Category Archives: Prominent Citizens

211. Club rooms for the returned men or a memorial hall for the Shire?

The next few posts look at the men returning from the War and taking up life again in the Shire of Alberton.

The posts will make it clear that the ‘Peace’ at the end of WW1 continued to feature a significant degree of conflict and division in the Australian community. Sectarianism, which had become more pronounced during the War over the issue of conscription, continued to be very divisive in the community after the War. There were also the lingering questions over conscription itself and, most importantly, the standing of those who had chosen not to enlist, particularly now that the volunteers had returned, many of them wounded and broken. The fear of the ‘alien’ and the ‘outsider’ which had driven paranoia during the War certainly continued after it. The common perception was that the White Australia Policy remained just as threatened, notwithstanding the fact that Hughes on his return to Australia after Versailles, boasted that he had ensured its survival. There was also the pressing issue of ‘repatriation’ and the inevitable conflict between what the returning soldiers had been promised and what the Government could realistically deliver. On this score, the potential for failure and despair was effectively unlimited. There were also the ongoing effects of the fundamental political divisions which had been created by the War, most notably the schism within the ALP. And, to round off the bleak picture, in the immediate aftermath of the War there was the scourge of the Spanish Flu.

Against this broad background, the following posts focus specifically on events in the Shire of Alberton in the years immediately after the War. As the focus is at the ‘local’ level, it is easier to see other important themes that emerged at the time. Arguably, the most significant of these was the dynamic of how the returned men re-connected with their previous life and re-integrated into the community they had left. What emerges very quickly is that these were somewhat fraught processes and the source of significant tension in the local community. In a real sense, the ‘boys’ were not prepared simply to take up their old lives and accept their prior status. There was a significant generational divide between the returning ‘boys’ and their parents and ‘betters’. It was also very much about the tension between what they had been promised and what they in fact received.

Club rooms for the returned men or a memorial hall for the Shire?

This first post in the short series examines the conflict in the local community from the perspective of one fundamentally critical question: who was to decide what represented the best interests of the returned soldiers?

The building featured here is a drawing for a grand ‘Memorial Soldiers’ Club with Public Hall and Civic Club’ to be erected in Yarram. But it was never built. The background story of why it was never built is one of multiple levels of disagreement and division within the local community.

The essential backing for this grand proposal came from the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The editor – Augustus John Rossiter – had been a most vociferous Imperial Loyalist throughout the War. He would have assumed that he had established his right to talk on behalf of both the returning men and the community as a whole. He proposed a grand civic building which could incorporate a memorial for the fallen soldiers, a club room for the returned men, and a public hall for the community as a whole. Rossiter organised a shire-wide fund-raising appeal and he commissioned initial drawings of the proposed building which he then published in the paper on 25/4/19, Anzac Day. The initial plans or drawings were prepared by G de Lacy of Parkville, the architect responsible for the design of the very recent Holy Trinity Church (Anglican) in Yarram which had been finished in mid 1918.

The essential feature of Rossiter’s proposal was that the one, major new building would serve several interests. It would serve as a memorial to those who had served and those who had fallen. Further, it would incorporate amenities for returned soldiers living in the Shire of Alberton. But, as well, the proposal represented a significant, additional piece of civic infrastructure: a new and contemporary public hall. Obviously, the proposal would be expensive but Rossiter saw it as a fitting tribute to the returned soldiers and a major and justified exercise in civic commemoration. In fact, there were many such memorial halls built by local governments, both urban and rural, post WW1.

In the description of the proposed building, included with the initial drawings, Rossiter emphasised how the three building elements – ‘Soldiers’ Club’, ‘Civic Club’ and ‘Public Hall’ – were both separate and integral:

The proposed buildings have been designed so that the Soldiers’ Club, the Civic Club and the Public Hall can each be vested in separate bodies of control and managed and maintained as though they were three isolated structures. Although they are reached by a central common entrance, for purposes of convenience and effect, they are quite separate buildings in that fire-proof and sound-proof construction and parapet walls separate each from the other.

The overall building was a large, two-story structure. It included a comprehensive set of common-use facilities including library, reading and correspondence room, smoking room, billiard room and a shared, spacious entrance and foyer. The facade was Italianate in style and it incorporated space for ‘memorial tablets and inscriptions’.

However, in the same edition of the paper, Rossiter acknowledged that there was some opposition to his grand proposal. Strikingly, the main opposition was coming from the returned men themselves. Rossiter noted that there had been a recent public meeting in Yarram at which the returned soldiers – or at least a group of them – had dismissed the grand proposal and, instead, had called for a completely separate club rooms. Rossiter’s frustration was evident:

The demand by the men for a detached club created a barrier, and frustrated the good intentions of the public.

But now, with the detailed plans and drawings published in the paper, Rossiter attempted to increase the pressure on the men to give up the call for their own separate club rooms and get behind what he represented as the general community’s intention:

We this morning produce a facsimile [of the plans], and to clear the air, ask the soldiers, without delay, to state if a building erected on these plans will meet with their approval. The public want to know, for their intention is to build a memorial hall of service to the district wherein will be seen the photographs of all who enlisted, also those and records of the fallen. We parted with the boys as one family, worked for them while away, and longed for their return. What has made the difference that they should hold aloof now they have come back that their hours of pleasure must be spent amongst themselves, quite apart from former friends. A warm hearted public wants an answer. Will the soldiers consent to detached club rooms, with a clear title, under the roof of a memorial hall?

The emotional blackmail is evident: this particular group of soldiers is being ungrateful and, in effect, setting themselves against the very community that has supported them so faithfully through the long years of war.

The warnings to the soldiers were explicit:

The soldiers, unfortunately, lost much public sympathy by their defiant action at a public meeting in the shire hall; yet boiled down, the cleavage came from a very small section of the returned men. Prior to this the whole district was in the mood to go to any length towards a memorial hall for the fallen. Now, the hand is stayed, and until the soldiers say they will consent to a club under the roof of a memorial hall, there is little chance of getting either building such as would be an ornament and a credit to the town and district.

The public meeting where the soldiers had expressed their preference for their own club rooms appears to have taken place in early March 1919, just over one month earlier. At the time, there was a brief report in the local paper (12/3/19) of the meeting:

It was the returned men’s idea to build memorial rooms to be used as club rooms. They could invite anyone they wished to their club. At present they had no place whatever to meet in – unless they went to the Yarram Club, but returned soldiers were likely to be “black-balled” there. (Laughter.) If the public wanted to build a big hall there was no earthly reason why they shouldn’t.

It appears that this initial plan by the soldiers for their own private club room arrangement was not taken too seriously because by early April 1919 a fund – Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial Fund – had been set up … to build a memorial hall and soldiers’ club rooms in Yarram, in memory of the fallen. The editorial that described the basic arrangement (18/4/19) noted that 1,000 circulars associated with the fund-raising effort had already been distributed through the shire. Plans for a related gymkhana were also already under way. The same editorial effectively dismissed the concerns of the soldiers and expressed confidence that the combined proposal would be accepted by them. It also had a passing shot at their intransigence.

The decision of the returned men, in favor of detached club rooms, gave rise to comment, and was not favorably entertained by the public. The plan before us presents no obstacle in that respect. The soldiers’ quarters are embodied in a comprehensive plan, not absolutely detached, yet will, we feel sure, meet with the approval of previous objectors. there really seems to be no obstacle in the way of the public and the soldiers uniting in one great movement, and if the response is on all fours with what the people can afford we see no reason why a very fine hall should not be erected in memory of the fallen, and of the brave deeds of the returned men. We ask for liberal response.

But the backers of the grander proposal did not get the ‘liberal response’ they requested. The grand proposal was dropped within not much more than one month and all future effort went in to setting up a separate club rooms.

The formal commitment to a separate (Diggers’) club rooms came at a public meeting the end of May 1919, about one month after the local paper published the drawings for the combined proposal. A report of the meeting was written up in the paper on 30/5/19. The meeting was chaired by B P Johnson, another Imperial Loyalist who had been an outspoken champion of the War effort and who, arguably, had the highest profile as a supporter of returned men. Interestingly, it was in this role as a backer and supporter of the returned men that Johnson came out very strongly in favour of the separate Diggers’ club rooms. There was this strong sense that even if he did not believe that theirs was the best proposal, he would always back the men’s wishes.

This meeting at the end of May was called to accept or reject, once and for all, the local paper’s proposal ‘to erect a memorial hall and club rooms for the returned soldiers of Alberton Shire’. It was clear from the start that the soldiers wanted to go their own way. Speakers noted that the appeal for the combined proposal – memorial (public) hall and soldiers’ club rooms – had been running for nearly one month but that very little had been received. In fact, the response had been so poor that the local branch of the ‘Returned Soldiers’ Association’ had now decided to pull out of the proposal for the combined facility and opt instead for their own, separate club rooms. Johnson, as chair, immediately backed the men and declared that the matter had to be settled at the meeting. Johnson argued that one of the problems with the combined proposal was that many locals claimed that they did not see the merit in building another public hall in Yarram:

Many of the residents had used the dual appeal as an excuse for withholding donations. Some had said that they were prepared to assist an appeal for club rooms, but were opposed to building another hall in Yarram.

Johnson’s logic was that an appeal specifically for club rooms for the returned men would attract a higher level of financial support from the locals. As events turned out he was proved wrong. The same argument was taken up George F Sauer another key Imperial Loyalist and backer of the returned men. He also claimed that people felt Yarram already had too many public halls. Implicit in this argument was the view that residents of the shire who did not live in Yarram could hardly be expected to contribute to a facility which they would not use. Benjamin Couston, local bank manger and yet another key Imperial Loyalist, declared that whereas he had initially supported the double proposal, he now supported the soldiers’ club rooms’ proposal. He also noted that the appeal over the past month had ‘failed dismally’. It was Couston who formally moved:

That this public meeting now assembled agrees to relinquish the double appeal for a memorial hall and soldiers’ club rooms, and now pledges itself to support the Returned Soldiers’ Association in building club rooms for the returned soldiers of the shire.

The motion was passed unanimously and the meeting also determined to write to those who had already donated to the initial appeal and ask… whether they were prepared to allow their donations to be handed over, to the direct appeal for soldiers’ club rooms. The new appeal was to be The Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial Fund. The appeal would be supported by a gymkhana which would be held later in the year, in early November.

The last business of the meeting was to set up a committee to mange the appeal. Johnson became the president, Sauer the secretary, and Benson the treasurer. There was an executive committee which was made up of several returned men (E T Benson, W A Newland, Dr J H Rutter) and a number of local business men who had all identified as Imperial Loyalists during the War (W C Growse, E L Grano, W G Pope). The local Church of England rector – Rev S Williams – was also on the committee. This committee would work closely with the local branch of the RSSILA.

Johnson closed the meeting with a warning – rather prescient as it turned out – that if the new appeal proved a failure, then Alberton Shire … would be eternally disgraced.

Not surprisingly, Rossiter was annoyed that his far grander proposal was rejected in favour of the separate soldiers’ club rooms. His annoyance was evident in an editorial that appeared a few weeks later (20/6/19). Despite what he wrote, the public meeting had indeed formally decided to drop the memorial hall proposal and go with the club rooms:

If what we hear be true, the members of the Yarram branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association have determined to disassociate themselves with the memorial hall movement, towards which some subscriptions have been received. The intention is to appeal for a soldiers’ club solely.

Rossiter was also prepared to challenge the real level of support for this decision and suggest that a soldiers’ club rooms would hardly constitute a suitable public memorial for the fallen and returned men:

It would be interesting to know the total number of returned men in the district and the number on the roll of the Association [RSSILA], in view of ascertaining if it be the will of the majority to stand apart from the public proposal.

But if Rossiter and others were annoyed that the returned men had scotched their grand proposal, the returned men themselves were concerned by what they saw as the lack of support from the local council for their proposal. There was another public meeting held in mid July – reported 18/7/19 – to drum up support for the soldiers’ club rooms. This time there was an organiser from the Victorian branch of the RSSILA who came to speak on behalf of the proposal. This person noted that there were no local councillors present at the meeting and claimed that … It is a general rule for them to attend meetings of this description. He continued:

Many of the councillors made promises of what they intended doing for the men who went to the war, but, unfortunately, the same men have turned out to be nothing more than lip-loyalist. (Laughter).

Johnson was again chair of the meeting and he made some attempt to cover for the absent councillors, but it was evident that there were clear divisions in the community on the specific issue of the club rooms, and the broader question of how the returned men were being treated in the Australia for which they had fought and sacrificed so much.

In mid September 1919, the executive responsible for fundraising for the soldiers’ club rooms purchased a two-story building in Yarram. It was on the corner of Bland Street and Commercial Road. It was purchased from C J Allin for £1,000. Allin had purchased it a few years earlier from Councillor Barlow. Later there would be suggestions that the soldiers paid too much for the property. The executive then set about making necessary changes to the building and intensifying the fund raising effort. The date for the gymkhana was officially set for November 12, 1919.

In early October there was a formal welcome for the returned soldiers of the shire in Thompson’s Hall. The report of the function was in the local paper on 10/10/19. It was a full house and the chair for the evening was the Shire President, J J O’Connor. O’Connor touched on all the then current themes: the debt of gratitude owed to the returned soldiers; the need for the soldiers to ‘stick together’ and become organised through their association (RSSILA); the enormous challenge of repatriation and the need for the returned men to be patient; the glory of the dead; the greatness of the Australian soldiers and their acknowledged status as ‘among the best soldiers in the world’; the decency of those who had tried to enlist – many times – only to have been rejected and, equally, the disdain for … ‘disloyalists’ in our midst; and, of course, the greatness and power of the Empire. Amongst all this, the chairman … made a stirring appeal for contributions towards the establishment of soldiers’ club rooms in Yarram. He declared:

The club rooms were required, and the appeal provided an opportunity for residents to show their gratitude for what the soldiers had done for them.

But the money was not forthcoming. Residents did not contribute to the appeal; and this, of course, created more division and rancour in the community.

Johnson had a letter in the local paper on 22/10/19. He pointed out the cost of the clubrooms (£1,000) and noted that to that point the total raised was under £200. He insisted that people across the shire knew about the appeal. He concluded that there was … no excuse save selfishness and base ingratitude for neglect to subscribe [to the appeal]. He declared that:

It is no wonder that the boys feel that the lavish promises which were made to them when they went away are not going to be honored, and that most of the people have forgotten the war and all that was done for them.

In a real sense this was vintage Johnson as the classic, high-profile, Imperial Loyalist, in that the appeal to moral righteousness and, critically, the attempted shaming of all who fell short, was so characteristic of all the previous appeals – from 1914 on – to support the War, smash Germany, defend the Empire, encourage enlistment, and, of course, support the introduction of conscription. There were no shades of grey, and no ambiguities, inconsistencies or opposing views in this world view. So Johnson held nothing back:

The soldiers have now purchased a building, and are now fitting it up for occupation, and after all they have done and suffered, it will be an everlasting shame and disgrace to the whole of the district if they have to find one penny of the cost. I venture to say that there are very few men in this Shire who cannot pay £1 at least to in some way show their appreciation of the soldiers’ wonderful deeds. It is all very well to turn up at welcomes, where the admission is free, and cheer and wave flags, etc., but the proper course is to sacrifice something. Don’t calculate how little you can give – the boys offered all, and nearly 60,000 of them paid in full – but see how big you can make your contribution, for, after all, the man who gives as little as he can, or who fails to subscribe, really puts a price on his womenfolk and himself. Let every man realise that everything he owns he owes to the soldiers, and, then this disgrace will soon be removed.

But now, one full year after the War, the local community was clearly sick of being told what to do by the likes of Johnson. Nor did they appreciate his attempts at moral blackmail and his superior tone. But he was not about to give up. There was another letter on 5/11/19. Johnson this time published the full list of individuals and groups that had contributed to the appeal. The total came to less that 70, with about 65 individual contributions. Clearly, there was not widespread support for the appeal. What was equally clear was that while previous attempts to shame people into contributing had not worked, Johnson had no other strategy:

It will be seen that a few pounds have come in since I last wrote, but the response is still an absolute disgrace to this magnificent district. Have the people as a whole no sense of gratitude? Some, I hear, will not subscribe because they cannot agree with the soldiers that club rooms are required. Such people surely forget what they owe these men. They want the rooms and it is little enough to do for the people to give them. It is anything but pleasant to be ashamed of the place one lives in.

In the end, the gymkhana generated a significant profit – over £500 – and the funds required for the club rooms were realised. Perhaps people had intended all along to support the gymkhana and had rationalised that that support would represent their contribution to the soldiers’ club rooms. At the same time, the number of individuals, across the whole of the Shire of Alberton, who did subscribe to the formal fund set up for the club rooms was very small.

Doubtless, there were many reasons for this lack of support. As already argued, many would have taken exception to Johnson’s tirades. Locals had tired of being told what they must do. There was also the question about whether the soldiers’ proposal was actually inferior to the one put forward by Rossiter and his paper. And sitting behind this question was the suggestion that the soldiers should not be ‘selfish’ and want just their own club rooms. There was also the view that the returned men should not be deliberately withdrawing themselves from the wider community and setting themselves up in their own exclusive facility. Surely, the thinking ran, now that the ‘boys’ were ‘home’ again, they should be fitting back into the community and they should be grateful that the locals were keen to give them a facility, within a much grander public memorial to both them and their fallen comrades. And if the returned men could not see that, then why should anyone support their proposal. Moreover, the soldiers’ club rooms were hardly a memorial so would it not be better to wait and contribute to a proper memorial when the shire finally decided on one. As already noted there were also questions on who was actually representing the returned men’s interests and were the returned men speaking with one voice. So there were any number of reasons why locals could have convinced themselves that contributing to the fund for the soldiers’ club rooms was not essential.

The rooms were opened on the first anniversary of the Armistice (11/11/19). However, the division and recrimination did not end with the opening of the soldiers’ club rooms. The editorial in the local paper at the time made it clear that there was still considerable disquiet over what had happened.

Quite frankly, we say that the building is not what the public desired the returned men should have. It is not good enough nor is it in the true sense a memorial. A memorial is something of a more stable character, and worthy of the great and gallant deeds done by our boys in the recent war. It should be something in memory of the dear departed. Instead, the League has purchased a building that is like a reed shaken by the wind. It sways in a moderate gale, and the time cannot be far distant when radical and costly alterations must be made if stability is to be any desideratum.

The paper continued its list of concerns, claiming to speak on behalf of the community:

We are voicing the opinion of the great majority of the people when we say that disappointment is expressed at the purchase [of the building for the soldiers’ club rooms]. It may serve its purpose in a way, but with large hearts and determination to do something grand, the public had in view a building which would be a credit to town and district, and a much more fitting memorial of services rendered – a building that would provide much more than the men themselves asked for – a building in which the public would be perennially interested, and upon which would have been lavished care and attention by a warm-hearted public in memory of those they loved. The present building cannot command the same attention because the deep sentiment that was assured does not invest it. There exists a sort of feeling “Well, boys, you have so decided; we will do what we can for you.

There is no way of knowing if in fact the local paper was representing the view of the majority of locals. However, what is true is that people at the time would not have seen the soldiers’ club rooms as any sort of formal, public memorial to all those men from the Shire of Alberton who enlisted and served and, more critically, the dead. The soldiers’ club rooms, or the ‘Diggers’ Club’ as it was also known, was a facility set up exclusively for the use of the returned men and as a head quarters of the local branch of the RSSILA. This meant that the question of the Shire of Alberton’s formal, public memorial remained unresolved. We will see later that the Shire decided on the cenotaph – featuring the list of the dead – which stands in the main street of Yarram. But, again, this decision was also marked by more division. For example, the local paper again called for something more utilitarian, even a public memorial swimming pool.

Another concern of locals, sitting just below the surface of public debate, was the question of what the soldiers would do in their club rooms. As we have seen in previous posts, there was a very strong temperance sentiment in the Shire. Local clergy had been active in trying to restrict wet canteens in the Melbourne army camps, and the dangers of drink in the AIF were constant preoccupations, as was the push for prohibition and ‘early closing’. Another social evil very much on the community’s mind was gambling, and previous posts have shown that this fear extended even to chocolate wheels at fetes. The possibility that the soldiers might drink and gamble to excess in the privacy of their ‘club’ was a concern and, in fact, the backers of the proposal gave public assurance that the club would not seek a licence and that gambling in all forms would be strictly prohibited.

Even after the club rooms were opened, the high level of criticism continued. For example, in an editorial published on 3/12/19, not even one month after the official opening, Rossiter questioned whose interests were being served by the facility:

A soldiers’ club having been established in Yarram, for ‘members only’, it is important that all returned men should join. The public liberally responded at the gymkhana, presumably for something of benefit to all Alberton Shire soldiers, not to a small proportion. It is felt that the Yarram branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Association is not the ‘live wire’ it ought to be!

The paper suggested that too often key decisions were being taken by just a few of the returned soldiers. It called for all returned men to become involved. Also, there was another issue at play here, because the reality was that club rooms in Yarram were not going to be as accessible to returned men who lived in the outlying townships and settlements of the district. A soldiers’ club rooms in Yarram was always going to serve, principally, those returned men who lived in Yarram.

The formal meeting that saw the transfer of management from the committee that raised the funds for the club rooms to the Yarram sub branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League (Australia) took place in early December 1919. It was written up in the local paper on 12/12/19. The business of the meeting was the report from the ‘Building Committee’ (Johnson’s committee) and the approval of the constitution for the club rooms.

According to the constitution adopted, the name of the club rooms was fixed as the ‘Diggers’ Club’ and the facility was for the use of all returned soldiers in Alberton Shire. Importantly, the returned men did not have to be members of the RSSILA:

All district soldiers, whether belonging to the League or not, are eligible to join the club. The procedure is by ballot. All soldiers who fought with the Allies in the great war, or any previous wars, are eligible to join.

The Yarram sub branch of the RSSILA had been set up mid 1917. See Post 148. Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League (of Australia) for more background, including local tensions over its creation.

At the end of the War, local membership of the sub branch was approximately one hundred. At the end of 1919, Dr Rutter was serving as president of the sub branch. E T Benson, a local bank manger, was treasurer and W A Newland, who had earlier served as the local recruiting sergeant, was secretary. All committee members were obviously returned men.

The relationship between the Yarram sub branch of the RSSILA and the Diggers’ Club was not perfectly clear. The public’s perception at the time would have been that, effectively, the two agencies were the same; and, certainly, it appears that the sub-branch ran the Diggers’ Club as its property. However, the constitution of the Diggers’ Club clearly stated that membership of the RSSILA was not a prerequisite for membership of the club. Moreover, the same constitution stated that the ‘property’ of the club was vested in ‘three soldier trustees’ – members of the club – and that, if membership was ever to decline to the extent that the club was no longer viable, the trustees had the power to hand over the property of the club to the president and councillors of the Alberton Shire. Presumably, this arrangement reflected the fact that the money for the Diggers’ Club had come not from the RSSILA but from the local community, in fund raising overseen by civic leaders and formally supported by the Shire.

