Peace in Australia: From Federation to the Aftermath of War


So there I was at a packed Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church on Monday night for the second forum presented by the ANZAC Centenary Peace Coalition.  Chaired by the Quakers, the night started with Joy Damousi who reminded us of the progressive social policies  by which Australia defined herself at Federation: progressive social policy,  female suffrage, the eight hour day, the basic wage, pensions.  However, from 1907 onwards there was an increasing militarism, with compulsory military training for males between 12 -25 years of age from 1911. Both conscription and the peace movement existed prior to World War I.

The speakers were separated by a musical interlude by Morgan Phillips and his guitar accompanist.   At this point they gave a rendition of that 1915 hit, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier”

Val Noone was next, speaking about the Australian Peace Movement between 1914-18. He did this through seven snapshots of activists including Mark Feinberg from the International Workers of the World (IWW), Margaret Thorp the Quaker leader of the Womens Peace Army, Archbishop Daniel Mannix and a number of conscientious objectors.  He noted that over time there was a change in attitude amongst the population at large, with a higher proportion voting against conscription in the second referendum.

The musical interlude to close off Val’s presentation was a song about the Christmas Truce in 1914.  I’m not sure if this is the song that was sung, but it’s quite beautiful nonetheless:

Finally Bruce Scates, leader of the One Hundred Stories project,  gave an emotional account of the True Cost of War, based on the repatriation records of WW I soldiers which have been digitized by the National Archives.  What a rich historical resource they are- it’s amazing to think that they were slated for destruction, but fortunately saved.  Monash University will be conducting a free online course commencing 13 April 2015 based on these  archives to “forever change the way you see the Great War”. Have a look at Monash University’s One Hundred Stories site. You can sign up there for the course, or just spend some time looking at the stories which are presented as silent slides.  He spoke of Frank Wilkinson (Story 11).  For Frank, the war didn’t end on 11 November 1918.

His presentation was closed with “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.

The night ended with a very Quaker-ish minute of silence.  A fitting end.

2 responses to “Peace in Australia: From Federation to the Aftermath of War

  1. When I was still teaching, my Anzac Day activity was always Peace Studies: I would read stories about people in conflict who resolved their differences without conflict, or about pyrrhic victories like the story of the two brothers who destroyed each other’s castles out of jealousy. I find this whole business of defining ourselves through Anzac terribly sad and surely not at all what those soldiers would have wanted.

  2. artandarchitecturemainly

    Perfect timing! Due to the “War Pictures: Australians at the Cinema 1914-1918” exhibition on in Melbourne just now, I was interested in whether World War One cinema represented propaganda or reality to ordinary Australian citizens.

    You mentioned that over time there was a change in attitude amongst the population at large, with a higher proportion voting against conscription in the second referendum. Perhaps that change in attitude was exactly when censorship was becoming tougher and propaganda more vigorous.

    thanks for the link

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