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William Hughes

The Home Front: Australia during the First World War

William Hughes, prime minister

Prime Minister Hughes

Prime Minister Hughes. National Library of Australia, vn4831473.

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.


William Hughes in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Hughes, Prime Ministers of Australia website

Billy Hughes at war, Museum of Australian Democracy website

Billy Hughes objects via the Museum's online Collection Explorer

Billy Hughes 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.