At the end of 1919, the auditors appointed to the local RSSILA sub branch were B P Johnson and B Couston. Presumably, this was to maintain a link with the committee that had been responsible for the fundraising for the Diggers’ Club. This link with the civic leaders who had supported the push for a separate soldiers’ club rooms was strengthened when there was an amendment to the Diggers’ Club membership rules in mid December 1919 which provided for ’soldiers’ fathers’ – both Johnson and Couston, for example – to join the club. There was also broad provision for ‘honorary members’. These membership changes effectively highlighted the distinction between the Diggers’ Club and the local branch of the RSSILA.

The Diggers’ Club – the building, at least – was destroyed in a major fire in March 1923.

Overall, it is clear that the establishment of the Diggers’ Club in Yarram at the end of 1919 represented many levels of the community division and social disquiet that sprang up when the ‘boys’ came home. In fact, the common use of the very term ‘boys’ goes to the heart of so much of the division and disquiet. For many locals, the simple story was that the ‘brave lads’ or ‘boys’ had enlisted from a sense of duty, fought with courage and earned the praise of the nation and the rest of the world as amongst the ‘greatest soldiers in the world’ and now, still ‘boys’, they were home again to take up the life they had briefly given up. Everything and everyone would go back to normal. In the world to which the soldiers returned, their parents’ generation and ‘betters’ were still there to tell them what to do; and they were expected to simply fit back into the previous social order. They were to be feted as heroes but it would all be done on the terms of the ‘old order’. They could have a dedicated clubroom but it would be within a much grander, memorial public hall which would benefit the whole community.

But many, if not most, of the returned men did not see it like that. Their years in the AIF had changed them profoundly. Many had had their heath compromised, if not completely ruined. They were all mentally and emotionally scarred. Many were profoundly disillusioned and desperate. They were anything but ‘boys’. True they were glad to be home and they looked forward to their future but they wanted it to be on their terms. They also expected that the countless promises made to them would be honored. They did not want to be ‘mucked around’. They desperately wanted to hang on to the sense of camaraderie or ‘mateship’ that had characterised their time in the AIF and they saw this soldierly mateship as exclusive in nature and reserved for those who had been there. They needed to be together by themselves or, at the very least, those they chose to be with. They were not about to be told by their parents’ generation how they should fit in and what the social boundaries were to be. If they wanted a separate club rooms for their exclusive use and that annoyed the rest of the community and left them open to claims that they were selfish, stand-offish and ungrateful then so be it.

It is worth finishing on yet another editorial from the local paper that once again found fault with the attitude of the returned men. It was a plea from the editor for the men to live up to the high ideals in which the local community held them. For people like Rossiter, there was this picture of the returning heroes of which the heroes themselves needed to be reminded. As mentioned, the gymkhana in early November 1919 was the key fund raiser for the Diggers’ Club. It was a large event with over 1,200 people in attendance. On the day, there was a procession led by the Yarram Town Band to the showgrounds. The returned men were invited to march. But not too many did. This lack of enthusiasm was not lost on the editor who, in his editorial immediately after the gymkhana, could not resist some criticism:

What few soldiers “processed” looked warriors every one but if the number of returned men be 400 in the district, 40 was not a good proportion. Even if the League members’ roll number is 120, then there were two-thirds elsewhere. We would like to have seen the full strength of the returned men in uniform on Wednesday. Those who turned out were so soldierlike in appearance but it made the others conspicuous by their absence.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative


Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

210. Rev George Cox and his ‘Notes on Gippsland History’ (2): versions of history and the question of race

Rev George Cox deserves recognition for his very earlier research on the history of (European) Gippsland. At the same time, while Cox definitely saw himself as a practising historian, he did not write any definitive history of either Gippsland or any specific location in Gippsland. Cox was more the researcher of history than the writer of history. It is critical to appreciate this different emphasis. Anyone reading the articles Cox published in the local paper from 1912 onwards was obviously extending and deepening their understanding of the history of Gippsland – outcomes Cox was obviously keen to promote – but their understanding was being formed in an episodic, piecemeal and even disjointed and contradictory manner. Cox never wrote his final, coherent, single history. Rather what he did was publish, on a regular basis, primary sources touching on several themes to do with Gippsland history which he then critiqued, with the intention of trying to uncover the historical truth. The period he covered stretched from the 1840s to the 1860s. Cox did provide considerable commentary and opinion along the way and he certainly did see himself as building the picture of the history of Gippsland, but there was no final history, for example in the style of Adams – From these beginnings: history of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria) – who, as we know, relied to a significant degree, on the articles Cox had written 80 years earlier.

Any assessment of Cox’s work has to focus on the sources he used. For Cox, it was all about uncovering primary resources – including those found in folk lore, and collective and personal memory – and matching them with what was already known of the history. There were often inconsistencies, contradictions, and different emphases encountered in the various sources and there had to be attempts to reconcile such tensions and make informed judgements. The other critical perspective was that, as Cox himself had argued, the history of Gippsland had been neglected. As already seen, Cox gave several reasons for this, including a general reluctance for locals to dwell on its earliest lawless period. The effect of this ‘neglect’ was that any sources Cox did present to his readers effectively served to tell the story for the first time. It was a case of Gippsland history being ‘discovered’ by Cox for his readers.

Cox himself described his central focus on primary sources. His very first article (Article 1, 31/1/1912) emphasised both the range of primary material he was trying to cover:

The sources of information are numerous, and of many kinds. Parliamentary reports, official correspondence, Road Board and Shire minute books, contemporary newspapers, Church minute books and reports, private correspondence, maps, legal documents and private diaries, have been generously placed at the disposal of the writer, and form the principal channels of information, such being supplemented by personal reminiscences of old residents, after careful enquiry.

It also presented the open-ended nature of his work and the potential limits of his approach:

But the writer is deeply conscious of two things, – first that he has by no means exhausted the storehouse of information, and secondly that he is not by any means possessed of such gifts as would preclude possibility of error. In connection then, with the first shortcoming, further sources of information will be most gratefully welcomed: and for the second criticism, and correction where needed, will be thankfully received.

This is very much a claim about ‘history in the making’ via a careful and sustained historical methodology. Overall, Cox saw his considerable effort as work-in-progress; but he saw this reality as a strength: history was being written, tested and refined through the dialectic. This was the proper function of a historical society. As noted, he also saw himself as providing research material for others who would follow.

At the same time, Cox obviously saw himself as offering more than critical insights on historiography. He definitely saw himself as ‘teaching’ the locals their (European) history. Moreover, he wanted them to understand, identify with and celebrate their history. For example, he took pride in the fact that his material was used at the local school for lessons associated with the celebration of events such as Discovery Day. As he stated (Article 26, 9/4/13):

Friday, April 18th. will be observed as Discovery day in State schools, therefore this and the succeeding article will be devoted to the subject of the early exploration of Gippsland.

Cox was also proud of the popularity his articles enjoyed and the fact that readers requested back copies. He made efforts to meet the demand. For example, he wrote the following introduction in one of his very early articles (Article 21, 20/11/12):

Before proceeding to the consideration of the subject matter of this paper a foreword about the paper itself may be advisable. In the first place, many requests have been received for back numbers of these papers which unfortunately cannot be supplied. But as special interest attaches to the subject of Count Strzelecki’s journey, it being included in the State school curriculum, and some additional matter of considerable interest has been received, it has been decided to republish portions of an article already in print, together with such additional matter. [The additional matter was material relating to the wreck of the Clonmel, in early January 1841.]

After the War was over and he had finished his service in the AIF, Cox resumed his series of articles and in Article 71, 25/11/21, he offered himself some degree of self-congratulation when he stated that his articles … have proved useful and have been recognised as a reliable authority by those engaged in historical study. He was keen to take up the work again and he committed to new material:

The compiler, since his discharge from military service, has had exceptional opportunities for research work in connection with the early discovery and settlement of the province, which will enable him to add considerably to the articles already published, and provide much new material as well.

Again, he pointed out the difficulties in reproducing earlier articles. He also indicated where such earlier material could be accessed:

Copies of all previous articles should be available for reference at several places locally, probably the Shire Hall and Mechanics’ Library, as well as the “Standard” office; while students further afield will find them in the Public Library and Historical Society’s Office, Melbourne, and the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Cox’s attempts to generate interest in his work and have the locals, particularly the ‘pioneers’ who were still alive, engage in discussions and debate were successful. Cox definitely did focus the attention of his local community on its (European) history. In fact, there would have been few regional communities in Australia at that time who were as well served, in terms of their local history, as the Shire of Alberton. Moreover, this interest in local history – and, as noted earlier, Cox always saw his history as more than merely ‘local’ – was occurring at the very outbreak of WW1, the time when the new nation was preoccupied with its national identity or character.

As just the briefest example of Cox’s basic approach, consider the issue of exploration and what Cox saw as the competing claims associated with the vexed question of ‘Who discovered Gippsland?’ It was a question that preoccupied him. In fact, this very question first served as the title for an article in April, 1913 (Article 27) and the same question was still serving as the title of articles in 1922 (Article 80), 1923 (Article 81) and 1924 (Article 101).

The nature of the controversy related essentially to questions of motivation and transparency. On the one hand, there were dedicated ‘explorers’ who were either tasked by authorities, or took on the responsibility themselves, to chart ‘unknown’ territory and determine lines of travel or communication between the ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ districts. They had to ‘explore’ the coastline and ‘discover’ various overland routes. Count Strzelecki was the name most identified with such ‘exploration’. This group tended to write detailed accounts of their treks. On the other hand, there were opportunists – most commonly, squatters coming into Gippsland from NSW – who, in the pursuit of their own material interests, pushed into and exploited the same ‘unknown’ areas. But this second group did not necessarily want recognition, or, at least, not immediately. Their more self-interested motivation was to limit competition for the same new pastures. The name most associated with this second group was Angus McMillan. The efforts of this second group often went unrecorded, and often this was deliberate on their part. Of course, the major qualification in this particular ‘discovery’ controversy is that the areas were ‘unknown’ ‘un-mapped’ and ‘un-named’ only to Europeans. Indeed, there are numerous references in the various primary sources examined by Cox which highlighted how the Europeans relied on ‘blacks’ or ‘black fellows’ as guides and protectors in their travels in Gippsland.

Obviously, the theme of European discovery, exploration and occupation is tied absolutely to the critical theme of the dispossession and subjugation of the Indigenous population (Ganai/Kurnai). Yet this is not a theme covered by Cox. He touches on it, alludes to it, refers to it in passing but he does not present it as a critical historical theme in its own right. For Cox, this fundamental issue is more something that just happened, via a ‘natural’ process. It might have had some regrettable dimensions to it and there may well have been cruel excesses but, for Cox, the overall process to ensure a more productive and profitable use of the land, the establishment of settlements and towns, and the creation of a secure, civilised and God-fearing White community was both inevitable and justified. It was what ‘colonisation’ meant. Moreover, by the time that Cox was writing, the ‘foundation years’ and the ‘early days’ had well passed and there was little memory of and scant interest in them. In fact, certain frontier memories were repressed.

It is possible to see how Cox handled the issue of early contacts between the European ‘occupiers’ and the Indigenous population by looking closely at two episodes to which he was particularly drawn. The first was labelled the ‘White Woman of Gippsland’ and the second involved the death of Ronald Macalister and the subsequent massacre(s).

White Woman of Gippsland

In mid 1912, Cox wrote 2 articles on the White Woman of Gippsland. He was responding to several pieces which had appeared recently in The Mercury. The material covered … the oft repeated story of a white woman in the early days having lived in captivity amongst the blacks of Gippsland. Cox represented his work as an exercise in determining the real history in the romantic saga.

In his first article – Article 6, 22/5/12: The “White Woman” and other matters (1) – Cox gave the details of the essential narrative. The claim was that there had been a white, female survivor of a wreck on the Gippsland coastline in the early 1840s who had been captured by the ‘blacks’. Subsequently, over the next few years, there had been sightings of the woman by various European parties but none of these had been able to catch up to her captors and rescue her. There were variations on the basic story. One had the woman escaping her captors and making it all the way back to Sydney. Another had the ‘white woman’ as nothing more than a ship’s figurehead, painted white, which the local ‘blacks’ carried about with them.

At this point, Cox believed that, while the basic story made for ‘interesting reading’, it was ‘not exactly history’. He pointed to all the inconsistencies, contradictions and factual errors in the basic narrative and, finally, dismissed it. He came down on the side of the painted ship’s figurehead and concluded, She is dead – let us bury her.

But, clearly, the idea of a white woman being captured by and forced to live among the ‘blacks’ of Gippsland was a story bound to appeal to the public. It was one not easily dismissed.

A few weeks later, Cox had another article – Article 7, 5/6/12: The White Woman (2) – on the same topic. He began:

It was thought that when the last paper was written that this subject as disposed of, but it has since been disclosed that there are still some who believe in the story as fact. In the “Argus” of 25th May last an article appeared under the name of “Historicus” containing much valuable information not otherwise accessible. The writer being known to the compiler of these notes, permission was sought and readily granted for its reappearance in this form for the benefit of those who believe and for the interest of all others.

Cox reproduced the article from The Argus (25/5/12) in its entirety. The article focused on another key primary historical resource: Journal of an expedition which started from Melbourne on 6th March, 1847, in search of a white woman, supposed to be detained amongst the aboriginals of Gippsland. In fact, there were two expeditions – one in late 1846 and the other in early 1847 – and the journal Cox relied on was the account of the second expedition.

Again, the basic story outlined was that the woman survived a shipwreck and was captured by the ‘blacks’. She was seen by various parties and even left signs of her existence. It was a compelling narrative. As the writer of the piece, ‘Historicus’, explained, the Victorian community was deeply affected:

A white woman detained as a prisoner, or worse, amongst the savage natives of Gippsland, and she, poor soul, putting out signals of distress, hoping against hope that she may be released from her terrible captivity. This surely, was a circumstance demanding, not inquiry only, but prompt and energetic action. Thus it presented itself to the community of settlers who then formed the citizens of Melbourne.

Historicus then outlined how the two expeditions were conducted. No captured woman was found but, again, the explanation based round a ship’s figurehead came up. When the second expedition finally caught up with the ‘tribe’ reported to have been holding the ‘white woman’, the promised handover went as follows:

On the appointed day there was brought into the camp and handed over to the party a white woman indeed, but one carved in wood, and bearing a trident in her hand. The natives had long ago found on the beach the figurehead of the Britannia wreck, and had carried it about with them as the incarnation of one of their deities.

Then at the very end of his article, Cox reintroduced himself to say that yet another article had appeared in The Argus (20/7/12) and that after having read another primary historical resource referred to in this article – NSW Parliamentary Papers for 1846 – he was not sure that that there was not some truth to the basic claims. He was no longer definite that he was dealing with a ‘myth’. He concluded:

My attitude now is that of suspending judgement until a more favourable opportunity of fully discussing the matter.

Several years later Cox again returned to the white woman saga. In Article 70 (19/7/18) he referred to yet another story that had appeared in a magazine called Life in August 1913. The story was entitled, The Broken Honeymoon. An Extraordinary Tale of a White Woman among the Blacks. According to this story, a newly married woman had been abducted by ‘blacks’ from the Stockyard Creek gold diggings (Foster) in the 1860s. Rescuers tracked the woman to the ‘neighbourhood of the Gippsland lakes’ but then, at the point of her liberation, tragedy struck:

… the rescuers were doomed to disappointment, for while crossing one of the channels, when the police boat was not far distant, the woman stood up to appeal to them to hasten, and whether her movement upset the canoe or split the bark of which it was composed, the fact remains that it sank in view of the would-be rescuers, and the woman sank with it. A strong ebb tide was running, and the woman was not seen again.

After the article appeared, Cox wrote to the magazine and challenged the basis of the story. He claimed the story represented yet another version of the earlier 1840s saga. He pointed out that the gold diggings at Stockyard Creek dated from 1870 and so the time frame for the story had to be incorrect. Cox’s letter was published in the magazine. Then followed reply and counter reply between the author – George Hermann – and Cox over several editions. Cox insisted that while Hermann’s account was … a most interesting and romantic story it was not historically accurate. One of the claims Hermann had made was that the … white woman was being carried about by the Port Albert tribe. This was supposed to have been in the 1870s – Hermann did subsequently revise it back to the 1860s – but Cox argued, using primary sources, that by the 1870s there was effectively no ‘tribe’ left in the vicinity of Port Albert. Conversely, by another public set of data, in 1874 there were more than 1,000 settlers living … within a radius of ten miles of Port Albert. Moreover, Cox also argued that even as early as the 1850s the Indigenous population (Brataualang) had virtually disappeared from the local area.

The correspondence between Hermann and Cox appeared to run though to the end of 1913 when the magazine stopped publishing Cox’s letters. Cox’s criticism, based on primary sources, of Hermann’s story appeared valid. It represented credible historical argument which, of course, was what Cox claimed to practise. But Hermann was not impressed by such an approach. His attitude to the newly emerging historical societies and their historical craft was fairly negative. He had a more personal and open approach to history:

Historical Societies are properly precise and exact, but they must not fall into the error of holding that only tales which have been recorded in ancient records, chiefly official, can possibly be true. I wrote the tale with the intention of giving information which I possessed, and which I knew had not been recorded, and which was unknown to any but possibly two or three persons. Because it was unknown and unrecorded and strange, does not take way from its accuracy.

In the 100 years since Cox wrote on the topic, much more has been written on the ‘white woman of Gippsland’. For a background, see The La Trobe Journal, No 63 Autumn 1999, The Great “White Woman” Controversy. Interestingly, a good deal of the piece in the journal covers the tension between formal academic history and local history, particularly oral history which is passed down the generations. There are distinct shades of the very argument made by Hermann in 1913 in his defence of his ‘tale’. It is also important to note that historians today see the various versions of the ‘White Woman’ saga that circulated back in the mid 19C as having served as a general justification for intensified attacks on the Indigenous population.

What do we take from Cox’s interest in the White Woman? Why did he devote so much attention to the issue? One answer is that it provided a perfect example of all the critical boundaries between romance and reality, fiction and fact and myth and history. The role of the emerging historical societies and their backers, including Cox, was to write serious, fact-based history based on primary resources. The task was to uncover truth through research. Hearsay, folk lore, the tales of pioneers, collective memory – all of these could be considered and it was important to gather and record them; but there were definite limits and all these forms had to be tested against primary written sources. So, in a real sense, the various tales surrounding the white woman represented a natural and very rich focus for Cox and his methodology.

But I think it is reasonable to argue that there was another significant motive at play. Wittingly or otherwise, Cox was tapping into and giving voice to the deep-seated attitudes and fears of the first Europeans in Gippsland. His readers, over 100 years ago, would have been close enough in time to recognise those same attitudes and fears in their forebears. The occupation and settlement of Gippsland were still within collective memory. The story of the white woman served as a kind of essential fable. It sat at the edge of memory and represented the fear that from this strange and dangerous landscape, the original people – described as ‘blacks’ and ‘savages’ and completely ‘alien’ and ‘primitive’ – could reach out and exact some sort of vengeance by taking and abusing a ‘white woman’ who represented all that was ‘innocent’, ‘pure’ and ‘vulnerable’. Effectively, by dwelling on the story, Cox was rationalising the experiences and actions of the first generation of Gippslanders.

Death of Macalister and subsequent punitive expedition(s)

In Article 15 (25/9/12), under the heading, ‘Bloodshed’, Cox gave his first account of the death of Ronald Macalister. He stated that … the first murder of a white man by the blacks occurred early in 1842. His findings appear to have been based on recollections of local people.

Ronald Macalister was the nephew of Lachlan Macalister, a local squatter. Lachlan Macalister had land at … what is now Alberton East, south of the Brewery Road near the Tarra as a camping ground in connection with the shipping of cattle. On the land, there was a ‘bark hut’ which later became the home of Parson Bean.

Cox also described how there was a ‘party of blacks’ camped near Alberton and how when the men of the group were away hunting, stockmen of Macalister … in sheer wantonness, took a little blackboy from the camp and made a target of him. Cox then describes how when the men returned from hunting they … determined naturally on revenge. The nephew, Ronald Macalister was targeted:

Young Macalister riding from the hut at Alberton East to go through the bush to “Greenmount” had not proceeded far when he was set upon by two blacks and speared with ten spears, the body being badly mutilated.

Cox then explained the inevitable consequences:

This led to a punitive expedition on the part of the settlers, and a great massacre of the blacks followed.

Cox was keen to identify exactly where this massacre had taken place. He had three possibilities and he appealed to the local readers to come forward and provide more information. This was an excellent opportunity to involve the locals and draw on their folk memory:

No less than three different sites have been indicated as the scene of this massacre, viz Warrigal Creek, Gammon Creek, and Freshwater Creek. Between these the writer [Cox] is unable to determine. Perhaps there are some among the readers of these papers who can give the information. Those who escaped massacre were chased as far as Merriman’s Creek, and one who escaped death, in explanation to Mr. Lucas, stated he did so by ‘shaming dead’.

Mr. Lucas was one of the key sources for Cox’s account.

It is generally accepted today that all three locations mentioned saw killings, specifically in relation to punitive actions after Macalister’s death.

The first article on the killing and subsequent massacre created interest and response and so, not surprisingly, there was soon another article (Article 16, 15/10/12). Cox highlighted correspondence from the head teacher of Woodside State School, Mr W H Thomas. Thomas and a friend (Mr Lamb) gave details of a find they had made – ‘a quantity of human bones’ – buried in the sand on the beach near Warrigal Creek. The two men examined the skulls and concluded that the … remains were those of aboriginals. The men also noted that … all the skulls were fractured, a piece being broken away at the base of the skull, as though caused by a blow from a tomahawk. The men also noted that in conversation with a Mr Chas. Kuch, senior, they heard that there had been … a massacre of blacks in that neighbourhood. Unsurprisingly, they made the connection to … the massacre which took place in revenge for the murder of Ronald Macalister.

Cox then offered his opinion on the information provided by the men. First he argued that the remains pointed to ‘tribal warfare’. His view – naive and, arguably, convenient – was that Macalister’s men would have used firearms, and only firearms. Second, he was now fixed on the idea that the massacre had occurred at Freshwater Creek. This position appeared to be based on additional conversions he had had with the previously mentioned Mr Chas Lucas.

There was another article later the same month (Article 17, 30/10/12). Clearly, Cox’s articles on the topic were stirring interest, long-held memories and stories passed down the generations. This time there was different account of the reasons given for Macalister’s murder. It was clear that even though he reported it, Cox did not find the claim credible.

… the cause of the murder was, that when the blacks came too freely about the camps of the settlers and stockmen, and became a nuisance, the whites scattered about hot coals from their fires, and the blacks burnt their feet. The murder was in retaliation for this.

