Early reactions to war

Australia in 1914 was a young nation. Only 13 years had passed since a collection of British colonies had come together as a federation of states. Australia's wartime Prime Ministers Andrew Fisher and William Hughes had been born in Britain and most Australians were of English descent:

By 1914 most young Australians had thoroughly learnt an adherence to war, race and glory, and to two nations separated by the world. They vaunted their sunlit land, and drew snowmen on Christmas cards. [...] They were ‘independent Australian Britons', defenders of the white race in the Pacific, volunteers to die in the defence of the ideals they had chosen.

- Bill Gammage

Gammage, B 2010, The broken years: Australian soldiers in the Great War, Melbourne University Publishing, Carlton, Vic.

Over many years, the German Empire had built a navy capable of challenging the supremacy of the British Navy. Increasingly powerful in industry and manufacturing, they had also made an alliance with Austria-Hungary. What they did not have was Britain's network of colonies across the world.

Those following world affairs knew that a conflict between the world's largest sea powers was likely, but they also believed that such a conflict would be quickly resolved. It was thought by many that The Great War would prove the worth of Australia to the ‘mother country'. Australia could make a significant contribution which would guarantee the enduring British support of Australian interests in the future:

The British fleet is our all in all. Its destruction means Australia's destruction, the ruin of our trade and institutions, and the surrender of our liberties. The British Empire is our family circle and we cannot live outside it...

- Melbourne Punch

Melbourne Punch cited in: Gammage, B 2010, The broken years: Australian soldiers in the Great War, Melbourne University Publishing, Carlton, Vic.

Although this quote originally appeared in Melbourne Punch, it was found in the source below. Good secondary sources are often a shortcut to great primary source quotes.


In Melbourne, the day after King George's announcement that Britain was at war with Germany, huge crowds thronged the offices of The Argus waiting for a late edition of the newspaper. Later that night a group of three thousand young men rallied around a Union Jack flag chanting threats to ‘smash up' foreigners.


Mounted police, fearing that German clubs and businesses would be attacked, moved to disperse the crowd. The rioters stabbed a police horse and smashed the windows of Chinese businesses on Russell Street. Newspaper accounts of the days following the announcement reflect excitement and enthusiasm. Unions made statements of support for the war effort. Companies pledged that employees volunteering for service would have their positions held and that they would be granted leave with full pay. Musicals in Melbourne ended with cast and audience singing Rule, Britannia and Advance Australia Fair.

Newspaper article from the opening of World War I.
Newspaper article about the declaration of World War I.
Newspaper article outlining Australia's offer of support to Britain in World War I.
Newspaper article shows Australian women standing ready to defend the country.