Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (15): Final thunderous appeals, pro and con, on the eve of the conscription plebiscite

‘Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (15): Final thunderous appeals, pro and con, on the eve of the conscription plebiscite 100 years ago’, Honest History, 27 October 2016

The Divided Sunburnt Country series


Prime Minister Hughes’s final appeal appeared in the Melbourne Argus of 27 October and, certainly, in many other papers also:

You will decide on Saturday the greatest issue ever put before a free people [Hughes began]. From out the fog of lies with which the opponents of the Government deliberately sought to obscure it the great issue shines out clear and distinct. We are part of the British Empire … If the Empire falls we fall with it. The Empire is fighting for its life. Britain has asked us to do our share. The question is: Are you going to do it?

He appealed to the Anzac tradition, barely a year old but going strong, and to more primal motivations: ‘Is Australia going to prove true to herself, to the traditions of our race, to the men of Anzac, or stand out before the world as degenerates and unworthy?’

Germany had not been beaten, the voluntary system had failed, there was no threat of industrial conscription, no need to keep men at home to defend White Australia.

If we turn tail, and, like cravens, desert the Empire to whom we owe everything, abandon the Allies who have suffered such awful losses and made great sacrifices, but who still fight gallantly on – if we refuse to reinforce the heroic Anzacs, then, indeed, will fall upon us the doom we deserve. Before the tribunal of the nations we shall stand condemned.

Fellow-citizens, be true to yourselves, to Australia, to the Empire, and vote Yes.

hughes15-16WM Hughes (Wikipedia)


Writing in the Australian Worker of 26 October, Jennie Scott Griffiths said this:

1. ‘Conscription is objectionable, but necessary,’ say the yellers for militarism in Australia. Conscription is not only objectionable, it is suicidal. Where the most virile of the population is rendered inefficient, or killed outright in battle, the race is carried on by the least fit physically, or children are begotten in passion, are born mentally as well as physically unfit …

3. ‘There can be no peace until Germany is crushed utterly, and Australia must be conscripted to the last man and the last shilIing to enable the Allies to do this.’ …

No Government has a right to keep its people in ignorance as to what they are committed by their rulers to fight for!

4. ‘Even if it means the ruin of Australia, the fatal depletion of her manhood, and the bankruptcy of her finances, it is preferable to the dishonor of a broken promise,’ say the fanatic militarists.

That sending 200,000 more men out of this country to fight on foreign soil will mean industrial calamity, the smashing of unionism, and its dependent White Australian policy, and financial ruin, no thinking man will deny. Shall we pay such a price to protect the promises of one or more politicians? Promises of the sacrifice of lives which do not belong to them, and wealth which they have neither earned nor owned? …

Will Australia be hypnotised into self destruction? NO! Though bound and gagged and blindfolded, she holds the knife, and with the weapon of her vote will cut free from the shackles of the politicians, and justify herself and humanity by voting an overwhelming “NO” on October 28.

jsg-photo-7-jennie-scott-griffiths-661x1024Jennie Scott Griffiths, 1918 (Terry Irving/Gerry Whitmont Collection)

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