Also by this point, Cox had firmed on the idea that the massacre had not taken place at Freshwater Creek but at Warrigal Creek. His chief source for his change in position was a certain Mr Walpole. Cox quoted him:

I always understood that Warrigal Creek was the locality where the blacks were overtaken and killed. In fact, about 41 years ago [this would have made it round 1871, and 28 years after the massacre], when stockriding on the Warrigal run, I remember, close to the ’Sunville’ boundary gate, near Red Hill, there was a portion of a human skeleton, said to be the remains of one of the blacks killed. How much truth there was in the the report I am unable to say, but on the Red Hill the remains of several blacks have been uncovered by cattle scraping the sand way, and the action of the wind, etc..

Walpole then added:

As far back as I can remember there were all sorts of tales in connection with this killing business, and it seemed to me everyone was more or less ashamed of the affair.

Cox concluded his article by noting that given the ’natural reticence’, it was hardly surprising that it was proving so difficult to uncover exactly what had happened.

In September the following year (Article 33, 24/9/13), Cox again took up the investigation of Macalister’s murder. This time he quoted extensively from a story he had uncovered in the Port Philip Herald of the 29th July 1843. In the story, the claimed date of the killing is later than the one previously cited by Cox. Cox appeared to accept this revision – July 1843 is now accepted as the date – and he described the material he quoted as ‘more authentic information’:

Extract of a letter from Port Albert to a mercantile house in town [Melbourne], received by the ‘Jemima’ cutter, and dated the 20th instant: – “The blacks have commenced fresh outrages, and a few days since killed Mr. Kenneth (sic) Macalister, within half a mile of his station at Port Albert. He was on horseback at the time, and armed with a brace of pistols. This marks five persons murdered within little more than 12 months.”

The extract quoted by Cox did not offer any detail of the circumstances leading to the killing. Nor was there reference to any subsequent ‘punitive expedition’:

It is reported that Mr. Macalister was decoyed from his station by a party of blacks on pretext of having found a flock of sheep that had been missing, and that having got him to a spot favourable for their murderous purpose, they set upon him with their waddies, and despatched him under circumstances of the utmost barbarity.

The same extract decried the fact that the settlers were obliged to pay ‘licences and assessments’ but they received ’no protection from the Government’.

For his part, Cox corrected Macalister’s name – Ronald not Kenneth – and he noted that … other accounts of this murder state that he [Ronald Macalister] was speared.

There is one final article worth looking at. It was number 37a and it appeared on 6/2/14. Again, Cox quoted extensively from the Port Philip Patriot (21/9/1843) but the article itself came from the The Sydney Morning Herald of 6/9/43. Cox did not provide any commentary or criticism of the material presented. His readers read it, presumably, as a factual account; although the introduction did describe the statements to be ‘highly coloured’. The Indigenous population is described as the settlers’ ‘most bitter enemies’:

‘Crimes are as openly perpetrated as the sun at noonday. And such is the force of habit that since the departure of our police magistrate the public look upon these occurrences with indifference- as matters of course.’ For instance, Mr. Macalister was dragged off his horse and cruelly murdered in the township of Alberton, his head being so totally disfigured that his countenance could not be recognised amongst his most intimate friends (this outrage being committed) by these harmless, innocent denizens of the wilds of Gippsland, bearing the anomalous cognomen of Her Majesty’s most liege subjects (we give it as our gratuitous opinion, most bitter enemies). Nor is this the only instance of the sacrifice of Christian blood by these liege subjects. Since we last did ourselves the honor of addressing your Excellency, a servant in the employment of Mr. Foster, a settler here, was killed, his body mangled and some of its members carried off, making in all within the last eighteen or twenty months the number of five precious lives sacrificed at the shrine of the implacable savages, besides a variety of hairbreadth escapes by flood and field all gone down the stream of oblivion without one question asked or given on authority.

Cox did not pick it up, but the last reference in the quote appears to be a cryptic reference to some sort of ‘frontier justice’ at work, given that the authorities were not present. Indeed, the next section of the article goes on to describe a very lawless and dangerous frontier. Alberton, specifically, was full of ‘lawless villains’ and the ‘most lawless rogues’. Highway robbery was rife and the whole place was full of sly grog shops.

Cox does not use the Macalister death and subsequent killings as a lead-in to examine the whole question of frontier conflict. He does not, for example, focus on the immediate and background reasons for the killing of Macalister. Nor does he attempt to catalogue the various killings on the same frontier. Rather, he writes about the Macalister episode as a single, isolated event. For Cox, the effort is to uncover primary sources and, to the extent possible, have the readers contribute to the discussion. The focus is on the methodology rather than the critically important history that the methodology is uncovering. Moreover, there are concerns about the methodology itself. While it is true that Cox looked at a variety of primary sources, there are other sources that he did not use. A good example is George Dunderdale’s The Book of the Bush which had been published in 1890. Dunderdale included an account of Macalister’s death and the subsequent killings, but Cox did not refer to him.

One interesting note here is that Cox certainly knew of Dunderdale’s work. In fact, he had already criticised Dunderdale’s writing. He used Dunderdale’s work to demonstrate the difference between what he saw as the two extremes of ’romance’ and ‘history’. In Article 18 (8/11/12) both Cox and ‘A W Grieg, hon. sec. Historical Society of Victoria’ had used ‘historical facts’ to expose ‘untruthful statements in Dunderdale’s “Bush Tales”’. Admittedly, there were errors – dates, places, names – in Dunderdale’s work and his style did tend towards over-writing. At the same time, his detailed description of the bloodshed and savagery on the Gippsland frontier is impossible to ignore or gloss over. Consider, for example, the following account of the operation of Tyers’ ‘native police’:

There were now ladies as well as gentlemen in Gippsland, and one day the commissioner [Tyers] sailed away in his boat with a select party. After enjoying the scenery and the summer breezes for a few hours, he cast his eyes along the shore in search of some romantic spot on which to land. Dead wood and dry sticks were extremely scarce, as the blacks used all they could find at their numerous camps. He was at length so fortunate as to observe a brown pile of decayed branches, and he said, “I think we had better land over there; that deadwood will make a good fire”; and the boat was steered towards it. But when it neared the land the air was filled with a stench so horrible that Mr. Tyers at once put the boat about, and went away in another direction. Next day he visited the spot with his police, and he found that the dead wood covered a large pile of corpses of the natives shot by his own black troopers, and he directed them to make it a holocaust. (p 276)

The following is Dunderdale’s account of Macalister’s killing and the events that followed:

At this time the blacks had quite recovered from the fright occasioned by the discharge of the nine-pounder gun, and were again often seen from the huts at the Old Port. Donald Macalister was sent by his uncle, Lachlan Macalister, of Nuntin, to make arrangements for shipping some cattle and sheep. The day before their arrival Donald saw some blacks at a distance in the scrub, and without any provocation fired at them with an old Tower musket, charged with shot. The next day the drovers and shepherds arrived with the stock, and drove them over Glengarry’s bridge to a place between the Tarra and Albert rivers, called the Coal Hole, afterwards occupied by Parson Bean. There was no yard there, and the animals would require watching at night; so Donald decided to send them back to Glengarry’s yards. Then he and the drovers and shepherds would have a pleasant time; there would be songs and whisky, the piper would play, and the men and maids would dance. The arrangement suited everybody. The drovers started back with the cattle, Donald helped the shepherds to gather the sheep, and put them on the way, and then he rode after the cattle. The track led him past a grove of dense ti-tree, on the land now known as the Brewery Paddock, and about a hundred yards ahead a single blackfellow came out of the grove, and began capering about and waving a waddy. Donald pulled up his horse and looked at the black. He had a pair of pistols in the holsters of his saddle, but he did not draw them: there was no danger from a blackfellow a hundred yards off. But there was another behind him and much nearer, who came silently out of the ti-tree and thrust a spear through Donald’s neck. The horse galloped away towards Glengarry’s bridge.

When the drovers saw the riderless horse, they supposed that Macalister had been accidentally thrown, and they sent Friday to look for him. He found him dead. The blacks had done their work quickly. They had stripped Donald of everything but his trousers and boots, had mutilated him in their usual fashion, and had disappeared. A messenger was sent to old Macalister, and the young man was buried on the bank of the river near McClure’s grave. The new cemetery now contained three graves, the second being that of Tinker Ned, who shot himself accidentally when pulling out his gun from beneath a tarpaulin.

Lachlan Macalister had had a long experience in dealing with blackfellows and bushrangers; he had been a captain in the army, and an officer of the border police. The murder of his nephew gave him both a professional and a family interest in chastising the criminals, and he soon organised a party to look for them. It was, of course, impossible to identify any blackfellow concerned in the outrage, and therefore atonement must be made by the tribe. The blacks were found encamped near a waterhole at Gammon Creek, and those who were shot were thrown into it, to the number, it was said, of about sixty, men, women, and children; but this was probably an exaggeration. At any rate, the black who capered about to attract young Macalister’s attention escaped, and he often afterwards described and imitated the part he took in what he evidently considered a glorious act of revenge. The gun used by old Macalister was a double-barrelled Purdy, a beautiful and reliable weapon, which in its time had done great execution. (p224)

Clearly, in terms of a primary resource, Dunderdale’s account is a critical reference and one of which Cox would have been aware and could have included. In fact, Dunderdale did explicitly comment on the conflict on the frontier. For example, there was this insight of Tyers’ approach to the ‘troublesome blacks’:

The blacks were still troublesome, and I heard Mr.Tyers relate the measures taken by himself and his native police to suppress their irregularities. He was informed that some cattle had been speared, and he rode away with his force to investigate the complaint. He inspected the cattle killed or wounded, and then directed his black troopers to search for tracks, and this they did willingly and well. Traces of natives were soon discovered, and their probable hiding-place in the scrub was pointed out to Mr. Tyers. He therefore dismounted, and directing two of his black troopers armed with carbines to accompany him, he held a pistol in each hand and walked cautiously into the scrub. The two black troopers discharged their carbines. The commissioner had seen nothing to shoot at, but his blacks soon showed him two of the natives a few yards in front, both mortally wounded. Mr. Tyers sent a report of the affair to the Government, and that was the end of it. (p. 265)

There was also this revealing detail:

This manner of dealing with the native difficulty was adopted in the early days, and is still used under the name of “punitive expeditions.” That judge who prayed to heaven in his wig and robes of office, said that the aborigines were subjects of the Queen, and that it was a mercy to them to be under her protection. The mercy accorded to them was less than Jedburgh justice: they were shot first, and not even tried afterwards. …

The white men brought with them three blessings for the natives– rum, bullets, and blankets. The blankets were a free gift by the Government, and proved to the eyes of all men that our rule was kind and charitable. The country was rightfully ours; that was decided by the Supreme Court; we were not obliged to pay anything for it, but out of pure benignity we gave the lubras old gowns, and the black men old coats and trousers; the Government added an annual blanket, and thus we had good reason to feel virtuous.

When every blackfellow in South Gippsland, except old Darriman, was dead, Mr. Tyers explained his experience with the Government blankets. They were now no longer required, as Darriman could obtain plenty of old clothes from charitable white men. It had been the commissioner’s duty to give one blanket annually to each live native, and thus that garment became to him the Queen’s livery, and an emblem of civilisation; it raised the savage in the scale of humanity and encouraged him to take the first step in the march of progress. His second step was into the grave. The result of the gift of blankets was that the natives who received them ceased to clothe themselves with the skins of the kangaroo, the bear or opossum. The rugs which they had been used to make for themselves would keep out the rain, and in them they could pass the wettest night or day in their mia-mias, warm and dry. But the blankets we kindly gave them by way of saving our souls were manufactured for the colonial market, and would no more resist the rain than an old clothes-basket. The consequence was that when the weather was cold and wet, the blackfellow and his blanket were also cold and wet, and he began to shiver; inflammation attacked his lungs, and rheumatism his limbs, and he soon went to that land where neither blankets nor rugs are required. Mr. Tyers was of opinion that more blacks were killed by the blankets than by rum and bullets. (p 268)

Equally, there were other accounts of conflict on the frontier for example, G H Haydon’s Five Years Experience in Australia Felix (1846), that Cox could have used. Cox obviously knew of Haydon’s work because he used it in other of this articles. But Cox was not, as it were, pulling all the threads together. He was not attempting to highlight the theme of frontier conflict and the violent dispossession and subjugation of the Indigenous population. Rather, his series of articles was offering anecdotes: individual and self-contained stories about notable events from the past. Possibly, Cox sensed that there was a ‘dark past’ but he did not set out to expose it in any great detail or depth. Nor was there any attempt to explore the fundamentals of the conflict, nor hold anyone or any party responsible. It was more a case of ‘these things – some truly evil and wrong – happened in the past but there is no direct link between that past and our present’.

Of course, it can be argued that criticising Cox for issues that his approach, 100 years ago, failed to address, is at the very least problematic and presumptuous. However, the basic tension does highlight how history comes to be written and what people choose to draw from history.

Cox’s pioneering work in the local history of Gippsland 100 years ago is very important. He certainly deserves recognition for his efforts in setting up the first, regional sub-branch (‘centre’) of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. The essential methodology he employed, with its focus on uncovering primary resources, assessing such resources against each other and incorporating memory – both personal and folk – as a historical resource, and recognising its limits, was ground breaking. His ability to popularise and promote the study of (local) history and his success in having the locals become involved were also very significant. He did the locals a sense of their history.

At the same time, it is essential to locate Cox within his own history. As indicated in numerous posts, he was a staunch Imperial Loyalist, arguably the most significant one in his community at the outbreak of War. He saw the strength of the British Empire as the high point in European history. And he saw the settlement and rapid and successful growth of Gippsland as a micro manifestation of the greatness of the same Empire. For Cox, ’settlement’ – in this instance, the settlement of Gippsland – brought prosperity, progress and civilisation. Occupation and settlement as features of ‘colonisation’, were natural and proven phenomena. The sacrifices and struggles of the ‘pioneers’ would sustain the future generations. Colonisation itself was a proven model of human improvement that ‘Great Britain’ – and other European powers – had employed on a world-wide basis. Essentially, the (white) European world claimed ownership of ’new’ land and proceeded to develop it for its own interests, pushing aside, marginalising and effectively eliminating the (non-white) Indigenous population. There could be violent and cruel side-effects as this process unfolded; but the process itself was natural and inevitable and the final – as opposed to interim- outcomes were overwhelmingly positive.

As a Christian minister, Cox additionally saw the ‘hand of God’ at work. Working from a strongly narrative lens, Cox was particularly interested in uncovering and describing the role played by the Church in the settlement of Gippsland. There was a strong emphasis on how the Church laboured in the young, raw and challenging environment of Gippsland. Coincidentally, at the time he started writing – just prior to WW1- many of the local churches were celebrating their 50th anniversaries. Several of his articles focused on these celebrations: For example, Article 24 (5/3/13) covered St. John’s at Port Albert and Article 34a (8/10/13) St. Luke’s at Alberton. For Cox, the Church had survived its infancy in Gippsland, thanks to the efforts of the first clerics – ministers like the famous ’bush parson’, Rev Willoughby Bean – and was embarking on its formative phase.

As the War progressed and the focus on ‘national character’ and ‘national identity’ intensified, Imperial Loyalists such as Cox crafted a strong relationship between the ‘pioneer’ and the ‘Anzac’. As already noted, the link was made repeatedly at local farewells for those who had enlisted.

Not surprisingly, Cox was not about to look to the history of Gippsland to call into question or critique the very theoretical supports that defined and shaped his world: the greatness of the British Empire, the strength of the Church in a new and challenging environment, the pursuit of the (unique) Australian character, and the White Australia Policy. Like everyone, he was a person of his times. Cox was an agent of the Lord, in the service of his flock, researching the European occupation, settlement and development of Gippsland, in a White Australia that was an integral component of the British Empire.

References

Cox, G  1990, Notes on Gippsland History, Vol 1- 6, ed. Adams J D, Port Albert Maritime Museum.

Dunderdale, G 1898, The Book of the Bush. Containing Many Truthful Sketches of the Early Colonial Life of Squatters, Whalers, Convicts, Diggers, and Others Who Left Their Native Land and Never Returned. Ward Lock, London.

Haydon, G H 1846,  Five years’ experience in Australia Felix, comprising A short account of its early settlement and its present position, with many particulars interesting to intending emigrants. Hamilton, Adams & Co., London
See Chapter VI, Narrative of a journey from Westernport to Gipp’s land, with extracts from the journal kept on the route.

For more contemporary research on the frontier clash in Gippsland, one readily accessible source is the website of Peter Gardner, historian from East Gippsland.

Another readily accessible source is the University of Newcastle’s site Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia, 1788-1930 and its map of massacre sites.

208. Rev George Cox and his ‘Notes on Gippsland History’ (1)

 

Rev G Cox, courtesy of Yarram & District Historical Society

Several previous posts have covered the importance of the the Rev George Cox, the Church of England rector who was appointed to Yarram in 1911. Cox was one of the most important Imperial Loyalists in the local community.

Prior to his own enlistment in 1915, Cox had been actively involved with the local Rechabite Lodge and he spoke at local temperance meetings. He had supported the local Boy Scouts and had served on the committee for Yarram State School. When the War broke out he helped establish the Belgian Relief Fund Committee. Most significantly, he was very involved in the local Recruiting Committee.

Even when he was serving with the AIF, Cox maintained a connection with Yarram and his former congregation. For example, in November 1917 he returned to Yarram to preach. In his sermon, he pointed to the differences between the ‘shirker’ and the soldier in the trenches prepared to sacrifice everything. He reminded his congregation that he had always supported the ‘voluntary system of enlistments’ and he declared that he still believed this was the best method. But now, faced with such peril, Cox urged everyone to support the Hughes Government in ‘any measure brought forward which would compel the shirker to do his bit.’ That night he gave a public address in the Shire Hall to young men on the topic of ‘The National Peril’. The National Peril was the scourge of ‘venereal diseases’. There was a write up of Cox’s visit in the local paper on 21/11/17.

Cox enlisted in September 1915. In fact, Cox had tried to enlist one year earlier in late September 1914 but was rejected by the local doctors. Most probably his age would have been a factor. He was born at Edinburgh in Scotland in 1871 and was then 43 years old. Even after he enlisted, his health was still an issue and he was actually discharged (May 1916) – rheumatic fever – before he re-enlisted, but only for home service. He served with the Australian Army Medical Corps at both the Isolation Hospital, Langwarrin and the Clearing Hospital at Broadmeadows. He held the rank of a/sergeant and he was formally discharged in January 1919. Cox’s determination to enlist and, equally his determination to continue to serve in the face of poor health, would have served as a striking example to the local community.

Cox was one of the most important advocates of support for the Empire.  He used his pulpit to promote the righteous cause of the Allies, remind everyone of the greatness of the Empire and the dire challenges it faced and, in a very practical gesture, make a strong call for volunteers. For a reminder of how Cox effectively fused Christian teaching – for example, the ideal of Christian sacrifice – with support for the War refer to Post 26. Soldiers of Christ.

Another striking example of how Cox presented the Empire of Britain and the Empire of God as overlapping and mutually dependent came in the sermon he preached at Yarram on Sunday 23/5/15. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/5/15. It was just before Empire Day and it also coincided with the feast of Whitsunday (Pentecost). Cox saw the British Empire as the civil and temporal manifestation of the Heavenly (Christian) Empire:

Tonight we are met for a two-fold commemoration. We stand on the eve of Empire Day, that day on which we commemorate the birthday of Her Most Gracious Majesty, the late Queen Victoria, and we commemorate her memory because of her life and character. She has left us an ideal of what a Christian ruler ought to be. And it was during her life that the British Empire received its greatest development, and was consolidated and established. And today, Whitsunday, we commemorate the birthday of the Christian Empire.

As well as offering both Christian legitimacy and active support for the War effort, Cox provided the local community with another considerable asset. From 1911 when he arrived in Yarram to 1915 when he enlisted, Cox provided the locals of the Shire of Alberton – and the broader community of Gippsland – with a running presentation of the history of Gippsland.

Previous posts that looked at recruiting drives and formal farewells and welcomes home have examined the themes that were commonly employed in speeches on such occasions and the theme of the young soldier as a worthy descendant of the original pioneers was very common. Possibly, even without Cox’s efforts, this theme would have been paramount but there is no question that Cox had provided both the background detail and the renewed interest in the early history of the local area and that there was a natural synergy between his history articles and support for the War effort. In Cox’s world view the success of the European settlement of Gippsland mirrored, admittedly only on the small scale, the inevitable success and greatness of the British Empire. Cox and his readers also saw the very real threat of defeat in the War as the denial of the very British virtues and strengths that had enabled the successful colonisation of Australia. Defeat would represent the very reversal of Australia’s history.

Cox’s efforts as a local historian were considerable. His articles on Gippsland history – Notes on Gippsland History –  which were published regularly in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative were detailed and extensive. As indicated, they ran from 1911 to September 1915 when he enlisted. In that period there were approximately 65 articles published. The articles recommenced in 1921 and continued to 1930. In this instance I am only looking at the articles published prior to and during the War, although this also includes a handful (4) that he wrote after he enlisted.

Interestingly, the articles were written and published in the style of a contemporary blog. Cox often revised earlier texts in view of additional research on his part, or in response to comments or criticism from readers or other researchers. He actively encouraged comments on his work and appealed for additional resources. Also, the topics on which he wrote were ordered somewhat randomly and the various threads and themes in his work were not handled in a strictly sequential manner. The work was definitely in the style of a ‘work in progress’ rather than a finished history. At the same time, the overall scope and detail of his work was very impressive and he gave the community a significant picture of its history, albeit from a particular perspective: the triumph of British colonisation.

John Adams wrote a formal history of the Shire of Alberton in 1990 and in his preface he acknowledged the value of … the many articles published by the late Rev George Cox in the Gippsland Standard. The value of the articles as resource material was always recognised, and in 1997 the Port Albert Maritime Museum re-published all the articles in a 6 volume work. John Adams also wrote the introduction for the series and, again, he acknowledged the significance of Cox’s work – These articles have for many years proved to be important research material for students and historians of Gippsland history … – and also presented an overview of their scope:

From 1911 to 1930 there appeared in the Gippsland Standard, Yarram, a series of articles which went under the heading of ‘Notes on Gippsland History’. These articles, many of them up to 2000 words in length, were the result of detailed and painstaking research on the early history of Gippsland by the Anglican minister, Rev. George Cox. They covered the explorations of Gippsland, the settlement of Port Albert and the subsequent development of Alberton and Tarraville, the early squatters and the cattle trade, the first overlanders in Gippsland and the beginnings of churches and schools in the Alberton area, concentrating to a large extent on the first twenty years of Gippsland.

The other significant feature of Cox’s work was that it was undertaken under the auspices of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. The society had been established only recently in 1909 and, in fact, Cox established the first branch outside Melbourne, at Yarram, in 1911.

