Skip to content
  • Open today 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission

We are updating our new website in stages. This page will be changed to the new design but is not currently optimised for mobile devices.

You are in site section: Exhibitions

William Hughes

Black and white portrait of a man with a moustache
Prime Minister Hughes. National Library of Australia vn4831473

Prime minister

William ‘Billy’ Hughes became prime minister in October 1915. A passionate promoter of Australia’s role in international affairs, he was determined to bolster the Australian war effort. He believed that conscription was the solution to rising casualties and dwindling enlistments. Unable to gain enough political support for the issue, he put it to a referendum on 28 October 1916. The ‘no’ vote narrowly prevailed.

Hughes was expelled from the Labor Party for his pro-conscription stance but continued to lead the nation, winning re-election in May 1917 as leader of the newly formed Nationalist Party. A second referendum in December 1917 was also defeated but Hughes again survived as prime minister.

Man being carried by soldiers along a crowded street
Billy Hughes being carried by soldiers along a crowded street, 1918. National Library of Australia an23150756
A photograph of The Billy Book
The Billy Book: Hughes Abroad by David Low, 1918. Between 1916 and 1918, Billy Hughes travelled to England twice, spending a total of 11 months away from Australia. The Billy Book makes fun of the absentee prime minister and his attempts to influence international affairs. National Museum of Australia
Return to Top