Race fear, dangerous denial

For Bruce Pollard, Greg Dodds and Howard Dick


'I still want to talk about Australia as a whole, as a nation-state...'
– John Hirst, Looking for Australia (Black Inc., 2010)


ONE OF THE founding myths of Australia protects a great deception – one that centres on a secret undertaking by Australian ministers to prepare an expeditionary force for military service outside the country. The myth is that the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was created in six weeks after the outbreak of war in August 1914. The reality is that the development of that force had been going on since June 1911, when a secret undertaking was made at the War Office in London. That arrangement did not come out of the blue: it was in fact the culmination of a brilliant imperial deception going back to at least 1909, when the formation of a post-federation national guard was used as a Trojan Horse to mask an imperial expeditionary agenda and subvert the independent defence policy of the new nation.

From the Maori Wars (1860s) to Sudan (1885), the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Boxer Rebellion (1900), Australians had been involved in military expeditions usually initiated by jingoistic groups. In London in 1911, the expeditionary strategy was secretly established as state policy – a policy that only became public knowledge eighty years later and is still not widely known. In the process an undemocratic precedent was set for political behaviour, in which Australian forces have been routinely committed to war by a handful of closeted ministers. For some years before 1911, British officials helped to establish the precedent by manipulating the anxieties of Australian ministers. Contrary to their own policy, the British encouraged the Australians to believe that Japan was a threat to the new country, and that expeditionary support for Britain in a prospective war in Europe would best lock the Empire into the defence of Australia in the Pacific. The expeditionary decision taken in London by Australian political leaders was then protected by a political cover-up, because there was widespread nationalist opposition to imperial ventures. Many Australians also felt the army should remain home to defend the nation against the perceived threat from the north.

For those reasons, the government misled the public about the reasons for the military preparations that followed the secret decision. To cover expeditionary force preparations between 1911 and 1914, officials manipulated public anxiety about Japan at the same time as they calculated that, when Britain found itself involved in a major war, they would be able to dispatch the expeditionary contingent on a wave of popular sentiment. That happened and, in 1915, the AIF landed at Gallipoli.

As a result of the far-reaching political, social and cultural impact of the war that followed the landing, the imperial political and military deception of 1911-14 changed the course of Australian history. This has still not been acknowledged.

A compliant historiography accommodates the deception to this day. Sometimes cynical, usually naive, the Anzac expeditionary narrative is sentimental in its acceptance of the imperial romance that the AIF was formed in six weeks. When cogent research documenting the secret expeditionary decision and preparations of 1911-14 was first presented to the history profession, in 1992, it was dismissed with feigned detachment. The research had challenged an old Australian imperial myth: one that protects the deception and, more insidiously, the racial basis of the perceived threat, which sprang from colonial insecurities about Asia. Today, that myth still supports the imperial mindset and expeditionary culture of the nominally independent nation.


THERE IS A new urgency to understand this: the geopolitics of the region is changing in ways that require Australians to reconsider how the foundational myths of the nation relate it to Asian neighbours. The most important change is that China's rapid economic growth in recent decades has led to an extension of its strategic interests and assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region. These trends may slow in the future.[i] But whatever happens, Chinese power has already modified in some measure US primacy in the Western Pacific.[ii] The region is, according to the Lowy Institute's executive director, Michael Wesley, 'becoming more complex and unpredictable' by the month. [iii]

For Australia's part, this means the context for its history has been changing. The old imperial understanding that British and, since 1942, American power will guarantee Australia's security against Asian powers, including China, needs rethinking. This is especially so when many people also assume that China's current mineral purchases will continue to guarantee our economic prosperity. Complacency is no doubt a factor, but the historic fear of China[iv] and other countries to the north is also part of this irrational compact.

John Fitzgerald's important book Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia (Scribe, 2007) explains how the universal values of liberté, egalité and fraternité lost a great deal when translated at the beginning of the twentieth century into the Australian idiom as freedom, a fair go and mateship. He reveals the fallacy of the foundational premise of white Australian nationalism: that those 'universal values are the special preserve of a particular people and that they remain culturally alien to other kinds of people'.[v] In 1901, coloured people were excluded. This closed, racial ordering of the nation was consistent with a colonial desire to federate within the protective ambit of the British Empire.

By then, fear of the rising military power of Japan had begun to replace earlier anxieties about being 'swamped' by Chinese immigrants. After the Anglo-Japanese naval alliance of 1902 signalled the decline of British naval power in the Pacific, the sense of a Japanese military threat increasingly shaped official perceptions. After the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, those perceptions had an effect on the emerging Australian state. Most notably, the contradictions of liberal democracy involved a great deception that undermined the democratic interests of white Australians themselves.


ACCORDING TO CEW BEAN, in The Official History of Australia's Involvement in the War of 1914-1918 (twelve volumes, 1921-1942), in August 1914 the war fell out of a 'clear blue sky' on the British people. The Australian government 'had prepared no set scheme for common action with Great Britain in case of war'. It was only the 'high moral enthusiasm' of the Allies that compensated for their 'unpreparedness' – and saw the 20,000-man AIF raised and ready to send to war in six weeks. [vi]

No one builds an army of that size and quality from nothing in that time. Yet the durability of this myth is as remarkable as the story itself: generations of Australian historians have let it pass. Then, in 1992, John Mordike published An Army for a Nation: A History of Australian Military Developments, 1880-1914 (Allen & Unwin) and showed that expeditionary preparations had been underway since 1911. That groundbreaking book described the central role that an unwarranted fear of Japan played in those preparations – an analysis developed a decade later in Mordike's second book, 'We should do this thing quietly': Japan and the Great Deception in Australian Defence Policy 1911-1914.

The first volume of Bean's Official History (1921) did not discuss the Japanese threat any more than the preparations for war. Both themes disappeared from Australian historiography until DCS Sissons recalled the sense of Japanese menace in his 1956 University of Melbourne masters thesis, 'Attitudes to Japan and Defence, 1890-1923'. Two decades later, Neville Meaney, at the University of Sydney, drew on Sissons' thesis to build the perception of Japanese threat into The Search for Security in the Pacific, 1901-14 (Sydney University Press, 1976), the first volume of his history of Australia's defence and foreign policy.[vii] Meaney's emphasis on geography influenced Mordike, a historian in the Department of Defence, who also assumed the nation's primary impulse to defend itself in its Pacific setting: 'Australians did make decisions based on their geography rather than their history.' [viii]

On this basis, Mordike's thesis offered a new approach. Historians since Bean had argued that the formation of the AIF in six weeks was a function of an irrepressible 'coalescence' of imperial and national interests. Mordike argued that Australian defence policy had been the subject of a 'contest' between those interests for over a decade before August 1914. In his view, the ascendancy of imperial over national policy only occurred after a long bureaucratic struggle that involved protracted manipulations by British officials of Australian anxieties about the threat of Japan. Defence Minister Senator George Pearce then clinched the imperial ascendency when he made the secret expeditionary agreement at the 1911 Imperial Conference in London. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher also attended and there can be no serious doubt Pearce had discussed the expeditionary arrangements with him. Both were then instrumental in determining the nature of Australia's entry into the war. [ix]

In his culminating work, Australia and World Crisis 1914-1923 (Sydney University Press, 2009), Meaney finally established the Australian perception of a long-term Japanese threat that went back to at least the Russo-Japanese War, and led to a 'cold war' between Australia and Japan in the Pacific. This drove Australia's expeditionary involvement in the 'hot war' in Europe between 1914 and 1918. In other words, support for British global supremacy was thought to be the best means of ensuring the defence of white Australia against Japan in the Pacific. While Mordike would have little difficulty with Meaney's statement of strategy, their theses are at odds. Meaney does not deal either with Mordike's point about British manipulations of Australian fears of Japan, or with his key 1992 discovery of the secret expeditionary undertaking and preparations of 1911-14.

In 2009, Meaney still built Australia and World Crisis around a Bean-like 'British race nationalism'. Like other historians for almost a century, he continued to assume that a coalescence of imperial and national interests created the AIF in August 1914. But there is no way this could have happened. The expeditionary strategy he describes came into play, but his account lacks a pivot. He is unable to explain how the army that mounted the expedition was created. This is an issue of fundamental importance, because it is inseparable from the nature of the nation – and the imperial deceit in which the expeditionary army was created can no longer be denied.

Pearce's offer of an expeditionary force was considered so sensitive that the record of the conversations detailing it has a history of its own. Imperial authorities covered up those crucial conversations, which occurred at a meeting of the Committee of the Imperial Conference held in the War Office on 17 June 1911. The War Office withheld the record of the conversations from inclusion in the 'Minutes of Proceedings of the Imperial Conference, 1911'. There was no public knowledge of the conversations until Mordike discovered the record of them, during research into War Office planning for World War I, and published his findings in 1992.