Cox addressed the local Australian Natives’ Association (ANA) branch at Yarram in September 1911 – the paper he presented that day became the first of the published articles in the local paper – and revealed his motivation for setting up the first ‘sub-centre’ of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. He was concerned that there was no definitive history of Gippsland and that the challenge was time critical because the essential material resources were fast disappearing. As well, the ‘pioneers’ were dying. He wrote often about ‘our few remaining pioneers’. Recording the past efforts of the pioneers and celebrating their successes were of paramount importance to Cox. In the same paper, he explicitly referred to the duty of honouring the pioneer generations:

Let it be clearly understood between reader and writer that this is a national work, a work of public interest, in which all may take a share, for the honouring of those – our pioneers – who have borne the heat and toil and burden of the day, and for the instruction and inspiration of those who shall come after.

This was history with a high moral purpose, a history that could teach future generations of the enterprise, values and success of the original European pioneers. It was hardly surprising that the theme of the young soldier following in the footsteps of the pioneers became so common in local recruitment appeals.

Cox’s comments ascribe a ‘national’ dimension to the work. While the history Cox pursued was definitely focused on Gippsland, he was at least conscious of the need for a sense of Australia’s national history. Also, it is reasonable to argue that in focusing on the local history of a particular area in Victoria, he was consciously offering a model for other districts and regions to employ. All such work would thus contribute to the overall national history. This idea that a national history was required and that it could be realised, at least in part, by the work of local history groups such as the one Cox had formed needs to be seen in the context that, at the time, both the idea and ideal of an Australian Nation or Commonwealth were in their infancy. Australia has just reached the end of only the first decade of Federation. Truly national history was in only its infant stages. Of course, as matters turned out, WW1 – and particularly the Anzac Legend – would come to claim an extraordinarily powerful place in the national history.

At another meeting, this time to the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria in Melbourne in June 1914, Cox gave a rationale for the focus on Gippsland and highlighted some of the difficulties faced. The paper was covered in an article published in the local paper on 24/7/14. Cox made the case for what he referred to as ’Neglected Gippsland’. In his view, the history of Gippsland had been omitted from what national history there was at the time. Critical explorations in Gippsland had been ignored and … the opening up of the interior of this magnificent pastoral country half a century later does not seem to have been considered worth mentioning.

Cox gave several reasons to explain why the history of Gippsland had been ignored. The issue of geographic isolation was key. In fact, Cox detailed how isolated Gippsland still remained by describing how long it had taken him to reach Melbourne that very day for the meeting. In other articles Cox emphasised just how isolated the early settlements in Gippsland had been before there was an ‘overland’ route to Melbourne. This was one of the main preoccupations in his history of exploration. Another unique feature of Gippsland’s geography that had complicated the issue of identity related to the way that the focus of the settlement changed so significantly. The centre of settlement had proceeded from Port Albert to Tarraville to Alberton and finally to Yarram and Sale. As Cox put it:

The other feature which creates much difficulty lies in the fact that instead of one place forming a permanent pivot around which settlement has developed, place after place has become the centre of an ever widening and progressive area.

Cox also gave another reason why there were such significant gaps in the history of Gippsland or, from another perspective, why there was only limited enthusiasm for uncovering the past, particularly the very early European past. There were episodes and characteristics there to which people did not want to draw attention. At the same June 1914 meeting, Cox spoke about … the fact that for several years of its early existence as a pastoral settlement it [Gippsland] was a sort of no-man’s land, its inhabitants a law unto themselves, the government apparently having neither men nor money to spare on its administration.

Interestingly, Cox himself was not a local yet he took on himself responsibility for providing the local community with its history. At the time he undertook his series of articles there was effectively no readily available, written history of the area. As Cox himself noted, the history was an oral one and there were locals who knew this oral history and who, as it were, held it in trust on behalf of the community. Cox was keen to access the oral history, match with it primary sources, identify and resolve the inconsistencies and contradictions and come up with a more definitive and critically-tested, written version of the history.

Cox knew his work would stir controversies and upset vested interests but he incorporated this tension into his basic methodology, pointedly acknowledging the different perspectives. Cox would have been able to draw on his status as the local rector to add status and gravitas to his work. The fact that Cox’s version of the history of the local area presented such a glowing vindication of European settlement – set against a background of Imperial expansion, the spread of ‘civilisation’, the ‘opening-up’ of the land, and the innate superiority of White Australia – reinforced its appeal.

This is the background to the extensive series of articles that appeared in the local paper from 1911. A future post will consider the scope, emphasis and omissions of the history.

References

Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

193. Armistice: the returned soldiers celebrate

This is the third post in a short series that has looked at various celebrations held in the Shire of Alberton in the week after the signing of the Armistice. The focus of this post is a victory celebration held in the Mechanics Hall on Monday evening,18 November 1918. It was a ‘men-only’ show and it was organised by the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League [Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia] (see Post 148). It was put on ‘to celebrate the glorious victory over the Huns’. The report of the evening appeared in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on Wednesday 20/11/18.

The report does not indicate exactly how many of the returned men were there that night. I estimate that by November 1918, about 150 men from the Shire of Alberton had returned to Australia for medical discharge. This was from the approximately 800 men with a link to the Shire who had enlisted. However, not all those who enlisted from the Shire – for example, itinerant farm workers – returned to the Shire. Further, the event was held in Yarram on a week night and returned men from outlying towns and settlements would have faced difficulty in attending. Also there would have been returned men who for variety of reasons chose not to attend, or were not able to attend. At the same time, there was a functioning local branch of the RSSILA operating in Yarram and, allowing for all the qualifications, it is reasonable to suggest that there would have been up to 50 returned men there that night.

Also present were the fathers and (younger) brothers of those who enlisted and who were still overseas. Various ‘fathers’ associations’ had operated over the period of the War. The other major group of men there that night was made up of those who had been ‘rejected’ when they had tried to enlist. They belonged to an association identified in the newspaper report as the ‘Rejected Volunteers Association’. The paper made it clear that while the ‘rejected’ were glad to be present they certainly did not see themselves as the equal of the Anzac and their celebrations were therefore more restrained.

Noticeable in the gathering was the number of rejected men – we might almost say dejected men, by the thought that they were unable owing to some physical defect to join the boys at the front. But they were triers, at all events. With the fathers they enjoyed the fun more soberly, glad to see the returned boys as happy as juveniles.

Obviously the event was focused on the returned men and their ‘victory’. It was their opportunity to celebrate this victory and be recognised by the local community. The first item that night set the tone. It was a performance by some of the returned men:

A number of boys from “over there,” in merry mood, favored the company with a round of trench songs, quaint and original, which served to prove that in the midst of battle, and housed in trenches, there was that exuberance of spirit characteristic of the Australians, a spirit that was never dormant, even at the door of death.

The accompanist on the piano was described as the ‘dinkum oil’.

The Union Jack was pinned to the stage curtain and below it was a large banner declaring ‘God Save Our King’ [George V] and all the tables were adorned with the colours red, white and blue.

The program for the night involved a series of toasts, each accompanied by a speech. The first toast was to the Empire, given by Mr B Couston. Couston was the manager of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria. He had been active in recruiting and also the push for the Yes vote in the 1917 referendum. He was an outspoken Imperial Loyalist.

While there were several references to a distinctly Nationalist (uniquely Australian) sentiment that night, such displays were very much set within the pervading sense of imperial loyalty and destiny. Couston, for example, outdid himself with praise for the Empire. He took the final victory as unshakeable proof of Britain and the Empire’s greatness. Extracts from his speech suggest how little had changed since the same ‘boys’ were farewelled in 1914:

The British Empire was one of the best and greatest empires that had ever existed, and during the past four and a half years the traditions of this great empire had been nobly upheld.

Britain was essentially a peaceful nation, and always strove to maintain peace throughout the world. She only went to war to see that justice was meted out; the rights of small nations should be protected.

Wherever the British flag was flying the people got justice, and they had faith in her. She had come out of this great struggle with more glory than in any other conflict she had been engaged in. She was opposed to the nation who respected neither life nor anything else, and the lads who had responded to the call of the mother land had nobly stood for and upheld the tradition of the great British Empire. Now they could glory in the victory, and could develop the resources of their country at the expense of those who had been subdued.

There was nothing that could make them [the ‘hearts of Britishers’] forget the violation of justice by Germany, the trampling down and outraging of Belgium and Servia. The Germans stopped at nothing, outraging women and children, and even went into the monasteries and defiled them.

For Couston, the War had established that Australia had proved itself worthy of membership of the Empire and that Australians were worthy of the title ‘British’:

…the people of the dependencies of Britain were just as loyal as the old countrymen. Colonials knew they came from the noblest and purest of blood, and had flocked round the grand old flag showing how proud they were to belong to the greatest nation the world had even seen. (Applause.)

Perhaps Couston allowed himself to be carried away in the last burst of patriotic praise but the claim about the ‘colonials’ belonging to the ‘greatest nation the world had ever seen’  set definite limits to any notion of a unique variety of Australian nationalism. For Couston, Australia’s national identity, national interest and even national destiny did not exist outside the Empire.

There followed a toast to ‘The Allies’, because while it had essentially been a British triumph, the allies had also played a part, at least in reducing the length of the War. The allied powers specifically mentioned were Italy, Servia, Roumania, Portugal, Japan, America, France and Belgium.

In proposing the toast of “The Allies”, the speaker proclaimed,

… all recognised that the British Empire was one of the greatest and best, but at the same time they would all recognise in such a gigantic war as had just been gone through, that without the aid of the Allies hostilities may have gone on for many years.

Clearly, the millions of Russian dead had slipped off the political balance sheet, presumably because, in the end, Tsarist Russia had failed the Allies; and now the world faced the Bolshevik menace.

The toast to the Allies finished with a parting shot at Germany. Germany … deserved not one particle of sympathy, and nothing was too bad for her, and he [the speaker] trusted the Allies would never forgive her for the atrocities committed.

Next, a toast to ‘The Boys at the Front’ was given by E. N. G. Gabbett, one of the returned men. Edward (Goldie) Gabbett enlisted in 4 Light Horse Regiment as a 34 yo in July 1915. He had tried to enlist earlier but had been rejected on the basis of ‘insufficient teeth’. He was married and he came from Sale. His medical was taken at Yarram but the enlistment was finalised at Melbourne. He reached France in March 1916. He was wounded by a high explosive shell in November 1916 and his left leg had to be amputated. He was returned to Australia and discharged on medical grounds in February 1918. He was one of three brothers who enlisted. A younger brother, Norcliffe Gabbett, only nineteen, had been killed at Gallipoli.

Gabbett steered a deft path in praising the various units in the AIF and noting their respective strengths. He singled out the ‘battalion stretcher bearer’ for praise. Gabbett also continued the anti-German theme and pushed it to extreme lengths. He was reported thus,

He did not like speaking about the Germans as it made his blood boil. He had seen their work in Belgium, and he hated them like poison; they were the worst of the worst. He would never trust a German, no matter where he came from. There was only one good German – and that was a dead one. (Applause.)

Lt. Einsiedel, a visitor – and a visitor with a German name – then proposed the toast to the ‘Fathers and Mothers of the Boys’. He spoke about the sacrifice of parents who had lost sons, particularly those who had given permission for their under-age sons to enlist.

Although some parents had lost their sons, those boys were not lost to them and their memory would live forever and be honoured throughout the land. Parents would, in bearing their burdens, know that the sacrifice they had made had not been in vain. (Applause.)

Mr George Bland responded to Lt Einsiedel. Bland was a well-known local farmer and civic leader. He had a played a key role in the soldiers’ farewells and welcomes home. He was also a temperance supporter. He continued with the customary platitude about the dead not really being dead. According to him,

Those lads who had been killed were not lost to the parents. They had only gone before, gone before to join that deathless army which would always live.

The next speaker was Mr. John Biggs. The Biggs family was Catholic and 5 sons had tried to enlist but only 3 were accepted. At the time, one of the sons – Corporal John William Biggs – was a prisoner of war. He had enlisted as a nineteen-year-old in May 1916. He had been captured in the major German push in April (1918).

Biggs managed to combine the two themes of the dead not being lost and Germany’s guilt,

Those lives that were lost were not lost in vain, as it was through those boys victory had been won. He [Biggs] was afraid the Allies were going to be too lenient with Germany. The present was no time to talk of justice to Germany. Let justice be given to France and Belgium first.

Biggs then moved on to more local concerns. Specifically, he started talking about repatriation and his comments took on a decidedly militant, if not agrarian socialist, tone. For Biggs, the past 4 years had seen many promises made and now it was time to deliver. Probably, Biggs was being critical of all those local civic leaders who had called on all the local men to enlist in the name of duty and patriotism. There was an obvious suggestion of class conflict in what he said:

When all the boys come back they should be provided for, and the Government should see they were properly looked after. The Government should compel the wealthy members of the community, those who had made money out of the war, to disgorge. There were men who were living idle lives holding big properties and producing next to nothing. The land should be acquired compulsorily. Let the Government pay a reasonable price for it and give it to the boys. No one had a better right to it than those who fought for it.

Finally, it was the turn of the ‘The Triers’. This toast was proposed by Mr David Muir, another returned local soldier. Prior to enlistment he had been a popular and well-known footballer and cricketer but he had been discharged in mid 1917 with ‘broken health’. Muir referred to those rejected as men …who through no fault of their own, were not soldiers. He spoke of them as …

– the disappointed triers. They had in fact formed an Association and were affiliated with the Returned Soldiers’ Association, being recognised as men who were prepared to do their share. Those who had the glorious privilege of donning the khaki, and enjoying all that the soldiers enjoyed, realised how disappointed these men still felt.

In responding to the toast, the Rev C. J. Walklate touched on a subject which was obviously still very raw. Unlike the ‘triers’ there had been other locals who had been fit and healthy and who could have enlisted but chose not to do so. And there was the related issue of people who continued to deal with these ‘shirkers’ and who therefore condoned their lack of duty and gave them respect to which they were not entitled. Moreover, according to Walklate, the shirker sometimes received even more attention than the genuine soldier:

They had men in their midst who could have left their properties and fought, while their work could have been quite easily carried on without them. These people should have been asked why they did not go. Even now they should be waited on and asked their reasons for failing to enlist. The matter should be taken up at once and settled for all time. If those men had no good reason then they should be relegated to social and political oblivion. Still there were people who hob-nobbed with those who neglected their duty. They had an example of it during the peace celebrations the other evening when in the hall at a dance. It was impossible to pick out the returned man. The favors and smiles were showered on the shirkers. There should be sufficient sense of shame left in those men who had not volunteered to be missing from such gatherings. However, those who had gone and those who had tried should move themselves in the matter, so that the line of distinction could be shown between those who had fought and tried and those who had not; then the public could see how the wind blew. (Applause.)

The fact that those rejected on health grounds had gone to the length of creating their own association indicates how concerned they were by the fear of being labelled a ‘shirker’. On some local memorials the names of those who had been rejected were even included. However, what was arguably more poignant was the naïve belief that there could ever be any sort of ‘comradely’ link between those who had served overseas in the AIF and the ‘triers’. It might have seemed a hopeful premise before the men returned, but once they did return there was obviously no shared experience whatsoever to hold the two groups together.

At the end of the toasts that night, on a more practical note, there was talk of the three associations – Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League, the Fathers’ Association and the Rejected Volunteers’ Association – coming together behind a proposal to establish some sort of amenity – an ‘institute’ – where, once they had all returned, the local former soldiers could meet and socialise. On the night it seemed the most ordinary of suggestions but, in fact, this proposal was going to prove very divisive in the local community, particularly when the returned men showed signs of wanting the right to do things their way. The ‘mateship’ of the returned men was to prove more exclusive than the locals imagined.

The night ended with a toast to ‘Our Fallen Comrades’ – ‘honoured in silence’ – and, finally … The National Anthem, Rule Britannia and ringing cheers wound up a most pleasant evening.

One final observation is that there is some doubt over the person of Lt. Einseidel who was there as a guest that night. As indicated, he proposed one of the toasts and he was certainly introduced as a special guest:

Amongst the number was a soldier who had gained distinction by gaining at Bapaume a military cross, Lieutenant R. Einsiedel, who saw 2 years 10 months service.

There was no Einseidel who enlisted as a local and no record of the name on the local electoral roll or in the Shire of Alberton rate book. Possibly, he moved to the local area after he was discharged, but it is hard to find evidence of this. Possibly he was passing through Yarram at the time of the celebration. In terms of war service, I have not been able to find anyone of the name Einseidel receiving – or being recommended for – any honour or award. The name itself is very uncommon and the closest match I can find is 2 Lieutenant Rupert Einsiedel. He was born in Victoria but enlisted in Queensland. He served overseas for only a short time – approximately 4 months – before being returned to Australia and discharged, in August 1917, on medical ground – recurrent rheumatism. He did not serve in France but spent all his time in England undertaking officer training. The two versions of Lt Einsiedel obviously do not line up. Perhaps the local paper got the name wrong. Perhaps someone knew of the ‘real’ Lt Einsiedel and assumed – and also embellished – his identity so he could win favour in ‘out-of-the-way’ rural towns. At the same time, we have already seen how returned servicemen themselves were quick to identify ‘fakes’ and ‘imposters’. Lt Einseidel remains a puzzle.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

192. Thanksgiving Sunday, 17/11/18

The first Sunday after the Armistice was Sunday, 17 November 1918. On the day, religious services focused on the War’s end and the promise of peace.

Protestant services on the day

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/11/18 published a detailed account of the services under the headline: Thanksgiving Sunday. Crowded Churches. It led with,

In the district churches on Sunday the voice of the people was raised in thanksgiving to Almighty God for deliverance from our enemies … .

The paper’s account first covered the Church of England service taken by Rev M G Opper. Rev Melchior George Opper had only taken over the ministry from Rev Raymond in October 1918. Opper described how he intended to … give thanks to God for the mighty victories recently granted to the Allies in Palestine, Turkey, Austria, France, and for the ending of hostilities after four years of war. His second task was to … commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice, and to remember the bereaved.

For Opper and his congregation, there was no doubt that God had intervened on the side of the Allies. God had done so because the Allies had been … confronted by an explosion of evil. Evil was ‘rampant’. But God, as the … moral Governor of the universe… had intervened and the Allies had become … instruments in the hands of our God to save the world from the rule of a cruel, despotic foe. At the start of the War, people’s faith had been tested. As Opper said on the day, God seemed silent or powerless. But, in the end, people’s faith was ‘quickened’. Also, in the end, people saw that the War, as a time of hardship and challenge … had meaning in the world’s history. The hand of God was there.

There were also all the common references to Belgium, the Lusitania and ‘all the barbarisms’ committed by Germany.

As well as arguing that God had played a benevolent and guiding hand in the outcome, Opper also cited 3 specific occasions when he considered that God had intervened directly to change the course of the War. Without further explanation or justification, the three he gave were: ‘the retreat from Mons’, ‘the first stoppage at the gates of Paris’ and ‘the evacuation of Gallipoli’.

Opper’s religious allusions to the sacrifice of the dead were by then commonplace: the sacrifice of the men was in the spirit of Christ’s own sacrifice; theirs was the ‘noble’ and ’supreme’ sacrifice; they sacrificed themselves for others – ‘us’ – willingly; and their parents were resigned to the sacrifice. To our ears, 100 years on, it might sound like religious saccharine but for many the following would have been intensely reassuring:

Their memory is fragrant because counting the cost they offered themselves willingly, though it meant hardship, suffering, death for them. We praise God for their noble lives. We thank God for the women who gave them up, who though they rejoice with us today do so with tears in their eyes… .

Rev Walklate’s sermon to his Methodist congregation that Sunday was more nuanced. Certainly, he too was keen to offer the mandatory … expression of trust and thankfulness to God for triumph over our enemies. But he wanted his congregation to consider the tragedy of Germany in more detail, as opposed to focusing on merely the triumph of Britain and the Allies. Rhetorically, he asked his congregation to consider Germany’s predicament:

We must not forget that today millions of German people are gathering in their respective churches questioning their hearts for the reason why their prayers have been unanswered.

He noted that the Germans were very religious. In fact, he was quick to add that, as a nation, they appeared to be far more religious than Australians. As previously stated, one of Walklate’s most common wartime themes covered the religious indifference or negligence of Australians. On this occasion he noted, again, that in Australia … the spirit of public recognition of God and individual prayer has been sadly lacking. Walklate had seen the War as the nation’s chance to turn back to God. He was constantly disappointed.

Yet for all their prayers, Walklate noted that God had not listened to the Germans. Instead he had favoured the Allies, including the doubtful Australians. Walklate continued with the answer to his rhetorical ‘why?’.

Nevertheless, God has not heard their [the Germans] large cry, but has responded to the plea of our faithful few. We must ask ourselves why this is. Briefly it lies in the distinction between German and British righteousness.

In terms of what he described as ‘righteousness’, Walklate then proceeded to give an outline of German greatness, in fields such as in science, industry, education and the economy. The Germans had been able to solve ‘great social questions’. They were a ‘largely clean-living people’. ‘Physically and morally the Germans held their place… .’ The British way, on the other hand, was described as ‘muddling through’.

Walklate then resolved his rhetorical wonder with the claim that the British political system was inherently more powerful and its underpinning values more closely matched the Christian ideal:

Germany sacrificed the principle of individuality to that of national greatness. The individual only counted in so far as he helped to national efficiency. In Britain we count (the) individual and each personality as supreme. The value of each individual for his or her own sake makes for greater possibilities in our British righteousness than the German system. Christ died for the individual, and the redemption of the world lies in and through the individual.

The argument was more sophisticated than usual: the British (liberal) political tradition with its focus on the minimisation of government control over the individual, closely matched the Christian preoccupation of the fundamental relationship between God and the individual, and particularly the Protestant commitment to keep this relationship ‘pure’ and free from the corrupting influence of a formal (Roman) church. The same tradition served as a natural defence against the rise of the autocratic state – or the form of military despotism – that Germany had become. It was as if Walklate was talking up the value of a Christian (Protestant) theocracy.

Walklate also argued that Germany had been deceived by the sham prosperity that their political system – ‘military autocracy’ – had won for them before the War. However, he was quick to add that this idea of prosperity threatened all nations, including Australia:

The menace of the world to-day, and Australia in particular, is the confusion of prosperity with righteousness.

In fact, it was obvious that Walklate wanted to use the fate of Germany to drive home his message on the peril of pursuing the form of righteousness that equated to mere prosperity or a comfortable life:

You people who foregather in churches are not disturbed by the menaces of social evil, the liquor traffic, impure literature, Bolshevism and political crises so long as you enjoy three meals and a bed secure day by day. But our peril is that of Germany. Decent living Germans by the million are paying the penalty of a handful. The people always pay the price of their rulers’ iniquities. The individual must make himself responsible for his nation’s righteousness.

