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"This sin and scandal" : Australia's population debate, 1891-1911

CollectionsANU Press (1965- Present)
Title: "This sin and scandal" : Australia's population debate, 1891-1911
Author(s): Hicks, Neville Derrington
Date published: 1978
Publisher: Canberra, ACT : Australian National University Press
'This Sin and Scandal' is a study of the agitated response of some sections of the public to the sharp fall in the birth rate around 1900. Women began to take an initiative in contraception and the size of families decreased dramatically from seven children or more in 1891 to an average of four for women who began childbearing in 1911. After 1890 the birth rate fell by 50 per cent and never recovered and net immigration dried to a trickle. This fall in population growth and the economic depression alarmed some of the established interests in Australia, not only because it affected economic prospects but also because it threatened their moral certainties. Leaders of industry and commerce, doctors and clergy, reacted as if vice were rampant and contraception was ruining the moral fibre of the nation. This book analyses opinions about the peopling of Australia between 1890 and 1911 and assesses the so-called 'evidence' that was available, showing the small relation opinion bore to the evidence. It discusses the 1903 New South Wales Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth Rate which it shows to have been far more an ideological exercise than a rational inquiry. 'This Sin and Scandal', though an important source of new insight for students of Australian political, social and economic history, will appeal also to the lay reader. It is wittily written with a dry humour and recalls vividly the 'populate or perish' scares of the past - and, to judge from recent political utterances, perhaps of the near future.


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