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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Bartlett

Weighty Topics and Good Diction​

In a society where few people had access to education beyond primary school, literary societies and institutes played a very significant role in the ongoing education of the community. Fine examples are seen in the activities of the Blackwood, Coromandel Valley and Belair Literary Society and the Eden Hills Mopokes.

Weighty topics (many of which remain controversial today) such as ‘Is lying necessarily immoral?’, 'Is it ever justifiable to take human life in the case of an incurable disease' and 'Do Australians go in too much for sport' were discussed and debated by members of the Literary Society and their unfortunately named Eden Hills counterparts, the Mopokes. (Unfortunate in that Mopokes is Australian slang for a stupid or dull person). The debates themselves, conducted in formal debating style, were far from dull.

The 1914 Blackwood Magazine praised the Mopoke meetings saying:

‘Much of the popularity which the Mopoke meetings enjoy is probably due to the freedom of expression, and the consequent liveliness, which has so far characterised them.’

(The Blackwood Magazine Jun p130)

Articles in the magazine reflect the debating involvement of various prominent locals, with writers often highlighting the foibles of the debaters and adjudicators.

Discussion on the controversial White Australia Policy was so lively that:

It was soon evident that many of the Mopokes viewed the subject through coloured spectacles, and the mental confusion arising from the discussion was such that at the close the chairman gravely announced that a certain Monday in April fell on a Wednesday.’ (The Blackwood Magazine Apr p82)

What will Blackwood be like 50 years hence?’ was addressed by the Literary Society at its July meeting.

‘Very interesting were the different methods of treating the subject, and boundless was the fertility of the varying imaginations. Some of [Mr Love’s] means of locomotion were positively inspired, but we do feel sorry for the timid man; surely life will be a very lurid nightmare to him. But perhaps nerves will be a thing of the past then'.

(The Blackwood Magazine Aug p175)

Well before headphones, texting and ipads became the common preoccupation of commuters, the 1914 travelers filled their time discussing community issues and debaters developed their arguments with unfortunate consequences on occasion.

'Mr R.H. Hewett was, unfortunately, unable to decipher his own writing. In justice to Mr Hewett, and knowing his calligraphy as we do, we think much of the blame may be laid to the bad light and the joltiness of the SAR [South Australian Railways] carriages wherein the paper was written.’

(The Blackwood Magazine Aug p175)

The 1914 'Blackwood Floral and Industrial Exhibition' prominently advertised elocutionary competitions as an element of the event, emphasising the value placed on delivery, diction and content.

Literary Society talks and debates were certainly a popular and lively form of community intellectual interaction at a time where people were not reliant on television or Facebook.

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