‘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