In September 1915, a deputation representing the Lutheran schools of South Australia was introduced by Sir Richard Butler to Premier Crawford Vaughan. It presented him with many of the Church’s objections to the proposed legislation. According to Pastor C.F. Graebner of Unley, Lutheran schools would become just state schools if the government was going to take control and prescribe curriculum, books and teachers. Pastor L. Kaibel, originally of the Willowie Bethlehem Church from 1883-1891 but now of Tanunda, thought that the bill had been drafted in ignorance of their peculiar wants. Professor G. Koch of Adelaide said that the Lutheran Church contributed largely to the rest and quiet and would not hesitate to excommunicate any of its members who acted in a detrimental manner. Previously Koch had told the Premier that Lutherans had always been loyal and suggested that if any German was disloyal he should be punished - Not all Germans.
During further debate on the Education bill, it was stated that the Lutherans should not be allowed to teach German at present. Verran left no doubt about his opinion, he would close down every Lutheran school in the State. ‘I have no time for these whitewashed sepulchres who take out naturalisation papers and then are disloyal to the land in which they live, and remain Germans. Therefore I am prepared to try and insert a clause to close up all German schools’ he said. A letter read by Ephraim Henry Coombe, from the Lutheran Committee argued that Lutheran schools were not connected with German propaganda and did not teach disloyalty. Instead they taught true loyalty to His Majesty, the King of England. No proof of disloyalty was ever offered or tabled in parliament. It was only hearsay or from ‘unavailable reports’.
It was further explained that Lutheran schools were church schools in the same way as Anglican and Catholic schools. It also made the point that Lutheran schools had for decades been teaching secular subjects in the English language for three and a half hours a day. The next day, it was also pointed out that Lutheran schools existed largely to train their scholars for confirmation in the Lutheran Church and should therefore not be called German schools. At the same time it was stressed that the Lutheran Church was not a German propaganda association either, and that many Lutheran services, such as in Flinders Street, Hahndorf, Gawler, Kapunda, Murray Bridge and other places, were already conducted in English.
When the bill was again discussed Archibald Henry Peake, tried to find a way out and please everyone. As a result of his alleged sympathy for Germans, he had lost his Premiership and seat in the March 1915 election. It was said that if he had closed the Lutheran schools, eliminated German from the curriculum and shut up the German clubs, he would still be in office. This time he proposed that the House agree ‘to the German schools having full opportunity of teaching their religion, but that those taught in the schools shall be taught in the English language only. Verran saw no need for Lutheran schools to exit at all in South Australia. ‘What goes on in the Lutheran churches but the teaching of sedition’, he asked. Peake again showed more understanding of the situation, when he explained that even if Verran was successful in closing all the German Schools, he would ‘not shut up the teaching of the German language’. When becoming Premier again in 1917, Peake once more showed his moderation when he helped to block attempts to disfranchise South Australians of German background.
Thomas Ryan, member for Sturt, reminded members that, with respect to Lutheran schools, we must remember that the spirit of the age will outlive the spirit of the day. The spirit of the day, he said, puts us at enmity with a group of people whom only very recently were considered almost a very part of us. Now, through no fault of their own, we must view them with disfavour because they bear the names and have the blood of a race with which we are at war. Ryan went on to say that we must remember that these people have lived with us and have added to our wealth and progress. According to Thomas Hyland Smeaton, the other member for Sturt, ‘they were only stirring up strife which we shall yet regret’. It would take many years before these prophecies were admitted.
When the Education bill of 1915 was finally passed into law on 23 December 1915, Lutheran schools escaped closure for the time being, but section 53 stated that ‘for at least four hours during each day... instruction... is given through the medium of the English language’. It further stated that any time spent in teaching German could not be counted as time during which instruction was given through the medium of the English language. Anyone failing to comply with these regulations would be liable to a penalty not exceeding fifty Pounds.
This was most certainly not the end of the matter. The dislike and real hatred began to show more and more as the war went on. On 5 January 1916 Verran, referring to the Germans among them as ‘adders - which were now biting’, proposed that every ‘Naturalised German ought to be put out of the Civil Service’. One wonders if that included the sons of the Naturalised Germans fighting the Kaiser on the Western front. Verran also attacked the appointment of S. C. Noack, as inspector of Education, ‘over the heads of real life British Subjects’. With the applause of many of his parliamentary colleagues still ringing in his ears he went on to say that ‘There are Britishers whose intelligence and power to deal with the educational system is equal to that of any German's, and there is no German literature, no German poetry, or science that have ever held a place with the literature, poetry, or science of the British nation’.
Two days later Verran gave another example how his dislike of anything German had influenced his reasoning. He stated that the best and most successful way to get more army recruits was to close all the German schools and remove all Germans from government positions. Later Verran also showed his lack of general knowledge and geography when referring to the Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission he said; 'There is a Teuton mission on the Overland Telegraph line, and those men could intercept messages from England'. (Hermannsburg was about 130 kilometres from the line.)
That same month, with the opening of schools in mind, newspapers reminded their readers of the new provisions of the Education Act. Apart from many of the new regulations, such as the extension of the compulsory age, many made certain that readers were aware that instruction was to be given in English only. Suggestions were also made in the Adelaide newspapers that all telephone conversations should be in English-not in German. Apparently, in the Barossa Valley, half the telephone calls were still made in German.
Not everyone held similar views though. That same newspaper also printed a letter from a ‘true-born Briton’ pointing out that ‘our German colonists of sixty-five years could not be blamed for the action of the Mad Kaiser’. In another letter to the editor it was stated that ‘no South Australian worthy of the name will question the loyalty of our German brethren’. Unfortunately many more South Australians were of a different opinion. Letters supporting a better deal for the German-Australians were few and far between. Some weeks later a disgruntled reader was complaining through the same column about the fact that the government was still supporting German schools. It was not for much longer though. Slowly but surely the government was buckling under the pressure from within and outside parliament.
