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"A Model Among Towns?": A study of progressivism in Launceston during the interwar period.

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Mallett, RA (2011) "A Model Among Towns?": A study of progressivism in Launceston during the interwar period. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

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.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: progressivism, reform, municipalisaton, ideas, Launceston, transnational, social justice
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Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2011 22:35
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 01:06
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