Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (32): Alfred Deakin in retirement supports conscription

‘Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (32): Alfred Deakin in retirement supports conscription’, Honest History, 19 December 2017

The ‘Divided sunburnt country’ series

Alfred_Deakin_cropDeakin in his prime (Wikipedia)

By the end of 1917, former prime minister Alfred Deakin had been out of office for more than seven years. He was not well and had not taken an active part in the campaign. (He died in December 1919.)

As the second battle over conscription came to a close, Deakin was still able to put out through the National Referendum Council (the ‘Yes’ organisation) a brief exhortation to Australians to vote in favour of the government’s ‘reinforcements’ plan, that is, a conscription scheme to make up for falling recruitment numbers. Deakin said this (Age, 19 December 1917):

“Llanarth”, South Yarra, 17th December, 1917

Fellow Countrymen, I have lived and worked to help you keep Australia white and free. The supreme “choice” is given you on 20th December. On that day you can say the word that shall keep her name white and for ever free

God in His wisdom has decreed that at this great crisis in our history my tongue must be silent, owing to my failing powers. He alone knows how I yearn, my fellow Australians, to help you to say that magic word which shall aid our gallant soldiers and save our civilisation.

My countrymen, be true to yourselves, to Australia, and to our great Empire. Let our voices thunder “YES”, and future generations shall arise and call us blessed.



Of course, Deakin was disappointed, as the country voted ‘No’, narrowly but decisively. Meanwhile, recruitment numbers, after a brief spike during the referendum campaign, fell away again and remained sluggish, as the war drew to a close over the long year of 1918.

 Graph, courtesy Joan Beaumont (Broken Nation)


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