Publication Date: Oct 2016
RRP: $29.95
ISBN: 9781925495393
Format: Paperback
Size: 153mm x 234mm
Pages: 220
Category: Military

The Conscription Conflict and the Great War

Edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer

Also available as an ebook from your favourite retailer.

The Conscription Conflict tells a forgotten story, it fills a void in Australian history. And – as the best writers of history do – the authors of this collection allow the protagonists to speak for themselves. The sound and fury of those times, the words that bounced off these very walls, still ring loudly in this book.’  Bill Shorten MP full launch speech

‘For Australians, a complete understanding of the Great War will only be gained by reading and thinking about the conscription debates, their outcomes and their meaning.’ Luke Foley MP full launch speech

‘an important work’ Ross Fitzgerald, The Weekend Australian

While the Great War raged, Australians were twice asked to vote on the question of military conscription for overseas service. The recourse to popular referendum on such an issue at such a time was without precedent anywhere in the world. The campaigns precipitated mass mobilisation, bitter argument, a split in the Labor Party, and the fall of a government. The defeat of the proposals was hailed by some as a victory of democracy over militarism, mourned by others as an expression of political disloyalty or a symptom of failed self-government.

But while the memory of the conscription campaigns once loomed large, it has increasingly been overshadowed by a preoccupation with the sacrifice and heroism of Australian soldiers – a preoccupation that has been reinforced during the centennial commemorations.

This volume redresses the balance. Across nine chapters, distinguished scholars consider the origins, unfolding, and consequences of the conscription campaigns, comparing local events with experiences in Britain, the United States, and other countries. A corrective to the ‘militarisation’ of Australian history, it is also a major new exploration of a unique and defining episode in Australia’s past.



‘The Most Interesting Experiment that has Ever Been Made in a Political Democracy’: Conscription and the Great War
by Robin Archer and Sean Scalmer

Part 1: Origins

1. ‘A Real Heritage of the English People’: British Liberalism and ‘Continental Despotism’
by Douglas Newton

2. Labour and Liberty: The Origins of the Conscription Referendum
by Robin Archer

Part 2: Campaigns and Results

3. Anti-Conscriptionism in Australia: Individuals, Organisations and Arguments
by Frank Bongiorno

4. Universities and Conscription: The ‘Yes’ Campaigns and the University of Melbourne
by Joy Damousi

5. The Results of the 1916 and 1917 Conscription Referendums Re-examined
by Murray Goot

Part 3: Comparisons

6. Why Was it Easier to Introduce and Implement Conscription in Some English-speaking Countries than in Others?
by John Connor

7. Conscription in the First World War: Britain and Australia
by Ross McKibbin

Part 4: Legacies

8. Legend and Lamentation: Remembering the Anti-Conscription Struggle
by Sean Scalmer

Notes on Contributors


Douglas Newton
Frank Bongiorno
John Connor
Ross McKibbin

Robin Archer

Robin Archer is Director of the postgraduate program in Political Sociology at the London School of Economics and Emeritus Fellow in Politics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. His works include Economic Democracy and Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States?
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Joy Damousi

Joy Damousi is Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. Her works include The Labour of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia, Freud in the Antipodes and Colonial Voices: A Cultural History of English in Australia 1840-1940.
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Murray Goot

Murray Goot is Professor of Politics at Macquarie University and a former President of the Australasian Political Studies Association. His works include Australian Opinion Polls, Divided Nation? (co-authored with Tim Rowse) and numerous scholarly articles on elections, referendums and public opinion.
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Sean Scalmer

Sean Scalmer teaches History at the University of Melbourne. His books include Dissent Events, The Little History of Australian Unionism and Gandhi in the West. He is a co-editor of the journal Moving the Social.
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