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Title: A Short History of New Thought in Australia, 1890-1914
Contributor(s): Bongiorno, FR (author)
Publication Date: 2004
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Abstract: Nettie Palmer knew she would be dealing with a queer bird when she agreed, in the early 1950s, to complete a biography of the poet and civil servant Bernard O'Dowd, a project that had been left unfinished by the late Victor Kennedy. Palmer had known O'Dowd for over forty years, and she was more aware than most of the great variety of detritus that seemed to find a home in the corners of his highly unusual mind. Nevertheless, Palmer found it necessary to 'explain away' O'Dowd's early twentieth century involvement in the Melbourne NewThought Club. She recognised that O'Dowd's collection of poems The Silent Land and Other Verses (1906) owed much to its author'sinvolvement in the new thought movement, which 'found most of its members among those floating people of goodwill who have morecapacity for faith than for clear thinking'. Palmer assured her readers that although The Silent Land 'was connected with the ideas of such a movement', this did not invalidate it. After all, Yeats had been nourished by esoteric knowledge that was often pedalled by 'humbugs and charlatans'.¹ These stray comments may seem trivial, but they are indicative of a larger reluctance on the part of Australian cultural historians to recognise the role played by esoteric belief and unorthodox religion in the making of Australian modernity. Accounts that have emphasised the impact of science, rationality and efficiency have not always fully recognised thecomplex ways in which these discourses became embedded in thestructure of social and political thought in Australia.² The project of modernity in Australia was never simply about the application ofscience and reason to the social and political order. It also involved a quest for bodily health, purity of mind and the elevation of the spirit in a society that seemed to be casting aside the comforts of religious orthodoxy. Late-nineteenth-century free thought needs to be seen in the context of this effort, by large numbers of educated Australians, to reconcile the spirit of scientific rationalism with religious sensibilities and preoccupations that had been reshaped, but rarely dissolved, by secularisation.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Australian Cultural History (23), p. 25-42
Publisher: School of History, University of New South Wales
Place of Publication: Sydney
ISSN: 0728-8433
Field of Research (FOR): 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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