On Sunday, February 3, 1788, the first Christian service was held in Australia, when the Reverend Richard Johnson, chaplain to the First Fleet, preached a sermon on the text: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” (Ps. 116:12). Richard Johnson had been nominated to William Pitt, prime minister, by William Wilberforce, emancipator of the slaves, as a suitable candidate for the post of chaplain. Wilberforce was deeply concerned that an evangelical should be appointed as chaplain to the infant colony, and the name of Johnson was suggested to him by the Eclectic Society. This society, an association of devout evangelicals, numbered among its members Charles Simeon, John Newton, and William Cooper. It was this same group that was responsible for the foundation of the Church Missionary Society in 1799.

The early beginnings were inauspicious and unpromising. The new arrivals numbered 1030, of whom 736 were convicts. “It is a shameful and unblessed thing,” wrote Bacon, “to take the scum of people, and withal condemned men, to be the people with whom you plant.” It is not surprising that the First Fleet was provided not only with Bibles and Prayer Books, but also with 200 copies of Exercises Against Lying, 50 copies of Caution to Swearers, 100 Exhortations to Chastity, and 100 Dissuasions from Stealing. Nevertheless from these humble beginnings the Commonwealth has grown.

Australians have been described as “a people singularly independent in thought, restless in action, and impatient of restraint.” This is due to two historical circumstances: first, that Australia began as a prison for convicts; and secondly, that the gold fields were opened in 1851. The subject of transportation is never mentioned in polite conversation; nevertheless, the fact remains that in all, over 130,000 convicts were transported to Australia. It is not surprising that these men and women nursed a sense of deep resentment against the “old country.”

The population of Australia trebled within a decade after the opening of the gold fields. People from every part of the world poured into Australia fired with the ambition to get rich quickly. Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe of Victoria feared that the colony might “parallel California in vice and disorder.” His fears were not groundless. In the State of Victoria the population expanded from 80,000 to over half a million in a matter of a few years. The results were political unrest and violent social upheavals.

These factors have contributed in part to the growth of what is known as the Australian legend, a legend which revolves around the concept of “mateship.” The essence of the tradition is loyalty to one’s fellows. Henry Lawson, in While the Billy Boils, quotes Macquarie the Shearer: “That there dog is a better dog than I’m a man … and a better Christian. He’s been a better mate to me than I ever was to any man—or any man to me.” What is significant in this quotation is not simply the concept of mateship; it is also the understanding of what constitutes a Christian. This concept of mateship has its commendable aspects as well as its less desirable aspects. It stresses the worth of an individual apart from status (“a man’s a man for a’that”); it minimizes the qualities of the exceptional man (“I’m as good as him”). Says H. M. Green: “Australian conditions encourage fellowship rather than leadership.”

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Another aspect of this legend is the tradition of individualism. Early exploration and enforced isolation encouraged this spirit of individualism and independence. C. W. Bean, in his history of the Australian Imperial Forces, says that “the Australian soldiers … never became reconciled to continuous obedience to orders, existence by rule, and lack of privacy. From early childhood the average Australian had regarded himself and everyone around him as masters of their own lives. He was accustomed to take decisions.”

The history of Christianity in Australia has been bedeviled by bitter sectarianism. The exclusive privileges of the Church of England were soon demolished by radicalism allied to militant dissent. In 1825 Earl Bathurst ordered one seventh of the land of the colony to be set aside to provide for the support of the Anglican clergy and Anglican education. This aroused the presbyterian indignation of the Reverend John Dunmore Lang and the papist ire of Father J. J. Therry: in 1829 this provision was suspended and in 1833 abolished. As a result education has become free, compulsory, and secular.

The evil spirit of sectarianism has been frequently inflamed by nationalistic passions. During the days following the opening of the gold fields, the number of Irish immigrants rapidly increased. Early in this century they found a mouthpiece in the fiery Daniel Mannix (now archbishop of Melbourne) who came from Maynooth in Ireland in 1913. Throughout the First World War he vigorously denounced, with unwearied passion, the evil of conscription and the sins of Great Britain. Today his natural vigour is not abated and his eye is not dimmed. Within recent years, he has succeeded in disastrously splitting and destroying the Labour Party by reducing it to two warring segments: the Australian Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party. The latter owes its creation to Mr. Santamaria (supported by Dr. Mannix) and the activities of “The Movement” (a Roman Catholic “front” organization within the trade union movement). Roman Catholics now number 22 per cent of the population and their political power is growing.

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All this provides the historical and religious background to the present Billy Graham crusade. Australia has never known a religious revival. Most people have only tenuous links with the institutional church, and the typical young Australian possesses a superb physique—but he lacks a soul. The cult of physical fitness is widely cultivated and assiduously pursued (Australia has bred an astonishing number of athletes and sportsmen). But spiritually there is a great void: and today Australia is a pagan nation.

The Billy Graham crusade has brought the Protestant churches into a closer fellowship than they have ever known before. The Australian Council for the World Council of Churches, on the occasion of its annual meeting, sent a warm message of goodwill to mark the opening of the crusade. At the local level, the spirit of harmony and good will, engendered by this corporate enterprise, has led to increased personal confidence and mutual trust between the ministers.

Evangelistically, Australia is virgin ground. It desperately needs the Spirit of God to regenerate and revivify its society. Christians are united in earnest prayer that Billy Graham, under the good hand of God, may be enabled to do this.

This is the answer to your prayers …


Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Melbourne

The Melbourne Crusade opened with an eager and expectant audience numbering 15,000. It was a moving and impressive commencement for the Crusade. Dr. Graham, speaking for the first time since his recent illness, spoke with dynamic energy and deep sincerity. It was compelling and arresting preaching. The vast audience listened with rapt and reverent attention and some 600 decisions were recorded for Jesus Christ. It was a memorable and mighty gathering attended by the heads of all the churches, bespeaking the widespread support which the Christian folk of our land are according the Crusade.


Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria

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The visit of such a great evangelist as Dr. Billy Graham is an exciting and thrilling event for the city of Melbourne and its citizens. Widespread interest has been aroused during the preparatory stages and on all sides one meets a keen sense of anticipation. The opening service was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. One can only hope and pray that Dr. Graham’s Melbourne Crusade will continue to receive the blessings of Almighty God and lead to a great outpouring of His Holy Spirit.


President General of the Methodist Church of Australia

The opening of Dr. Graham’s Melbourne Crusade was a scene unprecedented in the Church life of Melbourne, in this generation at least. Both the attendance and the number of decisions were greater than anticipated. There can be no doubt that the opening service with its astounding success has set the pattern for the whole Crusade in Australia and New Zealand. Prayers have indeed been answered and the preparations of many months have been amply rewarded.

There can be no doubt that God will continue to use His servant, Dr. Graham; the Churches will be revived in a remarkable manner, and thousands will be brought to Christ in this Crusade. Already we can devoutly say: To God Be The Glory.

Continue To Pray!

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