“Shirk­ers, slack­ers and loafers” - part 3

Euroa Gazette - - NEWS - By JEFF STARKEY

JUST over one hun­dred years ago the first re­sults of the con­scrip­tion plebiscite were dis­played show­ing the “No” vote ahead by 81,000 votes. At the end of the count­ing the coun­try had re­jected giv­ing politi­cians the power to com­pel men to kill or be killed. The pas­sion and raw emo­tions that had been un­leashed elsewhere across the na­tion, how­ever, failed to sur­face here in the dis­trict.

In late Septem­ber, Euroa Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Wale, presided over the first pub­lic meet­ing called in sup­port of the cam­paign. Num­bers were down, at­trib­uted to the poor roads and weather.

There was no de­bate, nor rous­ing speeches. The small gather­ing passed a mo­tion … the cit­i­zens of Euroa … be­lieved the vol­un­tary sys­tem had failed to pro­vide the nec­es­sary re­in­force­ments … de­clare their unswerv­ing loy­alty to the prin­ci­ple of con­scrip­tion for over seas ser­vice and pledge them­selves to use their ut­most en­deav­ours to se­cure a suc­cess­ful is­sue in the favour of same….

For the first time women were given a prom­i­nent role in a lo­cal cam­paign. Gor­don Max­field’s mother, wife of the den­tist, and Mrs Marke were elected to the lo­cal Na­tional Ref­er­en­dum Com­mit­tee along with Rev Garde, Cr Platt, Al­fred Bur­ton, James Phillips and C. St­ed­man.

The com­mit­tee de­cided the rest of the Shire would be di­vided up and left to a lo­cal com­mit­tee to can­vas votes. There is no ev­i­dence these lo­cal com­mit­tees were cre­ated.

Since the out­break of the war women had played a po­lit­i­cally pas­sive, yet, sup­port­ive role. Along with the lo­cal branch of the Aus­tralian Women’s Na­tive League, the Red Cross had taken the lead in fundrais­ing and or­gan­is­ing nu­mer­ous pa­tri­otic func­tions.

Now, lo­cal branches of the Red Cross and the AWNL ac­tively can­vassed for the “Yes” vote.

For the first time there were more women than men on the elec­toral roll and as a con­se­quence the gov­ern­ment tar­geted women. If one group could tip the vote in the gov­ern­ment’s favour it would be the moth­ers, wives and sweet­hearts of the men at the front.

Ap­peals were made to women in the form of “let­ters” from the Prime Min­is­ter.

“Now is the hour of your trial and op­por­tu­nity! Will you be the proud mother of a na­tion of heroes, or stand dis­hon­oured as moth­ers of a race of de­gen­er­ates?

Prove that you are wor­thy to the moth­ers and wives of free men! Set the world a glo­ri­ous ex­am­ple! Bid you men go forth to do bat­tle of their coun­try.”

A sec­ond meet­ing or­gan­ised by Ge­orge Wale was held on the 18th of Oc­to­ber at the Euroa Pub­lic Hall. This time some sparkle re­turned and the packed hall re­sponded on cue with cheers to key points made by Frank Clarke MLC. Clarke shared the podium with the lo­cal recruiting of­fi­cer sergeant Cle­ments. The meet­ing was held with­out any con­tro­versy.

At Vi­o­let Town mat­ters were far­ci­cal. On Fri­day the 20th Oc­to­ber it had been ar­ranged for Mr Colin Camp­bell to speak on be­half of the “Peo­ple’s Party”. The speaker didn’t show, nor was any­one pre­pared to take the podium in his place. The small crowd went home. So ended the Vi­o­let Town’s Shire in­volve­ment in one of the great po­lit­i­cal is­sues of the pe­riod.

Last minute ap­peals for a “Yes” vote ap­peared in the press. There was not one ar­ti­cle in the any of the three pa­pers against its in­tro­duc­tion. The lo­cal re­sult was pre­dictable with a re­sound­ing “Yes”.

