Matt Busby Andrews describes the early eugenics movement – and Daniel Matthews’ rejection of it.
Daniel Matthews had a very high view of Indigenous people, and it never crossed his mind that they were any more or less than any whitefella. Where you do see some Christians having a low view of Indigenous people was, painfully enough, in the late 19th, early 20th century. And this really comes down to an intellectual movement that actually my forebears were involved in, the Piddington family, and that’s called the eugenics movement.
Eugenics was – people really don’t realise – but it was the progressive view for how to improve humanity over time. At the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, eugenics meant “Let’s be deliberate about allowing certain people to procreate with certain other people so we improve the species, just like you do with livestock.” And in the minds of some policy people, like A. O. Neville of Western Australia, that became quite a complicated program where you would allow black people to intermarry with some black people but not with coloured people or the half-castes as they were called, and then some half-castes were allowed to intermarry with some white people because you were going to breed the blackness out.
This was highly scientific, pervasively well-respected, and it controlled almost all policy-making, including the imagination of the church. Daniel Matthews was different because he never was a part of the church system. He never was in a denominational organisation. He really was a low evangelical who loved reading his Bible and was simply going to organise his own ministry, raise his own money, and he wasn’t going to be accountable to any soft bishop.