Thursday, 09 March 2017 04:24

200 years of Australia's oldest organisation

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No, Australia's oldest organisation isn't a newspaper. But in the Gazette issue that's pictured here, there's a longish announcement, of a Society that's made history.

Two hundred years ago this week, Governor Macquarie presided over a meeting in the Sydney Court - 'highly to the gratification of a large assemblage of Officers, Gentlemen and private Individuals'. (Love the Regency era language with its rather formal capitalisation. The upper echelons of colonial society are literally encapsulated in that phrase...) It was the first meeting of a new auxiliary Bible Society, now Australia's oldest surviving organisation.

The Bank of New South Wales, now Westpac, started later the same year. God before Mammon, you might say. His Honour the Judge Advocate, 'in a speech of considerable length' said he was certain the Society would 'extend knowledge of that sacred volume'. Being the local head of the judiciary, he thought copies of scripture would be useful for 'regulating' vices. Today that would probably be seen as overly optimistic, misguided or paternalistic - the promotion of ideology to keep the masses in check. Although maybe promoting the Bible isn't as inhumane as the lash or the noose, which were the usual colonial method of regulating vices. 

Overlooking the Judge's sexist language, his next thought resonates with me.The Judge Advocate saw the Bible as 'bringing man the nearer acquainted with his creator.'  This century's exposure of child abuse have made us wary, or even angry, about church institutions. But however quaintly they express it, my heart is with the founders of the Bible Society in their desire for spiritual revelation, of a personal God, available to everyone. Happy bicentenary, Bible Society. 

 

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