Meanwhile, just four months before the outbreak of war in 1914, the Imperial Inspector General of Overseas Forces, General Sir Ian Hamilton, visited Australia to inspect military developments. In a letter of 14 April to the British Prime Minister, HH Asquith, Hamilton explained: 'I had fully meant when I came out here to urge upon the Commonwealth the importance of having some small section of the army earmarked, in peace, for expeditionary Imperial service. But I see now that I would defeat my own object...were I to touch that string. The whole vital force of the country, i.e. the rank and file of its people, are standing firm together against any such proposition. Play the tune of an Australian army for Australia, and they dance to any extent. Not otherwise. Australia – not Empire – is then the string we must harp on. That is to say, we must encourage them to do what they will do willingly and lavishly, namely pay up for safeguarding a White Australia from the cursed Jap. Then, when the time comes, and when we are fighting for our lives in India or elsewhere, I for one am confident that the whole military force of Australia will be freely at our disposal.'[x]


DECEPTIONS ARE PART of politics. What makes this one special is its continuing centrality in Australian history. Twenty thousand volunteers were enlisted in six weeks beginning in early August 1914. But, all too easily dazzled by these enlistments, generations of historians have failed to see that, without extensive prior planning, organisation and training, the AIF could not possibly have been formed in that time and could not have been constituted as it was for the Gallipoli landing.

CEW Bean claimed that, at Gallipoli, 'consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.' Yet his account of the AIF never imagines the nation outside the Empire. From the perspective of the independent nation, Gallipoli was, in Mordike's words, where 'Australia was committed unreservedly to imperial defence strategies.' In Bean's Official History the origin myth of the AIF being formed in six weeks is one of these.

To bring that myth into action, let us then see how it springs from irrational race fears that Bean built into his foundation narrative of the nation.[xi] In fact, a string of inconsistencies appear in the text that revolve around race and show how a contradiction lies at the heart of that narrative. On the one hand, local geography and imperial conquest underpin the sense of racial threat. On the other hand, that racial construction has to be disavowed because it has virtually no strategic foundation – and so presents in Bean's narrative as a wandering silence.

Early in the Introduction, Bean weighs two reasons why Australia and its allies became involved in the war: 'not only because of the range of its political and economic effects, but because it partook of the nature of a crusade...Not merely was their independence threatened or invaded; a new creed was being thrust on the world, a creed utterly repugnant to the humanity of Christian civilisation.'[xii]

Even though the first reason includes the prospect of invasion, the narrative plays it down – not merely was their independence threatened – in favour of the second, less tangible reason, which it plays up: the 'crusade' against the repugnant German 'creed'. Throughout the Introduction and first chapter, 'Australia's Position at the Outbreak', Bean juggles these disparate motives in an attempt to get around the great problem he has explaining an imperial venture that bore little relation to the Australian sense of what was strategically significant: Japan. He cannot mention the official race fear of Japan in 1911-14, because the expeditionary undertaking was secret. Even more, in 1914-18 the Japanese had not attacked but, as a photo in the Official History shows, deployed the battle cruiser Ibuki to escort the first AIF convoy across the Indian Ocean to Egypt.[xiii] The Japanese supported Australasian convoys across the Indian Ocean, and defensively patrolled in the Pacific and around the Australian coast. [xiv]

Yet, to compensate for that enforced silence, Bean can still play on race by making British character a central element in his account of why Australians went to war. He emphasises that Australians retained British qualities – a love of liberty, individualism and enterprise. Protected by Britain, colonial freedoms then created in Australians 'a peculiar independence of character' and 'unfettered initiative'. Indeed, 'only in one point was the Australian people palpably united, in a determination to keep its continent a white man's land.'[xv] Yet this assertion hardly solved his problem. He still cannot mention the perceived threat of Japan, and so still has no explanation for why Australians had to fight Germans.

Bean continues fruitlessly his alternating emphases on invasion and crusader hatred of Germany. At one point, for instance, the crusader hatred he had magnified in the Introduction is reduced to a supporting role so that he can identify Australia's strategic interests with Britain's: the 'third reason' for entry into the war was 'the defence of Australia', for 'if Britain fell, Australia too must fall...if the Navy of the British Empire succumbed, Australia had no defence.'[xvi] But still, after numerous alternations, Bean is unable to name a putative Australian enemy, because he cannot mention Japan. Nor, aside from suggesting vaguely that German cruisers might have bombarded coastal cities, does he attempt to detail a German military threat to the Australian homeland.[xvii]

Therefore, he has to take drastic action. On the last page of Chapter 1 he retreats from the 'third' defence of Australia's reason for war and returns once more to his initial emphasis on crusader hatred of German barbarism. Australians, he proclaims, 'hated German principles, to which they were as completely opposed as white is to black'.[xviii]

The historical significance of this emphatic metaphor is that race fears surely existed but historians have tended to deny them. The reason for this disavowal is not only that such fears involved imperial political manipulation. It is also because of cultural self-deceptions that revolved around particular aspects of Australian colonial history and geography, most notably its proximity to Asia. A pervasive political theme raised in David Day's Claiming a Continent: A New History of Australia (HarperCollins, 1996), and cultural theme developed in David Walker's Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850-1939 (UQP, 1999), is that a rampant Asia might 'Aboriginalise' white Australians just as white Australians had 'Aboriginalised' the Aborigines.

Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, in Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (MUP, 2008), also refer to people who expressed this view. Yet that work's global elevation soars high above the local geography and clotted imperial history that plays on Australia's involvement in the Great War. 'Settler' historians have been unable to contemplate those links for a different reason: their primary orientation of Australian history according to the centre-periphery pattern of imperial-colonial relations reduces to secondary importance the regional context for Australian history. Either way, the point is that involvement in the Great War was inseparable from, and an extension of, both the British imperial conquest of the continent and the continent's geographical proximity to Asia.


NO DOUBT THE vastness of the continent, the smallness of the white population and the existence of 'teeming millions' to the north intensified anxiety that 'Asians' coveted the country. But still, there was no sign of a Japanese attack on Australia before 1914. And there is no doubt that white Australian race fears were based on what they knew had happened to Aboriginal Australia and projected irrationally onto Asia, particularly Japan.

I call this projection the 'Aboriginal-Asia' link that existed in the minds of many white Australians before 1914. To demonstrate it I could draw on statements by the long-serving Defence Minister George Pearce. But a 1913 speech Billy Hughes delivered as Attorney-General, at the laying of the foundation stone for Parliament House in Canberra, anticipated his role as the country's chief recruiter during the war.

The speech raised the defence of white Australia and linked it dramatically to the destruction of Aborigines, and was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 March. Comparing Australia and America, Hughes declared that 'the Deity' had 'fashioned us have our way'. Australia and America were indeed 'two nations that have always had their way, for they killed everybody else to get it. I declare to you that in no other way shall we be able to come to our own except by preparing to hold that which we now have. (Cheers.) We are here as the visible signs of a continent. We have a great future before us...The first historic event in the history of the commonwealth we are engaged in today [is being taken] without the slightest trace of that race we have banished from the face of the earth. We must not be too proud lest we too in time disappear. We must take steps to safeguard that foothold we now have. (Cheers.)'[xix]

The speech was well received. The theme of banished races was popular in turn-of-the-century literature. Even as Hughes spoke, the government was preparing to allocate a third of the 1913 Commonwealth Budget to defence to keep Australia white.

CEW Bean clearly shared Hughes's sense of the struggle for racial survival, so whatever the international sensitivities it would have looked very odd at home if the Official History had admitted that unwarranted fears of Japan had launched Australia into a war that killed 60,000 men, shattered the lives of many tens of thousands more and destroyed the dreams of the new federation. At the same time, the Japanese had not only failed to launch the much-anticipated Asian invasion but acted as a reliable ally.

I agree with Mordike, who believed that Bean's account of pre-war defence developments was 'effectively...a cover-up' and 'misleading'.[xx] This may never be proved. But Bean's Official History certainly contradicts its own assertion of Australian unpreparedness in early August 1914 with sharply conflicting emphases in other places. In the first volume, for example, he comments: 'No troops ever went to the front more generously equipped than the first Australian contingent.'[xxi]

Senator Pearce appointed Bean as official historian and in 1921, when the first volume was published, was still the defence minister. If Bean had revealed the undertaking, the government might have fallen, or worse. Bean kept Pearce's secret and, wittingly or unwittingly, the deception ran on into the Official History.

In any case, historians were always going to have difficulties using fear of Japan as an explanation for why Australians had fought Turks and Germans. Rushing in to fill the political and cultural breach, babble about the AIF's instant readiness was bound to submerge a sense of the way Japan had so inadvertently driven Australian strategic history in the first decades of the twentieth century – and would continue to do so for several more.

And so we come to the sentimental nature of most accounts of the AIF's expeditionary involvement in the war. Suffused with Empire feeling, the myth of instant readiness was conflated with that of the unusual resoluteness and high moral enthusiasm of British-Australian colonial character. Twice in the Official History Bean noted how the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Fisher, a man of 'translucent honesty', had pledged at Colac on 31 July 1914 to defend the mother country 'to our last man and our last shilling'.[xxii] That emotional phrase has since become perennial shorthand for British patriotism in Australian historiography.

