Saturday, October 29, 2016
Poster Saturday. The Australian Referendum
This poster relates to the October 28, 1916, non binding referendum on whether Australia should introduce conscription. The "no" vote narrowly prevailed and Australia did not enact conscription during World War One.
Given the popular image of Australia in both wars, it would be a surprise to learn that there was always a strong working class element in Australian politics that were less than keen on the wars and Australian manhood did not volunteer for the wars uniformly. By 1916 Australian enthusiasm for the war was falling off and sufficient volunteers were not coming in. This does not take away from the valiant effort of the Australian soldiers during the war, but the concept that all Australians share in their heroism is just flat out a myth.
And so it was during World War Two as well. During the Second World War soldiers severing overseas were volunteers for much of the war. Quite a few mustered Australians were at first liable only for service at home, and only late in the war did that change. At least some of the conscripted units were rather poor in combat due to the poor attitudes of the troops in them. Australian dock workers were so left leaning that the U.S. Navy found them unreliable and had to rely on its own manpower for longshoremen duties for part of the war.
Again, this isn't to suggest that Australia didn't fight valiantly in both World Wars, but rather to note that Australian internal politics have always been sharply divided between the left and the right with the parties on the left generally not keen on overseas involvement. Social factors, such as retained Irish nationalism in some quarters, played into things as well.