Alan Barcan (page 58), writes in Two Centuries of Education in New South Wales that "Middle class mothers (in the early days of the colony) frequently preferred to educate their children themselves". In fact Mrs Charlotte Barton was the author of the first book especially written for the domestic education of Australian children (and perhaps the first in the world)-A Mother's Qffering to Her Children published in Sydney in 1841. It contained 13 chapters of "true, instructive and moral stories, with an Australian reference and written in dialogue form."
While we have no numbers of homeschooled children for this time, we do know that Australia was one of the first countries in the English speaking world to introduce compulsory school attendance laws; the aim of which were "such instruction in secular and religious knowledge as is calculated to form a good citizen" (Charles Kemp the colony's leading Anglican layman (1844) in Barcan 1988). It isn't hard to understand the legislator's reasons in respect of our history. Australia was first a convict settlement, and then a rapidly developing country with a high proportion of pioneer immigrants, had many citizens who were illiterate, innumerate and considered of low moral character. Despite this "Caroline Chisholm estimated that in six years a new settler could rise to the position of a landowner." (1840s, Barcan p.51).
So it was in the spirit of massive social and control experiments that education systems -religious and state were introduced here. Barcan writes "The central problem with which all educational theories had to grapple was that of the proper role of the State..." (1988), reiterating homeschoolers' concerns today. Yet despite the introduction of Compulsory Attendance at School components in Education Acts across Australia, there remained the basic right, which could be found in NSW legislation until 1987 and is still in ACT and Victorian Education legislation, that parents educating were not governed by the Compulsory Attendance parts of Education Acts IF they could prove that their child/ren were receiving regular and efficient instruction at home. The usual defence to an accusation that this was not the case was brought before a district magistrate. The judgement, based on evidence from both parents and Education Deptartments could result in one of the following: dismissal, a small fine, the direction that the parent should improve educational standards or an order that the child be put in school. It is important to note that these were educational issues, under the Education Act, and not welfare issues. Interestingly the tendency to couple welfare and education is a relatively recent one, which the 1990s court cases concerning 'The Family' in NSW & Victoria proved unsustainable.
Part of the reason that education at home has been so well accepted in this country is due to the fact that many famous Australians have been educated at home, using distance education correspondence courses and School of the Air. Fortunately, Australian's generally tend to be proud of pioneering and determined spirits who don't let any obstacle deflect them from their purpose - including the remote education of their children. As a result more media coverage and community education about homeschooling has raised its profile.
The 1970s was the start of homeschooling in Australia. Its origins can be attributed to the philosophies of Ivan Illich and John Holt and a visit to Australia by John Holt sponsored by Victorians who then founded the Alternative Education Resource Group (AERG). Homeschooling in NSW owes its origins and strength to the support of this group and the organization founded by John Holt in the US called Growing Without Schooling (GWS). In 1982, Jo Anne Beirne and Anna Adams formed a support group in NSW, with many aims, including the introduction of families to the concept. The advent of the bimonthly magazine Australian Homeschool Journal (published for 8 years), the fight concerning NSW legislation and media work got the ball rolling and in conjunction & independently of this work many strong support networks were founded in all states. These form the nucleus for what has become a significant educational movement with parents now home educating approximately .01% of the school aged population in this country.
Authors: Jo Anne Beirne & Anna Adams