The emergence of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross lay in the discrimination, prejudice and sectarianism confronting Catholics in Australia, in the early years of the 20th century. Religious bigotry was so strong that young Catholic men and women were finding it impossible to gain employment. Newspaper advertisements openly stated "No Catholic need apply". Application forms for many jobs contained the question, "Where were you educated?"
In 1921, a Brisbane Optometrist, John S. Guilfoy, was asked to explore the feasibility in establishing a Branch of the Order in Queensland. Earlier that year, Guilfoy was admitted to the New South Wales Branch of the Order.
On 29 October 1921, 22 Catholic men were admitted to the Order at a ceremony held at St Stephen's School in Brisbane, near the Cathedral. The School became the venue for the Order's early meetings. These men became the foundation members of the Order in Queensland. After the ceremony, the audience was addressed by two of the founders of the Order in New South Wales: Joseph Lynch and Patrick Minahan.
In 1925, a floor of the Federal Deposit Bank in Queen Street was leased for £550 per year on a three year lease agreement. The next move was in 1928, to The Age Hall, subsequently referred to as "The Catholic Leader" building in Ann Street. During this time, endeavours were made to locate suitable premises for purchase.
The building known as Pan Australian House at 120 Charlotte Street was erected in 1888 by Adolf and Marcus Hertzberg. It was purchased by the Order from the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society, who held a mortgage on the premises.
By 1930, the pattern of development had been set, and 30 branches had been established throughout the State, ranging from Coolangatta to Cairns, and westward to Winton and Charleville. Prominent in the concerns of members were the effects of the economic environment and the struggle to secure employment for those displaced by the mounting economic crisis. During these days, the identity of the Order in Queensland was established. Its efforts were directed mainly at preserving the heritage of the Catholic faith, and protecting Catholics from the worst effects of unfair discrimination.
The State Government in the 1920s changed the policy of awarding State Scholarships to all students who gained more than 50% at an annual examination, and it reduced drastically the number of scholarships available. The allowance for scholarship holders formed a good portion of the income of Catholic schools, and consequently the financial position in Catholic schools deteriorated, as did the opportunity for Catholic students. During the 1930s, these scholarships were subsequently restored by successive State Governments.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 brought wider concerns to the community. The first month of the war saw cooperation with the bishops in the formation of a Catholic Patriotic welfare Organisation which grew in financial contributions. The war years brought about a curtailment of Order activity, particularly in North Queensland which became virtually a militarized zone. The great work of re-organisation and expansion got under way again in 1945 as individuals settled down to life in post-war Australia.
The 1960s saw the Order withdrew as a body from active engagement in State Aid advocacy. The Order's State Council, after much preparation and consultation with Church Authority, procured the establishment of the Federation of the Parents and Friends Association (Queensland) which had begun earlier in Western Australia during the 1950s. The Order handed over the control and guidance to a Council nominated by the Order's State Council and approved by His Grace, Archbishop James Duhig. While the Order's presence in the area faded, members continued with a strong individual presence and energy in the march towards State Aid for denominational schools.
During the 1950s, the Youth Welfare Committee of the Order began Careers Information Nights for boys at two of Brisbane's Christian Brothers Colleges. Vocational speakers provided information covering their profession or trade. Copies of the talks were sent to all Branches in the State for use in local activities. This service eventually opened to all students in Catholic Schools and continued for another forty years until replaced by the Course Expos.
Through its various service activities, the Order in Queensland contributed enormously to the wider community during the ensuing decades.
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