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Australians in 1913 lived with contradictions. Proud of their prosperous, progressive democracy, and self-consciously ‘British’, many also expected to face an ‘Asian invasion’. Japan’s recent victories over China and Russia made many Australians fearful.
Determined to protect a ‘White Australia’, the Australian Government created a large citizen army and a modern navy. On 4 October 1913 the ships forming the Royal Australian Navy’s ‘fleet unit’, led by the fast, modern battle cruiser HMAS Australia, steamed into Sydney Harbour. The event symbolised the importance of defence to Australians in 1913.
The army had also formed an ‘Australian Flying Corps’, acquired aircraft from Britain, employed instructors and was seeking aspiring pilots. Australia’s sailors and soldiers would soon go to war to defend the Empire and in 1914 two army aeroplanes became part of the Australian Military and Naval Expeditionary Force sent to seize German New Guinea at the outbreak of war.
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A citizen army
Manly Village Public School cadets, 1913. Manly Library.
The individual Australian colonies had depended for their defence on small, ill-equipped volunteer forces. After Federation, the Australian Government created a large militia force, formed increasingly from young ‘boy conscripts’ trained under a controversial Compulsory Training Scheme introduced in 1911. Under the Compulsory Training Scheme boys were expected to graduate from junior to senior cadets and then to the militia, forming a huge trained citizen army for Australia’s defence.
By 1913, Australia possessed an army of trained, mostly part-time, citizen soldiers, prepared to contest an invasion of Australia, probably, most people thought, by Japan.
Field Marshal Lord Herbert Kitchener, victor in the bitter war waged by Britain against Boer guerrillas in South Africa, toured Australia in 1910. He approved of Australians’ willingness to protect themselves and their formation of a reserve of soldiers able to defend the Empire.
A navy for a nation
‘An Australian son of the sea’. A sailor sits atop the barrel of one of HMAS Australia’s 12-inch guns. RAN Sea Power Centre.
Following Federation, the British Admiralty wanted Australia to limit itself to protecting only its immediate coastal waters.
A decade later, following the introduction of powerful dreadnought battleships, Europe was embroiled in an arms race, with Britain and Germany competing for naval supremacy. The Admiralty allowed Australia to build a small, modern navy to share the burden of protecting Britain’s Empire in Australasia – an empire then believed to be vulnerable.
The arrival of the battle cruiser HMAS Australia signified a new assurance in Australia’s dealings with the British Empire and the world beyond. For many Australians it symbolised their ‘coming of age’ as a nation.
The Asian threat
Cartoon playing on Australian fears of the threat from Asia, and the inadequacy of the country’s defence force. Bulletin, 9 January 1913, p. 12.
The text for this cartoon by Alf Vincent reads; QUESTIONABLE. Information has been received to the effect that the Japanese cruisers Adzuma and Soya will visit various points in the Commonwealth, including Brisbane and Townsville. – News item. THE KID: "'Ere's that brown bloke again! I wonder whether e's looking 'er over or sizin' me up?"
Commemorating the arrival of the fleet
Souvenir program for the arrival of the fleet ,1913. National Museum of Australia.
This program, distributed in Sydney for the arrival of the ships forming the Royal Australian's Navy fleet on 4 October 1913, hints at the significance to Australians of the ships’ arrival. It depicts the event in the midst of several national symbols: flag, wattle, coat of arms and the figure of ‘Young Australia'.
Pocket companion for sailors
Vest Pocket Companion for Christian Workers, 1913. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Evangelical Christians, seeking to encourage sailors to commit to Christ, distributed this Bible tract to the crews of the ships Australia and Sydney before their voyage from Britain to Australia. The back cover is dated 21 July 1913.
Commonwealth Navy board game
'Commonwealth Navy’ board game, 1913, made by National Games Company, Melbourne. National Museum of Australia.
This board game celebrates the arrival of the Australian naval fleet in Sydney in October 1913. Board games were popular family toys, but tended to share similar basic strategies and rules. To maintain novelty, manufacturers produced games that celebrated contemporary events, such as Antarctic exploration and the arrival of the Australian fleet.