Grant Mansfield recently listed six general studies of Australia published between 1944 and 2004 that recycle Fisher's phrase.[xxiii] The list could be much extended. Mansfield's point is that this literature standardises the impression of unbounded war enthusiasm in 1914. The complexity of the social response to the event is obscured. My point is that, by signifying total Australian identification with British interests, habitual use of Fisher's phrase fulfils a related function, collapsing the imperial-national tension in a sentimental narrative of Australian history. Held together by the origin myth of the AIF, a sentimental tale of race superiority protects the imperial enterprise by creating the illusion of coalescence.

Such is the backdrop against which the secret expeditionary undertaking of 1911 remained unchallenged for seventy years after Bean bedded down the deception in the great grief of the imperial postwar nation.


JOHN MORDIKE WROTE his first book, Army for a Nation, while he was an army officer and a Defence Department historian. Like me he was a Vietnam veteran who had been struck by the way official Australian war rhetoric had ended in 1975, in the fall of Saigon. The new scepticism in him – and me – produced a strong respect for evidence. I sought an evidentiary explanation for the outcome of the Vietnam War in a PhD on the origins of it. After a background in mathematics, Mordike's PhD examined the origins of Australian military involvement in the Great War. Because Australia's involvements in both the Great War and the Vietnam War were products of the same expeditionary culture, our interests now intersect in this essay.

Army for a Nation is a product of the discovery Mordike made that his extensive reading in British and Australian primary documents conflicted sharply with the usual Bean-like British-race explanation of our entry into the Great War. Army for a Nation is indeed an exceptionally well-documented analysis of Australian military developments before 1914. Its starting point is the assumption that, in both constitutional and emotional terms, Australia was always going to be at war in 1914 – because Britain was.[xxiv] The kind of participation in the war should then have been up to the Australian parliament.

Yet it is important to recall that in order to avoid this deliberation, the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain never intended that Australia be autonomous. Mordike's constitutional discussion quotes an 1897 Colonial Office Memorandum on how the Governor-General 'may have to act without the advice of his ministers' (thus foreshadowing the Reserve Powers in the Constitution, according to which the Governor-General dismissed the Whitlam government in 1975). It is also clear that an amendment Chamberlain proposed to the draft Australian Constitution in 1897 revolved around preparing for the British parliament to command Australian forces on imperial service.[xxv]

Chamberlain did not prevail. In 1901, the Australian constitutional authorities John Quick and Robert Garran were clear that the Governor-General could only exercise the royal prerogative of command of the forces on the advice of the Australian Prime Minister.[xxvi] Australia's first Attorney-General, Alfred Deakin, also took this view. This was a democratic advance on command of the forces by the British parliament, but it did not mean that the Australian parliament decided on the form of the country's involvement in the Great War. Chamberlain might well have been reassured that a few Australian ministers, including the Prime Minister, working in secret and subject to imperial influence, did.

In this sense, the secret expeditionary offer was undemocratic but not necessarily unconstitutional. This may mean the Constitution contained an imperial bias that, given the string of commitments to recent wars involving no parliamentary debate, still needs to change. Nevertheless, it makes little historical or constitutional sense to argue that Australia could have avoided involvement in the war of 1914-18. Mordike's work thus raised a national deficiency in the foundations for Australian war-making: the imperial form of both the decision-making process and of the forces it propelled into the Great War.

His star document is one of central importance to twentieth-century Australian history. Contained in War Office 106/43, it is the record of the military discussions of 1911, which details both the secret expeditionary undertaking and its political cover-up. That record was not originally included in 'Minutes of Proceedings of the Imperial Conference, 1911', and so disappeared from public scrutiny until 1988 when, thanks to a burst of brilliant research, Mordike found it in War Office 'operations' files. The document must have been put there to hide it. That would also have allowed British officials to hold the secreted document over the Australian government, should they need to produce it.


MORDIKE'S BOOKS REVOLVE around an issue Australian historiography has studiously ignored: the assumption that an army structured for the defence of Australia would have required a different kind of strategic conception and organisation than one designed for expeditions.[xxvii] An army structured for national defence would have had its own command and logistics elements, and been grounded in direct links with the community. An army organised for expeditionary operations would not have required those elements because it was designed to fit into a British imperial divisional formation. It would have been lighter and readily transported on ships. It would have to be organised along the more flexible brigade structure, which the British specifically designed for that imperial purpose. The Kitchener Report on Australian defence of February 1910 embraced the flexible brigade structure. And the issue of whether or not this would be implemented lay at the heart of the ideological struggle for Australian defence policy before 1914.

British strategic thinking from the 1890s had emphasised the need to organise an imperial force comprised of expeditionary components from the dominions. Australian officials had long ignored or rejected imperial overtures to contribute to such a force. After the sudden volte-face in 1911, the implementation of the Kitchener 'reforms' neatly covered the expeditionary preparations for three years, though they violated the intention of the Defence Act (1904). Mordike's account of the independent national ethos of the Act should have alerted us to that imperial violation. Yet the account is still so little known that its three main points must be reprised.

First, the parliament rejected the original 1901 version of the Defence Act, which had been drafted by the imperial-minded commandants of the colonial forces. Their draft originally included clauses about the prospective 'field force' being called out in an 'emergency'. The parliament could not accept this. Among other things, members felt the commandants had constructed the 'field force' as an expeditionary one and that the vague term 'emergency' could be used to call out the forces to imperial conflicts beyond the Commonwealth. When a former commandant in New South Wales, General Edward Hutton, was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) the new forces in 1902, he continued to support the imperial agenda. The contentious clauses of the original draft were rewritten with an independent national agenda in mind before the act finally passed in 1903 and received royal assent in 1904.

Second, the government created the Military Board in 1904 to replace the post of GOC when Hutton's term expired. Another British imperial officer would have followed him and, after the difficulties the government had had with his schemes, it had wanted the Military Board to limit imperial influence in national military affairs.

Third, an independent defence agenda emerged after the Russo-Japanese War. In 1907, Deakin announced his plan for a 'National Guard'. As Deakin conceived it, this would have been a force designed solely for national self-defence on the Swiss model of universal training, rather than one based on the brigade structure for imperial expeditions. Army for a Nation then proceeds with detailed analysis of the main stages in the imperial deception and ascendency leading up to the secret expeditionary undertaking of 1911.

That analysis may be summarised as follows. In January 1909, the War Office achieved its long-standing goal of establishing in Australia the post of Chief of the General Staff and appointing to it one of Hutton's imperial-minded Australian disciples, William Throsby-Bridges. With the election in June of the fusion government (of three parties, including conservatives led by Deakin), the General Staff had the opportunity to influence defence policy by courting the conservative, imperial-minded Defence Minister Joseph Cook. Cook's Defence Bill, enacted on 13 December 1909 and proclaimed on 1 January, introduced universal military training. But in a major and unexpected departure from Deakin's original scheme, there would be no single force organised as a national guard. In Cook's scheme, Deakin's old nationalist ideal had become a Trojan Horse for expeditionary developments. The role of the universal training would be to provide a pool of trained soldiers for a voluntary militia organised as a 'first line field force'[xxviii] – which was an expeditionary force by another name.

This deception points directly to Pearce's secret expeditionary undertaking in 1911 and is confirmed by it. Between times, the visit of the imperial superstar Lord Kitchener to conduct a military inspection and report on the defence of Australia was a critical step in the imperial campaign.[xxix]

In a move engineered by Cook, Kitchener arrived in Australia on 21 December. Amid the press adulation, nationalist journals initially expressed strong misgivings. On 11 February, for example, Melbourne's Age said that the universal military training scheme was being set up to provide 'a great reserve of Australian soldiers, which can be fitted easily and swiftly into the secret plans of the War Office', for an 'Imperial Field Force' available for 'offence' as well as 'defence'.[xxx] Deakin, who had been told nothing of an imperial force, and who was widely known for his opposition 'to preparing for expeditionary adventures outside Australia'[xxxi] felt the need to respond. He said that he expected Kitchener 'to deal mainly with Australian forces formed strictly for the purposes of Commonwealth defence'.[xxxii] The nationalist line then changed after Kitchener's report appeared in mid-February[xxxiii] under the title 'Defence of Australia'. The Age felt that 'no patriotic Liberal will cavil at the scheme'. It was 'an Australian scheme'.[xxxiv] Yet the nationalist press had not properly examined the report.

Kitchener's opening strategic assessment played on popular fears by raising the possible threat of an 'invasion' – most would have assumed from Japan. This was followed by a plan for establishing and training combat units comprised of citizen soldiers. But the plan provided practically no information on the composition of logistics elements or of operational headquarters at the brigade or divisional levels.[xxxv] Despite the invasion scenario, it is clear that, contrary to what the press believed, Kitchener had not planned an independent national force.

