A studio portrait of Andrew Fisher and his family in 1910.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As soon as war between Britain and Germany was declared on 4 August 1914 there was an outpouring of nationalistic fervour in Australia. The popular sentiment was to help “defend the Mother Country” and demonstrate that Australia was a loyal servant of the Crown.
The first Parliament of Australia had been opened by King George V in Melbourne on 9 May 1901 and for many, the declaration of war provided the chance of proving the worthiness of the newly founded nation.
The declaration of war by Britain had occurred at a unique time in Australia – right in the middle of an election campaign that had been triggered by the first double dissolution in Australia’s history. The Commonwealth Liberal Party, led by Joseph Cook was up against Andrew Fisher’s Labor party, but both groups closed ranks with the war announcement and promised their unreserved support for Britain. In one of his election rallies, Fisher famously said:
‘Turn your eyes to the European situation and give the kindest feelings towards the mother country at this time. I sincerely hope that international arbitration will avail before Europe is convulsed in the greatest war of any time. All, I am sure, will regret the critical position existing at the present time, and pray that a disastrous war may be averted. But should the worst happen after everything has been done that honour will permit, Australians will stand beside our own to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.” (loud applause). ”
Two days after the actual declaration of war had been made, a Sydney Morning Herald editorial held that the situation would be a nation-defining event.
“It is our baptism of fire … Australia knows something of the flames of war, but its realities have never been brought so close as they will be in the near future.”
As Australia stood on the brink of war, and shoulder to shoulder with the Mother Country, the overall feeling was one of pride and optimism, and belief that the war would be brief, with a great British victory to follow.