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Australia in the 1910s

The conscription debate

In August 1916, Billy Hughes, now prime minister, returned from Britain convinced that conscription should be introduced to ensure reinforcements for the AIF. He received strong support from the newly formed Returned Services League (RSL), but caused great dissension within his own party and especially among the Irish-Australians, who made up the party's electoral base.

On 28 October 1916, the first conscription referendum was held and rejected. Two weeks later, the ALP split and Hughes led 23 supporters in a walkout. Subsequently, he formed a party and managed to retain office with Liberal support. In December 1917, a second conscription referendum was defeated.

The Nationalist Party of Australia was formed on 17 February 1917 from a merger between the conservative Commonwealth Liberal Party and the National Labor Party, the name given to the pro-conscription defectors from the ALP led by prime minister Billy Hughes.

An anti-conscription poster published by the Industrial Workers of the World in 1916

A snapshot of 1918

  • January
    • The Australia Corps formed out of five separate Australian divisions fighting in France during the First World War.

  • April
    • A factory opened in Caulfield, Victoria, to manufacture artificial limbs for returned soldiers.

  • September
    • The first direct wireless message was transmitted from Britain to Australia.

  • November
    • On the '11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour', the Armistice between the Allies and Germany flagged the cessation of fighting on the Western Front.
    • Preferential voting was introduced for the first time in elections for the House of Representatives.
    • Two significant children's books were published: The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay and Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Their Wonderful Adventures by May Gibbs.


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