He even appeared to suggest that God had deliberately unleashed the War on the world to show man what truly mattered:

To me God has used this war to destroy the world’s surplus wealth, which was a barrier ever growing between man and God. In the levelled circumstances (of the) reduced wealth of the people, with clearer eyes we shall be able to see our national faults [drink, ‘impurity’, gambling etc], and remove them.

As argued, Walklate’s sermon was more nuanced than that delivered by Opper but both certainly had God intervening on the side of the Allies against the greater evil of Germany. The Allies had won because their moral cause was superior. God had made Good triumph over Evil.

The Allied victory also reinforced the correctness of the local Protestant clergy’s support of the War effort over the past 4 + years. Numerous previous posts have shown how the local Protestant clergy over the period of the War – particularly Rev George Cox and Rev Arthur Rufus Raymond (Church of England), Rev Cyril Walklate (Methodist) and Rev Francis A Tamagno (Presbyterian) – provided the local community with an ongoing narrative of the War which called for uncompromised loyalty to the Empire and presented the conflict as a clash of cultures and civilisation. They preached the lessons of patriotic duty, Christian sacrifice and Imperial destiny. They actively promoted recruiting and served on local recruiting committees. They supported Belgium Relief. They backed conscription and publicly campaigned for the Yes vote, again serving on local committees. They supported PM Hughes and the Nationalists. They spoke frequently at the local state schools on Empire and duty. They also spoke at formal farewells and welcomes home for soldiers. They all called for greater religious piety, purity and sacrifice in the cause of the War. They could now share in the victory.

Catholic services on the day

While the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – gave significant coverage to the Protestant celebration of the the end of hostilities, the (Roman) Catholic service(s) went unrecorded. Certainly, the local paper always gave greater coverage to Protestant services, particularly when the various Protestant congregations combined for joint services, but it is significant that there was no report at all of any Catholic (thanksgiving) service to mark the end of the War. Certainly, the occasion would have been marked by the local Catholic community with, at the very least, a requiem mass for those killed.

At the same time, it is possible to gain some impression of how Catholics viewed the end of the War by looking at the equivalent services held in Melbourne on the same weekend. Moreover, the significant sermon on that Sunday was preached by Bishop Phelan, Bishop of Gippsland (Sale). The weekend’s events were reported, in detail, in the Advocate on 23/11/18. They were also reported in The Tribune on 21/11/18. In terms of more mainstream papers, there was the briefest of reports on the Catholic services at St. Patricks in The Herald on Monday 18/11/18 and a longer account in The Age on the same day. The account in The Age was neutral in tone and did not touch on the more contentious aspects of Phelan’s sermon.

On the Sunday (17/11/18), ‘solemn high mass’ was sung at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 11.00am. Archbishop Mannix presided. The congregation was described as ‘an immense assemblage’. That evening there was another service ‘in connection with the cessation of hostilities’ and, again, Mannix presided. The cathedral was described as ‘densely crowded’. This was the service where the sermon was delivered by ‘His Lordship the Bishop of Sale (Most Rev. Dr. Phelan).’ On the next day (Monday 18/11/18) there was further … Solemn Requiem Mass … for the Australian soldiers who have fallen in the war.

Mannix’s sermon was covered in the article in The Age (18/11/18). It was definitely not triumphant in tone. He despaired at the folly of ‘man’ and the destruction he had brought to the world. He declared that … God had to build up again from out the wrecks that man had made. He blasted nations and kings and their … lust for power, for domination and for trade. He certainly did not see the point in glorifying the War. He was not preaching to comfort the victors:

Australia had given 55,000 of its manhood in the awful slaughter, and it was cruel to talk to the mothers and fathers of the dead of the glories of war. They hear too much of the victories and the glories that war could give; of the slaughter of which mankind should be ashamed, and which was a disgrace to civilisation.

Mannix called for prayers so that … God would never again allow man to plunge the human race into such misery. The consolation he saw was that the coming peace conference might produce … a lasting peace and a consequent happiness that men had hitherto scarcely dreamt of. But even here he called for the ‘victors’ – not mentioned by name – to be ‘unselfish’ in their negotiations with ‘the defeated nations’.

Bishop Phelan’s sermon was even more remarkable than Mannix’s for its distance from the Protestant notion of ‘thanksgiving’. Apart from anything else, not once in his long sermon was there any reference, even a passing reference, to the existence of the British Empire or its triumph over the Hun. Nor was there any reference to the Nationalist Government or PM Hughes.

Phelan even had a different take on the cause of the War. Whereas the Protestant version most commonly focused on the ‘barbarity’ of the Germans – the outrages in Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania etc – and the indisputable ‘duty’ of Britain and her Empire to challenge such ‘tyranny’, Phelan shifted the underlying cause back to the formation of the Triple Alliance (Italy, Germany and Austria) and then its counter, the Entente Cordiale (Russia, France and England). He spoke of how at the time, Pope Leo XIII had protested and warned against such treaties. Phelan noted that because of such treaties … When the Archduke of Austria was murdered the world was like a great magazine, which was ready to explode. Two mighty combinations had gathered powder, and occasion was taken of the death of the Archduke to declare war.

Phelan also felt the need to defend the actions of Pope Pius X and Benedict XV over the War years.

He then addressed what he saw as the claim that throughout the War the (Roman) Catholic Church had been ‘on the side of the enemy’. While the War had ended, there was obviously still a powerful sense of anger on the part of Catholics over the perceived way the Church had been attacked:

A crusade of calumny was raised against the Church during the time of war by lip-loyalists and sham patriots, who tried by every means to humiliate, malign and calumniate the Catholic Church. By a servile Press and from a hostile platform and pulpit, they were told that the Catholics in the world were on the side of the enemy and that they were not doing their duty.

Phelan did not offer a detailed rebuttal of the claim of Catholic perfidy but simply made the point that Marshal Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, who … represented the Allied forces in submitting the armistice terms to the enemy … was, in fact, … a loyal and devoted son of the Catholic Church. He also insisted that … Catholics had done their duty nobly and well in the war.

When Phelan turned his attention to Australia’s part in the War now concluded, at the same time as confirming the mythical status of the Anzac, he revisited arguments that had been used against conscription:

Considering our distance from the scene of action, and the difficulties of training and transhipping troops, Australia has supplied her full share, both in quality and quantity, of the forces that have won the world’s freedom. The heroism of the Australian soldiers in forcing the heights of Gallipoli, in the face of a withering storm of shot and shell, has shrouded their names in imperishable glory.

And let us ever remember that their gift of sacrifice or life was a free gift; no cruel law dragged them from their parents and friends. They realised that, dreadful as war is, other things are more dreadful – namely the triumph of despotism, the slavery of conscience, the ruin of country, the loss of national honour. And when such evils are impending war becomes lawful, and sometimes a duty.

The argument is finely balanced: one the one hand Australia (as Australia) was right in fighting the despotism of the (unnamed) enemy but it also correctly rejected conscription, as yet another form of tyranny. Australia’s involvement in the War was of a higher quality because its soldiers made the commitment voluntarily.

When he eulogised the … the fine body of young men who answered the nation’s call to arms, and left their country to face death … Phelan referred to either their love of or sense of duty towards their ‘nation’ or ‘country’ or ‘commonwealth’ or ‘native land’ – and he even referred to their sense of ‘national pride’ – but not once was there any reference to ‘Empire’ or ‘Mother Country’. In his view, the Australians had fought as Australians. They were Nationalists not Imperialists. And when he turned to literary allusions to describe the ‘fallen’, he cited a work that covered the American Civil War. There were to be no conventional Imperial allusions. For Phelan, the Empire was some false god of the Imperialists.

Arguably, the most striking feature of the sermon came when Phelan turned to the issue of the Australian dead.

In terms of Catholic Church doctrine, not all the (Catholic) Australians would have died in the ’state of grace’. Rather, they most likely died in the state of sin. As Phelan was reported as declaring in his sermon:

But to expect that the soul of every sin-stained child of Adam is fit for the immediate possession of God at the moment of death is to expect the unattainable in a world where sin prevails to such an alarming extent.

For the liberation (‘repose’) of such souls, the Church offered the power of prayer and the ‘sacrifice of the mass’ (Solemn Requiem Mass), through the agency of the priest. And Phelan called on the faithful to follow such ritual … for our gallant fellow-countrymen, without distinction, who fought and fell for us. And it was the role of the priest that Phelan was most keen to highlight. He wanted to draw attention to this role as the defining difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.

It might appear strange that Phelan used his sermon on the end of hostilities to focus on doctrinal disputes between Catholic and Protestant but, at the time, it was probably seen, at least by the Catholic congregation, as a justified counter to the the attacks on the Church. The particular dispute is worth additional scrutiny because it highlights the extraordinary animosity between Protestant and Catholic at the end of the War.

To prove his case, Phelan proceeded to relate a rather convoluted story, set in the ‘Middle Ages’, in which he, as a devout Catholic in desperate need of the absolution of his sins, via confession, faces for the choice of confessor either St Francis of Assisi – ‘the angelic St Francis’, ‘the seraph of Assisi’ – or Martin Luther. Unsurprisingly, in Phelan’s story Luther came across as an example of the ’dreaded Hun’ of the War

His heavy Teutonic features and repulsive looks reveal his character. He is a fallen priest, a rebel against God and the Church. He has dragged millions with him on the way to destruction.

However, the doctrinal twist in this case was that whereas St Francis was never ordained as a priest, Luther had been and he still retained the power, thorough confession, to absolve sin. So, in Phelan’s story, Luther is the only one who can help:

Hence in my distress, and having no choice, I pour out the sins of my life into the ear of that wicked man; and from him I beg absolution, and he says over me: “I absolve you from all your sins.” Within an hour my soul frees itself from its house of clay, and wings its flight to the gate of heaven.

The story itself is so contrived, at several levels, that it is easy to dismiss. However, the doctrinal implications that Phelan drew from his little lesson certainly could not be dismissed. They highlight for the modern reader the intensity of the divide between Protestant and Catholic. Phelan stated:

This war, which has revealed many truths, has manifested no truth so striking as the immense difference between the religion established on earth by Jesus Christ and that form of faith propounded by the reformers of the 16th century.

When a man in a dying condition is carried from the battle field, what little use is the Bible-reading clergyman, who has no power to absolve from sins. The utter bankruptcy of Protestantism to meet the wants of the dying and the dead has been exposed in all its nakedness during this war.

Bishop Phelan’s sermon that Thanksgiving Sunday was focused and highly crafted. It reflected profound doctrinal differences between Protestantism and (Roman) Catholicism. The sermon also reflected ongoing anger on the part of Catholics at the way they perceived they had been attacked over the years of the War. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, the sermon reflected careful political positioning on the part of the Catholic hierarchy – whereas Protestantism, as the religion of the Empire, continued to locate Australia’s experience of the War within the fundamental commitment to the British Empire, Catholicism was making a bid that the experience needed to be located solely within the context of the (Australian) Nation. One of the key conflicts associated with the history, legacy and ownership of the War was underway.

References

The Age

The Herald

Advocate

The Tribune

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

191. Armistice celebrations in the Shire of Alberton

The Armistice was signed at 5.00am on Monday 11/11/18 (Paris time) with all hostilities to cease six hours later (11.00am). Word reached Australia Monday night and the next morning Tuesday 12/11/18 Australians woke to newspaper headlines that declared, for example, Germany Accepts Defeat. Armistice Signed on Monday. Completer Surrender (The Argus Tuesday 12/11/18) and The War Ends. Germany Surrenders. Armistice Terms Signed. (The Age, Tuesday 12/11/18)

In line with its normal publication schedule, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative did not appear until Wednesday 13/11/18. The headline (below) which appeared in the edition noted that the local paper had posted the information of the War’s end, at its office in Yarram, as soon as it came though on the Monday night. Amazingly, the same edition also pointed out that, in fact, the Armistice was celebrated locally – and also very prematurely – from around midday on Friday November 8.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 13/11/1918. Courtesy NLA

Friday November 8

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, word reached the town late morning on Friday 8 November that the Armistice had been signed. In an article with the headlines, Victory Celebrated. Premature Owing to Unfounded Rumour. Thorough Enjoyment Nevertheless. … the paper traced the source of the rumour first to the Alberton Railway Station and then to telegrams, including one from the (Melbourne) Stock Exchange. The signing of the Armistice was expected imminently and the anxious anticipation in the community meant that these reports were taken as fact. As the paper tellingly put it,

by 11 o’clock townspeople could not further restrain themselves. Flags were flown from every vantage point, stores were raided for the Allied colors, and none could settle down to work. Gaily bedecked motor cars were in evidence, and in their exuberance of spirit, owners clothed their canines in the colors. One dog hoisted a miniature Union Jack whenever he raised his tail. The school children were let loose, and headed by a few “instrumentalists,” who tin-whistled no particular tune, formed a procession through the town. They sang songs, and spectators cheered. The whole was a pleasing spectacle quite spontaneous, and worthy of the town.

However, an urgent telegram from the editor (A J Rossiter) to Reuters to confirm that the Armistice had been signed brought the response that this was not the case. At the same time, there was also a report from the State Department in Washington that the Armistice had not yet been signed. At this point, as the paper put it, ‘enthusiasm subsided a little’. But there was still considerable excitement and confusion. Rossiter blamed The Age for misleading headlines that day and noted that people became convinced that the Commonwealth Censor was trying to withhold the news. To add to the tension The Age itself, on the same day – Friday 8 November – reported on a rumour – ‘peace had been declared’ – that had spread wildly at Flemington Racecourse the day before, Thursday 7 November. On the Friday, there were more rumours about all leave from Broadmeadows being cancelled. Also on the Friday, word reached Yarram that the hotels in Melbourne had been closed, adding strength to the rumour of the War’s end. The hotels in Yarram remained open on the Friday and, according to the paper, there were no incidents as patrons celebrated in the ‘old way’. Word was also coming through by now that that on both the Continent and in America the victory was being celebrated.

Against this background the President of the Shire – Cr Barlow – decreed that local celebrations were to go ahead that night (Friday 8 November), including a bonfire on the show ground. The President’s decision, according to the paper, ‘led to criticism in some places’ but the paper also made it clear that the decision was widely supported. The paper also supported the decision, even if, strictly speaking, the Armistice itself had not been signed.

… but the children and young folks having made up their minds for the fun, the president was right in his ruling, while the spirit was in the air. There was sufficient cause for rejoicing, even though the armistice was not signed. The British Fleet had sailed through the Dardanelles and taken Constantinople, Turkey’s armies had surrendered unconditionally, and Austria, too, had surrendered. Surely this was sufficient for all round rejoicing, without the final scratch of the pen to complete absolute victory. Victory was near enough, at all events, for heartfelt rejoicing, and the people could restrain themselves no longer.

So that Friday night – November 8 – the town celebrated, three days before the actual Armistice. As the paper described,

The town at night was thronged, and wore an unusually gay appearance. Shortly after 8 o’clock a monster procession, headed by the Town Band and the Fire Brigade, moved from James-st., along Commercial-st., to the show ground. While the people were assembling the bonfire was lit, when could be seen the large attendance, numbering with the children upwards of 2,000.
Unfortunately, there was a shortage of fireworks on the night. Once the crowd settled in the grand stand, proceedings began. The ‘Doxology’ was the first item sung, followed by ‘Rule Britannia’, the ‘National Anthem’ and then ‘God Save Our Splendid Men’.

Cr Barlow and Revs Williams and Walklate then addressed the crowd. They commented on the Allied victory, and asked the people to thank God for deliverance from the hand of the Hun.
The speakers were duly cheered.

However at some point that night it must have seemed strange to those there that they were celebrating victory before the Armistice itself had been signed. The newspaper report noted that Cr Barlow told everyone there that once the Armistice had been definitely signed the Government would ensure that the news was wired to every shire in the nation. The realisation that they had been too fast of the mark must have eventually sunk in. This probably explains why the actual speeches that night were limited; and, essentially, there was not much more to do after the short speech by the two reverend gentlemen. As the paper put it,

For an hour afterwards the crowd lingered on the showground, entertained by the band, which gave a programme of well-played music.

Monday (night) November 11

Saturday and Sunday must have been quiet days as neither was mentioned in the paper’s report. But then on Monday night, when planning was underway in the shire hall for another (proper) celebration once the Armistice had been signed, word finally did come through that … an armistice had been signed, and the war had terminated at 6 o’clock that morning.

Finally, it was all for real, and it is clear from the report that there was an incredible release of emotions. There was also a dramatic sense of witnessing a unique historical event. The newspaper’s report captures the wild scenes as they unfolded in a country town. There is the overpowering sense of victory, and the attendant triumph of righteousness. Importantly, the Armistice was never seen in the strict sense of an armistice – The Age on 12/11/18 provided the precise military definition –  but as a certain Allied victory.

The welcome news was conveyed by the “Standard” representative to the meeting [then planning the real celebration for the Armistice], and the meeting appropriately sang the National Anthem and God Save Our Splendid Men. … A big crowd assembled outside the “Standard” office, where the news was posted, and song and cheers broke the stillness of the night. Minor bells tinkled, and the heavy toll of the fire bell, and the boom of Dr Rutter’s cannon announced to people several miles out that the big historic event had been achieved – the Hun was defeated. The town at once gave itself up to rejoicing. Fireworks, too, flashed the glad news, and never has such an enthusiastic scene been witnessed in Yarram. Mrs. Dwyer thoughtfully ran her piano on to the footpath, and for an hour or more a street concert was held. Never have patriotic songs been more lustily sung, and never have the words of “Rule Britannia” and the “Marseillaise ” had such significance. Britain had “ruled the waves” and with the gallant French the two nations had “fought on to victory” with the other brave Allies. Excitement was intense. The severe tensions of the past few agonising years had been relieved, and a thankful spirit prevailed. It was an historic and memorable event, such as will never again be witnessed by the present generation. The world war was over, and the blessings of a righteous peace at last vouchsafed. The doors of Thompson’s hall were thrown open by Mr. Toft, who invited all to participate in enjoyment, and for several hours, till the wee sma’ oors, (sic) young folks enjoyed a dance and general hilarity. It was a night that will never be forgotten.

Tuesday November 12

The next day, Tuesday 12 November, was declared a public holiday across Australia. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported that in Yarram a combined thanksgiving service was held in Thompson’s hall. The presiding ministers were Rev Opper (Church of England) and Rev Walklate (Methodist), with the Rev. Mr Williams (Presbyterian) as an apology. The paper described the service as ‘largely attended.’

The service opened with the National Anthem and ‘Our Splendid Men’. Other hymns included, ‘O God Our Help’, ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way’, ‘Lest We Forget’, and ‘Jesu, Lover of My Soul’.
As per usual, the service was Protestant. According to the clergymen it might have taken God four long years but He had finally awarded the Allies the victory for which they had struggled. They been victorious because they had been fighting for principles. Their battle had been of a higher order.

All through the war the Allies had shown their inflexible determination to gain the victory, and nothing could lure them from the aim which they achieved. They set out to gain right over might, spiritual over material. They have been fighting for principles enshrined in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the patriotic church of Christendom has spoken with no uncertain voice. Our duty therefore is to return thanks to God, it would be base ingratitude if we refused or neglected to give thanks to the Great Ruler who has given us the great victory.

It is an open question as to how many at the service that day truly believed the God had finally intervened on their behalf and delivered them the victory. However, it was a religio-political line that had been preached consistently for the preceding 4 years and it would have seemed perfectly apt, even credible. Also, there was certainly no doubt that the ‘patriotic church of Christendom’ – as opposed, presumably, to the more politically and religiously ambivalent, if not outright suspect, church of Rome – had been beating a very loud drum for the four years of the War and it now intended to proclaim its (proprietary) victory.

That night (Tuesday), there was another celebration at the show ground. This was a decidedly more lively affair than the thanksgiving service. It was also a more genuine spectacle than the premature affair that had been staged on the Friday night. The celebration started about 8.00 o’clock with a procession of school children. Dr Rutter’s (home-made) cannon was pressed in to service again. The Royal Salute was played on a bugle and the usual ‘God Save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ were sung by everyone there. A score of patriotic songs followed. A paragraph from the paper captures the mood,

Two bonfires were ablaze, in which were burnt the effigies of the Kaiser, Crown Prince and von Tirpiz. Indeed, they were blown up. The grand stand was electrically lighted, and fireworks shot skywards at frequent intervals. The Town Band played selections on the grand stand. All round an hilarious time was spent.

There were of course significant limits to communication at the time, and limits even to the range of Dr Rutter’s cannon. Consequently, news of the Armistice did not reach some townships until early the next day. The following report from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of Wednesday 13 November describes how the news reached Toora, about 40 kilometres from Yarram.

The news that Germany had submitted to the Allies’ terms of peace, which was officially wired by the Lord Mayor to Major H. A. Jacobs, Toora, first thing on Tuesday morning [12/11/18], spread like wildfire and the streets were quickly thronged with cheering crowds. Church, school and other bells were started ringing, that at the Church of England being manned by a group of school boys who rhymed their peals to a tune of Peace, Peace, Peace, while buildings became immediately ablaze with flags and banners of all nationalities bar enemy. The school children, to whom a holiday had been granted, were soon abroad, hurrahing and hurrahing louder and more vigorously than all. Heavy rain falling at the time quite failed to damp the ardour of the people’s receipt of the glad tidings that peace had been declared for the time being, Germany having signed the Allies’ terms for an armistice, and that hostilities were to cease at dawn of the previous morn (sic). The joy was touchingly near, real and sincere.

The Armistice was also celebrated in the local (primary) schools. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (22/11/18) featured a detailed report on celebrations at the Devon North State School held on the Wednesday 20/11/18.

It would have been perfectly natural that celebrations took place in the local (state) primary school. As we have seen repeatedly, the local state school was a critical focus for the War effort, not just in terms of fund raising and other drives to provide comfort and support for the troops but also in the way the narrative of the War was employed – by teachers, inspectors, town elders, local Protestant clergy, the school governing body, the local press – to reinforce amongst the children the sense of loyalty to the Empire and the Nation. The values laboured were those of duty, loyalty, honour and sacrifice. The report in the local paper described how the speakers there that day emphasised that final victory had come from unwavering commitment to such basic values.

It was community celebration:

On Wednesday afternoon the parents and children of Devon North met at the school to express their delight at the successful termination of the European war. The large attendance evidenced the thoroughly loyal spirit, mingled with the deep feelings of relief.

After the National Anthem was sung, the importance of the occasion was explained to the children. They were then warmly praised for their … sustained efforts in support of all war movements. They were also urged to take pride in the school’s long honor roll which featured the names of approximately 60 former students.

That afternoon, the comments made in relation to sacrifice, patriotic loyalty and Imperial duty were virtually identical to those made when the first volunteers left the train station at Alberton in September 1914.

