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Marrying Out

A two part radio documentary about couples who crossed the bitter religious/political divide in Australia - Irish was perceived as Catholic, English or Scottish as Protestant.

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4.2/5 (22 ratings)

Marrying Out

Marrying Out - Austrailian Family Fatwa's

The cause: religion. The place: Australia. The time: until the 1960s.

This two-part documentary is about passion and prejudice, family feuds and entrenched discrimination. The documentaries feature couples who married across a bitter religious/political divide in Australia that harks back to its establishment as a British colony in 1788. It became entrenched after the Great Famine and the divided loyalties of the First World War; though now glossed over, its legacy shaped today’s multicultural Australia.

Until European migrants arrived en masse after World War Two, non-indigenous Australia largely consisted of British and Irish, in a ratio of roughly 3:1. People grew up in separate communities, with a virtual social apartheid in parts of Australia to the 1970s. Religion became code for identity: Irish was perceived as Catholic, English or Scottish as Protestant. To marry across these lines was to consort with the enemy, for many families.

Part 1 – Marrying Out - Not in Front of the Altar (The Spouses)
In pre-multicultural Australia, marrying across the Protestant/ Catholic Divide was consorting wth the enemy for many families. Mixed- religion couples describe being estranged, disinherited and vilified in a society where a quarter of the population (Catholics) was barred from applying for some private sector jobs and Freemasons and Catholics jostled for control of the public sector. The Catholic Church showed its disapproval of the 'impediment of mixed marriage' by relegating such ceremonies to a cheerless setting away from the main altar, out of sight of family and friends. Yet from the 1890s to the 1960s, one in five Australian weddings was a mixed marriage.

Part 2 - Marrying Out - Between Two Worlds (The Children)
Children raised in a mixed marriage had to negotiate a delicate balancing act. Until 1966, the Catholic Church required both parties to pledge in writing that all children would be raised Catholic. Some compromised by raising the boys Protestant and the girls Catholic. Some Protestant parents refused to comply; others were assiduous in nurturing their children's Catholic faith, even after the death of the Catholic parent. Some children were secretly baptised and raised in one parent's faith unbeknownst to the other - eventually a source of enormous family conflict. In a society polarised between the two main religions, children of mixed marriages were torn by divided loyalties.


MARRYING OUT uses original music, archival sound, dramatisations and contemporary religious music to amplify powerful real life stories, gathered over two years by Irish-born Siobhan McHugh. Sectarianism is a forgotten subject in modern Australia, which prides itself on being the second most multicultural nation on earth (after Israel). Today, attention is focused on racism towards Indians or Lebanese Muslims in Australia. Yet the wounds of earlier racial and religious prejudice are still so raw that some people interviewed were so mindful of family backlash that they could not use their full name. Children grew up as ‘spiritual half-breeds’, trying to reconcile opposing identities. In Sydney you could instantly tell who was who: Catholics wore brown shoes and the ‘publics’ wore black. Fealty, not faith, was at issue – to Empire and establishment or to an Australia free of its colonial past.

Producer Siobhan McHugh brings a rueful touch to the narration, as she discloses her own ambiguous identity. A ‘refugee from the Catholic Church in Ireland’, she left in 1985 to escape the undue influence of the religious establishment, but finds that in Australia, being Irish and Catholic are perceived as one and the same thing. Behind the stories of bigotry and bile, she discovers institutional discrimination, social injustice and searing family fatwas. But there is also love, compassion and optimism, as some couples come to mutual accommodations, paving the way for a more inclusive society.

First broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on the 2nd & 3rd of April 2010.

Marrying Out was first broadcast on ABC National Radio in Australia as part of the Hindsight series


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