Yes Euroa 448 Euroa Sth 401 Vi­o­let Town 271 Vi­o­let Town Sth 121 Avenel Sey­mour Kil­more Heath­cote Shep­par­ton Mooroopna Tatura Yes 292 559 294 614 1729 440 571 No 284 215 243 76

But, the na­tion voted “No” and this re­sult floored the pa­tri­ots. Fol­low­ing the na­tional re­jec­tion of con­scrip­tion, Theo Ford took the un­usual step of putting his name to an ed­i­to­rial. Sur­pris­ingly he ac­cepted the re­sult and posed the ques­tion of “What Next?” He fore­saw the col­lapse of the gov­ern­ment, but urged loy­al­ists to ac­cept the re­sult with­out “quib­ble or re­proach”.

There was a marked vari­a­tion in the vote across the Goul­burn Valley. Vot­ing was not com­pul­sory, regis­tra­tion was. No 328 687 477 977 900 186 371

Lo­cal con­di­tions ex­plain much of the vari­a­tion. The peo­ple in Euroa and Vi­o­let Town Shires had strongly sup­ported the war. The ‘Farewells’ and ‘Wel­come Homes’ were treated with much pomp and cer­e­mony. The dis­trict had thrown its weight be­hind the var­i­ous re­cruit­ment cam­paigns, es­pe­cially in July in 1915. While both Shires had a vi­able and strong tim­ber in­dus­try, many of those em­ployed were tran­sient work­ers. The two Shires lacked any sem­blance of an in­dus­trial base, so union in­flu­ence was min­i­mal at best

What of the bit­ter Catholic and Protes­tant con­flict? Ex­cept for an en­clave at Miepoll there was no strong Ir­ish Catholic el­e­ment in the ar­eas out­side the three towns. Even in Euroa where the Catholic Church had solid num­bers, the town sup­ported the “Yes” case. While Catholic Arch­bishop Man­nix sup­ported the “No” cause, the only hint of sec­tar­i­an­ism oc­curred at Shep­par­ton where a leaflet den­i­grat­ing the at­ti­tude of Catholics was re­port­edly cir­cu­lated in Shep­par­ton and “sur­round­ing dis­tricts”. The Rev Fa­ther Ho­gan of St Bren­dan’s stated he had voted ac­cord­ing to his con­scious, and no more would be said. By Oc­to­ber 1916, 130 lo­cal Catholics had en­listed, 32 of who had made the “ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice.”

The vot­ing in France started on Oc­to­ber 16th. The vote of the AIF was in favour of con­scrip­tion. 72,399 for and 58,894 against. Fig­ures can be de­cep­tive though. It was un­der­stood those men on trans­ports or in camp voted “Yes”.

Those who had seen bat­tle or were on the front had voted “No”. Long­wood born ac­coun­tant, Gor­don Max­field, writ­ing from be­hind the front line at Favre­vil some months af­ter the vote, had difficulty try­ing to ex­plain why sol­diers voted “No”. Gor­don be­lieved any­one who thought they could ex­plain the vote was a “goat pure and sim­ple….”

“There are about 77 rea­sons why they wouldn’t stand it. I will men­tion what I con­sider the most im­por­tant. 1. Ig­no­rance of the real sit­u­a­tion 2. Lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia’s duty and re­spon­si­bil­ity and dan­ger 3. Ha­tred of the word con­scrip­tion 4. The labour prin­ci­pals of the huge num­ber 5. Fear of bring­ing near and dear rel­a­tives and friends to share hor­rors which many con­sider well nigh un­bear­able

6. The to­tally er­ro­neous be­lief that Aus­tralia had done her share and more

Gor­don ac­knowl­edged the men were not in­flu­enced by any means to vote “No”.

“Men in ig­no­rance, voted as their con­scious di­rected them. The av­er­age sol­dier can not or will not re­alise that he is just as truly fight­ing for Aus­tralia here, as every French­man is fight­ing for France…”.

The brave ac­coun­tant had just ex­plained why he was fight­ing and was pre­pared to give his life. He sums up the at­ti­tude of most in the Euroa dis­trict. Just over a week later, tragedy oc­curred when Gor­don was killed but this is a story for another time.

BLOOD VOTE: Posters like this one were com­mon­place dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum vote, warn­ing vot­ers against ‘con­demn­ing a man to death’ by vot­ing ‘yes’ for con­scrip­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.