The honor roll, with some 60 names, testified to the loyalty of the residents, and the children were requested to reverence it and cherish the memory of those whose names appeared on it. Should the Empire at any future time demand assistance he [The president of the Shire, Cr. Barlow] was certain that the call would be just as readily responded to. His earnest request was that the children should strive to be worthy of their glorious heritage, and that they should do their utmost to maintain the Empire in the proud position it occupied today.

Cr. Barlow also laboured the theme of national – and imperial – greatness being based on ideals, values and principles. The enemy, on the other hand, was claimed to have pursued only material and worldly things.

In closing, the Shire President could not resist an appeal to the higher authority.

… so long as it [the British Empire] adhered to its present principles, its position was assured. Nations that had based their greatness merely on worldly matters had to-day even their names blotted out; therefore, they [the students] were requested to entrust themselves at all times to the Supreme Ruler.

Presumably, the Supreme Ruler was a reference to God the Almighty rather than George V., even if, as head of the Church of England, King George was the ‘Supreme Anglican’.

The ceremony finished with a mix of formality, conviviality, fun and, of course, the mandatory session of sports.

After the saluting of “The Flag”, afternoon tea was supplied and a programme of sports proceeded with.

All the speech making associated with the immediate local celebrations of the Armistice described the victory in terms of the Empire’s unconquered greatness and the associated triumph of its religion, Protestantism. Essentially, this was a perspective that looked back, to the world of pre-August 1914. All declared that the War had been won by the right side, with the right history, the right religion and the right values. Therefore, according to this logic, order would now be restored. The past could become again the present. Unfortunately, the world, the Empire and Australia itself had changed far too much for that to happen.

References

The Argus

The Age

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

190. Strength of Empire Movement

The Strength of Empire Movement appears to have started in Melbourne in mid 1918. The founder was the Victorian member of parliament, Edmund Wilson Greenwood MLA. In his time, Greenwood held executive positions in the Anti-Liquor League of Victoria and the Australian Prohibition Council. He was a lay preacher (Methodist), a member of the Australian Natives Association and a strong pro-conscriptionist.

Branches of the movement were established in metropolitan and country centres and the movement spread to other states. It also appears to have had some links to the British National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. The charter of the movement had 3 key demands: the introduction of war-time prohibition, using the model introduced in Canada; the use of a ‘bare’ or simple majority in votes to determine the introduction of local prohibition districts; and the application of ’strong measures’ to ‘ensure purity’ (eliminate or limit venereal disease). The movement proclaimed itself intensely loyal to the Empire and represented all its work as underpinning and reinforcing Australia’s commitment to the Empire and the war effort.

The AIF’s perceived problem with ‘drink’ – particularly in the case of returning soldiers – and attempts to combat VD were very much in the public mind at the time.

In early 1918 a Senate inquiry had been set up to investigate the harmful effects of drink on soldiers, particularly in relation to those returning home. The Age (11/1/18) described the function of this enquiry:

… to inquire as to the extent to which intoxicating liquor was adversely affecting outgoing and returned soldiers, and the best method of dealing with the sale of intoxicating liquor during the period of the war and afterwards.

The select committee was adjourned mid year (1918) and its final report did not even appear before the Armistice. Its key recommendation was ‘anti-shouting legislation’ to reduce the level of drinking of returned soldiers.

There was much evidence presented by military authorities, the police and the medical and welfare institutions caring for returned soldiers. It was claimed that drink reduced the soldier’s efficiency, that it had restricted the level of enlistments, that it was overwhelmingly responsible for instances of poor discipline in the field and that returning soldiers in particular were at acute risk.

At the time, some argued that restrictions such as closing local pubs when troopships arrived in port did not go far enough and nothing less that total prohibition would protect the returning soldiers. They argued that the whole of society had a moral duty to protect the returning soldiers and agree to prohibition. The counter view was that society did not have the right to protect the men from themselves, particularly given that the same men had, as volunteers, served the country so commendably. The situation represented the inherent tension between the way society had lionised the men for more than 4 years but now, on their return, was imposing major restrictions on their liberty.

The issue of VD was also very topical. In late 1916, the Victorian Parliament had passed legislation intended to curb the spread of venereal disease. The legislation attempted to stop the work of ’quacks’ peddling bogus treatments. It also attempted to force those with VD to seek out professional medical support. All cases had to be reported to the ‘medical inspector’ so that accurate records could be maintained. The patient was required to accept treatment until a formal statement of ‘cure’ could be issued by the medical practitioner. There was also provision for apprehending and then enforcing treatment for those with VD who refused to comply with the new provisions. At the very end of 1918 there were further legislative attempts. For example, there was a push to give the ‘medical inspector’ the authority to inform either the other party or the parents of the other party that the person he or she or their child was about to marry was infected with the disease. The equivalent law in NSW carried a five year jail term. Many critics voiced the concern that while the legislation focused on the identification and treatment of disease, the larger problem lay outside the law and was driven by the low moral character of those affected. In theory, their solution lay with the elimination of prostitution and the promotion of a more ‘pure’ citizenry.

Importantly, drink and VD were seen, and always represented by reformers, as intimately linked. In this view, drink or inebriation was the root cause of VD and if drink could be curtailed then the incidence of VD would fall. Prohibition would address both major social problems.

One of the cruel realities that drove the debate about VD was the incidence of children born with the disease, and also the number of ante-natal deaths caused by it. In an opinion piece in The Age ( 22/9/17) under the heading The Scourge of Venereal Disease, medical experts outlined the extent to which the diseases affected children:

At the eighth session of the Australasian Medical Congress in Melbourne a special meeting was held concerning syphilis. Dr. P. B. Bennie, reporting on behalf of the section for disease of children, said he inferred that “fully 25 per cent. of the sick children in Melbourne are tainted with syphilis, and that about 10 per cent. of the total number of children in Melbourne are syphilised. .. nearly half the children who die are infected with syphilis. Speaking generally the chances of dying before puberty are for the syphilitic seven times greater than for the non-syphilitic.

The same article referred to the large number of stillborn because of the disease and the equally large number of infants who died because they were born with it. It gave an overall figure of 6,000 deaths, nationwide. At the other end of life, the impact of syphilis was also documented. The same article noted that,

In our lunatic asylums 60 per cent. of the most loathsome, miserable, heartrending cases are victims of this dreadful disease.

The notoriety of Langwarrin as a special AIF hospital for VD cases also served to highlight the prevalence of the disease. Moreover, the statistics gathered at Langwarrin over the War years had revealed another worrying reality: the reformers’ call for ‘purity’ had to extend beyond the common prostitute. Even the notion of the ‘respectable woman’ needed qualification. The article noted that

… statistics that the establishment of the Langwarrin camp has enabled the military authorities to collect – and they are the first reliable statistics it has been possible to obtain on the subject – reveal the startling and disturbing fact that in only 18 per cent. of cases has the disease been caught from common women of the street. The remaining 82 per cent. of the cases were due to association with semi-respectable girls or women, whom the police could not arrest as vagrants.

Obviously, the 2 key areas targeted by the Strength of Empire Movement – drink and VD – had a very high profile over the War years and this profile picked up as the return of the AIF neared. The movement pushed both causes within the context of supporting the War effort and defending the Empire. However, social reformers of many kinds had pushed strongly for prohibition and action against VD before the War and they were to continue their efforts in the post-War period.

It appears that the War years were significant because they provided reformers with what was portrayed as a more urgent and desperate social, political and moral background. They were able to represent the time – not just the War itself but also the period of demobilisation – as one that called for radical solutions. Certainly, (Protestant) religious reformers saw the War as an opportunity for the Christian community to turn back to God, shed their sinful ways and strive to become better people and more loyal and dutiful members of the Empire. It is arguable that their efforts intensified after the loss of the 2 conscription referenda. Moreover, even those who were not religious in their motivation saw the dangers that that the twin evils of drink and VD posed to society and the Empire.

This was the general background to the attempt to establish a local branch of the Strength of Empire Movement in Yarram in the second half of 1918. Given local support, if not zeal, for temperance and the incessant call for religious revival from the local Protestant clergy, the Strength of Empire Movement and the Shire of Alberton appeared to be the perfect fit.

In an editorial on 9/8/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative actively promoted the coming meeting:

The Strength of Empire Movement will be launched on Monday night in Thompson’s Hall by Mr. Gifford Gordon, one of Melbourne’s most notable platform speakers. He is directly acquainted with the facts and effects of drink and disease in hindering Australia’s part in the war. The leading citizens of the State have already identified themselves with this movement to secure wartime prohibition and eliminate venereal disease.

The local paper subsequently provided (14/8/18) a very detailed account of the public meeting. It led with a note of disappointment that so few attended what it described as … a forceful and able address on the evils of drink and immorality. The editor (A J Rossiter) stated that he could not understand why so few locals had attended … as the movement has been inaugurated for the purpose of assisting in winning the war. He could not understand why people did not want to be enlightened on … the evils in our midst which go to sap the virility of the nation. Nor could he understand how while … hundreds turn out to picture shows, only tens attended an address which was for the enlightenment of the people.

The meeting was chaired by two local Protestant ministers: Rev C J Walklate (Methodist) and Rev A R Raymond (Church of England). Walklate’s brother had been killed in the War (22/10/17) and Raymond’s son had also been killed (9/4/17). Both clergymen were recognised as staunch Imperial Loyalists in the community and Walklate, in particular, was very active in the local temperance movement. He was also one of the most outspoken pro-conscriptionists in the local community.

The guest speaker from Melbourne was Gifford Gordon, a prohibitionist. He was very involved with the Victorian Anti-Liquor league. He told the audience that he had been … released form his church for six months in order that he might do what he considered his duty to his country and his fellow creatures. He expressed disappointment at the low number of locals there and stated that he had been … assured that he would have an audience of about 400 people. Indications are that there were less than 50 present. At the end of the night there was a collection taken to cover the costs of the meeting but the results were very disappointing.

Mr. Gordon said he was rather disappointed at the amount given, and unless more was received he would be sent out of town in debt.

Gordon described how the Strength of Empire Movement had been started earlier that year (1918) by E W Greenfield MLA who … believed he had been raised up by God to help and strengthen the people in their efforts to do their utmost for the Empire in this most critical period. Then Gordon outlined what the movement stood for:

Firstly, it was for war prohibition and prohibition during the period of demobilisation. Secondly, for the democratic principle of of a bare majority in regard to [the] local option instead of a three-fifths majority. Thirdly, it stood for purity, and to urge the Government to cope with the terrible evils that were attacking home life.

Gordon declared that he personally supported the movement because … it was in the best interests of the community, and because he was a Britisher. To be loyal a person had to live a life worthy of the great Empire. He believed that the … ideals of the movement were in the best interests of the country, and most of all for the soldier.

Gordon then proceeded to give an extraordinary account of the effect of alcohol on the War effort. Earlier posts have touched on the push for prohibition over the War years and the threat that drink posed to the AIF but Gordon’s remarks that night were striking. At the outset, he claimed that the single factor that had most harmed the War effort over the past 4 years had been ‘intoxicating drink’. Drink lay behind every problem:

It has robbed the firing line of thousands and thousands of men, has caused strikes and all sorts of impediments towards the successful issue of the war. Millions of pounds have been expended in the manufacture of intoxicating drink that should have been used for food for people who were almost on the verge of starvation.

Gordon did not see this as a uniquely Australian problem. Drink had compromised effort across the Empire. He gave the example of Canada where, in the early stages of the War, the temptation of drink had undone all the fine efforts of those promoting and enforcing prohibition and even the desperate wishes of the mothers of the young men:

When Canada sent over her troops they carried with them the requests from thousands of mothers to keep the boys away from drink. These lads had come from prohibition camps and had gone across in prohibition ships. The request was honoured for a while, but the ranks were eventually broken through, and the cry of those mothers disregarded, and tens of thousands of those boys who had never known the taste of drink before were returned home disgraced and degraded, and never saw the firing line; and this through drink.

But Gordon also praised both Canada and the USA for their much tougher stance on prohibition. He presented a stark difference between Canada and Australia. Canada, with prohibition, had been able to make a far more significant contribution to the Empire:

The success of the prohibition movement in Canada should be an example. Canada and prohibition has presented 150 aeroplanes to England and 600 to the United States. Australia has sent none. Canada has built 89 ships and sent them laden with provisions: Australia had built none. Canada loaned £ 81,000,000 to Great Britain; Australia had borrowed £ 139,000,000. The expenditure in Canada on drink would soon be nil; in Australia it was about £ 18,000,000. That was the difference between prohibition and a licensed evil.

Gordon’s address also featured a full-on expose of what he saw as the extent to which drink had undermined the AIF and limited the size of the army Australia could raise. People in his audience would have known of the harmful effects of drink – and the actions taken to try to limit its effects – in the training camps in Australia and on overseas service, but Gifford was presenting a far worse picture. It was a picture of how Australia had failed the Empire:

It might be news to the people to know that 60,000 Australian boys who were in camp never left these shores because of drink. They enlisted because duty called them, and their aims and ambitions were to fight for their country. But the cursed drink defeated them. If we tolerate this sort of thing then we should not claim to be loyal subjects of the British Empire. This awful barrier that came between the boy and his duty should be swept away. Think of the hundreds of thousands of lads who were defeated this way when the mother country was calling for more men; and yet we sanctioned it. It was all very well for the Government to send out recruiting sergeants to get men to enlist, but they allowed these boys to be surrounded with the two great evils – drink and bad women.

[Commonwealth figures from the time – The Senate, 5/12/18 – referred to 68,937 men who had enlisted (upto the end of 1917) who did not go to war. The reasons given were: ‘some had died, some had deserted, and some were discharged.]

Later in his speech Gordon claimed that, Ninety per cent. of the boys who proved unsatisfactory as soldiers were defeated through drink.

Gordon also specifically targeted the drink problems associated with the returned men. He referred to the … thousands of broken hearts and broken homes amongst the returned soldiers caused by the cursed drink alone… and in a striking image he described how … it made his heart bleed to see some of the boys who had returned, some with one limb or one eye, staggering down the street defeated by these curses [drink and bad women].

Commonly, the Strength of Empire Movement held separate meetings for men and women, presumably because of sensitivities over any discussion of venereal disease. But on this occasion Gordon spoke on the topic to a combined audience. The comments were general and focused on the extent of the problem. He referred to it as ‘the purity question’. He also claimed that the authorities had tried to keep the extent of the problem concealed and that in a real sense it was just another manifestation of the problem of drink:

There had been a conspiracy to screen the awful vice of impurity, but it was time now that the veil was lifted. Eighty per cent. of those people affected with that awful venereal disease was the direct result of drink.

He gave statistics on the problem from the UK and Australia, emphasising the number of babies born with the disease, the number of ante-natal deaths and extent of childless marriages. He also claimed that, Eight thousand Australian boys had been treated in Langwarrin camp during the war. He even claimed that ’high medical authorities’ had determined that VD had … killed more British people in one year than all the victims of this great war.

He also touched on the fear of ‘race suicide’, another preoccupation of the time. Australia, or more specifically White Australia, was threatened by a low birth rate, war deaths and casualties and, of course, drink and venereal disease. White Australia was destroying itself through its own reckless and wanton ways. Gordon claimed,

The Health Department had stated that unless the disease [VD] was checked that in 50 years the population would be devastated and we as a people would cease to exist, and that drink was in the main the cause.

Earlier he had despaired that, Australia could not work out the destiny that was intended for it if it allowed this damnable curse [drink] to continue.

Obviously, Gordon was talking that night to the converted. Presumably, the people there were the same locals who had always been strong in local Temperance circles and who had called, for example, for the cancellation of the liquor licence of the local co-op store (See 2 earlier posts: 97. The war against drink and 151. The war against drink 2: the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store.) But the comments were at odds with the conventional view of Australia’s support for the War – to the last man and the last shilling – and also the image of the Anzac, as the epitome of the Australian male. With regard to the latter, Gordon had the Anzac as someone lacking in character and moral strength, addled by drink and cursed by VD. He had to be protected from himself. His image of the returned, wounded Anzac staggering down the street in the thrall of drink was decidedly at odds with the common talk of returning heroes who could never truly be repaid the debt their country owed them.

Arguably, the activity of the Strength of Empire Movement represented the early manoeuvring of religious zealots, social reformers and conservative politicians as they prepared for the return of the AIF. For this broad alliance, the men of the AIF would be welcomed as heroes but, equally, their natural failings, augmented by 4 years of war, needed to be contained. They could not be allowed to set the social and moral agenda.

The tension between the Anzac as hero and the Anzac as menace and the related debate as to what represented reasonable limits on their behaviour were both very topical. One specific example illustrates the situation. From mid 1918 there was controversy over returned AIF men having to wear blue arm bands. Army regulations required that returned men, still receiving treatment in hospital, had to wear blue arm bands when they went on leave. Publicans were prohibited from selling alcohol to any AIF member wearing one of the arm bands. The returned soldiers themselves could easily circumvent the requirement but the broader issue over the appropriateness of the measure certainly touched the public conscience.

John Vale, a leading prohibitionist, supported the blue arm bands as a responsible, interim measure on the path to full prohibition. He clearly recognised their limitations but he urged that people saw them as a sign of courage. His views appeared in the Spectator and Methodist Chronicle on 14/8/18:

There are two quite different ways of regarding the blue bands on the arms of our disabled soldiers. ‘To some they appear to be insulting and futile. They are certainly a poor substitute for the measure of Prohibition, which would apply to soldiers and civilians alike; but no right-minded person will regard them as insulting. In Britain a complete suit of blue is the hospital uniform, and usually secures for the wearer special respect and consideration. The blue band on the soldier should be taken as the outward and visible sign of courage in the wearer. It may point to cowardice on the part of politicians.

The following letter – from a Mr W Seamer of Yarraville – appeared in The Herald a few days later (17/8/18). While it also advocated prohibition as the only solution it also highlighted the extent of the heavy-handedness of the authorities and the perverse way the ‘heroes’ were punished while the ‘slackers’ were rewarded.

Why should we call one gambler a patriot and another “a rogue and a vagabond?” Why should we legalise the open temptation and encouragement to drink and then punish the drunkard? Why, indeed, should not the blue arm band principle be applied all round? It is cruel and selfish to have taught some of these noble fellows to love drink and now make them stand by and see the beer they love swallowed by selfish stay-at-homes. They have lost their health for our sakes and must abstain to regain that health. If we were to all adopt the blue arm band principle we should not only help them, but would be everyone of us morally and physically better for the self-denial. That is scientifically and experimentally indisputable. Then, if we are humans or patriots, why not do it?

The last comment on these bands comes from a local from the Shire of Alberton. It was made by H J Alford at the unveiling of the school honor roll at Wonwron and it appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/8/18. Alford, as the father of heroes, was very clear about what he thought of the arrangement. He even employed then unchallenged racial slurs to castigate those who refused to accept the worth of the returning men – men returning to their ‘native ‘ land – and who were unwilling to repay the debt owed.

Mr. H. J. Alford stated he was pleased to be present. He had three sons at the war, and one had paid the supreme sacrifice, but as a father he would sooner any of them die a hero than a shirker. They had done their bit for us, but had we done anything for them? He stated that before long he thought the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Association, the Fathers’ Association, and the Sisters’ Association would unite and make things better for the heroes and worse for the shirkers. He was of the same opinion as Cr. O ‘Connor that land should be given to those who wanted it, and they shouldn’t pay for it. He disagreed with the Department’s decision to put bands around returned men’s arms thus preventing them from being served with liquor. This he thought the blackfellows’ brand. He trusted that the remaining 27 men on the roll would be spared to return to their native land. (Applause.)

Rev Walklate was still trying to establish a local branch of the Strength of Empire Movement in Yarram in October 1918 but he was not having much success. However, with or without a local branch of this particular movement, it was clear that, everywhere, the return of the AIF – both those men already back in Australia and the vast number still to return – was generating a complex and volatile mix of unrealistic expectations and deeply-considered anxieties.

References

The Age
The Herald
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Spectator and Methodist Chronicle

Stanley, P 2015, ’Enduring: Sacrifice, Aborigines and Sex’, in Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P, 2015, The War at Home, Volume 4 The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Oxford, South Melbourne.

Cochrane, P, 2018, Best We Forget: The War for White Australia 1914 – 18, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne.

Stanley, P, 2010, Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Pier 9, Millers Point NSW.

 

188. Valentine Crowley and the cost of disloyalty

Prior to the 1950s power throughout Gippsland was provided largely by private companies, with hydro-electric generation the preferred model. Many of these private electricity companies were set up during WW1. For example, the Yarram Hydro-Electricity Supply Company was set up in 1917. Local councils were generally reluctant to take on the significant financial costs involved in setting up the necessary infrastructure and the associated management and operating costs. Similarly, while local businesses and residents were keen on the idea of the new technology, they were as reluctant to purchase shares in the companies set up. There was also a raft of technical and engineering challenges involved in what was the new technology of the time.

Against this background, there appears to have been one individual who was critical to the success of setting up and operating these new ventures. Valentine J Crowley was an electrical engineer based in Melbourne who, as well as providing the engineering expertise, vigorously prompted the various schemes and sourced the essential capital – essentially from Melbourne backers – to set up the companies. At Yarram, in October 1916, a public meeting was held to present plans for the formation of the proposed electricity company. The meeting was reported, extensively, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 27/10/16. The report makes it clear that Crowley was the driving force behind the proposal and the chief spokesperson at the meeting.

At the meeting Crowley outlined the technology to be employed – hydro electricity generated from the Tarra River – as well as the arrangements involved in the transfer of the option for supply of electricity from the exisiting provider – the local butter factory – to the new company. Additionally, he detailed how the company would be financed – 10,000 shares at £1 per share – and his role in securing the essential backing of Melbourne capital. Under the proposal, Crowley himself was to receive 150 shares. Crowley also detailed the composition of the board of directors. As well, he spent a lot of time promoting the business opportunities that electricity would bring. He claimed it would support regionalism and decentralisation and maintain both population and employment in rural areas, such as the Shire of Alberton. There was considerable vision:

Mr. Crowley mentioned woollen mills for Gippsland, the climate approximating that of Bradford in England, where the best tweeds were made. Electricity meant decentralisation, for manufactories would start and keep men in the country.

Importantly, while on this occasion he was promoting the development of a power company specifically for the Shire of Alberton, Crowley emphasised how all the existing and planned Gippsland power companies could, in time, act as an interconnected system. It was a prescient vision. The report in the local paper noted his plan.

Eventually all the schemes in Gippsland would be linked up. The Toora scheme would be extended to Fish Creek and to Leongatha. The next line, at Warragul, would extend to Drouin, across to Korumburra, and connect at Yarram. North and South Gippsland would be linked up by electricity, and later East Gippsland would be embraced. The local scheme would extend to Alberton, and it is proposed to take Jack River in.

The reality of a single system across Gippsland would not not come until after WW2; and then it would be a public enterprise.

