Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (30): Officially sponsored 2017 view of the conscription battles of 1916-17

‘Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (30): Officially sponsored 2017 view of the conscription battles of 1916-17’, Honest History, 20 November 2017

The ‘Divided sunburnt country’ series

Some Fairfax papers today carry an article by Michael Grealy on the conscription referendums (plebiscites) of 1916 and 1917. In the Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald, the piece is headed ‘The conscription campaign that divided Australia’. It is a brief but balanced presentation, summarising Prime Minister Hughes’s arguments for conscription, historian Joan Beaumont’s assessments, the political background, events on the Western Front, and the crucial voting statistics.

Grealy mentions the role of Archbishbop Mannix on the ‘No’ side but does not overplay it, and he includes comments from Peter Stanley (the recruitment marches from rural areas were a sign of recruitment failing, not succeeding) and John McQuilton (Victorian rural dwellers resisted pushy recruiters). He mentions a 1977 survey (unsourced) about the varied reasons veterans recalled for enlisting.

patrioticsonssydneymail20oct1915Coo-ee recruiting march, New South Wales, October 1915 (Cooeemarch1915)

The Herald also carried Michael Grealy’s articles on Albert Jacka VC and problems with tanks at the battle of Bellecourt. These articles, and the one on conscription, are among contributed or sponsored content coming from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in partnership with Fairfax.

It will be interesting to see if Grealy’s future articles – they will run for ten months – continue the balanced and judicious tone of the first few.  DVA’s Anzac Portal website contains some useful and reasonably balanced educational material on Great War conscription but the department during the Great War centenary years has too often played the roles of pushy tour promoter and pious cheer leader .

David Stephens



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