How Did World War 1 Affect Australia Essay

World War One was a war that affected Australia, its culture and history in ways that are still prevalent in today’s society. The hardships that the war placed on the country and its people helped to allow Australia to adapt and change to manage these issues in the best way possible for the continuation of Australia’s prosperity and cultural growth. However this also brings up the question as to whether or not World War One did not actually help bring the people of Australia together, but instead divided the Australian nation on multiple levels.

There are many arguments as to why this is often believed to be the case, but there are also many other arguments which go against this idea stating that this war actually helped unify the nation due to ideas of ‘mateship’ which became an incredibly important aspect within Australia’s culture both during and after World War One. In particular however there is one very important issue that arose during World War One that helps to drive the idea that the war itself divided rather than unified the country, and this argument is centred on conscription and whether or not it should have been implemented during the war.

Conscription was an incredibly important and significant issue that arose within Australian politics during World War One and affected both events which transpired within Australia itself, as well as for the Australian soldiers fighting on the western front. The idea of introducing conscription within Australia was initially thought up by the prime minister at the time William Hughes after visiting the western front. He felt that incorporating conscription into Australian law was the only way that Australia could bolster the number of dwindling men within the armed forces, as stated by the Australian War Memorial website -… y 1916 the Alf faced a shortage of men’ (AWM 2015).

Hughes himself though was a member of the Labor party which had a policy against conscription; this meant that most of his fellow party members did not support his views. Hughes and a number of other Labor party members then left the Labor party, where Hughes is famously quoted saying ‘Let those who think with me, follow me’ (W. M. Hughes, 1916) Hughes then formed the National Labor Party in 1916, which later merged with the Liberal party subsequently forming the Nationalist party in the same year.

This alone may be seen as a division of the Australian nation rather than a unifying action however this (in a way) is untrue. Even following the drama which had occurred within federal parliament, a law on conscription would never have been passed without the approval of the Australian people. Two referendums were held both in 1916 and 1917 on the introduction of conscription into Australian law and both were defeated. It should be mentioned however that in 1917 Hughes and his government’… actually had a majority in both Houses of Parliament, and did not need the vote. ‘ (Anzac Day 2016) so technically a referendum was not required.

This shows us that in many ways the debate on conscription did not actually divide the nation, but helped to unify the Australian people, as the government at the time allowed the issue to be decided upon by the people of Australia rather than the politicians, drilling in the idea of the peoples say when it comes to important decisions of the nation. Another incredibly significant change happened within Australia during World War One which helped unify the nation rather than divide it, this particular change was the role that women played during wartime and the importance of their contribution during periods of a country wide war.

Australian women during World War One had an incredibly important role to play when it came to the supporting roles that arose during the war. Although women were still discouraged from working in roles that were typically seen as ‘male’ roles they still contributed to the war in many ways by joining groups such as the ‘… Australian Red Cross, the Country Women’s Association, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Australian Women’s National League, the Voluntary Aid Detachment, the Australian Comforts Fund and the CheerUp Society. (AusGov 2015)

Which were all very important groups supporting both efforts at home and the overseas territories Australian forces were fighting in during the War. Women who accompanied the men to the fronts of war as nurses helped to bolster the health of the Australian armies and its allies exponentially as without them many of the men that fell as casualties would not have recovered from their ailments and returned home to their families and would have instead become another dead soldier among the millions that perished during those wartime years.

As well as their roles as nurses, women also helped to create more clothing for both soldiers and civilians alike, helped to produce food and fundraise, as well as continue to care for and look after the children within the country. This importance that women held throughout the war helped to unify the women of Australia and also helped to increase awareness of their capability both to themselves, as well as to the men of Australia, helping to improve women’s rights and broaden the range and types of jobs that it was now possible for them to attain in the future.

This shows even in today’s society as now women can work in any field they wish to work without discrimination and succeed greatly in these roles There were however some issues that arose during World War One which had rather negative effects on Australia that in many ways can be linked to a division of sorts of the Australian nation, and these all link to the topic of whether or not Australia should actually be fighting within a primarily European war.

At first nearly all of the population of Australia greatly supported the idea of the country taking part in World War One as they felt that for one it was their duty as members of the British Empire to support the motherland and its quarrels, as well as on the belief that Australia could potentially come under attack from Germany and its allies if it did not take part in the war. This enthusiasm and excitement to take part in the war was definitely felt at the many recruiting stations that were scattered throughout Australia as an overwhelming number of young men all came to volunteer for service within the AIF.

This was definitely evident as’… war recruitment numbers were so high that men had to be turned away by recruitment officers. ‘ (State Library 2014) showing the massive support by the Australian people. However as the war drove on recruitment numbers plummeted due to the heavy casualties that were being sustained during the Gallipoli campaign, which reached a total of ‘8709 dead, 19441 wounded equalling a total of 28150 casualties. ‘ (Stowers 2005, p. 124) driving away a lot of potential volunteers.

This was not beneficial for the people who supported the war and believed that more volunteers were required for Australia to be successful in their war campaign. This eventuated in the patriots (supporters) beginning a campaign of guilt by making it seem that if you did not volunteer in the army, you were a coward and should be viewed as one. This continued on for the rest of the war and in many ways initiated the drive for conscription to be introduced into Australian law.

This two-sided view continued until the end of the war and in many ways appeared to drive a wedge inbetween the Australian population. However following the end of the war both the supporters of war and those against it no longer quarrelled and Australia went back to the way it was. As can be read within the arguments brought forward within this report and the research that accompanies it, World War One mostly brought the Australian nation together, rather than dividing it.

Issues such as conscription, casualty rates and ideas of supporting Britain within this European war may have shaken up the Australian people, dividing them in a way into multiple sides, however the ways in which Australians came together during the war helped to mend any division which had occurred and brought them into a sense of a single nation and single people who must work together to overcome the odds, and succeed as a country.

World War One helped to raise the stature that women held in society, as well as bring the people of the country together both on the fronts of war and back on home soil. In conclusion World War One should be seen as a conflict which helped unify a nation and allow it to gain and maintain both respect from its own people, as well as from countries that were both involved in the war itself, and those that were not.