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- AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 30/32 -


support every cause that tended towards righteousness. I expected it, as a reform party, to take up effective voting, because effective voting was a reform. I hoped that a party whose motto was "Trust the people" would have adopted a reform by means of which alone it would be possible for the people to gain control over its Legislature and its Government. Alas! for human hopes that depend on parties for their realization! As time after time I have seen defections from the ranks of proportionalists, and people have said to me:--"Give it up, Miss Spence. Why trouble longer? Human nature is too bad," I have answered, "No; these politicians are but the ephemeral creations of a day or a month, or a year; this reform is for all time. and must prevail, and I will never give it up."

During my many visits to Melbourne and Sydney I had been much impressed with the influence and the power for good of the local branches of the world-famed National Council of Women. I had long hoped for the establishment of a branch in South Australia, and was delighted to fall in with a suggestion made by the Countess of Aberdeen (Vice-President-at-large of the International Council), through Lady Cockburn, that a council should be formed in South Australia. The inaugural meeting in September, 1902, was splendidly attended, and it was on a resolution moved by me that the council came into existence. Lady Way was the first President, and I was one of the Vice-Presidents. I gave several addresses, and in 1904 contributed a paper on "Epileptics." In dealing with this subject I owed much to the splendid help I received from my dear friend Miss Alice Henry, of Victoria, now in Chicago, whose writings on epileptics and weak-minded children have contributed largely to the awakening of the public conscience to a sense of duty towards these social weaklings. In 1905 I contributed a paper to the quinquennial meeting of the International Council of Women, held at Berlin, on the laws relating to women and children in South Australia, and gave an account of the philanthropic institutions of the State, with special reference to the State Children's Council and Juvenile Courts. The work of the National Council in this State was disappointing to many earnest women, who had hoped to find in it a means for the social, political, and philanthropic education of the women of South Australia. Had the council been formed before we had obtained the vote there would probably have been more cohesion and a greater sustained effort to make it a useful body. But as it was there was so apparent a disinclination to touch "live" subjects that interest in the meetings dwindled, and in 1906 I resigned my position on the executive in order to have more time to spare for other public work.

A problem which was occasioning the State Children's Council much anxious thought was how to deal effectively with the ever-increasing number of the "children of the streets". Boys and girls alike, who should either be at school or engaged at some useful occupation, were roaming the streets and parks, uncontrolled and sometimes uncontrollable. We recognised that their condition was one of moral peril, and graduation to criminality from these nurseries of crime so frequently occurred that State interference seemed absolutely imperative to save the neglected unfortunates for a worthier citizenship. It is much easier and far more economical to save the child than to punish the criminal. One of the most effective means of clearing the streets would be to raise the compulsory age for school attendance up to the time of employment. That truancy was to a great extent responsible for these juvenile delinquents was proved by the fact that more then one-half of the lads sent to Magill had committed the crimes for which they were first convicted while truanting. Moreover, an improvement was noticed immediately on the amendment of the compulsory attendance clauses in the Education Act. Truancy--the wicket gate of the road to ruin in youth--should be barred as effectively as possible, and the best way to bar it is to make every day a compulsory school day, unless the excuse for absence be abundantly sufficient. Another aspect of the neglected children problem, which Federal action alone will solve, is in dealing with cases of neglect by desertion. At present each State is put to great trouble and expense through defaulting parents. Federal legislation would render it possible to have an order for payment made in one State collected and remitted by an officer in another State. By this means thousands of pounds a year could be saved to the various States, and many a child prevented from becoming a burden to the people at large. These are some of the problems awaiting solution and the women of South Australia will do well to make the salvation of these neglected waifs a personal care and responsibility. Perhaps no other work of the State Children's Council has more practically shown their appreciation of the capabilities of the children under their care than the establishment of the State children's advancement fund. This is to enable State children who show any aptitude, to pursue their education through the continuation schools to the University. To private subscriptions for this purpose the Government have added a subsidy of 50 pounds, and already some children are availing themselves of this splendid opportunity to rise in the world. The longer I live the prouder I feel that I have been enabled to assist in this splendid work for the benefit of humanity.

The years as they passed left me with wider interests in, deeper sympathies with, and greater knowledge of the world and its people. Each year found "one thing worth beginning, one thread of life worth spinning." The pleasure I derived from the more extended intellectual activity of my later years was due largely to my association with a band of cultured and earnest women interested in social, political, and other public questions--women who, seeing "the tides of things," desired so to direct them that each wave of progress should carry the people to a higher place on the sands of life. To the outside world little is known of the beginnings and endings of social movements, which, taken separately, perhaps appear of small consequence, but which in the aggregate count for a great deal in what is popularly known as the forward movement. To such as these belonged an interesting association of women, which, meeting at first informally, grew eventually into a useful organization for the intellectual and moral development of those who were fortunate enough to be associated with it. This was the "Social Students' Society," of which Miss A. L. Tomkinson was the secretary and I the first President. One of the addresses I gave was on "Education," and among others whose addresses helped us considerably was the Director of Education (Mr. A. Williams). Speakers from all parties addressed the association, and while the society existed a good deal of educational work was done. Much interest was taken in the question of public playgrounds for children, and we succeeded in interesting the City Council in the movement; but, owing to lack of funds, the scheme for the time being was left in abeyance.