The details of his plan dovetailed with Cook's intentions. This imperial alignment was then institutionalised by the promotions Kitchener arranged: British and Australian officers with imperial views were promoted to the most powerful military positions at the expense of well-qualified and influential nationalist officers such as James Gordon Legge and John Hoad.[xxxvi] Fisher's Labor government came to power in April 1910 and Pearce, who had been awed by Kitchener, became the new defence minister. Deeply impressed by Kitchener's invasion scenario, Pearce went on to set the agenda for the military discussions at the 1911 Conference. The imperial nature of that agenda was then realised in the final alignment of Cook's bill and Kitchener's report with his secret expeditionary undertaking of June 1911. With War Office approval – for its own schemes in Australia – Australian funds could be allocated and the munitions factories necessary to equip an expedition established. Army for a Nation concludes that without the preparations, which dated from 1911, it 'would not have been possible' to enlist, equip and organise the expeditionary force in the six weeks from the declaration of war on 4 August 1914.


THE RESPONSE TO Mordike's arguments was intellectually threadbare, but not lacking in political clout. As if lapsing into cognitive dissonance, his critics were unable even to address his arguments and, in the small field of Australian military history, this made it all too easy to suppress his insights.

With advanced knowledge of Army for a Nation, Gregory Pemberton offered a favourable preview of Mordike's nationalist line in the Weekend Australian, 18-19 April 1992.[xxxvii] But little other media commentary was positive. Taking the imperial tack, John Moses and official historian Jeffrey Grey soon had the running. In 'Getting Australian History Right' (Quadrant, July-August), Moses considered that Pemberton had said nothing about the 'Prussian menace' to Britain and the dominions, and that he was writing for the Labor Party – Bolshevik and Nazi propaganda parallels were indicated. Moses only hoped that when Mordike's book came out it would reveal that he had done 'his homework on the general imperial context' of the Prussian menace.

Grey felt that he had not. He chimed in with a review of Army for a Nation in the Canberra Times on 26 August 1992, the day the book was released. That review set the tone of the anti-Mordike critique: it provided a thin, generally adverse commentary on his thesis and took no notice of the documents on which it was based. In 'Dubious allegations of imperial "cover up"', Grey wrote that Mordike's suggestion about CEW Bean deliberately misleading his readers wanted substantiation. Mordike had also failed completely to provide the 'necessary international context' in which apprehension of the Prussian menace had been alive at the 1911 Conference. 'Without the right context, it is easy to construct "cover-ups" and conspiracies', Grey said.

This was a startling critique. It overlooked the authoritative appreciation of the German threat by the Committee for Imperial Defence in 1911: with no more than 2500 German troops sprinkled between German colonies in Africa and China, a German landing in Australia was 'to the last degree improbable'.[xxxviii] Grey wrote elsewhere that, when war broke out, the bulk of the German East Asia Squadron 'was heading across the Pacific and into the Atlantic by way of Cape Horn' – to join the war in Europe.[xxxix] Weakening their position on the Prussian menace to Australia further, Mordike's critics had also overlooked the driving official Australian fear of Japan – which Neville Meaney's work establishes. They had even missed Bean's comment that the greatest determination in Australia before the war was to keep the country white. Germans were white.

By 1993 Moses had produced a pamphlet re-announcing 'the reality of the German threat'. As an editor of the Australian Journal of Politics and History, he had also published in the first 1994 issue (volume 40, number 1) a number of essays sympathetic to his theme. One, by Craig Wilcox, was especially critical of the way Mordike's conclusions showed how 'political correctness' produces 'avoidably unbalanced scholarship'. How droll Wilcox seemed to think it was that Mordike's conclusions were so limited; that all he seemed to be saying was that Australians were 'tricked' from defending their continent into defending Britain.[xl] This was uncalled for: Mordike clearly understood that individual soldiers enlisted for many reasons and that as volunteers there was no reason why they could not fight in Europe.[xli]

Wilcox's work was soon being touted widely as the antidote for Mordike. The military historian David Horner, who had formerly supported Mordike's work, now cited Wilcox on the 1911 conference, and referred readers to Mordike 'for a more conspiratorial view'.[xlii] In volume 6 of The Australian Centenary History of Defence (2001), edited by Joan Beaumont, Carl Bridge claimed that Mordike's work was a 'misreading' of the available evidence as 'demonstrated by Craig Wilcox'.[xliii] Yet nowhere had Wilcox cited the primary British defence documents that Mordike used. There is no evidence Wilcox had seen them.[xliv] Certainly, his essay did not address Mordike's arguments about the national backbone of the Defence Act, the Military Board and so on. As for why the undertaking to prepare an expeditionary force was kept secret: Wilcox and his followers were silent about that too.[xlv]


MORDIKE RESPONDED BY returning to London to read again the primary documents his critics, one of whom lived in that city, had not sighted. While walking down the Strand to the Liddel Hart Centre for Military Archives one day, he thought of Wilcox and his essay. 'Curiously,' Wilcox had noted, Mordike had made no mention of an agreement the dominions had made in 1911 to 'use the services of Ian Hamilton, the Inspector-General of Oversea(s) Forces...Hamilton's little known pre-war work deserves an historian's scrutiny.'[xlvi] It was galling that Army for a Nation had not drawn on Hamilton's private papers – not that Wilcox's essay had, which made it doubly galling. Yet a day into reading Hamilton's papers in the Liddel Hart Centre, Mordike suddenly found to his glad amazement that Wilcox's imperious words had become a parody of themselves. Wilcox could not have known how unerringly he had guided him to crowning evidence of the great deception: Hamilton's little known pre-war letter to Asquith, to which I drew attention earlier, on the need to deceive Australians about the threat of 'the cursed Jap' so as to encourage Australians to support a force 'for expeditionary Imperial service'.[xlvii]

Published by the RAAF Aerospace Centre in Canberra, the outcome of Mordike's second trip to London, 'We should do this thing quietly': Japan and the Great Deception in Australian Defence Policy (2002), concludes with a devastating critique of Wilcox's attack on Army for a Nation. The inconsistencies of Wilcox's followers are also detailed.[xlviii] Meanwhile, the earlier parts of the book presented new evidence that filled out and more sharply focused key aspects of Army for a Nation, particularly the central role that fear of Japan and British manipulation of it had played in driving Fisher and Pearce to make the secret expeditionary undertaking.

As usual, the analysis was rigorous – so rigorous in a few places that the prose becomes ponderous. Mordike's use of terms including 'clandestine imperial scheming', 'duplicity', 'hidden agenda' and 'perpetrate' are part of the vocabulary of both books. 'Conspiracy' is used at least twice. That vocabulary can create a moralising tone. But it is also necessary to describe conspiracies and cover-ups. And we are not talking about a conspiracy theory, as Mordike's critics suggest – rather, about the fact of a conspiracy that Mordike's research established, a conspiracy to deceive the Australian people on matters of life and death.

To approach the proof of the conspiracy, we need evidence of the bureaucratic manipulation by imperial officials. This had been going on for at least a decade before 1914, and the threat scenario in Kitchener's report of 1910 had been a prime example of it. But it will be helpful here to recount what Mordike shows occurred prior to the 1911 Imperial Conference, when certain Admiralty, War Office and Colonial Office papers explicitly dealt with the methods of manipulating Australian anxieties.

One paper reveals that the chief of the Imperial General Staff (IGS), General Nicholson, believed that a Japanese threat to Australia was 'somewhat remote'. Yet he knew that Australians viewed the possibility of a Japanese invasion 'with much anxiety'. Reasoning that, if the Australian delegates to the upcoming conference were either too little or too much alarmed by the Japanese threat scenario, they might continue to keep their troops at home, he advocated successfully a 'middle course'. In other words, to both frighten and reassure the Australians into making an expeditionary commitment, one combined Admiralty and War Office paper agreed on threat construction that was to be limited, not overwhelming. [xlix]

The Committee of Imperial Defence Paper that recommended implementation of the Kitchener Report at the 1911 Conference was up to the task. The paper commented that the Japanese had 'an army of over a million men available for overseas service'. Yet, in keeping with Nicholson's 'middle course', the paper also drew on Admiralty sources to reassure readers that, in the face of the Royal Navy, no nation had the maritime power to transport such a force anywhere.[l]

Meanwhile, papers and discussions kept Australian security concerns about the Pacific connected with the North Atlantic. References to 'foreign squadrons' of 'great strength' now stationed within striking distance of Britain made people wonder what the position would be in the Pacific if a war broke out in Europe – with Germany, by 1915, as the discussions implied. What if the Royal Navy might not be able to cover a threat in the Pacific for a short period? Would the Japanese attack? To achieve the expeditionary outcome, British officials were, in Mordike's words, 'playing on irrational fear rather than presenting reasoned strategic analysis'.[li]

War Office 106/43 then contains the secret record of the War Office discussions of 17 June 1911. According to the record, Senator Pearce seems to have surprised General Nicholson by the suddenness with which he pressed on him the remarkable offer to prepare an expeditionary force. Pearce said: 'It seemed to us that our local General Staff should know what is in the minds of the Imperial General Staff as regards what use such forces should be put to...' Furthermore, he called for 'the preparation of schemes of mobilisation by the local sections of the Imperial General Staff' in Australia. Collecting himself quickly, Nicholson proceeded to pin Pearce down. He asked if Pearce really meant preparations for an 'Expeditionary Force' for 'expeditionary action' in addition to the local defence scheme as in Britain. He had. And, by meaning that, Pearce had done something about which Mordike's critics have remained silent: joined Nicholson in secretly usurping Australian defence policy.


