A book launch at Trades Hall

Tonight I went to the Melbourne launch of the The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer.


And who should be there to launch it than Bill Shorten, the ALP Leader of the Opposition, with a very fine speech. He started by drawing some parallels between Billy Hughes in 1916 with the present day…a new Prime Minister, unable to take his party along with him, who changed his mind on a political stance that twelve months ago he had vehemently attacked and who foisted onto the people an expensive opinion poll in the form of a referendum.  Sound familiar?


While not at all disputing or undermining the recognition of the sacrifice at the front, he pointed out the international uniqueness of the referendum as a way of resolving the conscription question. In the setting of the oldest operating Trades Hall in the world, he noted that this was the geographic, political and emotional centre of the ‘no’ vote in  a debate that certainly did not exemplify the much-lauded ‘golden age of civility’. To the contrary, it was bitter, vindictive and spiteful and far worse than what passes for debate today.  It was really an excellent speech, (whether he wrote it himself or not) – I wish I’d taken notes- and it was very well-delivered. Excellent. [Update: here’s the speech]

He was followed by Robin Archer, one of the editors.  He emphasized that WWI was not, as has been promoted, a period of consensus.  Far from being ‘the birth of a nation’, there was already existing in Australia a precocious progressive environment. Nor was ‘mateship’ on the front a uniquely Australian phenomenon, even though the referendum was.

Then a couple of songs from the Trade Union choir, including Eric Bogle’s ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘I Didn’t Raise My Son to Be a Soldier’.

Out into the twilight we went, stopping to admire the replica banners that adorn Trades Hall at the moment.  There’s a picture here of Trades Hall in 1917 festooned with banners.

And here’s the 2017 version:

And you’ll just have to wait for my review of the book!

9 responses to “A book launch at Trades Hall

  1. Damn! I wish I’d been invited. Sounds fantastic. You’ve reminded me, too, that the last time I heard Eric Bogle’s “Waltzing Matilda” the penny dropped (after all these years that I’ve listened to it) that he mentions Suvla Bay as the place where they were “butchered like lambs at the slaughter”. I wonder if that was a slip of the composer’s pen, because it was the British who landed at Suvla, and the Australians at Anzac Cove? It might have been harder to rhyme Anzac Cove, perhaps.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Now that’s what I call a book launch!
    (Did you know that I used to volunteer at the New International Bookshop at Trades Hall? Love that building and all it stands for!)

    • No- I never knew that!LOL

      • I used to add a dozen books to my TBR each month so in the end I had to stop!
        *Smacks hand* No, that’s not really why I stopped. It was because they introduced a coffee machine (Borders started this nonsense in bookshops around about that time) and for the life of me I could not make a decent cappuccino and while I was trying to get it right, the anarchist students would sneak past me and steal the books. I wasn’t sacked, because you can’t sack a volunteer, but when they put me out the back sticking labels on the books I knew it was time to go.

  3. Hi Janine

    OK if we use one of your Trades Hall pics on the HH website tomorrow (with ack of course)? Doing a round-up of conscription stuff, including a par from your blog

    • Yes certainly. It’s a shame they’re not a better quality- I have a very humble and not-very-smart phone.

    • And I did make a clarifying change to the post in the second paragraph (ie. mention of Billy Hughes) if it’s the paragraph you used

  4. Thanks Janine. And I have an unsmart phone that used to belong to my late mother-in-law – and I can’t even work it!

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