Sex education, Chinese Anzacs … and more

Media release: Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Sex education, Chinese Anzacs, Advance Australia Fair and CWA activism are some of the new topics on show in the National Archives' Memory of a Nation exhibition.

'Every year we refresh this permanent exhibition, replacing some exhibits to ensure their ongoing preservation,' said researcher Emily Catt who has been delving into the Archives' collection.

'It's interesting to see how times have changed, especially when it comes to topics such as sex education.'

In the early part of the 20th century, attitudes towards sex education revolved around preserving the innocence of children. Despite concerns about venereal disease (VD) during and after World War I, most still viewed sex education in schools as too explicit.

During World War II, while there were ongoing concerns that VD would limit population growth, the Department of Health maintained that sex education in schools was inappropriate – an attitude that survived until the 1970s.

However independent organisations often held community lectures, with both men and women of all ages encouraged to attend.

'The exhibition now includes a pamphlet advertising Dr Philpots' “Intimate Lectures” from 1943 and posters warning of the dangers of venereal disease, as well as correspondence from the Department of Health,' said Ms Catt.

During World War I, five boys from the Sam family enlisted. With a white Australian mother and a Chinese father, they were seen as 'sufficiently European' to serve overseas with the AIF. At the same time, their young brother Percy and father William needed to travel to China and came up against the White Australia policy.

Before they could travel, their Chinese heritage meant they had to apply for a Certificate of Exemption from the notorious dictation test to ensure they could return to Australia – Percy's birthplace.

Other new exhibits show the 11-year journey for Advance Australia Fair to replace God Save the Queen as the country's national anthem and a fresh look at the Country Women's Association (CWA).

'While the CWA is well known for its cookbooks, its political work is less recognised,' said Ms Catt. 'We've exhibited a letter from the CWA of Queensland to Prime Minister John Curtin in 1944 expressing the association's interest in post-war reconstruction, in particular the settlement of refugees.'

The National Archives' free exhibitions are open from 9am to 5pm each day, and to 7pm each Tuesday.

For interview: Researcher Emily Catt

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0417 247 157 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au

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Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017