THE ORIGINAL DRAFT of the Defence Act was not passed in 1901 – parliament had opposed the way it incorporated imperial schemes. As a result, salient changes to the draft included the insertion of two new anti-imperial definitions of 'war' and 'service' before the Act was passed and received royal ascent.

To avoid the original use of the vague term 'emergency', which might have encouraged sending troops to conflicts outside the Commonwealth, the Defence Act (1904) defined war in Section 4 as: 'any invasion or apprehended invasion of, or attack or apprehended attack on, the Commonwealth or any Territory under control of the Commonwealth by an enemy or armed force.' This extraordinarily limited and idealistic meaning of 'war' assumed that Australian military forces could only be used to defend the nation.

Section 49 of the Act stated: 'members of the Military Forces shall not be required, unless they voluntarily agree to do so, to serve beyond the limits of the Commonwealth and those of any Territory under the authority of the Commonwealth.'[lii] The clear intention of the legislation was to deny the Australian government authority to order forces outside Australia. A body of opinion still approved of imperial service, but overwhelmingly on a voluntary basis. Since soldiers could not volunteer for a non-existent crisis, this precluded the preparation or training of volunteers by the government until the crisis arose – as in the Boer War.[liii] Or so the members thought.

As Nicholson pinned Pearce down in 1911 'to have preparations made for mobilising' forces 'for overseas action', their agreement did not necessarily contradict the wording of the Act. Therein, the term 'preparations' did not appear. In 1903-04 it had seemed unnecessary. The record of the War Office discussions in 1911 shows that both Nicholson and Pearce envisaged that, if Britain became involved in a major war in Europe, volunteers would be forthcoming in the future. As a result, the act itself did not preclude the preparations Nicholson and Pearce encouraged the Australian section of the IGS to go on making, in secret, for a voluntary expeditionary force.

But still, the ambiguity, which the politics of the situation in 1911 revealed in Section 49, worked both ways. As Nicholson and Pearce ignored the intention of the Act, they were bound in a knowing deception of the Australian electorate, which justifies Mordike calling it a 'conspiracy'.[liv]

Aware of the political sensitivity of a scheme that had been resisted for so long in Australia and that violated the intention of the Defence Act (1904), Nicholson immediately shrouded in secrecy Pearce's offer to prepare to raise an expeditionary force. After some preamble, he detailed in the War Office discussions the cover-up from which Australian culture has yet to recover: 'We should do this thing quietly without any paper on the subject, because I am sure in some of the dominions it might be better not to say anything about preparations.' Pearce concurred: 'I quite recognise that.' [lv]

Fisher and Pearce considered it unwise in 1911 to take to an election the issue of support for Britain in any war because they believed that, while many would support preparations for military involvement with Britain, many, mostly on the Labor side of politics, would not.

Mordike emphasises Fisher's concern that 'the electorate was adjusting with some reluctance to the realities of the universal military training for Australian youth', which was a result of the Kitchener Report of 1910. Some 92,000 boys between twelve and seventeen would commence compulsory military training in July 1911. Many leaders supported such training, which had existed in various forms since Sydney's Newington College appointed a drillmaster in 1865. But the compulsion and scale of the 1911 scheme was new, and many Labor voters and some more conservative Australians opposed it. Politically, it was prudent to use the defence of Australia (against a supposed Japanese attack) as a cover for expeditionary preparations until the outbreak of war, when it was expected that a wave of imperial patriotism would overcome any opposition.[lvi]Meantime, the 'local' General Staff in Australia would go on implementing IGS schemes – quietly.

Back in London in June 1911, Nicholson could not have ensured more effectively a second tier to the cover-up. Not only was there no paper on the subject: the record of the War Office discussions stating the need to have no paper on the subject was not included in 'Minutes of Proceedings of the Imperial Conference, 1911'.[lvii] Nicholson's personal proof copy of the record, which is the only record known to exist, remained in his possession until it was eventually filed on the Director of Military Operations file in the War Office – War Office 106/43.[lviii] Before Mordike found it there, in 1988, there was no public knowledge that the key military discussions that determined Australia's entry into World War I had even taken place.


UNTIL MORDIKE PUBLISHED in 1992, nothing had disturbed the sentimental consensus about the instant organisation of the AIF for war. Typically, AGL Shaw (1955) told how in August 1914 'the first step was to organise an expeditionary force'.[lix] To explain 'The Formation of the AIF', LL Robson (1970) resorted to the mystical doctrine of the society's 'spontaneous' response to news of war.[lx] Chris Coulthard-Clark (1979) recalled the 'six weeks of feverish activity'.[lxi] Michael McKernan (1980) stressed the 'mad rush to do something to help'; the size of the force 'now had no upper limit'.[lxii] Geoffrey Serle (1982) reported that in July 1914 'the retiring Cook government immediately committed itself to raising 20,000 soldiers'[lxiii] – but did not say that pre-war figure had an imperial history, which allowed for the formation of a British-size division (18,000) plus a Light Horse Regiment (some 2000).

Not much has changed since 1992. Australian historians still think that armies are organised for war by lining men up on a start line and blowing a whistle. Wilcox (1993) proclaimed his 'old pride in the prompt offer, recruitment and despatch of the AIF in 1914'.[lxiv] Beaumont (1995) reminded us of Cook's sterling offer of the imperial 20,000 troops.[lxv] And since Meaney's Australia and World Crisis 1914-1923 currently leads the field, it must be stressed that it still specifies preparations for a voluntary force 'had to start from the beginning' in August 1914.[lxvi]

For all that work's strengths – its formidable accounts of conscription, the origins of intelligence and Asian studies, the influence of Irish Catholics, the Bolshevik Revolution and the labour movement on the wartime government – it is flawed by its uncritical acceptance of the origin myth of the AIF. At one point, Meaney relates an anecdote about what it meant to be an Australian patriot and to place 'Australia's interests ahead of imperial sentiment'. We learn about Fisher's little-quoted comment of 4 August 1914 during an election speech at Wangaratta: 'My idea of patriotism, was first to provide for our own defence and if there was anything to spare offer it as a tribute to the Mother country.' This approach to Australia's pre-war defence was, Meaney stresses, a 'far cry' from Fisher's 31 July Colac comment about supporting Britain to 'the last man and the last shilling'.[lxvii] Yet Meaney seems unaware of certain problems his new emphasis raises.

To assess both comments and the discrepancy between them, it would have been helpful if he had not remained silent about the deception of 1911 and Fisher's complicity in it. From that perspective, Fisher's statements could be read as political slogans, with the Wangaratta one designed to soothe tensions in the Labor Party over the Colac one.

Meaney also misses the military problems inherent in Fisher's awkward suggestion that Australia's best fighting formation was 'spare'. It is far from clear that sending the country's best 20,000 troops on an imperial expedition to Egypt would have left much defence capability in Australia in 1914. (That a further 310,000 troops were progressively sent to Turkey, Palestine and France could not have helped either; or that, within a year, two-thirds of the country's front line 18-pounder field artillery pieces – seventy-six of 116 – were sent overseas.[lxviii]) It was indeed fortunate that no Japanese invasion materialised.

Meaney's argument also raises a significant cultural problem about writing Australian history. His desire to clarify Fisher's patriotic intentions can be linked to Bean's sentimental emphasis on British-Australian character – Fisher's 'translucent honesty'. The same may be said of Meaney's discussion of the Britishness and British-race patriotism-nationalism of Australia's war leaders early in Australia and World Crisis.

And however one might disagree, I should stress here a major virtue of Meaney's work: its erudition and transparency give us so much to think about.

In a 2001 essay he realised more than most historians how the sense of having 'a fragile hold on a vast land set in an Asian sea' intensified existing colonial insecurities in the nineteenth century. 'In Australia much more than Britain the monarch became the symbol of the historic British race or people, rather than the head of a hereditary class system.'[lxix] He sensed that Asia inflated atavistic ideas of Australian Britishness – such as in the White Australia policy. Yet, because the aim of the essay was to establish Britishness as the paradigm for Australian identity, it tends to suppress the interdependence of Asia and Australia as categories of historical discourse. Both the essay and Australia and World Crisis are largely built, as much Australian historiography is, on an unchanging sense of the world.

Presumably, notions of Britishness do have historical significance: the British derivation of white Australian culture is real. Yet as steeped as the national discourse is in those notions, it does not confront a key point: that what was British is subject to transformation in Australian conditions; and that, therefore, Britishness is itself in significant measure pumped up by the proximity of Australia to Asia and is, in that proximity, the manifestation of a colonial anxiety.