In the agitation for the public ownership of the tramways, I was glad to take a share. The private ownership of monopolies is indefensible, and my American experiences of the injustice of the system strengthened my resolve to do my utmost to prevent the growth of the evil in South Australia. My attitude on the question alienated a number of friends, both from me personally and from effective voting, so intolerant had people become of any opposition to their own opinions. The result of the referendum was disappointing, and, I shall always consider, a grave reflection on a democratic community which permits a referendum to be taken under a system of plural voting which makes the whole proceeding a farce. But the citizens of Adelaide have need to be grateful to the patriotic zeal of those who, led by the late Cornelius Proud fought for the public ownership of the tramways.

These years of activity were crossed by sickness and sorrow. For the first time in a long life, which had already extended almost a decade beyond the allotted span, I became seriously ill. To be thus laid low by sickness was a deep affliction to one of my active temperament; but, if sickness brings trouble, it often brings joy in the tender care and appreciation of hosts of friends, and this joy I realized to the fullest extent. The following year (1904) was darkened by the tragic death of my ward, and once more my home was broken up, and with Miss Gregory I went to live with my good friends Mr. and Mrs. Quilty, in North Norwood. From then on my life has flowed easily and pleasantly, marred only by the sadness of farewells of many old friends and comrades on my life's journey, who one by one have passed "through Nature to eternity."

Much as I have written during the past 40 years, it was reserved for my old age to discover within me the power of poetical expression. I had rhymed in my youth and translated French verse. but until I wrote my one sonnet, poetry had been an untried field. The one-sided pessimistic pictures that Australian poets and writers present are false in the impression they make on the outside world and on ourselves. They lead us to forget the beauty and the brightness of the world we live in. What we need is, as Matthew Arnold says of life, "to see Australia steadily and see it whole." It is not wise to allow the "deadbeat"--the remittance man, the gaunt shepherd with his starving flocks and herds, the free selector on an arid patch, the drink shanty where the rouseabouts and shearers knock down their cheques, the race meeting where high and low, rich and poor, are filled with the gambler's ill luck--fill the foreground of the picture of Australian life. These reflections led me to a protest, in the form of a sonnet published in The Register some years ago:--

When will some new Australian poet rise To all the height and glory of his theme? Nor on the sombre side for ever dream Our hare, baked plains, our pitiless blue skies, 'Neath which the haggard busbman strains his eyes To find some waterhole or hidden stream To save himself and flocks in want extreme! This is not all Australia! Let us prize Our grand inheritance! Had sunny Greece More light, more glow, more freedom, or more mirth? Ours are wide vistas bathed in purest air-- Youth's outdoor pleasures, Age's indoor peace-- Where could we find a fairer home on earth Which we ourselves are free to make more fair?

Just as years before my interest had been kindled in the establishment of our system of State education, and later in the University and higher education, so more recently has the inauguration of the Froebel system of kindergarten training appealed most strongly to my reason and judgment. There was a time in the history of education, long after the necessity for expert teaching in primary and secondary schools had been recognised, when the training of the infant mind was left to the least skilled assistant on the staff of a school. With the late Mr. J. A. Hartley, whose theory was that the earliest beginnings of education needed even greater skill in the teacher than the higher branches, I had long regarded the policy as mistaken; but modern educationists have changed all that, and the training of tiny mites of two or three summers and upwards is regarded as of equal importance with that of children of a larger growth. South Australia owes its free kindergarten to the personal initiative and private munificence of the Rev. Bertram Hawker, youngest son of the late Hon. G. C. Hawker. I had already met, and admired the kindergarten work of, Miss Newton when in Sydney, and was delighted when she accepted Mr. Hawker's invitation to inaugurate the system in Adelaide. Indeed, the time of her stay here during September, 1905, might well have been regarded as a special visitation of educational experts, for, in addition to Miss Newton, the directors of education from New South Wales and Victoria (Messrs. G. H. Knibbs and F. Tate) took part in the celebrations. Many interesting meetings led up to the formation of the Kindergarten Union. My niece, Mrs. J. P. Morice, was appointed hon. secretary, and I became one of the Vice-Presidents. On joining the union I was proud of the fact that I was the first member to pay a subscription. The free kindergarten has


AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 30/32

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