February 11, 2007

Proddies v. Catholics

The people in the Woy Woy area when I was growing up there were — by today’s Australian standards — pretty homogenous. The main division seemed to be the Prods vs. the Catholics — and that wasn’t much, since we kids tended to play together no matter what the "religion" of the others (if someone in those days asked you what your "religion" was, they were asking whether you were Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, Presbyterian, or the like). Nearly everyone was of English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish descent, mostly second or third generation. The Irish were invariably Catholic, the rest of us mostly Proddies. A few "immigrants" (often enough second or third generation themselves) lived in the area, mainly Italian, Greek, or Yugoslavian. Real immigrants were a bit exotic — even the Poms (like me). Pretty much everyone was white — there were virtually no Aboriginals or Africans at all living in the area. When Gary Sobers visited the area on a friendly cricket promotion (and played for Wyong, if I remember correctly), he was treated as a God — black or not, he was just exotic and absolutely revered as a cricketer. (Of course there were black American servicemen all the time in Sydney, but Sydney was another world to most of us…). The only Asians at that time and place were upper middle class people like doctors (in fact several were friends of my parents); they were almost all ABC’s with broad Australian accents.

Churchgoing was pretty rare and not taken terribly seriously by most people, except the ritual Christmas, Easter, and wedding (etc.) services. I really never knew anyone whose parents went to church more than once in a blue moon — and that includes people of all social classes. Religion simply played no part in public life there (except the Catholic vs. The Rest thing, which was more tribal than religious); it typically played a very minor role in private life, if at all. Lots of kids sports were played on Sunday mornings in any case, making churchgoing for us a little unlikely (until I left for Canberra, I really never went to church more than perhaps four times a year). The population was split about 60 / 40 Protestant / Catholic (I think); most Protestants were Church Of England, with a strong second going to the Methodists and Presbyterians (the Scots influence…). There were a smattering of Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., but they were almost universally regarded as a bit eccentric or off the beaten path, a little… strange (including the Lutherans). In retrospect, there were also a couple of Jewish families, but at that time I wouldn’t really have been able to tell you what "Jewish" meant (an ignorance that vanished overnight when I was sent to Canberra…).

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