University of Tasmania
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\A model among towns?\": A study of progressivism in Launceston during the interwar period"

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posted on 2023-05-26, 03:29 authored by Mallett, RA
Progressivism is a term describing an array of secular, transnational reform coalitions which emphasized government interventionism and reliance on expertise, when attempting to solve the largely urban problems presented by industrialisation. Progressivism emerged during the economic unrest of the last decade of the nineteenth century, reaching its peak by the end of the First World War and subsequently enjoying resurgence as a result of the sustained effects of the Great Depression during the mid-1930s. Following the armistice, popular attention across Australia began to turn away from a necessary focus on the demands of the war towards a determined consideration of the problems presented by the need for reconstruction and the continuing improvement of society. By 1919, thanks to highly innovative successive local governments, Launceston specifically had become remarkably well appointed for an Australian, regional city. However, like all urban population centres of the period, it still experienced the typical problems of the industrialised world: a sizable and permanent under-class that lived with entrenched poverty, long-term unemployment, insufficient educational opportunities and high rates of both preventable diseases and infant mortality. In Launceston during this period, Progressives emerged who were convinced that improving the urban environment was the key to resolving these issues. Many of their 'scientific' approaches to the new challenges of the industrial age had only just begun to filter into the collective consciousness of Launceston's middle classes. Although diverse in nature, Launceston Progressives during the interwar period shared a common belief that by reshaping the lower orders in their own image, they alone could rescue them from ignorance, poverty and disease. By utilising a variety of approaches and under their guidance, resident Progressives hoped that Launceston would then truly become what C. E. W. Bean insisted was a noble and achievable goal: 'a model among towns'. Municipalisation characterised the first stage of Progressivism in the city. During the interwar period, the Progressive charge was led by the professional elite of the city. Later, a coalition of businessmen sharing a decided ethic of civic engagement and altruism, helped to sustain and develop the local movement. The Great Depression at least created a suitable environment for an upsurge in Progressive resolve and activity, just as it did on the international stage. The thesis positions the Launceston experience of Progressivism within the context of the international historiography on the issue. Through the utilisation of local government records and contemporary newspapers, the course of Progressivism in Launceston is then found to mirror the evolution and fate of the wider, transnational movement. The Launceston experience of Progressivism then is confirmation of the pervasive global scope of several core convictions shared by Progressives. This thesis utilises a thematic approach, wherein each of the four key aspects of Progressivism as they manifested themselves in Launceston during the interwar period are separately analysed. Launceston Progressives began to turn to the new 'scientific' methodologies of both the traditional and the emerging professions for solutions. Town planning and sustained infrastructure developments were fundamental elements of the Progressive approach. The new bureaucratic orientation would ensure that the city could operate more efficiently. Increasing levels of social justice within the city also became an achievable goal. Specifically, Progressives concentrated on improving general access to professional services and education programs aimed at improving health outcomes. These coalitions were to be driven by a new, heightened sense of civic altruism. As a consequence, new Progressive coalitions began to form and actively seek the reorganisation of society at all levels. Launceston was, truly, a genuine example of Progressivism on the periphery.


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