Jun
13
2010

What were Australians debating in the early 1930s?

Children line up for a cup of soup and a slice of bread in 1934 during the depression (photo from State Library of NSW - NKCR)

The topics debated by the Mosman Debating Society from 1930 to 1934 offer an insight into those troubled years that were dominated by the Great Depression. Not surprisingly, many of the topics related to the economy, and some questioned the foundations of the economic system:

  • That the system of modern advertising is detrimental to society (carried)
  • That coal-miners are right in holding out for pre-stoppage rates
  • That the capitalist system has failed and nothing short of a revolution will give the masses the happiness they deserve (narrowly defeated)
  • That the economic system of Soviet Russia can and will succeed (carried)
  • That private enterprise is anti-social (defeated)
  • That membership of a trade union should be an essential condition of employment (defeated)
  • That there is no solution to the problem of poverty (defeated)
  • That fascism is preferable to communism (narrowly defeated)
  • That chain stores are beneficial to the community (defeated)
  • That all economists are useless (defeated)

As a fledgeling nation that had been independent for only thirty years, Australians questioned its system of government, its role in the world, and its relationship with others:

  • That we deplore the increasing Americanisation of Australia (defeated)
  • That State Parliaments should be abolished (carried)
  • That the White Australia Policy has retarded Australian progress (defeated)

Society and morality were also issues of concern:

  • That morality decreases as civilisation increases (defeated)
  • That the teaching and practice of birth control is seriously undermining and destroying the physical, moral and spiritual fibre of the community (defeated)
  • That women’s place is in the home (carried)
  • That we approve of married women having separate careers (carried)
  • That the machine is destroying mankind (tied)
  • That capital punishment should be enforced (carried)
  • That the standard of human mentality prevents sane government (carried)
  • That the press and radio are destroying independent thought (carried)
  • That we prefer romance to reality (carried)
  • That the moral standards of 1934 are inferior to those of 1904 (defeated)

World affairs were earnestly discussed:

  • That complete independence from the British Empire is in the best interests of the Indian masses (defeated)
  • That the British Empire is on the decline (defeated)
  • That the League of Nations should be given control of an International Army (carried)
  • That the Chinese nation is entitled to greater respect than the Japanese (carried)
  • That the adoption of a dictatorship is in the best interests of the German nation (defeated)

Sometimes debates addressed more mundane issues of current relevance:

  • That tramways should not be scrapped (carried)

But my favorite is one from 1932. It appears to be about a quite inconsequential development in society, yet it portends the massive societal changes that would arrive with the age of leisure after World War II:

  • That the desecration of the Sabbath by organised hiking is to be deplored (defeated)

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