Like Bean, Meaney needed to deny the anxiety both because it springs from political manipulation and because its related race fears are irrationally projected onto Asia. The inflation of Britishness is, in fact, the other side of that denial, which finds confirmation both in silence about Asia and in the assertion of the origin myth of the AIF. From Bean to Meaney, the Anzac and white-settler discourses of British-Australian character thus involve a level of general commentary that sentimentally resists analysis of such matters as Mordike raised: the political conspiracies and cover-ups that complicate history, the technical military matters that shape armies and wars, and the strategic analysis of presumed enemies.

Consider the main mechanism for promoting imperial influence in Australian military affairs before 1914 that, to my knowledge, only Mordike has discussed with insight: the Imperial General Staff. Meaney says that in 1912 the Australian and New Zealand governments agreed that their military staffs 'might' draw up plans for an expeditionary force. He also mentions that in 1913 the Australian staff officer Brudenell White presented such a plan to Defence Minister Senator Killen.[lxx] 'But,' implicitly rejecting Mordike's work, Meaney adds: 'there is no evidence of the Australian government ever approving the plan. Thus in August 1914 Australia had to start from the beginning to create a military force composed entirely of volunteers...'[lxxi]

The thrust of the second sentence is wrong. It overlooks the myriad requirements – planning, organisation, tactical doctrine, training (of officers, NCOs and specialist arms, including artillery and engineers), supply, equipment and transport, plus medical and legal – without which the raising of such a force would have been impossible. And the first sentence reveals an elementary misunderstanding of both the way Anglo-Australian imperial military relations operated and the way they related to the Australian political process.

Typically, Meaney has overlooked the fundamental fact that the structure of an army designed for national defence and one for imperial expeditions would have been different. It does not matter whether or not the government approved the plans. They existed. They were implemented. In 1912, Pearce himself ordered the staff officer Brudenell White to work secretly on expeditionary staff planning with General Godley in New Zealand. Also, Mordike offers much detail in both his books that shows how the main staff officers who implemented the plans – White as well as Throsby-Bridges – were disciples of the first imperial GOC, General Hutton, and how they remained in contact with him and with the War Office after he departed in 1904. Meaney was closer to the point in 1976 when he raised the 'deferential imperialism' of those officers.[lxxii]


IN HIS ATTACK on Mordike, Craig Wilcox naively argued that the IGS would merely standardise 'the citizen forces' drill, unit structure, arms and equipment' throughout the Empire, and 'not infringe dominion autonomy'.[lxxiii] He did not grasp that drill and unit structure are central to what armies do and that such standardisation was crucial to the creation of an expeditionary force. He did not comprehend that imperial-minded officers accustomed to working in highly authoritarian bureaucratic structures largely went on in the colonies implementing instructions from their superiors at the War Office; that senior Australian politicians generally had little time for or idea of the need to take an interest in the detailed technical development of the army; and that the IGS just went on as its chief, Nicholson, said it should in 1911, doing things quietly.

Nor do the vast majority of other military historians comprehend this. Wilcox can thus lead so many of them while missing the emphasis that the IGS made on advance preparations for 'modern warfare'. Committee of Imperial Defence, Secret Paper No. 62 C, 'Principles of Imperial Defence', 8 July 1910, which became a basis for discussions in the 1911 Imperial Conference, is, for instance, beyond Wilcox's ken: 'If organisations have to be improvised, staffs created, transport and equipment provided, and plans matured after the outbreak of war...the value of any assistance given would be greatly lessened, even if not altogether belated.'[lxxiv] The conception of lead-time had become a central element in military planning before World War I.

From mid-1911 the secret of the expeditionary nature of the preparations was then easily kept by a few ministers – Billy Hughes may have been inducted into it – while those considerable numbers of people who suspected what was going on could be dismissed as cranks. The imperial hijack of Deakin's national guard based on universal military training had, with breathtaking efficiency, begun its grab for the independent ethos in Australian national defence – and the marginalisation of an independent historiography to this day. Between 1911 and 1914 the Royal Australian Navy was created, and its strength increased from 400 to 3600. The army almost doubled to about 3000 in the permanent forces and 43,000 part-time militia and volunteers. In 1911, Fisher's government approved a special allocation of £600,000 for defence in addition to the normal budget allocation. In New South Wales, the small-arms factory at Lithgow was established. In Victoria, the cordite factory at Maribyrnong was developed into a munitions plant, the Commonwealth Government Clothing Factories at Geelong and South Melbourne began production, and a harness and saddlery factory was established at Clifton Hill. As noted, compulsory military training was introduced as a result of the 1910 Kitchener Report. The Royal Military College Duntroon was established in 1911 to train officers. On Kitchener's recommendation, Hutton's man, Throsby-Bridges, became the first Commandant of Duntroon and first Commander of the AIF.[lxxv]

Meanwhile, Pearce went around doing to Australians what the British had done to him: covering the imperial military agenda by playing on the Japanese menace. Just after he travelled home via Russia and Japan from the 1911 Imperial Conference in London, he spoke at a charitable function in Brunswick. He said that his recent travels had convinced him that Australia's future would be tied up with the countries to its north. He now realised Australia's proximity to Asia: Europe was a month away, but it took only eight days to get from Japan to Australia. Finally, he advised his charitable audience that preparations for war were now urgent.[lxxvi]

Many could not see why. By August 1912, the Labor caucus was considering a motion that 'the expenditure on defence is excessive and should be reduced next financial year by at least £1 million.' Pearce explained in his memoirs: 'During 1912, the Liberal press began a campaign against alleged "Defence extravagance".' The May 1913 election, which the Fisher Labor government lost by one seat, was in Pearce's words 'largely fought on this issue'. With a staggering 31 per cent of the then-small federal budget devoted to defence, Australia was spending more per capita than any comparable European country and much more than any other dominion. Mordike observed shrewdly that pre-war tensions in Fisher's government over defence spending foreshadowed the split that finally occurred over the conscription referenda in 1916-17.[lxxvii]

The Australian General Staff was not dismayed. In August 1913, it reviewed proof copies of secret plans they had compiled under the title 'General Scheme of Defence'. The scheme stipulated that measures must enable 'a field army capable of acting as a mobile expeditionary force'. The whole army had to be uniformly organised, trained and equipped so that any subdivision of it 'may be able to assume the offensive'. The staff considered that the term 'Expeditionary Force' could be used instead of 'Field Army', because the defence of Australia might require overseas service and it was anticipated that the statutory restrictions on this happening would be lifted.[lxxviii]

Therefore, it is wrong to say that the AIF was raised in six weeks 'beginning' in August 1914. It is also at best misleading to say, as Bean did, that there was 'no set scheme of common action with Great Britain in case of war'. The IGS implemented the imperial scheme through the 'local' General Staff. Let us also recall Bean's account of the results of this common action, which he nevertheless denied. As indicated earlier, he had commented on how 'generously equipped' the first Australian contingent was. We may now add the comment in volume 11 of The Official History, 'Australia During the War', written by Ernest Scott and edited by Bean: 'unless forethought had been shown in regard to the provision of equipment, it would have been very difficult if not impossible in 1914 to fit out the Australian imperial force as efficiently as was done by means of the work of the Government factories.'[lxxix] Which were being established by 1911.


lockhart pic1

Men of the 2nd Infantry Brigade (above) and 4th Light Horse (below) marching through Melbourne on 25 September 1914, some seven weeks after the outbreak of war on 4 August.

Note their good order and, especially, uniforms, equipment. It would have been impossible to organise all this without the extensive lead-time that went back to July 1911 and that the historical literature ignores. (NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA)



THE STRENGTH OF the imperial force, which landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and clung to the cliffs around Anzac Cove until 20 December, cannot be separated from the extensive expeditionary preparations that had been undertaken in Australia from 1911. Bean touches the historical significance of this point when he indicates that, with no Anzac Corps capable of listing the 'Landing' as one of its battle honours, 'the Australian nation would not have existed in the same sense as to-day.'[lxxx] That was surely so. What he did not say was that the post-Gallipoli nation and its history were, in the sense that he supported, like the AIF, dependent-imperial as opposed to independent-national constructions.

Australia was at war because Britain was: the issue is about the form of the involvement. The form that was front and centre at the Gallipoli Landing was the imperial expeditionary one based on the portable brigade structure. Without the Gallipoli Landing, led by the Third Infantry Brigade of the First Australian Division, Australia's military tradition would have been different. There is, moreover, strong evidence that many people right up to and after the outbreak of war would have preferred it that way.

On 30 June 1914, the day news reached Australia of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo two days before, The Age, which had long supported an independent national approach to defence, published 'The Moloch of Militarism'. The article said that the 'mutual distrust that had turned Europe into an armed camp need not inspire Australia to similar insanity', and that 'there was no need for the Commonwealth to enter upon hysterical measures for the repulsion of an enemy who does not exist.'[lxxxi] A glance at the Sydney Morning Herald for July, August and September also affirms the point that notions of 'universal enthusiasm' for war in 1914 are false.

