New book examines Australia’s conscription conflict during the Great War

The Conscription Conflict and the Great War
Edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot & Sean Scalmer

Published by Monash University Publishing
RRP $34.95 in paperback • ISBN 9781925495393


On two occasions – on 28 October 1916 and 20 December 1917 – the Australian government led by the ‘Little Digger’ William Morris Hughes held a referendum in order to introduce conscription for overseas service.

On both occasions, the proposal was narrowly rejected.

Robin Archer and Sean Scalmer in their introduction comment that “… simply seeking the consent of citizens in this way was quite unique. That they should answer ‘no’ amidst the wartime emotions and censorship of the period is more striking still”.

In this long overdue examination of that turbulent time in Australia’s past, a line up of respected historians have individually contributed essays to this volume.

Murray Goot, for example, re-examines the results of both referendums in an attempt to understand voting patterns and the major factors that may have influenced on voters.

What is clear is that both referendums were bitterly fought, ultimately exposing deep divisions within the nation, divisions which were to remain for many years.

This was a defining episode in Australian history which this new work seeks to comprehend.

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