In March 1916, the Victorian Director of Education, Frank Tate, declared that the Council of Education of Victoria had recommended that all German schools be closed in that state. This was welcome news to those in South Australia who wanted similar action taken. However, those who were not yet convinced pointed out that if this was going to be the case in South Australia as well, then it needed to be made clear that it would result in the overcrowding of state schools. This problem was even more highlighted by the fact that so many of the state school teachers had enlisted. Why then should they compound the problem? Not many people would buy into this argument. By that time opposition to Lutheran schools was widespread and many people wanted them closed regardless of the possible problems. In parliament members were also outspoken on the issue and several stated that ‘They should not be allowed to teach anything but English’.
Objection to the Lutheran schools also came from an unexpected, but very influential quarter. The editor of Church of England newspaper, The Willochran, stated in a leading article ‘We must not shut our eyes to the fact that the present war is a religious war to the Germans even more than to ourselves’. In September 1916 Verran introduced the German Schools Discontinuation bill. Although read for the first time on 13 September it lapsed as a result of the intervening Conscription debate and referendum.
Slowly but surely, the South Australian parliamentarians and the government became convinced that more drastic action in regard to the Lutheran schools was needed. By the end of 1916 the government, which had through the Education Act of 1915, allowed the teaching of the German language for a very short period of the day, was now seeking to abolish this privilege altogether. This time the Premier also sought to close the German schools forthwith. It was stated that reports from Inspectors had found that while in some cases the Education Act was being complied with, it was quite clear that there was a very strong Teutonic flavour to the curriculum in other cases. It was only fair and right, he said, that the government should insist upon the children of German settlers being taught in English. The State had a right to safeguard the interest of the child. This point was supported by Wilson, who said that children born under a British flag should not be instructed by German Pastors, who were the emissaries of sedition and rebellion.
When the Education Act Amendment Act (no 1268 of 1916) was introduced in the House of Assembly by Treasurer Vaughan on 31 October 1916, it was meant to ensure that all teaching in primary schools would be through the medium of the English language. The teaching of the German language would be absolutely prohibited. It was not enough as far he Verran was concerned. He submitted an amendment for the closure of all German schools. The Legislative Council sought to give the German community a period of six months before this became effective. Frederick Samuel Wallis objected to the closure on the grounds that Lutheran schools were schools of a denominational character, and had as much right to exist as Roman Catholic schools. He, and Edward Lucas, were quite willing to prevent the teaching of the German language, but not to abolish the Lutheran schools. The House of Assembly though, would not hear of it. It wanted all German schools closed at once.
On several occasions during the debate, it had been stressed that if all German schools were closed, there would not be enough English teachers to open new schools and children would go without education. As early as February 1916, the Education Department was quoted as having stated that it would probably be bankrupt in the matter of teachers, as since the outbreak of the war more than hundred male teachers had enlisted. When several country state schools later had to close, as a result of low enrolment or lack of teachers, parents refused to have their children educated at the local Lutheran school. They rather had their children travel to a nearby state school or just kept them home.
As the debate moved into a second week, some members thought it was panic legislation, and German schools should only be closed if teachers said, or did, anything detrimental to the Empire, others maintained that it was the duty of parliament to close the schools at once. Butler, in support of Verran stated, ‘German-Australians had told him that they desired to see the schools closed, because they regarded them as being largely responsible for much of the ill-feeling that was being expressed’. According to Wilson, German schools were responsible for the spread of a spirit of sympathy with Germany, which should not be encouraged. Many other accusations of this kind were made inside and outside parliament during the often very lengthy, and heated, discussions on the bill.
When the bill, which had been rushed through parliament, was assented to on 16 November, The Education Act Amendment Act, 1916, repealed section 53 from the 1915 Act. Instead it now stated that teaching should be through the medium of the English language only. Additionally it ruled that ‘If any Head teacher, or any teacher in any school, gives any instruction through the medium of any language other than the English language, such Head teacher or teacher and every proprietor of such school shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding fifty Pounds’. The Amendment Act gave the minister the power to close any school offending against the instruction not to teach German.
The most objectionable part of the legislation, for the German-Australians, was Section 5 of the new act. This stated that after the expiration of six months from the passing of the act, but no later than the thirty-first day of December 1917, all the Lutheran primary schools would be closed. Section 6 stated that teaching in any of the closed schools would incur a fine of one hundred Pounds or six month's gaol. William Janzow, Chairman of the Committee of Lutheran Presidents and C.F. Graebner, Chairman of the School Committee presented parliament with a document setting out fifteen very good reasons why the Amendment should not become law. They argued that it was a most undemocratic law and really religious persecution. When the forty-nine Lutheran schools were finally closed on 30 June 1917, only the Koonibba Mission School and the Immanuel and Concordia Colleges were allowed to remain open. The closure of the Lutheran schools brought many hardships, affecting some 1600 students and resulted in unemployment for most of its Australian born and trained teachers.
The Australische Zeitung, loyal to the British Crown as always, was also forced to close its newspaper publication in 1917. A further insult to the German community and South Australia's heritage occurred when almost all German placenames were obliterated from the map. In their haste, ignorance or both, the parliamentarians and their advisers forgot names such as Sedan or even Adelaide. To safe face, some of the members of parliament pointed out that if inspection of Lutheran schools by state officials had been allowed, closure could have been avoided, as indeed it was.