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Australia in the 1910s


Summary of the decade

The early 20th century was a time of relative calm and global peace. European nations politically and economically expanded into new territories in Asia, the Indies and the South Pacific. France, Germany and Britain arose as pre-eminent superpowers. This European imperial development and expansion came to a dramatic and catastrophic end with the First World War (1914–18).

At the beginning of the First World War, both sides of Australian politics competed to give enthusiastic endorsement for Britain's war effort. In 1914, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader and soon to be prime minister, Andrew Fisher, declared Australia would back Britain 'to the last man and the last shilling'. This war tested Australia's national pride and newly established independence. It was a time when both the Anzac legend and a 'national identity' developed.

But this unity was to be short lived. The 1916 and 1917 conscription referendums split the country and left a bitterness that lasted for more than a generation. Australian politics saw factional confrontation between Irish and British Australians, between Catholics and Protestants, inside the ALP government's own ranks, and between pacifist and militarist patriots.

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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