Divisions In Australian Society's Struggle During World War I

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Australian History SAC Plan Divisions in Australian society virtually disappeared during the crisis of World War I. All were united in a common cause. To what extent do you agree with this statement? “Australia will rally to the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling”. On the eve of total war, then-opposition leader Andrew Fisher rallied the new nation around those words. When Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August 1914, Australia followed the mother country, entering what came to be described as “the war to end all wars”. There has been much written about Australian society during the war, ranging from claims of it being the nation’s “baptism of fire” to the first time social cohesion was…show more content…
While there were divisions in Australia along class and religious lines, as well as competing visions for the future of the young nation, at first Australians were overwhelmingly united in response to the war. Politically, normally divided political parties united in the face of the crisis. Then Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Cook publically committed 20,000 troops and funds to the cause, opposition leader Andrew Fisher declared that Australia would defend the Empire “to the last man and the last shilling”, and, in December 1914, the War Precautions Act pass through parliament with “little overt dissent”, according to Joan Beaumont. But it was not only within the political arena that support for the war effort was strong. With few exceptions, newspapers across the country reported a growth in patriotic sentiment, with individuals wearing emblems of England and France and the national anthem being played at nightly cultural events. In addition, enlistment rates were high, with the 20,000 men promised to the war effort easily found within six weeks, forcing the government turning away tens of thousands of eager volunteers. This widespread support for the Empire may be explained in a number of ways. Pam Maclean argues that “pro-imperial propaganda” had been inculcated in the population for a decade prior through the education…show more content…
There were significant divisions between the political and industrial wing of the labour movement after the government refused to introduce a price referendum. The industrial wing, according to Maclean, was furious, viewing the government’s actions as a “capitulation to business and the interests of the economic class”. But more practically, Scott argues that it cannot be overlooked that “men and women were feeling the pinch” of the poor economic conditions the war brought. The economy contracted 10% in the first year of war, unemployment rose, and, while the average weekly wage rose 12% for men and 8% for women, this never kept pace with the rate of inflation. Geoffrey Blainey writes these poor conditions caused the “trade unions to complain that workers were the economic victims of war”, with growing tensions seeing 2405 industrial disputes between 1914 – 1919, 1.7 million days lost to industrial action and strikes, and rowdy women-led cost of living strikes in Melbourne in 1917. However, it was not only within the industrial arena that class disputes further divided the new nation. As the war progressed, Michael McKernan asserts, “class tensions were exacerbated as middle class commentators criticised the working classes for a perceived lack of commitment to the war effort”. Middle class women, their gender role linked to patriotic participation in the war effort through
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