An article of 16 July condemned the militarism of the Labor party for 'the 22,000 prosecutions of boys who are unwilling conscripts' for universal military service.[lxxxii] (In fact, a total of 34,000 boys between twelve and eighteen were prosecuted for failing to register for military training between 1911 and 1915, of whom 7000 were imprisoned.[lxxxiii]) On 3 August 1914, the eve of the declaration of war, another article reported a thousand-strong meeting of Socialist International Workers of the World and trade unionists held in Sydney. One resolution opposed 'militarism', expressed 'solidarity with all other workers in every nation' and declined 'to be stampeded into the ranks'. The meeting further announced that a mass rally of 'a number of combined societies' would be held the following Sunday.[lxxxiv]

Support for the recruitment of the expeditionary force did shine through many reports. Yet numerous articles in August and September also created a considerable undertow against the high tide of Empire patriotism. News of 'agitations' and 'demonstrations' relating to 'war caused unemployment' – owing to fewer government and building contracts – and concern about rising food prices was a common occurrence. Wild rumours emanating from 'a friend on Garden Island' that ships were returning to Sydney Harbour 'with hundreds of wounded men on board'[lxxxv] also suggested unease. So did editorials warning the government against creating conditions for 'class war' and 'a possible collapse' of the financial system.[lxxxvi]


I QUOTED EARLIER General Hamilton's letter of 14 April 1914 to British Prime Minister Asquith explaining that 'the vital force' of the Australian people was opposed to raising an expeditionary force, but that they would 'dance to any extent' provided one 'harped' on the Japanese threat. That letter had a sequel. When Hamilton arrived in New Zealand to inspect military developments in late April, he harped on the Japanese threat. He publicly predicted that the Pacific would become the site of a vast struggle to decide whether Asiatics or Europeans would guide the region's destinies. This angered the Japanese press, which responded by declaring that all Japan wanted was 'equal footing with whites'. Japanese Prime Minister Okuma Shigenobu called Hamilton a 'disturber of the peace'.[lxxxvii] He was. The latest in a long line of imperial officials, he had knowingly trumpeted a bogus threat to help ensure Australians and New Zealanders would be ready for a great imperial war. Then, when such a war erupted in August, the anticipated wave of Empire sentiment enabled the Australian government to send the near-ready expeditionary army there.


NO HISTORIAN HAS done more than Neville Meaney to recover the long-forgotten Australian fears of Japan that enabled that imperial deception. Yet his work does not acknowledge the imperial deception. Just as it takes the national-imperial coalescence in 1914 for granted, it takes the original fears of the Japanese menace it has rediscovered for granted. Thus, his leading contemporary work again serves us well, because of the unrivalled opportunity it provides to understand the racial nature of the threat construction it has preserved in original denial.

It is immediately apparent that the threat construction in both Search for Security and Australia and World Crisis is based almost exclusively on Australian sources – going back well before CH Kirmess's novel The Australian Crisis (1909). Meaney constructs the sense of Japanese menace as Australian culture originally did: without significant reference to Japanese records and views of their own strategic circumstances. Such an approach certainly isolates Australian threat perceptions. Yet to appreciate the self-fulfilling racial, as distinct from empirical, bias inherent in such isolation, it will be helpful to cross-reference Meaney's work against some other that applies a multi-dimensional method: Henry P Frei's Japan's Southward Advance and Australia From the Sixteenth Century to World War II (1991). Frei, a Swiss national, lived and worked in Australia in the early 1970s before going to Japan and mastering Japanese as well as Australian sources on relations between the two 'antipodal island countries in the Western Pacific'.[lxxxviii] And an issue that highlights the antipodal approaches Frei and Meaney take to Australian constructions of the Japanese menace is the degree of security that the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance of 1902 afforded Australia.

Churchill and the Admiralty had argued in 1912 that the maintenance of a Pacific fleet was wasteful and unnecessary when the Alliance could be relied on to protect British interests in the region. According to Frederic Eggleston, an influential Melbourne lawyer whose opinion was a good test of the official view at the time, Churchill was mistaken. Eggleston thought the preponderance of Japanese naval and military power in the Far East was clear, and no one could predict how it might be used in 'two, ten or twenty years' time'. Eggleston doubted the Admiralty's capacity to divert a naval force in time of need to the threatened outpost of the Empire.[lxxxix] The sense of threat was unfixed in space and time. It involved a free-floating sense of crisis that was directly related to what Eggleston saw as the 'racial difficulties' surrounding white Australia.

Meaney felt in Search for Security that Eggleston's analysis was 'much sounder than that offered by Churchill and the admiralty'. Although the Australian government had not collected systematic information on Japan, the situation was 'self-evident'. Japan, like Germany, was a coming power. The Australian government's Eggleston-like attitude to Japan was one of 'precautionary prudence; it was indistinguishable in this respect from that pursued by Britain against Germany'.[xc]

Noting Meaney's argument, Frei countered that, in dismissing Churchill's view of the Anglo-Japanese Naval alliance, 'Eggleston took upon himself the dunce's cap.' How could Eggleston have so soundly analysed the situation when his assumptions had been based on nothing more than 'the sum-total of an Australian knowledge that was preoccupied with its whiteness'? How indeed could anyone talk about 'precautionary prudence' in relation to Japanese intentions without making a systematic attempt to understand from Japanese sources what those intentions might be? Driving home the point, Frei noted that a war of 1914-18 tested for four years Eggleston's assumptions of a threat from Japan to an undefended Australia and found them to be 'fallacious'.[xci]

I am unaware that Meaney responded to this critique or that Australia and World Crisis mentions Frei's Japan's Southward Advance and Australia at all. Yet Frei's critique may have influenced Meaney's thinking. Australia and World Crisis stresses that, while racial perceptions of the threat may have caused Australian leaders to 'exaggerate' the danger of Japan, 'the basic rationale was strategic'. Namely, Japan's pre-eminent and expanding position in East Asia and the Western Pacific, its antipathy to the White Australia policy and its diplomatic efforts to seek every advantage from the European war crisis constituted a real danger.[xcii]

To apparently ground this argument, Meaney often makes a distinction between the racial and strategic constructions of the threat.[xciii] He assumes that a racial conception of a threat will involve fears and fantasies that are irrational and self-fulfilling. He realises that a rational strategic construction must be based on evidence. Yet, because his work has not incorporated a reasonable assessment of Japanese perspectives and motives based on Japanese records, it severely limits its capacity to distinguish between the two kinds of threat perception. If you could crosscheck apparently 'self-evident' Australian observations of Japanese strategic behaviour against primary evidence of likely Japanese intentions, you might find those observations were not so rational.

For example, early in Australia and World Crisis Meaney suggests that Australian alarm over the Japanese occupation of the Mariana and Caroline Island groups in October and November 1914 was caused by a reasonable perception of a menacing 'downward thrust of Japan'. Fisher's calculations were generally 'geopolitical, not racial',[xciv] he says. Yet there is a strong counter-argument. Those island groups were very remote from Australia – as Fisher and Pearce came to realise by mid-1915.[xcv] No known Japanese strategic preoccupations or plans linked the occupation of the islands with Australia. The occupation occurred within the terms of the Anglo-Japanese naval alliance. If the Americans had occupied the islands, it would be hard to imagine the same sense of Australian alarm. Arguably, official Australian anxiety was not based on evidence of hostile Japanese intentions, but on an unwarranted racial construction of the threat.

Consider further in relation to this Meaney's account of Billy Hughes's visit to London in March 1916. According to Meaney, Anglo-Japanese relations themselves had, at the very moment of Hughes's arrival, reached 'a delicate stage'. Apparently, 'British authorities were disturbed that the Germans were offering the Japanese a free hand in China, control of the Dutch East Indies or, more generally, hegemony in East Asia and the Pacific as an inducement to withdraw from the conflict. Despite the fact that the Japanese had informed London of these approaches, the British were worried by Germany's attempt to divide the Allies.' Without apparent irony, Meaney quotes an under-secretary at the Foreign Office: 'There is a good deal of Oriental mystery in the whole of this question which leaves one with an uneasy feeling.'[xcvi] Meaney seems to be arguing by imperial inference that if the British seemed worried, there must have been good reasons why Hughes was. But were there? Perhaps the British were trying to manipulate Hughes's anxieties. Without an informed assessment of the Japanese position you can hardly present a balanced view.

Meaney notes Ian Nish's classic 1972 work, Alliance in Decline: A Study in Anglo-Japanese Relations, 1908-23, to support the concerns of Whitehall officials in 1916. But then he reports Nish selectively. He does not see what the very pages he notes from Nish's work also show: that news of an apparent British attempt to negotiate discreetly a treaty with China suggested to the Japanese 'extreme bad faith on Britain's part'.[xcvii] In the end, Nish says that the incident was a storm in a teacup. Britain found Japan's assistance indispensable, and the Japanese continued amicably to give naval support to Britain (and Australia) in the Indian Ocean without insisting on any price. Yet, in Meaney's narrative, even the fact that the Japanese themselves had informed the British of the German approaches contributes to the 'Oriental mystery'.

