Image Anticonscription demonstration, Melbourne, c1916

TLF ID R3028

This is a black-and-white photograph measuring 15.5 cm x 10.9 cm, of a street demonstration against conscription, taken during the First World War. It shows a long line of marchers, including two men carrying a banner inscribed 'IF BLOOD BE THE PRICE OF YOUR CURSED WEALTH, GOOD GOD WE HAVE BOUGHT IT FAIR'. The line of marchers snakes through a fairly industrial part of Melbourne - a gas storage tank looms in the background.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows a demonstration against one of the two attempts made by Labor Prime Minister W M Hughes (1862-1952) to introduce conscription, and subsequent overseas service, into the Australian army during the First World War - Hughes held two referendums on the issue but both were defeated; the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) remained an all-volunteer army and Australia and South Africa remained the only countries involved in the War that did not introduce conscription, even though 5,400 new recruits were required every month to replace the Australians killed and wounded.
  • It shows a large number of people involved in a peaceful demonstration over a bitterly fought issue - the political battle over conscription was acrimonious and the results were very close; the first vote in 1916 defeated conscription, with 51 per cent against it compared to 49 per cent in favour (only 72,476 votes separated the sides); the margin widened in the second vote in 1917, with 1,015,159 in favour and 1,181,747 against.
  • It shows a very strongly worded, emotive banner, designed to crystallise anticapitalist feeling by pointing out that lives were being sacrificed to build the profits of the wealthy - there was a widespread view that the War was being fought for imperialist and capitalist reasons.
  • It indicates that the conscription issue in Australia provided a focus for many different points of view about the War - some people were opposed to all forms of war, some were opposed to conscription in principle, some were protesting about the poor economic conditions caused by the War, some were struggling to save unionism, which they saw being threatened by wartime powers assumed by the Australian Government, and some were reacting against the British treatment of rebels in Ireland's Easter Rebellion.
  • It shows a large number of male demonstrators - however, women, in groups such as the Women's Peace Army, were actively involved in opposing conscription.
  • It shows a young child marching at the front of a group of demonstrators - both women and children were used for propaganda purposes by both sides of the conscription debate, and many highly emotive cards, songs and posters were produced, such as the banner in the photograph.
  • It shows the demonstration winding its way past a gas storage facility - these facilities stored the volatile gas in huge tanks, the roofs of which sank as the gas level dropped; coal gas for lighting was first introduced in Melbourne in the 1840s by various individuals who set up small plants that could supply a single establishment; the more complex problem of manufacturing gas and distributing it throughout a whole town for lighting, cooking and heating was addressed by the City of Melbourne Gas Coke Company, which first supplied gas on 1 January 1856; safer natural gas was introduced to replace coal gas in Melbourne in 1969.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
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