the 1930s, all synagogues in Australia were nominally Orthodox, with most acknowledging leadership of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. To this day the vast majority of synagogues in Australia are Orthodox. However, there is a wide range of Orthodox congregations, including Mizrachi, Chabad and Adass Israel congregations. There are also Sephardi congregations.

There had been short-lived efforts to establish Reform congregations as early as the 1890s. However, under the leadership of Ada Phillips, a sustained liberal congregation, Temple Beth Israel, was established in Melbourne. Subsequently another synagogue linked to the United States Reform Movement, Temple Emanuel, was established in Sydney. Following these two congregations, a number of other Liberal synagogues have been founded in other cities.

Since 1992 Conservative (Masorti) services have been held as an alternative service usually in the Neuweg, the smaller second synagogue within Temple Emanuel, Woollahra, Sydney. In 1999, Kehilat Nitzan, Melbourne's first Conservative (Masorti) congregation was established, with foundation president John Rosenberg. The congregation appointed its first rabbi, Ehud Bandel in 2006. In 2010 Beit Knesset Shalom became Brisbane's first Conservative (Masorti) synagogue.

In 2010, the first humanistic Jewish congregation, known as Kehilat Kolenu, was established in Melbourne with links to the cultural Jewish youth movement Habonim Drorm. In 2011, a similar congregation was established in Sydney and is known as Ayelet HaShachar. The services are loosely based on the Humanistic Jewish movement in the United States and the musical-prayer group Nava Tehila in Israel.

Indian Religions



Nan Tien Temple, Wollongong.

Although the first definite cases of Buddhist settlement in Australia were in 1848, there has been speculation from some anthropologists that there may have been contact some hundreds of years earlier. Buddhists began arriving in Australia in significant numbers during the gold rush of the 1850s, with an influx of Chinese miners. However, the population remained low until the 1960s. Buddhism is now one of the fastest growing religions in Australia. Immigration from Asia has contributed to this, but some people of non-Asian origin have also become Buddhists. The three main traditions of Buddhism – Theravada, East Asian and Tibetan – are now represented in Australia.

According to the Australian census in 2006, Buddhism is the largest non-Christian religion in Australia, with 418,000 adherents, or 2.1% of the total population. It was also the fastest growing religion in terms of percentage, having increased its number of adherents by 109.6% since 1996.

The Nan Tien Temple, or "Southern Paradise Temple", in Wollongong, New South Wales, began construction in the early 1990s, adopting the Chinese palace building style and is now the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. The temple follows the Venerable Master Hsing Yun of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order.


Rajagopuram of the Sri Venkateswara Temple, Helensburgh, New South Wales

Hinduism is a religious minority in Australia with about 275,535 adherents according to the 2011 census. In the 19th century, Hindus first came to Australia to work on cotton and sugar plantations. Many, who remained, worked in small business, as camel drivers, merchants and hawkers, selling goods between small rural communities. Their population increased dramatically from the 1960s and 1970s and more than doubled between the 1996 and 2006 censuses to around 148,000 people. Most were migrants from countries such as Fiji, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. At present many Hindus are well-educated professionals in the fields of medicine, engineering, commerce and information technology. Among Australia's best-known Hindus is the singer Kamahl. There are around 34 Hindu temples in Australia. Sri Mandir Temple in multicultural Auburn, Sydney was the first Hindu temple in Australia. It was established in 1977 to meet the needs of the growing Hindu community.


Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara (Temple), Glenwood, New South Wales

The 2011 Australian Census shows about 72,000 followers of the Sikh faith in Australia. Sikhs have been in Australia since the 1830s, initially coming to work as labourers in the cane fields and as cameleers, known as Ghans. Around the start of the 20th century, a number of them were working as hawkers, opening up stores. After World War I, Sikhs in Australia were given rights far greater than other Asians and made use of them by emigrating to Australia and working as labourers. As the decades passed they formed a sizable community in Woolgoolga, where the first Gurdwara, named the First Sikh Temple, was built. Following the end of the White Australia Policy there has been a great increase in the number of Sikhs from a number of countries including India, Malaysia, Fiji, the United Kingdom and Canada.


Alexandrian Wiccans and Gardnerian Wiccans arrived in Australia from England and the United States around the late 1960s.

In the 2011 census, 32,083 Australians identified their religion as a Pagan religion including 8,413 people who identified their religion as Wicca or Witchcraft.



Australia is one of the least religious nations in the developed world, with religion not described as a central part in many people's lives. This view is prominent among Australia's youth, who were ranked as the least religious worldwide in a 2008 survey conducted by The Christian Science Monitor. In the 2011 census, the ABS categorized 4,796,800 Australians (22.3%) as having "No Religion", up from 3,706,500 (18.7%) in 2006. This category includes agnosticism, atheism, Humanism, rationalism, "No Religion, " and people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion.


While people with no religion are more than 22% of the Australian population, he Australian Bureau of Statistics does not provide information in the annual "1301.0 – Year Book Australia" on religious affiliation as to how many people fall into each sub-category. Data on religious affiliation is only collected by the ABS at the five yearly population census. Atheist interests in Australia are represented nationally by the Atheist Foundation of Australia. Humanist interests in Australia are represented nationally by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Rationalist interests in Australia are represented nationally by the Rationalist Society of Australia.

The Global Atheist Convention, a prominent atheist event, has been held in Melbourne.


The 2006 census showed 53 listed groups down to 5000 members (most of them Christian denominations, many of them national versions like Greek, Serbian Orthodox and Assyrian Orthodox. Of the smaller religions, Pagan Religions 29328, Bahá'í at 12,000, Humanism about 7000. Between 1000 and 5000, other than small Christian denominations, are the following religions – Taoist, Druse, Satanism, Zoroastrian, Rationalism, Creativity, Theosophy, Jainism. There are also adherents of Tenrikyo, Shinto, Unitarian Universalism, Eckankar, Cao Dai, Rastafarianism, Pantheism, Scientology and Raelianism.

In general, non-Christian religions and those with no religion, have been growing in proportion to the overall population. With fewer classifications, data from 1996 and 2001 showed Aboriginal religion decreasing from 7000 to 5000 while Bahá'í grew from just under 9000 to over 11,000 and the rest of the "Other" category growing from about 69,000 to about 92,000.


I. Read the text. Find the words that match the definitions below:

1) someone who is related to a person who lived a long time ago, or to a family, group of people etc that existed in the past;

2) someone who supports a particular belief, plan, political party etc.;

3) someone whose religion is Islam;

4) events, powers, and creatures that cannot be explained, and seem to involve gods or magic;

5) the feeling that something is definitely true or definitely exists;COLLOCATIONS

6) someone who has studied theology;

7) to move from a higher level to a lower one ;

8) to improve yourself, or to take action to improve the way other people think of you or something you have done;

9)the Jewish religion based on the sacred books known as the Hebrew Scriptures. These writings contain many of the books that are also in the Old Testament of the Christian bible;

10)a religion of east and central Asia, based on the teaching of Gautama Buddha;

11) the main religion in India, which includes belief in reincarnation;

12) a member of an Indian religious group that developed from Hinduism in the 16th century;

13)belonging to a religion that worships many gods, especially one which existed before the main world religions;

14)someone who believes that people cannot know whether God exists or not;

15) an official process of counting a country's population and finding out about the people.

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 406

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