Memories from the past: Goulburn schools strike and the impact on Catholic school funding

27 Sep 2021

Above: The Canberra Times, 17 July 1962. Source: National Museum Australia.

During the period of the 1860s to 1880s, Public Instruction Acts were introduced by governments across the colonies offering free, secular and compulsory education. This meant government funding was no longer available to Catholic schools which had to be run solely with the support of the clergy, local parish communities and families.

By the 1950s and early 1960s, due to post-war population growth, many Catholic schools were experiencing significant increases in student enrolments that exceeded their capacity and resources. There was a lack of quality facilities in many schools, and as many as 70 students in a class.

The situation came to a tipping point in 1962 when the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn was financially unable to comply with government directions to improve the facilities in its schools. Under new school regulations, a Goulburn Catholic primary school, St Brigid’s, was required to build additional toilet
blocks to accommodate the large student population, which the parish advised they could not afford.

The school closed its doors to students in protest and on 13 July 1962 the Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra Goulburn John Cullinane authorised the closure of all local Catholic primary and secondary schools for six weeks until the conclusion of the term. The 2,000 Goulburn Catholic school students were instructed to attend their local government schools for enrolment on 16 July, in protest over the lack of state government funding.

The government schools were unable to accommodate the additional students and the strike generated national attention and debate.

The ‘Goulburn Strike’ only lasted one week, but it inspired a renewed campaign by Catholic families to advocate to the government for funding. The school strike was seen as the catalyst for the re-establishment of government funding to non government schools in Australia.

Then Prime Minister Robert Menzies committed to funding non government schools through some ‘state-aid’, initially offering federally funded science blocks to all schools. In 1968 government funding was secured for Catholic schools for $12 – $18 per student. In the Pastoral Letter from Bishops of Australia, 200 Years Young, the Goulburn school strike was noted as correcting an historic injustice towards Catholic families in Australia.

“It allowed for Catholic schools to aspire to first-rate facilities, teacher training, pedagogies and curricula for all students” (p 4).

Today, students in non-government schools receive up to 80 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard of $12,099 per primary student and $15,204 per secondary student, depending on the rate of the Capacity to Contribute level of families at the school.

Even with greater government support, Catholic families continue to contribute through school fees and building levies to maintain and build new schools.

National Catholic Education executive director Jacinta Collins said today we are blessed to have greater government support and our families continue to contribute to ensure we can make a Catholic education accessible to families.

“There are 1,755 Catholic schools, educating over 777,000 students in every major town and city, and in many regional, rural and remote parts of Australia,” Jacinta said.

“We acknowledge the contribution of the Catholic community, particularly our parents, who have contributed to their children’s education through school fees and fundraising.”

Trinity Catholic College, Goulburn principal Gaye McManus said the amazing campus facilities they have today have been provided through the generosity and hard work of generations of families associated with previous Catholic schools of Goulburn and its region.

“The school strike of 1962, built on this foundation, and through the courage and foresight of education and community leaders at the time, helped state and commonwealth governments become part of the great Australian story of Catholic education through the provision of funding,” Gaye said.

“Trinity Catholic College has as one of its student houses, Keating House, named in honour of Dr Brian Keating, the organiser of the Goulburn strike. His servant leadership and love of community continues to be a focus for students in 2021 encouraging them to look beyond themselves.

“The toilet block at the centre of the Goulburn strike still stands today in the St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral precinct and just nine years ago, through government funding, another new toilet block was built on the Trinity campus,” she said.

The Goulburn Catholic School Strike of 1962. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

Today funding for all schools in all sectors is calculated using the same needs-based measure, The Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) benchmark. In 2021, the SRS benchmark for a primary student is $12,099, and a secondary student is $15,204, with additional funding attracted for disadvantaged students

$12,099 – Primary student

$15,204 – Secondary student

In non-government schools a school’s public funding entitlement is calculated using the Direct Measure of Income. The SRS base funding is reduced by the Capacity to Contribute which is based on the actual financial data of parents/ guardians of the students at a school.

For more information visit

Goulburn Post, 2012, “A ‘strike’ changed it all”, accessed July 2021.

Cullinane, Bishop J N. Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Goulburn School “Strike” the inside story, accessed July 2021.

Henderson G, Sydney Morning Herald, Post, 2012, “The lessons of Goulburn resonate in schools 50 years later”, accessed July 2021.

Macdonald, E. The Canberra Times, “The genesis of state aid”, accessed July 2021.

National Library of Australia, “Australia’s Defining Moments: Digital Classroom”, accessed July 2021.

Sydney Catholic Schools, Our History, accessed July 2021.

Warhurst, J. Eureka Street, “50 years since Australia’s ‘most poisonous debate'”, accessed July 2021.


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