At the time, Crowley was himself heavily involved in all these separate Gippsland operations he mentioned. He had controlling interest in the Toora and Foster Electric Company Ltd. which had been formed in 1915. He was also heavily involved in the Warragul Hydro-Electric Company. Moreover, while he was the key player in the supply of electricity in Gippsland, he also had extensive involvement in the provision of other services – for example, water and electric trams – in other rural areas, such as Clunes and Werribee. He was also heavily involved in similar projects in (outer) Melbourne suburbs, including Ringwood, Croydon, Doncaster and Lilydale.

Overall, Valentine J Crowley was a very successful engineer/entrepreneur/company director/publicist. He was very well known and respected right across Gippsland and, specifically, in the Shire of Alberton.

However, neither his fame nor success could save him when, in mid 1918, he was charged with and convicted of the offence – under the War Precautions Act (1914-16) – of making statements calculated to prejudice recruiting.

The case held at Foster on 25/101/8. It was reported widely and, specifically, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/10/18.

The case related to remarks made by Crowley on a train trip from Foster to Meeniyan much earlier in the year on 31/5/18. On the day, he had been in conversation with 3 other passengers, one of whom was Constable Johnston of Meeniyan. It is probable that Crowley did not know Johnston was a police officer. Further, it must have been Johnston who initiated the charge.

The conversation on the War apparently started after Crowley revealed to the others that he had spoken to a returned Anzac. Crowley claimed that this Anzac had told him that McKie/McCay [the Gallipoli commander, Lieutenant General (Sir) James McCay] had been responsible for the slaughter of 9,000 men in one night [Fromelles, 19/7/16 when there were 5,500 AIF casualties]. Crowley was also claimed to have stated that German officers were superior to their British equivalents and that whereas people had been told that on the Western Front one British soldier was fighting 10 German soldiers, the reverse was true.

In the court case, the 3 men who were involved in the conversation with Crowley on the train that day, including the police constable, stated that they did not agree with Crowley at the time and that they had made this clear to him. One stated that he had explicitly told Crowley that he (Crowley) was disloyal. They also stated that they believed Crowley was wrong and that they did not believe that they had been influenced in any way by his comments. Further, they accepted that no other passengers on the train had overhead the conversation.

On the advice of his lawyer, Crowley did not give evidence.The lawyer did not dispute the general content and nature of the conversation that had taken place on the train but he argued that it was a private conversation between the 4 men and the others there had disagreed with Crowley’s claims and made this known at the time. He argued that the men had not believed the claims and nor had they been influenced by them. Crowley’s lawyer maintained that ‘the case had not been proved’.

However, Crowley was found guilty and fined £5 with nearly £10 costs and one month’s imprisonment in default.

Arguably, the guilty finding reflected the fact that a higher standard of behaviour and patriotic sentiment was expected of someone with Crowley’s social standing and high profile in the community.

In his opening remarks, the prosecutor had … contended that [the] defendant in making such statements had gone too far. He was an educated man, and knew such statements were likely to prejudice recruiting of his Majesty’s forces, and were weights on the minds of men who were thinking of enlisting. Had Crowley stood up at a recruiting meeting and delivered the comments then, in theory, they might have had a negative impact on the intentions of those there planning to enlist. Obviously, in such a case, under the legislation, he could have been charged. More likely – particularly if he had been a ’unknown’, lone individual – he would have been howled down and ejected from the meeting.

But this particular case only involved a conversation between several men. However, while it was an unplanned, limited, private conversation it could still attract the attention of the authorities. The law allowed the focus to be on what was said rather than the context in which the comments were made. Even though Crowley’s comments had not influenced the men involved – other reports indicated that none of them, because of either age or occupation, were even eligible to enlist – the court determined that Crowley’s claims by themselves, outside of any actual context, would have had the effect of discouraging enlistment. It was a very potent interpretation and a powerful reminder to everyone to watch what they said.

Nor was there any suggestion that truth was a defence. Admittedly, the claim that McCay was personally responsible for the ‘slaughter’ of 9,000 in one night men was an overreach. At the same time, the more pertinent observation is that by early 1918 there were many returned AIF men who were prepared to give a more accurate account of the disaster at Fromelles and who were highly critical of McCay as an officer. However, the real story of Fromelles did not emerge until after the War and in May 1918 the ‘truth’ was still contained. In Crowley’s case the claims he made about McCay – or more accurately the claims he made about what others had claimed about McCay – were simply taken as proof of disloyalty.

The other 2 claims – which side had the better (more intelligent) officers and what exactly was the numerical balance between the armies – apart from being essentially trivial in nature were both focused on criticisms of the British Army. Again, in the AIF by that point, there was a strong undercurrent of hostility directed at the British officer class: their leadership was problematic and they were the left-overs of a failed class system. It was part of the established AIF belief that had positioned the Australian soldier as better than his (conscripted) English counterpart. However, for Imperial Loyalists this style of (nationalist) criticism was not to be tolerated, and the War Precautions Act gave zealous Imperial Loyalists the chance to curtail such mischief.

Doubtless Valentine Crowley would have been shocked by the court judgement. Presumably he paid the fine and just hoped the matter was behind him. However, he was sadly mistaken. He had been publicly named as disloyal and with his significant profile he became an immediate target.

The first problem came with the Coburg Council. At the time – late 1918 – Crowley was involved in an ambitious plan for electric lighting in Coburg. The Age (28/10/18) had earlier written about the plan:

Coburg town council, acting upon the advice of Mr. V. J. Crowley, electric expert, has arranged to borrow £13,000 from the State Savings Bank, at 6 per cent, to carry out the electric lighting of Coburg in four sections.

Within one month of his conviction there was an orchestrated effort to remove Crowley from the project. The Argus reported on 22/11/18:

At a recent meeting of the Coburg Council a letter was received from the United National Federation calling attention to the fact that Mr. Valentine J. Crowley, electrical expert adviser to the Coburg Council in its scheme of electric lighting, had been convicted at the Foster Court by Mr. V. Tanner, P.M., on October 25, and fined £5, with £9 costs, under the War Precautions Act on the charge of having made statements calculated to prejudice recruiting. The federation requested the council to remove the stigma of disloyalty from Coburg.

The article also outlined how Coburg Council had then communicated with both the court at Foster and Crowley himself. In correspondence, Crowley acknowledged the basic facts,

He [Crowley] said he must admit having been indiscreet, but that he had merely repeated what had been said to him by a returned Anzac. In speaking to a constable of police and men ineligible from age or other reasons for enlistment, he had not imagined that he was in any way prejudicing recruitment.

At the council meeting one of the councillors … moved that no further action be taken. Whatever Mr. Crowley had done he had been punished for, and they did not want to persecute him. However, the motion failed and the matter was adjourned to another meeting to be held on 27/11/18. The follow-up meeting attracted considerable attention. It was reported in The Age on 30/11/18 and in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/12/18.

At the meeting there were deputations from the Coburg and Moreland Districts Returned Soldiers’ Club, the United National Federation and the Victorian Protestant Federation. The latter 2 organisations were vehemently pro-Britain and pro-Empire. They were strong backers of the Hughes government and had taken upon themselves responsibility for uncovering and attacking ‘disloyalty’ in the community. They ran under slogans such as ‘stamp out disloyalty in Australia’. They opposed ‘red raggers’, ‘bolshevists’, pacifists and anarchists. They were committed to the ‘one flag’ and believed that Australia’s pledge to help the Empire to the last and and the last shilling still applied, even though this was after the Armistice. This was exactly their sort of case.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative gave a picture of the charged scene at the council meeting:

From shortly after 9 o’clock till midnight on Wednesday 27 ult., the proceedings in the Coburg council chamber resembled those at an excited meeting at a general election. There were cheers, bursts of applause, and loud shouts of dissent. The conclusion was the enthusiastic singing of the National Anthem.

Crowley had little chance and the vote to dismiss him from the position was passed 7 – 2. The 2 councillors who opposed the motion were … greeted with loud cries of “Traitors, traitors!”. At a subsequent meeting (23/12/18) reported in The Argus on 25/12/18, Crowley’s position was transferred to … Mr. A. J. Bassett, a returned soldier.

Condemnation of Crowley was not completely universal. At the second Coburg Council meeting (27/11/18), his representative – Mr. Claude Lowe – spoke to letters he had received from a range of people who testified… that they had known Mr. Crowley for a considerable time, and were convinced that he would never be guilty intentionally of any disloyal utterances or anything to harm the cause of the Allies. The same representative also stated that Crowley’s wife was an ‘ardent Red Cross worker’ in the Hawthorn branch of the Red Cross Society and that Crowley’s younger brother was serving with the AIF in France. The brother was Captain Arthur Herbert Crowley who had a commission in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He had enlisted in early 1918 as a medical practitioner and embarked for overseas service on 19/3/18.

One of the character witnesses was no less than G H Wise MHR (Gippsland) and then Assistant Minister For Defence. Two others who signed letters of support were A H Moore JP and Cr. Buckley, both from the Shire of Alberton. Moore was one of the directors of the Yarram Hydro-Electricity Supply Company Ltd.

However, impressive character witnesses were not able to save Crowley. Importantly, not only was his character being destroyed but his considerable business interests and his professional profile were also being damaged. And the damage was not restricted to Melbourne. Later that month (December 1918) the local shareholders of the Toora and Foster Electric Light and Power Company called a meeting … to secure the resignation of the managing director, Mr. V. J. Crowley. The episode was reported, again in great detail, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 18/12/18.

The local Foster shareholders were not successful in their bid and, in fact, the meeting itself was … not a legally constituted meeting. The basic problem they faced was that they did not have control of the company. As noted earlier, as much as locals in rural districts favoured the introduction of a regular and reliable supply of electricity they were very reluctant to invest. In this case, Crowley and the Melbourne shareholders who were prepared to back him had overwhelming control of the company. Crowley had 500 shares himself and his Melbourne backers another 1700 +. There were only 675 local (Toora and Foster) shares. Crowley pointed out at the meeting that without his involvement in the company it would never have been established:

The Melbourne shareholders put their money into the show because I was running it, other wise they would not want to keep their money in it.

Even though Crowley won this particular battle it was clear that his reputation had been badly damaged and his chance of continuing his previous run of success with local government in rural and metropolitan areas had been fatally compromised. One conversation with strangers on a train in Gippsland had cost him dearly.

There was strong irony in this whole situation. Crowley had been undone by a casual conversation with strangers on a train trip in rural Victoria. He maintained throughout that he was merely recounting comments that he had from a returned Anzac. There is no doubt that returned members of the AIF were determined to relate the truth of Fromelles and other battles. Nor is there any question that throughout the War the Australian soldiers had been fashioning for themselves a distinctively nationalist – uniquely Australian – persona, and a key mechanism in the creation of this image relied on drawing distinctions, often in crude and over-hyped ways, between themselves and the British soldiers, particularly the officer class. Taken at face value, Crowley was not too far of the mark. However as things played out immediately after the War, when the conventional ethos of the Imperial War still dominated, and returned soldiers were keen ‘to settle the score’ with ’shirkers’ and all those identified as ‘disloyal’, he did not stand much of a chance. The fact that he was a very successful 34 yo who did not enlist would not have helped. Nor would his (Roman) Catholicism. Also, you would have to consider that some of Cowley’s rivals in the business world stood to gain by any damage done to his reputation and business interests.

Historical post script

It seems there was another whole chapter to the alleged disloyalty of Valentine Crowley. As far as I can establish, the same Valentine Crowley and another younger brother – Clarence Crowley born 1889 – were 2 of the 18 members of the Australia First Movement who were interned in early 1942 at the time of heightened fear of Japanese invasion. Both were living in NSW at the time. While the younger brother was eventually released and the authorities conceded that he should not have been charged, the same (military) authorities continued to believe that Valentine Crowley was a key ring-leader of the Australia First Movement. Certainly Valentine Crowley was a co-proprietor of the The Publicist, the publication most associated with the movement.

The Australia First Movement reflected a complex and contentious episode in Australian history. At the time of the internments in early 1942 the movement was presented as a group of ‘fifth columnists’ who were actively plotting to support the Japanese invasion of Australia. It was accused of plotting assassinations of prominent Australians and other acts of sabotage. It was said to be pro-fascist and pro-German. It was also stated to be anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish). Its own declarations portrayed itself as anti-USSR and anti-communist. The headline it used was – A Non-Party, Non-Sectional Organisation, pledged to uphold Australia First. I have included a link to a list of a so-called ’50 Points of Policy’ which the The Publicist advocated for an “Australia First” Party after the War. It was written in May 1940 and it appears in a group of papers from the National Archives (NAA: A6335,3 p.68) titled, Australia First Movement (The Publicist). Many of the ‘points’ of the list read like the drivers of the populism and nationalism that appear to be in vogue again in our own times.

The final line in the manifesto : Australia First and Long Live the King is intriguing as, at the time, the AFM was certainly portrayed as anti-British and anti-British Empire. It is generally accepted that the movement grew, at least in part, from the conviction that Australian nationalism had to be free from British influence and links. It wanted a distinctly Australian identity. Valentine Crowley for his part had called for severing links between Australia and Britain and he had even advocated the removal of the Union Jack from the Australian Flag. He was also accused – at least in intelligence reports – of having gloated over the defeat of British forces at the start of WW2.

It is interesting to speculate on the extent to which Valentine Crowley’s experiences at the end of WW1 influenced his move to the more extreme edge of Australian nationalist politics in the lead up to WW2.

References

The Argus
The Age
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography (online)

Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

181. Returning home in 1918

This post examines the series of welcome home celebrations staged in the Shire of Alberton in 1918 to the end of hostilities in November. In all there were 29 such celebrations reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – over the period. On a few occasions a welcome home was combined with a farewell to one or more soldiers about to embark for overseas service. Of the 29 occasions, 8 involved welcome home events in Yarram and the rest were divided across the smaller towns and settlements in the Shire: Stacey’s Bridge (2), North Devon (4), Alberton (2), West Alberton (1), Port Albert (1), Won Wron (3), Wonyip (1), Binginwarri (1), Willing South (1), Stradbroke (1), Kjergaard (1), Carrajung (1), Lower Whitelaw (1), Lower Bulga (1).

Some men who had in fact returned prior to 1918 were also ‘welcomed’ again at some of the events in 1918. Also, men could be welcomed home in more than one location. Commonly, they would attend a welcome in Yarram and then they would also be welcomed home in their particular township, or even in more than one township. Some men returned to Australia before 1918 but they remained in hospital in Melbourne for extended periods and did not return to the Shire for an official welcome until some time in 1918. Lastly, there could have been some men who enlisted from the Shire of Alberton and who returned to Australia for medical discharge in 1918 but who never returned to the Shire. With all these qualifications in mind, it appears that over the course of 1918, 40 men were welcomed home in the 29 formal events referred to above.

By way of comparison, prior to the 40 men in 1918, 12 men had been formally welcomed home in 1917, 8 men in 1916, and one person – William Andrew Newland who became the local recruiting sergeant – in 1915. Clearly, over 1918, there was a dramatic increase in the number of men being discharged. Some would have seen this increase as incontrovertible evidence of the desperate need to provide reinforcements for the AIF. At the same time, all would have seen it as dramatic proof of the escalating human cost of the ‘sacrifice’ that had been exacted over the past 4 years.

The local state school was often used as the venue for welcome home celebrations. For example, there was a major function held at the Yarram school on Anzac Day 1918 when 12 men were welcomed not just home but also to their old school. It was the largest welcome home event staged in 1918. Other local schools involved in welcome home celebrations included Stacey’s Bridge, North Devon, Willing South, Lower Whitelaw and Lower Bulga.

There appear to have been a number of reasons why the school was such a popular venue. In the case of Yarram there was the ongoing issue about attendance at such functions. As noted previously, there was the constant complaint from speakers at these events that not enough locals were prepared to show up and demonstrate their support for the men, either those leaving for overseas or those returning wounded. At a welcome home as late as October 1918, Councillor Barlow was reported in the local paper (11/10/18) lamenting the poor attendance but, at the same time, acknowledging the presence of the school children. The lack of attendance was only really an issue in Yarram. Events staged in the other townships were invariably well attended. They also almost always featured a more expansive program which included a social and/or dance to ensure a genuine community celebration.

While staging the event at the school guaranteed an audience, much was also made of the appropriateness of the school per se. Speakers claimed that it was the local school that had formed the initial, critical character of the men who had enlisted. Rossiter, the editor of the local paper, expressed this argument when he spoke at a welcome home for Robert McKenzie at Devon North State School in February 1918. His comments were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 22/2/18:

It is fitting that these send-offs and welcomes should take place in the school, for here, as in every country community, the school is the centre of local interest, and when we consider that in nearly every case it was in this school that these soldiers have received their early training in love of country, it is highly desirable that it should be in that building they should be bid “god speed” or “welcome’.

Rossiter’s comments placed the local school as a critically important institution in the formation of the Australian soldier’s character. In the report (26/4/18) of the 1918 Anzac Day welcome home ceremony referred to above, Rev. Walklate, another of the district’s outspoken Imperial Loyalists, highlighted the specific significance of the school curriculum. It is clear that the experience of WW1 was redefining the traditional (Imperial) narrative that had prompted such high levels of patriotic loyalty and duty at the outbreak of WW1. The claim that Australia’s true history only really began with Gallipoli was by then common place. Even Federation – less than 20 years earlier – had been replaced.

Rev. C. J. Walklate said that the 25th April three years ago was the beginning of Australian history. They [the school children there that day] had read of the exploits of our explorers, who had mapped out the land for civilisation to come and make homes for the present generation. But the tragic landing at Gallipoli eclipsed everything else. They had read of the charge of the Light Brigade, but what the Australians had done put that feat in its shade, when they landed against such great odds on 25th April 1915.

In general, the themes highlighted at the welcome home events were often identical to those used at farewells. For example, much was made of the sacrifice and heroism of those returning and both qualities were often contrasted with the self-interest and cowardice of those ‘eligibles’ who refused to go. B P Johnson, welcoming the returned soldiers, reflected pointedly at the same Anzac Day event:

Many have died, but their names will never die; memory of them will live far beyond those eligibles who remain at home.

Johnson would learn just one month later that his own son had been killed (14/5/18).

The soldier as the true son of the ‘pioneer’ was another common theme. There was a very large welcome home social – 170 in attendance – held at Won Wron in early May 1918. One of the speakers was reported (8/5/18) as declaring that … the character of the child came from that of the parents, so there was no need to wonder at it. These parents were the pioneers of Gippsland and assisted in making history for Australia, while their sons made history for the world.

The outstanding fighting qualities of the Australian soldier was another common theme. J J O’Connor (9/10/18) declared at a welcome home in Yarram that the … Australian soldier was recognised as the best fighter on the side of the Allies. It was a common claim.

Not surprisingly, the most common theme was that of ‘repatriation’. Speakers laboured the idea that the men returning, both those returning wounded and the thousands who would be discharged at the end of the fighting, had to be ‘looked after’. The details of any large-scale repatriation scheme were still sketchy but the ideal of ‘repatriation’ had become a given. There had to be both recognition and recompense. In 1918, civic leaders were fearful that the local community did not appreciate the size of the problem and would even be indifferent to the men’s situation, as they been indifferent to so many other aspects of the War. Just before the Armistice, at a welcome home to A J Martin in Yarram on 30/10/18, B P Johnson was reported in the local paper (1/11/18) as declaring:

There was a big thing facing the people of Australia in regards to the returned men, and that was repatriation: and as yet the public did not seem to grasp it. In this district it was not very apparent, as most of those who had returned had, in their independence of spirit, not asked for help. However, the time would come when men would return to the district who needed help, and the people must be ready with that assistance, for if anyone deserved a helping hand it was those men who had fought for us. It would not be conferring a favor but simply endeavoring to repay in a small measure a debt that was due. No matter what was done for the returned lads, it would only be as a drop in a bucket compared with what they had done for us.

In rural areas, the idea of repatriation equated to settling the returned soldier on the land. It was seen as a natural reward for their effort and it was commonly believed that returning soldiers would be the very type that could make a success of it. Also, the common labourers and farm workers amongst them had won the chance to better themselves by becoming land owners. At another welcome home at Won Wron on 11/10/18 – reported on 16/10/18 – one of the local farmers was reported as hoping that … the Government would do its duty by such as he [D’Arcy Brown, the soldier being welcomed home] who had risked his life for Australia. The boys had fought for it [land] and it was theirs, if the Government did right it would give, not sell to returned soldiers the land they required. They had gone forth and fought for it while others just as able remained at home, getting high wages and at ease.

While, not surprisingly, the common sentiments expressed at the welcome home events were those of relief and gratitude, the events also highlighted the ever-present division in the local community. This was particularly the case involving the larger more set-piece welcomes, especially those held in Yarram or those that featured leading Imperial Loyalists as the key speakers. In such instances, the welcome home presented a public platform to attack eligibles, press for recruits and chastise the community generally for not lending sufficient support for the War. A striking example of this behaviour was the welcome home at North Devon on 13/9/18. It was reported in the local paper, in great detail, on 18/9/18. The event, which was very well attended, had a dual purpose: to welcome home and present a special medallion to 8 recently returned local men and also to honour the … memory of those who had fallen. The returned men sat on the stage throughout. The event was organised by the North Devon ‘Old Boys’ Association’, a local committee that throughout the War had been very active in ensuring all those who left from and returned to the district of North Devon were recognised and celebrated. However, for some reason, the key speakers on the day were two of the most outspoken Imperial Loyalists from Yarram. Benjamin Couston was the bank manger of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria and the Rev Cyril John Walklate was the Methodist minister from Yarram.

Couston started his long speech by praising the returned men on the stage. He declared that, Every heart should be pulsating for the men who had done their duty to their country and had returned home. He then noted that, The people did not appreciate fully what these brave men had done. He then declared that … these men are heroes, and no honor that is bestowed upon them would adequately repay them for what they had done. If the whole wealth of this prosperous district were handed to these men, it would not be one-tenth of what was their due.

Continuing in this effusive style, he could not pass up the opportunity to remind those in the audience that they themselves had been fickle:

They would remember when the lads left this district that there was cheering, singing and flag waving, but some of those who did those things soon forgot the lads.

The real target however was the man who refused to enlist. Couston, who invariably described himself at such gatherings as ‘the father of two soldiers’, saved his fiercest criticism for the eligibles, some of whom he had recently seen playing football at Yarram. There was menace in his remarks:

Why was it that some stood on one side? They were never touched with that patriotic feeling which should be within the breasts of all. When he saw a number of men assembled together the other day at Yarram playing football he asked himself the question. Why weren’t these men playing the game yonder, why weren’t they helping their pals? To his own mind there was only one reason, and that was cussed selfishness. But the time would come when these men would dearly regret their selfishness, as they could not expect to be treated in the same way as the men who had sacrificed themselves.

