Saturday, 5 November 2016

Conscription in Australia (and Ballarat) in World War 1

The conscription campaign opened in Ballarat on 3 October 1916 in a crowded Alfred Hall, the meeting organized by the National Referendum Council.  The speeches were of the justice of the referendum approach and the great need for reinforcments.  Opponents were dismissed as communists or foreigners. 

The Prime Minister himself, Billy Hughes, visited Ballarat to speak passionately for conscription, on 9th October.

But Jim Scullin (a future Labor Prime Minister) described conscription as a menace to liberty and welfare.  Members of the Trades and Labor Council spoke at the Eight Hours monument in Sturt Street, pinpointing big landowners and financiers as chief conscriptionists, and invoking the principle that no one had the right to send another to his death.

Ballarat newspapers the Star and the Courier appeared in favour of the YES vote, devoting more column space to Hughes than to his opponents. You can follow the arguments and see the results published in those papers online on Trove.  

Ballarat voted NO.  But it was close.

But in those days there were more newspapers in Ballarat than the Star and Courier and our next blog (written by a special guest blogger) will discuss the role of the Echo in the conscription debates.

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