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into the Australian way of life : DATELINE SYDNEY

English Roots Run Deep in Australia, United States

September 30, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

More than an ocean separates Australians and Americans.

There is a fundamental difference in their approaches to life that New York art critic and native Sydneysider Robert Hughes believes has its roots in the English settlement of each country.

"White colonization in American began as a religious venture; the Puritans thought they were, literally, creating God's country," he wrote in Time magazine. "Australia, by contrast, began as the continent of sin, the dump for English criminals. Australians, unlike Americans, have never felt they had a mission or a message for a fallen world. . . .

"If this deprived us of the heights of American moral expectation, it spared us from the anguish of American disappointment. Not a bad trade-off."

That is not to say that there is no religion in Australia.

It's just not as overt as it is in America.

It is, though, as diverse, especially since Australia's "populate or perish" policies initiated in 1947 to encourage European immigration were expanded in the '70s to include the Middle East and Asia.

Jews have been in Australia since the beginning of white colonization. Twenty-four were among convicts included in the First Fleet from England in 1788. Their small but thriving community increased significantly during the middle of the 19th century as Jews came seeking refuge from Czarist Russia, Poland and Germany.

Today, there are 60,000 Jews in Sydney. The largest congregation, more than 900 families, will celebrate the high holidays in the exotic Great Synagogue, which was consecrated in 1878. Jews in Sydney report little anti-Semitism.

Religious persecution in Australia's formative years was directed primarily toward Catholics, most of them Irish dissidents deported by the British. They weren't allowed to worship publicly until 1820 by the majority Protestants for fear that it would give them a forum to foment rebellion.

Catholics and Protestants coexisted uneasily for a century and a half. Sports was not immune from the acrimony. Controversy raged in 1948-49, when Colin Maxwell was chosen over Len Smith to captain the Seventh Kangaroos rugby team that toured England and France. Suspicion was that Maxwell was chosen because he was Protestant.

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