Couston continued and attacked those who were in favour of negotiations for peace, the ‘pacifists at Trades Hall’ and those who wanted ‘revolution’. For Couston, It was no time to talk of peace. In his mind, the War had to be pursued until Germany was totally crushed, and therefore he urged,

If there was one man in Devon who was eligible he asked him in God’s name to go.

Following Couston, Rev Walklate’s primary focus was not the men on stage being welcomed home, but those who had died. His theme was the universal one of sacrifice, Christian sacrifice. He preached that life only had meaning if it was lived in the spirit of sacrifice. There could be no other measure:

The living of life must be measured by the spirit in which that life was given. Unless the spirit of self-sacrifice entered into man’s life that life was not lived in the true meaning of the word. It was probably hard to understand, but it was true. The men who had fallen and those who are prepared to go forth and make the sacrifice are the men who live. If that spirit of sacrifice died then the men lived no longer. The parents and loved ones of the fallen heroes had done their part, and had lived because they had sacrificed themselves.

With the returned men sitting on the stage as props, Walklate continued his sermon on real life. It was not about ‘wealth’ and ‘social position’ but about ‘sacrifice’. The length of life was not as important as its spiritual quality. There was of course the mandatory text and its explication:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” Men worshipped in different creeds, but the final test was whether it was done under the name of Jesus Christ or not. The final test was the test of Jesus Christ, that a man live in that spirit and that he lay down his life for his friend. These men, and these alone, had reached the stepping stone into eternal life.

To make it clear that he too was targeting eligibles, Walklate spoke of the returned men who had confided in him that they felt spurned by locals, while they saw eligibles – who had ‘failed in their duty’ – being favoured. He declared:

One man who had fought and bled [like those on the stage] had told him that many girls were keen to catch the glances of the shirker, but hardly noticed the returned soldier.

Walklate went so far as to condemn, in the religious sense, the man who would not accept his responsibility. Such a person would not enter the kingdom of God. He warned … those who were enjoying the comforts of this life would find out their mistake later on, as they would soon die, and they could not live again. Only sacrifice, in this case in the cause of the Nation and Empire, could guarantee eternal life:

The entrance to eternal life was by sacrifice, and if people did not respond to life’s responsibilities, they would have an awakening [fateful reckoning] in the life to come.

The final speaker that night was a local, the father of Edwin Alford who had been killed in April that year (Post 158). Alford had just been given a medallion for his dead son. He rounded out the condemnation of all those who had refused to enlist:

Mr. Alford said he would value the token received that evening all the days of his life. He was an Australian, and was proud to be one. He also felt proud to know that his boy had gone and done his duty. He would sooner any son of his fight and die for his country than to remain home and be a coward. He said to those fathers who had sons, to send one to the front to see themselves from dishonour. Neither himself nor his wife would wish to have a son who shirked his duty. (Applause.)

It is clear that those on the stage that night were being welcomed back to a divided community where there was much grief, frustration, anger and bitterness.

The returned men themselves

The men welcomed home in 1918 were the ones who had been repatriated to Australia for a medical discharge. They returned home with their health significantly compromised. In several cases they were not able to attend welcome home ceremonies because they were still recovering in hospital in Melbourne. In other cases, when they attended such functions they were not able to speak because of ‘nerves’. In other instances they appeared before the locals as amputees. The standard approach to handle the nature and extent of battle wounds was to appeal to notions of manhood and Empire. As W G Pope declared at a welcome home in March 1918 (reported on 20/3/18):

He was sorry to see some of them wounded, but these scars would be their glory for the rest of their lives. They had proved to be men of the same description of our Nelson and Wellington heroes.

The report in the local paper also noted the similar remarks of Rev A R Raymond, the local Anglican clergyman:

Rev. A. R. Raymond extended a hearty welcome to the soldiers, men who could say they bore marks on their bodies in fighting for King and Country, and in defending right we were [as] proud of them as they were proud of their marks.

Beyond such platitudes, it is worth examining in more detail the condition in which the men returned. Of the 40 men welcomed home in 1918, only two had not been discharged on medical grounds. Henry Cook had been discharged for ‘family reasons’. Four brothers from the family had enlisted, but by 1918 the parents were not able to cope by themselves. The other person was Sydney Collis who had been returned to Australia on Anzac Leave and, in theory, was to return to France for the planned offensive in Spring 1919. However, the medical condition of both these men was problematic. Cook had been wounded – gsw back – and had suffered from shell shock, while Collis had been hospitalised earlier with enteric fever.

Of the remaining 38 men, some had been discharged for ongoing medical issues. One was discharged for chronic bronchitis, another for defective eyesight, a third for hearing problems and a fourth for gastric ulcers and tachycardia. Two men, both in their forties, were discharged for (premature) senility.

The remaining 34 men were discharged on medical grounds that specifically related to battle field experience. Two had been ‘gassed’ and one had been discharged with ‘trench feet’, including ‘blood clots in the legs.’ There was a group of 4 men who had been discharged because of neurasthenia. While only 4 men were discharged solely on the basis of this condition, neurasthenia often occurred in the medical notes of men discharged for other (medical) reasons. The condition was commonly described in terms of ‘shell shock’, ‘paralysis of the legs’, and often tachycardia was included.

The largest group of men (25) were medically discharged because they had been wounded by gunshot (gsw) or shrapnel (sw) or, in the case of Gallipoli veterans, by ’bomb’. The wounds in these instances were most commonly to the chest, back, legs, arms and thigh. Sometimes the wounds were ‘multiple’. There were several amputations – leg, hand, arm – associated with these wounds.

Clearly, even after they had been discharged from hospital, the general health of this group of returned men was going to be problematic. While they were welcomed home as heroes, the reality was that they were to face compromised health, most probably for the rest of their lives. This would affect their lives generally, including work prospects. It also meant that those who were relatively young – most were in the mid to late twenties – and single (33) were most likely going to have to rely on the support of their parents and siblings. The fortunes of the families of the 7 married men would also be compromised, and the burden of care would fall heavily on the wife.

It is also important to note that the most common occupation for men in this group of returned soldiers (50%) was that of ‘farm worker’ or ‘farm labourer’. There was another 25% of the group who came from the ‘family farm’. Essentially, even with a pension and even if they managed to find and keep work or perform a productive role on the family farm, these men were always going to struggle financially. They did not have financial resources to fall back on. Again, notwithstanding the degree to which they were feted on their return – and told to wear their wounds as ‘badges of honour’ – the reality was that their lives had been seriously compromised. The cost of sacrifice fell disproportionately on the rural working class.

There are 2 additional interesting observations. The first is that a significant number of the men – 9 of the 40 – had been UK immigrants who had worked as farm labourers in the Shire before they enlisted in the AIF. Rather than be discharged in the UK these men had returned to Australia and then, once back in Australia, they had chosen to return to the very district where they had worked before the War. Presumably their overall decision was shaped in part by issues such as the need for ongoing medical care and the provision of pensions but, at the same time, the decision to return to the very district where they had worked before the War suggests that they saw themselves as true ‘locals’. Perhaps they also reasoned that they would be better supported in their (adopted) local area.

The other interesting detail is the fact that 25% of the group actually went on to become soldier settlers after the War. There are 2 pertinent observations here. The first is that the figure tends to confirm the view that had soldier settlement as the ‘natural’ vocation for returned soldiers. The thinking at the time was that such men had the right experience, skills and character for the challenge. They were tough, independent and resourceful. Because of their experiences in the AIF they could make the scheme work. Moreover, in the spirit of some form of ‘rural socialism’ these soldier ‘battlers’ deserved the chance to secure land and move beyond the lot of the (itinerant) rural working class. Men wounded in battle had sacrificed even more and the logic had to be that such men deserved the chance as much as any other returned soldier. The other observation is that men whose health had been as compromised as it was for this group, would inevitably struggle more as soldier settlers than those whose health was relatively intact. Essentially, this view holds that these men were set up to fail.

In the last year of the War a record number of wounded men returned to the Shire of Alberton. They were welcomed as heroes. They were promised that everything possible would be done for them and that their sacrifice would never be forgotten. At the time, their sacrifice was also used to condemn those in the community who had refused to enlist. The men themselves must have seen that the community they returned to was divided. What they could not see was the future in which all the promises made would be qualified and their relative standing in the same community compromised. The currency of their scars would decline and the reality was they would never be able to slip back into their old lives and take up again where things were before they enlisted.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

180. Farewells in 1918

According to reporting in the local paper, the number of men who received formal farewells in 1918 was 22. Over the same period of time – the whole of 1918 – the number of local men who enlisted was approximately 40. In other words, about one half of those who enlisted in 1918 were given formal farewells from the Shire of Alberton. It is possible that in one or two cases a more private farewell occurred but it was not reported. It was also the case that another small group of men specifically rejected the offer of a formal farewell. More commonly, as noted in previous posts, men enlisted in Yarram, went off to camp but then never returned to the Shire of Alberton before embarking for overseas service. Hence there was no opportunity for a formal farewell.

Previous posts have shown the background complexities associated with enlistment over 1918. There was considerable ongoing pressure for enlistments, particularly after the major German offensive – and spectacular successes – in April-May 1918.

While public recruiting drives continued to be held locally – see Post 167. The search for ‘eligibles’, May 1918 – many of those who came forward at such public demonstrations failed the medical. There was a further drop-out rate amongst even those who did pass the (local) medical. Either they could not obtain parental permission or they failed subsequent medicals or perhaps they were discharged as unsuitable.

There was also the local recognition that, whatever the official recruiters might claim, the number of eligible men left in the district was small. Estimates suggest that by the end of 1918 approximately 800 men with a link to the Shire of Alberton had enlisted. Consequently, however desperate the need for reinforcements, the reality was that the available pool was, by the end of 1918, very limited. At the same time, this reality was often discounted – particularly by those who spoke at farewells – and the calls for enlistments remained right to the end of the War. The denunciation of ‘cold footers’ and ‘shirkers’ also continued to the end.

An indication of how the pressure was maintained to the end comes from the observation that men continued to enlist right through to early November 1918. Indeed, 3 men – James Wentworth Davis, Albert McEvoy and Christian Gregory Olsen – received their railway warrants for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process on the very day of the Armistice, 11/11/18. Equally, as will become apparent, formal farewells were held through to the end of October 1918.

As previously noted, the farewells staged in the small settlements or townships of the Shire – places such as Womerah, Stacey’s Bridge, Lower Bulga, Wonyip – tended to be more community-focused and elaborate than those conducted in Yarram. Invariably in these places, the farewell was incorporated in a social of some kind, there was a very large attendance and the men being farewelled received not just the conventional Shire Medallion and (religious) Card but also some additional remembrance, for example a ‘wristlet watch’ or a ‘gold locket’ or inscribed ’gold medal’. In Yarram, attendance always seemed to be an issue and, as previously noted, A E Paige, the head teacher of the primary school and one of the common speakers, would often bring a party of students from the school to help make up the numbers. The problem with farewells at Yarram was that they were invariably used for recruiting purposes. The farewells were organised by the same group of Imperial Loyalists who were involved in the various iterations of the local recruiting committee and they also backed the Yes vote in the 2 referenda on conscription. Eligibles would hardly attend farewell – or welcome home – events at Yarram and, over time, ordinary locals would, inevitably, become reluctant to attend to be harangued on the need for enlistments. Then, when the numbers attending dropped, the speakers attacked the townsfolk for being indifferent to the War situation and the sacrifice of those being farewelled.

The themes employed by speakers at the farewells, both in Yarram and the outlying centres, remained constant to the end of the War. Loyalty to England and the Empire was ever present. As was the praise of those in the AIF and the conviction that as a fighting force it ranked with the very best. Indeed, for many it had proved itself to be the best fighting unit in the world. Speakers referred to commentary in the newspapers that constantly pushed this claim. Often there were also references to the young man enlisting as representing the very best character and spirit of the original ‘pioneers’ of the district. The pioneers had battled to settle the land and now their descendants were battling to protect what had been created. But by far the most constant theme was the one that had enlistment as a test of character; and this was after 4 years of constant appeals for enlistments, endless recruiting drives and 2 failed referenda on conscription. The essential dichotomy was there throughout the entire period of the War: that while most Australian men proved themselves loyal and brave and enlisted, there was a solid core who refused to acknowledge their responsibility and, no matter what pressure was applied, did not enlist. The sub themes here were that such men were cowardly, they forced mere boys and married men to take their place and do their duty, and they took the jobs of those who had enlisted voluntarily. These men were to be despised. They would forever be outcast because they had never been part of the AIF. Moreover, they must never be able to take either the jobs or the promotions of those who had enlisted.

Often, the various themes and sub themes ran together. For example, Leo Furlong was farewelled from the school at Lower Whitelaw on 21/1/18 and then again at the Womerah Hall on 22/1/18. The farewells were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/1/18 and 6/2/18. Furlong enlisted as a 21 yo . His family ran a dairy farm. One of the speakers at Womerah was Henry John Alford another local dairy farmer who had take a strong, public pro-conscription position. At the time, his son – Edward J Alford – was serving in the AIF. He would be killed on 14/4/18 (Post 158). Alford started by declaring that at Womerah … practically all the eligible men had enlistedand now married men and boys were going. Accepting that this was the case, in such a small community the locals would have known which ‘eligibles’ had not enlisted. Alford went on to dismiss one of the arguments – it was not Australia’s fight – put up by those who refused to enlist. In the process, Alford not only questioned their reasoning but attacked their base character. These were not real men:

Unfortunately there were men (so called) who refused to take any part in the defence of Australia. They said, “This is England’s quarrel, not ours. If an enemy should land in Australia we would fight.” He would say to those men, “If England goes down Australia is doomed. Only the British navy protects us”. Should an enemy land in Australia there would be no scrub on the hills thick enough to hide those heroes.

Another local farmer who spoke that day – Matthew Thomas – managed to tie together a range of themes:

Mr. Mat Thomas said there were two classes of men who were not taking their part in the war. Those who would like to go, but were afraid, who he felt sorry for, the other class were those who would like to see the enemy win who were traitors, and should be turned out of any position they held. No returned soldier should be looking for work while one of these men held a position.

In May 1918, not long after his son had been killed, H J Alford spoke at another farewell from Womerah. It was reported on 7/6/18. Of the 2 men farewelled that night, William H Clemson was very young. He gave his age as 19 yo but in fact he might have been as young as 16 yo. It was a complicated enlistment and, indeed, he might not have lasted in the AIF, presumably because he was so young. In any case, it must have been Trooper Clemson’s very young age that prompted H J Alford to declare:

It was a shame that young men of more mature years [those not as young as Clemson] should stand back and allow a boy to go to fight for them. If there were any eligible men there that night who could go he appealed to them in God’s name to go at once while yet there was time; if not, how could they face these boys when they came back? They would stand branded all their days as shirker, who in their country’s danger refused to defend her.

Clearly, the stage was set for some form of orchestrated reckoning when the War ended and the men of the AIF returned home. The heroes of the AIF, backed by the general community, would confront and settle the score with the ‘traitors’, ‘cold footers’ and ‘shirkers’.

There was another theme that touched on family sacrifice, or, more pointedly, the father’s sacrifice. As indicated, H J Alford’s son had been killed in April 1918. Another very public Imperial Loyalist, B P Johnson, lost his son in mid May 1918 (Post 164). Men in the public eye, who were in favour of conscription and who advocated ceaselessly for enlistments, promoted the enlistment of their own sons as praiseworthy and proof of their own loyalty. They even loosely cast themselves as modern-day Abrahams, where they, as well as their sons, were making great personal sacrifice. Benjamin Couston was the manager of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria. He had been in Yarram since late 1916. He was pro-conscription and had served on the local Yes committee. He was constantly attacking ‘eligibles’ and claimed he saw them playing football locally. At public farewells, he praised his own sons for enlisting while attacking those … who had no encumbrances but were hanging back and would not enlist. (28/6/18). At the farewell for Private H Brand held in Yarram on 26/6/18, and reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 28/6/18, Couston once again attacked the eligibles but did so in the context of the personal sacrifice that he, as the patriarch, was called upon to make:

He [Couston] knew of no reason and would acknowledge no reason why eligible men should stay at home. They had no right to do so when their country was calling. The Empire was tottering to its foundations and during no time in history had it been in such deadly peril. … He could not understand eligibles remaining at home. His second son who was only 20 years of age, had just written asking for consent to enlist. One was in camp, and this as his only remaining boy, and he considered whether he ought to sacrifice the manhood of his family for those cold-footers who were remaining in security. There were other people with six or seven eligible sons who had done nothing.

A few weeks later on 10/7/18 it was the turn of Couston’s son – Kenneth Couston, who had enlisted on 1/6/18 as an eighteen-year-old – to be farewelled from Yarram. The farewell was reported in the local paper on 12/7/18. Again the young age of the recruit was noted. In fact, the comments on the day by George Bland – one of the key figures responsible for organising farewells and welcomes – smacked of desperation:

Mr. Geo. Bland said it was another instance of a youth taking a man’s place. So much had been said on that question that it seemed useless to endeavour to persuade men of more mature years to enlist.

When his turn came to speak, Couston declared that – like Abraham – he was prepared to sacrifice everything, in this case for the Empire and the Allies:

Mr. B. Couston said that on behalf of his son he thanked them for their kindly wishes. The present time was not a time when a father could put his feelings into words. He had given all he had – his two sons – for the cause of the Empire; and no father could do more. He would sacrifice everything to advance the cause of the Allies (Applause).

The same sentiment was being expressed as late as October 1918. There was a farewell held at Womerah on 1/10/18 – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/10/18 – for James Summerfield who had enlisted at the end of May 1918. The father was prepared to commit his son to the ‘fiery furnace of war’. He was reported thus:

Since he was 18 the boy had wanted to go, but he held him back, considering him too young. He was now 20, and going with his full consent. Though he was as anxious as anyone to see early peace declared, but (sic) rather than have an inconclusive peace he would wish to see the war continue and his boy pass into the fiery furnace of war till the beast of Berlin was securely chained. (Applause.)

Wilfred Owen’s poem, The Parable of the Young Man and the Old [below] explored the fateful consequence of the patriotic fervour of such patriarchs.

The penultimate farewell from the Shire of Alberton took place at Won Wron on 28/10/18 and was reported in the local paper on 6/11/18, five days before the Armistice. The event was a social-dance for George ‘Jim’ Clark and the hall was packed. Clark was a 20 yo ‘saw mill hand’ who had enlisted on 2/8/18. As well as being presented with the usual Shire Medallion and Card, Private Clark was also given a certificate in a blackwood frame. The theme referred to that day was the common one of ‘playing the game (of football) as part of a team’.

When attending the school, he had always upheld its traditions and he felt sure that by the stand he had taken, he would uphold the standard already attained by the Australian soldiers. (Applause) … When the opposition [football] team needed a bump “Jim” could give one, and he felt sure now that he is a “member of the team” out for justice and liberty, he will endeavour to give the enemy a good solid bump. He possessed the many fine and sterling qualities of his parents and was certain he would uphold Australia’s good name.

The very last farewells from the Shire of Alberton occurred on the night of 29/10/18 and the morning of 30/10/18. Both events were reported in the local paper on 1/11/18. On the night of 29/10/18 Ernest George Griffiths was farewelled from Stacey’s Bridge. The next morning there was another farewell for him in Yarram. At this second farewell, one other local – Roy William Turnbull was also farewelled, and Sapper A J Martin was welcomed home. Ernest Griffiths was a 21 yo clerk whose family was from Stacey’s Bridge. He had enlisted in August 1918 but, as was pointed out in speeches on the night, he had been trying to enlist since 1916. Roy William Turnbull was only 19 yo. He was a bank clerk from Yarram and he had enlisted in July 1918.

By this point – early November 1918 – there was a growing sense that the fighting had just about finished. Speakers remarked that the news from the front was ‘much brighter’ and it was possible that neither of the men being farewelled would face battle. They were quick to add:

Privates Griffiths and Turnbull had enlisted some time ago, and the fact that they were just about to sail did not detract in any way from the spirit in which they had enlisted.

Specifically in relation to Private Griffiths, the chair of the farewell at Stacey’s Bridge declared that … Private Griffiths was not going to the war because he thought it was nearly over. To his credit he enlisted three years ago, and has tried several times since. This time [18/8/18] he was successful.

The key theme for this last set of farewells saw the return to the legacy of the pioneers. The chair at the Yarram farewell – George Bland – effectively summed up both the Shire’s overall contribution and the ongoing link with the pioneers and their spirit. He declared that the 2 men being farewelled were … grandsons of pioneers of the district, and it was pleasing to see that the grand old spirit which was in the blood of their grandfathers had been inherited by these boys. Almost every district family was represented at the front, and he was proud to say the boys had proved their worth.

The same theme was picked up by B P Johnson. Johnson had returned to his role as key speaker at such events after a period of several months following the death of his son. The sub-theme of racial superiority comes through in all the references to the superior (White and British) ’blood’ of the pioneers.

Mr. B. P. Johnson said in regard to the two boys that were going to the war, they were descendants of old pioneers of the district, and blood tells every time. Their forefathers were men who came out to this country and showed they had true British blood in their veins by the work they had done, and their boys were now going forward to lend their assistance to a cause that was keeping from these shores a fate worse than death.

Johnson of course had been present at the very first farewell of men from the Shire of Alberton at the Alberton Railway Station on 21 September 1914. On the day, there had been much enthusiasm, but that very first farewell had been poorly organised – see Post 11 – and the men nearly did not make it to the station. Johnson, conscious of the second-rate and very amateurish send-off the men were being given, promised to make it up to them with a ’tip-top reception’ when they came back. At that first farewell, all the newly enlisted men were enthusiastic and confident. There was an overabundance of volunteers. The community was totally behind the men. There was no real challenge for any speaker on that occasion. Johnson simply declared:

You are a decent lot, and we are proud of you fellows. You are going to the biggest battle the world has ever seen. It will not be a picnic. You will have a hard time, but we know you will do your duty. I only wish I were a few years younger and I would be amongst you, (Cheers). The Empire is proud of men like you. We know you will come back victorious. We’ll win the fight, even if it takes every man and every shilling we’ve got. We’re fighting for right.

Just over 4 years later, at the end of 1918, farewells had become very different affairs. In the past 4 years, 800 men had enlisted from the Shire and more than 100 had been killed. For at least 3 of the 4 years, recruiting drives had been a constant, draining feature of life for everyone. Two conscription referenda had been defeated. Enlistment targets could not be met and the Government claimed constantly that the nation was failing its soldiers on the front line. In the conservative, rural community of the Shire of Alberton, Imperial Loyalists had not been able to comprehend, or accept, the defeat of the conscription referenda. Principally, they saw the treachery in the City but they also saw evidence of it in their own community, with some not prepared to share the sacrifice. Overall, while formal farewells still acknowledged individual sacrifice, loyalty and selflessness – particularly amongst the very young – they had also become very public demonstrations of division, bitterness, frustration and disillusionment. This was particularly the case for those farewells held in Yarram.

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative