Australia’s Christian Heritage
Southern Land of the Holy Ghost
In 1606, the Portuguese Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, standing in Tahiti, spoke of the destiny of Australia almost a hundred years before it was discovered by Captain Cook. Here, in part, is the text of the prophecy:
"Let the heavens, the earth, the waters with all their creatures and all those present witness that I, Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros... in the name of Jesus Christ... hoist this emblem of the Holy Cross on which His person was crucified and whereon He gave His life for the ransom and remedy of all the human race... on this day of Pentecost, 1606... I take possession of all this part of the South as far as the pole, in the name of Jesus... which from now on shall be called the Southern Land of the Holy Ghost (La Australia del Espiritu Santo)... and this always and forever... and to the end that to all natives, in all the said lands, the holy and sacred evangel may be preached zealously and openly."
In spite of being known and visited by many different peoples, including Indonesians, Dutch, French and Spanish, Australia remained uncivilised until 1788. Clearly the Lord had His own timing for the fulfilment of de Quiros’ prophecy.
On 26th January 1788, civilised settlement of the country commenced with the landing of the British “First Fleet” (a little over one thousand people in total) at Port Jackson (later to become the city of Sydney) after 8 months at sea. Accompanying the First Fleet was the Rev. Richard Johnston, who was a product of the evangelical revivals in Britain and who had a burning passion for lost souls. His assistant, Samuel Marsden (later known as the Apostle to New Zealand), believed that Australians had been chosen by God to take His Word and evangelise the surrounding nations.
A Society Based Upon Christian beliefs
Early Australia was replete with men of God, including explorers such as Matthew Flinders, William Lawson, Captain Charles Sturt, Edward John Eyre, Frederick Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt, John McDouall Stuart, Peter Warburton, Ernest Giles, Sir John Forrest, and Sir George Grey. These men were giants of faith, achieving the unachievable and overcoming the impossible through their faith and trust in God and the promises contained in His Word.
Many of Australia’s governors were also Christian men. Lachlan Macquarie (sometimes referred to as the “Father of Australia”) issued orders that all convicts attend divine worship on Sundays. He also launched the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Sunday School movement. Sir Thomas Brisbane (a friend of the Duke of Wellington who had defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo) supported Bible and tract societies and helped to establish the Church Missionary Society. Other governors, including Richard Bourke, Lt. Col. George Arthur, and Sir George Gipps, were also fervent believers.
Whilst approximately 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia, the population was otherwise comprised of free settlers. Australia remains part of the British Commonwealth of nations, and as such is a fulfilment of prophecy (see GENESIS 35:11). The British forefathers of Australia are descended from the tribes of Israel (see Christian History of Britain).
Several colonies subsequently formed, and when the prospect of federation became seriously discussed during the late 1800s, public meetings were held around Australia and petitions signed to campaign for the recognition of God in the Constitution.
Alfred Deakin was the man mainly responsible for the passage of the Constitution of Australia Act through the English House of Commons. Deakin prayed over the proposed Australian Constitution continually and was delighted when the Constitutional Convention unanimously carried the preamble: “Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established….”
A Christian barrister and statesman, he was the first Attorney General of the Commonwealth (and founder of the High Court of Australia). He served three times as Prime Minister when a considerable amount of the Commonwealth's initial legislation was commenced. Deakin kept a Spiritual Diary and, between 1884 and 1913, he wrote a book of prayer and praise containing nearly four hundred prayers, many relating directly to major decisions in his public life, and revealing his absolute dependence on God. In 1905, Deakin wrote, "sufficient to say that the religion of Jesus Christ is the life of the present, the light of the future and the hope of the world." Such was the calibre of our founding fathers. The Australian Parliament still prays to Almighty God every time the Parliament is opened.
Sir Henry Parkes, five-time Premier of New South Wales, and remembered as the father of Australian federation, said “we are pre-eminently a Christian people – as our laws, our whole system of jurisprudence, our Constitution… are based upon and interwoven with our Christian belief…” (Sydney Morning Herald, 26th August 1885).
South Australia – The Christian State
The State of South Australia was primarily settled by such Christians, and is a good example of the spirit that motivated many early settlers. Its capital, Adelaide, is known as the “City of Churches” and is renowned for its orderly layout. One of the most important people in the foundation of South Australia was George Fife Angas. He said: “My great object was… to provide a place of refuge for pious Dissenters of Great Britain, who could in their new home discharge their consciences before God in civil and religious duties… that South Australia will become the headquarters for the diffusion of Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere.”
God’s hand in the foundation of South Australia is demonstrated by the fact that “…within 10 years, over half the population of the state were attending two of the denominational churches… and further church buildings were necessary. From its settlement in 1836 to 1915, Sunday School enrolments far exceeded those of day schools!” (Pike, D)
Australian education, as in several other countries, was initiated by the Christian churches rather than by governments. In fact, government schools did not appear until approximately 1880.
“Australia’s first church building also served as a schoolhouse. It is not widely known that the majority of schools established in the infant colony were started by clergymen and supported by small grants from religious bodies and missionary societies.” (Partridge, P.H.)
The morals instilled by this Christian education had such a profound effect upon the population that Peter Cunningham wrote of the Australian-born population in the 1820s saying, “… they are little tainted with the vices so prominent among their parents! Drunkenness is almost unknown with them and honesty proverbial…” The long tradition of church-based schooling in Australia played a major role in achieving a comparatively high literacy rate among native-born Australians.
In accordance with both Samuel Marsden’s and George Angas’ visions, Australia has indeed proved to be the springboard for Christian missions to the southern hemisphere. In the early days, missionary activities were primarily focussed upon (often very remote) aboriginal communities and established and developing European settlements. However, before long, Australian missionaries set up works in many countries, including Africa, Palestine, Iran, China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Assam, Burma, Borneo (Indonesia), West Iran, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.
Under the auspices of many churches and missionary societies, Australian missionaries have laboured in scores of countries around the world, and continue to do so today.
More than 70 documented local revivals occurred in Australia during the 19th century, and the 20th century generally witnessed more revivals than ever before:
“In Australia the new century began with the largest evangelistic campaigns in Australia's history. R. A. Torrey arrived in Melbourne (April 1902) following successful evangelistic tours in Japan and China. Attendances totaled a quarter of a million each week when the population of the whole of Victoria was only one million. Meanwhile, in 1902/3 a tent mission crusade throughout 200 country towns of [New South Wales] reported 25,000 inquirers…” Follow this link for more about Australian revivals and Pentecostal history generally.
Australia is currently in a state of moral decline. Prayers have been removed from public schools, although optional religious education classes may be available (if someone from a local church or from the community volunteers to conduct such classes). Prostitution has been legalised and same-sex relationships are now recognised as law.
Immigration policies are ensuring the influx of large numbers of immigrants from non-Christian nations, bringing their heathen religions to Australia with them. These groups are steadily beginning to demand the destruction of all Christian influence in the nation. They are assisted to this end by growing numbers of post-modern, humanist, politically correct devotees, resulting in discrimination and vilification laws which are now being used to persecute Christians.
Queen Elizabeth II remains the Head of State, despite repeated attempts to have Australia become a republic. The role of the Queen, who swore solemn oaths before God at the time of her coronation, is foundational to the Christian safeguards woven into our governmental fabric by our founding fathers. Unfortunately, this understanding is now being rapidly lost to the younger generations:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments…” (PSALM 111:10).
At a time when most Australians are at best nominal Christians, with no real fear of God, their lack of understanding is clear to see. Without true repentance, their path has been mapped out by the promises of God:
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee…” (DEUTERONOMY 28:15-68). The nation needs to turn back to God once again.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land…” (2 CHRONICLES 7:14)
Clark, Prof. M., A History of Australia, (3 Volumes) MUP.
Clark, Prof. M., A History of Australia, Ashton Scholastic, 1988.
Clark, Prof. M., A Short History of Australia, Penguin Books, 1994.
Cunningham, P., Two Years in New South Wales, London, Colburn, 1828, 2: pp. 47-49.
Good, H.G., A History of American Education, (2nd Ed.) New York, 1962.
Humphreys, R. and Ward, R., Religious Bodies in Australia: a Comprehensive Guide, New Melbourne Press, 1995, pp. 180.181, 189, 247.
McLennan, Dr. G., Understanding our Christian Heritage, Christian Heritage Research Institute, Orange, NSW, 1989.
Partridge P. H., Society, Schools And Progress In Australia, Sydney, Pergamon Press, 1969.
Piggin, S., Local Revivals in Australia, Renewal Journal #2 (93:2), Brisbane, Australia, pp. 3542.
Pike, D., Paradise of Dissent: South Australia, 1829-1857, MUP, 1957.
Stringer, C., Discovering Australia’s Christian Heritage, Col Stringer Ministries, 2001.