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Video Clip Synopsis:
Prime Minister Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription but was over ruled in the 1916 and 1917 referenda. When the War suddenly ended our weary young soldiers rejoiced on Victory Day, November 11, 1918.

2min 9sec

World War 1 and the Conscription Referenda is an excerpt from the film Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 (34 mins), produced in 1951.

Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951: Produced by the Australian National Film Board to celebrate the Jubilee of Federation, Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 provides an historical review of the development of the nation between 1901 and 1951. The film opens with the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) to Australia in 1901 to open the first Commonwealth Parliament. Through the use of historical footage, the film not only covers notable events in the Commonwealth story but also social development, fashions and economic growth over the period.

Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 was produced by the Department of the Interior.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: English
Year: 9-10
Theme: Wartime Work

Key Concepts

War, Conscription, Representations

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Everyday texts – Language: Contextual understanding
NSW:(1997 Syllabus) C5 Mass media
(2003 Syllabus) Stage 5 Outcome 4
NT:R/V 5.1 – 5.3
R/V 5+.1-5+.3
Qld:Cr 6.2
SA:Texts and contexts 5.3
Tas:Communicating – Being literate, Standard 4
Vic:Reading – Texts 6.6
WA:Understanding Language
Attitudes, values and beliefs

Context / Background Information

Australian soldiers fought on the Western Front (the border area between France and Belgium) between 1916 and 1918. This was Australia's main war involvement — far bigger than the fighting at Gallipoli in 1915.

In 1916 the Australian Government, under Prime Minister William Morris Hughes, called for conscription of Australian men to supply replacements for the casualties — voluntary recruiting did not seem to be producing sufficient numbers to achieve this.

Hughes held a referendum in which the people of Australia had to indicate whether they supported or opposed conscription. The referendum caused great divisions in Australian society and within Hughes' own governing Australian Labor Party.

The referendum was very narrowly defeated.

In 1917 Hughes, who by this time had been expelled from the Labour Party and was now the leader of the National Party, a combination of the pro-conscription Laborites, and the Liberal Party, held a second referendum in 1917. A slightly increased majority rejected the proposal, but with great social hostility and disruption being caused by the issue.

The war ended in late 1918, but by 1919 a shortage of transport ships meant that many Australian troops were still waiting to be returned to Australia.

Discussion Pointers

  1. What is your image of war on the Western Front?
  2. Where has that image come from?
  3. Look at the image of war presented in this video clip. Describe the main aspects that it shows, and the way it creates that image — such as the style, the voice-over narration, etc.
  4. If you only had this video clip as an image of World War 1, how would you describe it?
  5. How does that image compare with yours? Explain why there might be differences.
  6. Conscription was a very passionate and divisive issue in Australian society in 1916 and again in 1917. How does the video clip present the issue?
  7. Is the video clip pro-conscription, anti-conscription or neutral? Give reasons for your answer.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Some people argue that a soldier who has lived through the horror of war cannot or will not explain those experiences, but must ‘sanitise’ them to stay sane. Is this a similar representation of war, one that has ‘sanitised’ the experience? Give reasons for your answer.
  2. Look at an ANZAC Day commemoration in your community. What is the image of war that ANZAC Day presents? What is stressed, and what is minimised or excluded?
  3. The Western Front has been presented in many famous works — as a novel in All Quiet on the Western Front, in poetry by Wilfred Owen, in art by John Nash, in films such as Oh What A Lovely War, and in reminiscences such as A Fortunate Life. Choose one of these ways of representing the experience of war, and create a short talk comparing it with the image of war presented in this film.
  4. Conscription has been an issue in many Australian wars — World War 1, World War 2 and Vietnam. Imagine that the Australian Government has asked you to prepare a system of conscription that they will introduce. How do you make it fair? Do you include all people, or selected ones? How do you make it effective (for example, do you include only the physically most able people?) Do you include women as well as men? Prepare the system that you would recommend.
  5. Then take another group’s system, and prepare a critique of it — what are its strengths and weaknesses? Would it work? Would it be an equitable and effective system?

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10