Set within the boundaries of the Brisbane metropolitan area in the early stages of urbanisation, this thesis examines the dual role of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, and its contribution to the social fabric of the burgeoning city.
Implicit in the Society's title are its two principal functions. It was an organisation committed to the philosophies of a particular ethnic group, and was at the same time a provider of welfare benefits. Over the period of this review, the Society became the lay custodian of the heritage values of the local Irish Catholic community, and as a respected member of the friendly society movement, an agent of integration with the wider society.
All immigrant communities are marked with their own stamp, deriving from their particular cultural tradition, together with conditions existing in the home country at the time of departure, the composition of the migrant stream, and conditions prevailing in the host country. The study will argue that the circumstances surrounding the foundation of the Australian colonies enabled this association, and the church of which it was part, to maintain their own identity, but also to be an organic part of mainstream Australian society, adding their own colour to the social tapestry at local and national level.
Although markedly different in form and focus from its heyday of the nineteenth century, this Society is the oldest surviving lay organisation of the Catholic church in Queensland, and arguably, in Australia. Its formation in Melbourne in 1871 was a response to a Papal encyclical of 1864, a watershed document in the many Catholic condemnations of secret societies, particularly that of Freemasonry. Catholics were thereby placed at theological odds not only with Freemasonry, but with all societies of a Masonic orientation, notably the Affiliated Orders, the principal form of friendly society in Australia.
While their country of origin and religious faith thus situated the Hibernians at a cultural remove from the substantially English and Scottish membership of the Orders, all were drawn from the wider European civilisation and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. They were, therefore, culturally contiguous at as many points as those at which they diverged.
Common to the Orders and to the Hibernians was an idealism which embodied a sense of fraternity encompassing a respect for the religious and political beliefs or non-beliefs of all, a strong sense of mission which extended this fraternal commitment beyond the meeting room, a love of ceremonial which acted as a conduit for the transmission of their own cultural mores to the new environment, and an espousal of democratic principles tempered with a respect for the hierarchic structure of both church and state.
While the maintaining of Catholic principles admitted of little negotiation on the part of the early Australian Catholic bishops, both English and Irish, all were committed to the ideal of an integrated society, as were most of the priests appointed to the mission. The Hibernians, a self-generating lay representation of the Catholic community, reinforced this dual concept from the grassroots perspective of the people, thus providing the principal theme of this study.
The Society's constitutional requirement that all members be 'practical
Catholics', with all that was subsumed in the term, the character and design of its ritual and regalia, and the nature of the causes embraced beyond the provision of welfare benefits, all clearly indicate a dedication to the preservation of a culture. On the other hand, through representation in a wider movement consisting of men of all shades of religious belief, but with a similar commitment to the maximising of living standards, all Australian benefit societies were afforded a point of entry to the common ground of colonial goodwill.