Britain declared war on behalf of Australia in 1914. Defence depended on the UK, with Australia providing troops and material. However even at this time Australia's left wing opposed the way on ideological grounds. Even so sufficient Australians volunteered for war, up until the time of Gallipoli. After Gallipoli a more systematic recruitment process, first by state governments and then by federal government was put in place. Repatriation schemes, such as medical benefits, were offered to induce volunteers. The ALP was divided over the issue of conscription, a new law being required for compulsory overseas service. To avoid the issue the ALP government conducted a "census" of the male workforce to collection information on who was willing to "volunteer". A later referendum for conscription was narrowly lost. However casualties by 1917 were such that a second referendum was held, but again lost.
Warring Australians: the battles overseas and at home, 1914-18
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World War I was more than fighting and killing. The majority of Australians stayed at home and it was the civilian population who underpinned the national war effort. Some domestic populations of World War I ultimately lost the will to fight and turned to revolution. But Australia did not, despite suffering casualties on a scale unimaginable today. The home fronts and battlefronts should be seen as in dialogue with each other. The referenda about conscription became so embittering and divisive because they were played out against the backdrop of terrible battles of attrition. In turn, the defeat of conscription in 1916 and 1917 conveyed ambiguous messages about home-front support to the men of the Australian Imperial Force. If the war had continued into 1919, would the Australian narrative have ended in the triumphalism of the Anzac legend but rather in retrenchment, decline — and even rebellion?
Professor Joan Beaumont is an internationally recognised historian of Australia in the two world wars, Australian defence and foreign policy, the history of prisoners of war and the memory and heritage of war. Her publications include Broken Nation: Australians and the Great War (Allen & Unwin, 2013); (with Matt Jordan), Australia and the World: A Festshrift for Nevlle Meaney (2013); Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, the Thai-Burma Railway, in Bart Ziino and M. Wegner (eds), The Heritage of War: Cultural Heritage after Conflict, Routledge , 2011, pp. 19-40; Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: The Making of Australian Foreign 1941-69 (ed.); Australia's War, 1939-45 (ed.) Australia's War, 1914-18 (ed.); Gull Force: Survival and Leadership in Captivity, 1941-1945; and Comrades in Arms: British Aid to Russia, 1941-45. She was general editor of vol. 6 of the definitive reference volume in the Australian Centenary History of Defence, Australian Defence: Sources and Statistics. In 2011-13 she led the research team that created the Department of Veterans' Affairs commemorative web site, Hellfire Pass.
Prior to joining the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre she was Dean of Arts and Social Sciences at ANU (2010-11) and Dean of Arts (& Education) at Deakin University Victoria (1998-2008).
She is a graduate of the University of Adelaide (BA Hons) and the University of London (King's College) (PhD), a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and President of the International Committee for the History of the Second World War.
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