Australia was in the middle of an election campaign when war broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914. Residents of working-class communities within the shadow of the City of Sydney had seldom venture far beyond the confines of street-corner societies, but the European conflict would help break down the cultural isolation of their lives. It also brought suffering, dislocation and change. The response of Australia to the war was immediate and eager.
Andrew Fisher, leader of the Labor opposition, pledged his country to ‘stand beside our own and help defend her to the last man and last shilling‘ and the Governor General informed London of the indescribable enthusiasm and entire unanimity throughout Australia ‘for the Imperial cause‘. He ignored a few radical socialists who perceived the war another dimension of capitalist exploitation as workers suffered merely for the economic gain of the ruling class. They denounced it as a conflict between rival capitalist and imperial regimes in Europe. ‘We hope no wave of jingo madness will sweep over the land,’ the Australian Worker, in a cautious mood, wrote, ‘unbalancing the judgement of its leaders, and inciting its population to wild measures, spurred on by the evil e press’. It went onto warn that ‘thousands of unemployed will be created unscrupulous greed will seize the opportunity to raise the necessaries of life to famine prices’.
3 Early pro-war rhetoric in the local press, after the country found itself at war on the morning of 5 August1914, praised the residence of ‘gallant little Belgium’ and the nobility of Britain and France in accepting their treaty obligations and opposing the beastliness of the Hun. A contingent of 20,000 soldiers was offered for a conflict that it was thought, would be over in 1915. It became evident, however, that the allies could expect no quick victory. Municipal representatives in Annandale, Balmain and Leichhardt pledge their loyalty to the Empire when the nation was called onto defend England.
When Balmain’s Mayor Henry Swan pro-posed the pledge, Councillors, rose to their feet and’ sang the National Anthem besides giving three cheers for the King’, and the Minister for Defence was offered’ all parks, pavilions, buildings and grounds under council’s control.
Men began queuing at recruiting tables; the desire to volunteer was strong. Rigorous medical examination rejected many of the Empire’s youth who had unfilled teeth, flat feet, corns, puny chests or who were under 5 Feet 6 Inches Tall. Others were too young or too old. Rejected men fanned an association and wore a large badge to cover their civilian shame.
Source: Leichhardt On the Margins – Peter Reynolds and Max Solling