Later in the volume, Meaney's account of Hughes's extreme behaviour at Versailles also sustains a sense of ongoing race threat and crisis. Meaney argues that Hughes's perverse stand against any concession to the Japanese on the issue of a racial equality clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations undermined his aim of protecting white Australia. As well as causing a serious backlash in Japan against the League and raising the spectre that Japan might 'create her own Monroe doctrine in the Orient',[xcviii] we are told, Hughes's antics brought Australia adversely to the attention of the Japanese when it had hardly been noticed before. That seems true.[xcix] But we are not told exactly what adverse effects the bad notice had on Australia. Could Meaney be pointing prospectively to 1942? Whether or not he intends that, he clearly specifies that Hughes's assumptions were still 'at one' with most political leaders for a generation in defining 'White Australia'[c] and in defending it in the 'hot war' in Europe. Meaney has thus read Hughes's behaviour in 1919 as a regrettable public expression of a reasonable preoccupation in official circles during World War I about the emerging threat of Japan in the Pacific.

But how reasonable is such a reading of that preoccupation? The book concludes with an endorsement of the expeditionary strategy: 'Australia had to run the risk of leaving itself vulnerable to Japan in order that the British Empire could regain its global pre-eminence – the only acceptable outcome of the war.' There is the further conclusion that the expeditionary strategy was 'plausible'.[ci] But it is more likely that strategy was implausible, because the threat perception underpinning it was in fact a race-based distortion of a strategic reality.

Meaney's strategic analysis brings us back to the free-floating, Eggleston-like sense of a forever-coming Japanese menace in the Pacific that would inevitably be fulfilled in the future. This notion of unbounded threat and crisis without spatial or temporal co-ordinates had been around from at least the early 1900s and was race-based for two reasons. First, because racial perceptions of danger revolve around fantasies of a threat to the blood, racists perceive such dangers to be eternal – 'racism dreams of eternal contamination,' as Benedict Anderson so elegantly writes.[cii] Second, there is no evidence that Japan took any strategic interest in Australia before 1942.

Frei's multidimensional reading of the evidence strongly supports this point. Japan's Southward Advance and Australia shows that for at least four decades after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, 'Australian threat perceptions were quite divorced from the international political realities that faced Japan.'[ciii] The Japanese were overwhelmingly engaged in North Asia. Then, from the mid-1930s, when the Japanese Imperial Navy pushed the Foreign Office aside on matters relating to Japan's southern interests, Australia did become involved indirectly in that navy's 'southern finagling'. In 1937, for example, the Australian government was concerned about a large company that some maverick Japanese naval officers wanted to establish in Portuguese Timor.[civ]

Strategic and economic penetration of Australia's northern sphere was implicit in official Japanese government interest in developing Yampi Sound as a source of iron ore. After initially encouraging these overtures, the Australian government rejected them in 1938, because they did not want a Japanese government enterprise establishing itself in the north.[cv] The resulting furore was much the same as when the Chinese state-owned company Chinalco tried and failed to develop mineral interests in northern Australia in 2009.

Nevertheless, Frei demonstrates that, even in 1941, 'the southern continent did not figure on the list of war objectives prepared for the General Staff on the eve of the Pacific War.'[cvi] Ably supported from the Australian perspective in a number of works by Peter Stanley and David Stevens,[cvii] Frei illuminates what happened next. When Australia finally came into Japanese strategic calculations in the first quarter of 1942, the Japanese discussed a possible invasion and decided not to do so: 'Navy General Staff officers had made plans to invade Australia in order to deny its use as a base for American forces. But chances were slim that such plans could be realised. The Japanese navy itself was split over the Australia issue. Combined Fleet was not interested in extending naval battle lines as far south as Australia... [Besides] the Army General Staff firmly and persistently refused to consider any invasion of Australia because it grossly exceeded the limits of national strength and overextended Japan's defence perimeter. Because the Army had the final say, the consistent refusal of the generals pulled the rug from beneath the Navy General Staff each time the desk-captains tried to broach the subject.'[cviii]

This is not an argument that Australians should have refrained from fighting the Pacific War. Nor does it deny the heroism of the Australian forces that stopped the Japanese advance on Port Moresby. In early 1942 Australians could not have known what the Japanese intended and how the war was going to develop.

This is an argument that, if the Japanese had decided not to invade Australia in 1942, they were never going to do so anytime before; and that, as a result, the patently absurd notion of the forever-coming invasion did not provide a plausible foundation for the war leadership's belief in the necessity of the expeditionary deployment in 1914-18. Nor does that notion of free-floating, eternal crisis provide a plausible foundation for Neville Meaney's historical concurrence with the original view. Rather, that notion brings us back to the ambiguity in his narrative: despite its own stress on the distinction between racial and strategic threat constructions, it needs that irrational, race-based construction of the Japanese menace to maintain for whatever reason the Anzac expeditionary involvement in World War I.

Nowhere does Australia and World Crisis raise the issues that strongly militated against the implementation of the expeditionary strategy in 1914. British naval power in the Pacific was manifestly in decline by 1902.[cix] No Australian expedition of any size could have been decisive in a war between Britain and Germany. (Australia sent five divisions to the Western Front. There, in early 1915, the Allies had 145 divisions and the Germans 100. In early 1918, the Allies had some 173 and the Germans 192.) No matter how appreciative the British could have been for expeditionary assistance, they were never going to save Australia from a Japanese invasion unless it was in their interests and capacities to do so, which history shows it never was: Singapore fell in 1942.

Meaney pushed the limits of Australian historiography by demonstrating the fear of Japan it had denied for so long. He acknowledged the existence of race-based distortions in the strategic outlook, while also asserting the geopolitical reality of the Japanese threat. Then, a race-based argument finally comes out of the tensions in his complex narrative in order to maintain the official threat construction that underpinned Australia's expeditionary strategy in 1914-18 – because he takes the Great War as given.

Now we have a reasonable explanation of why Australia and World Crisis engages with neither Mordike nor Frei. Meaney's work remains committed to the senti-mental narrative of Australian imperial history, while their analyses unsettle that narrative's central elements. Mordike disturbs the imperial romance by using British-Australian records to reveal the imperial political deception and ascendancy. Frei disturbs the romance by using Japanese-Australian records to show that the threat construction underpinning the expeditionary strategy was untenable.

The fiction of a coming Japanese invasion established the expeditionary strategy in state policy by driving the imperial ascendency of 1911-14. The ghosts of that ascendency have haunted both the dependent politics of the state and Anzac history ever since.

In late 1941 and early 1942, the threat of a Japanese invasion fleetingly materialised and then evaporated. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the Americans needed Australia as a base for their strategic counter-offensive against Japan. Australia's US alliance was born. But before the invasion panic passed in Australia, that alliance was fused in Australian imperial thought as something more than it was or could ever be: the substitute for eternal British protection in the Pacific.


MANY WRITERS HAVE dealt with a variant of this theme in their accounts of Australia's post-1945 occupation of Japan and many wars since: the Korean War (1950-51), the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo (1950-66), the Vietnam War (1962-72), the Gulf War (1991), Timor (1999-2001), the Iraq War (2002-09) and the war in Afghanistan (2002-).[cx] Some idea of the role nightmares about Japan continued to play in the Malayan and Vietnam involvements, and of the imperial direction of all these wars, may be gleaned from my own work.[cxi]

On 29 April 1965 the 'imperial' Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies justified in parliament the deployment of combat troops to support US forces against the communist insurgency in southern Vietnam. He told parliament that the insurgency 'must be seen as part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans'. There was no evidence then or now that the Chinese ever planned or were involved in such a move. The idea came from another fictional threat scenario that the then British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir John Harding, presented to Menzies during discussions in London in 1955.

This was just after the Viet Minh victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu, and the British, fearing communist subversion in Malaya, wanted Australian military support. Harding thus plied Menzies with an intelligence forecast which indicated that a 250,000-strong Chinese army would move down the Indochinese peninsula, pick up a Vietnamese force and reach Bangkok within about three months. But 'the real prize' would be 'the rubber and tin of Malaya and [the] focus of sea and air communications at Singapore'. The power of this invention over Menzies should be clear: it closely replicated Japanese strategic thrusts through Indochina in 1941, leading to the fall of Singapore the year after.

Having been deeply shaken by that imperial disaster in 1942, Menzies responded to Harding's spectral scenario in 1955 as Harding no doubt anticipated he might: with a commitment to send Australian troops to Malaya. Menzies was so impressed by Harding's overture, that, again in relation to Vietnam a decade later, he conflated Japanese strategic expansion in 1941-42 with a non-existent 'thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans' in 1965.[cxii] The strategic fictions that led Menzies to war in 1955 and 1965 not only recall the bogus Japan-related invasion scenarios that had encouraged Fisher and Pearce to usurp the Defence Act in 1911. They also recall how, somewhat like those ministers in 1911-14, Menzies deceived the parliament. On 29 April 1965, he made the untrue statement that he was in possession of a 'request' from the Saigon government to send Australian combat troops to Vietnam.[cxiii]

The former diplomat Gary Woodard develops this point. Traversing the period from Vietnam to Iraq, he emphasises the growth of the 'imperial prime ministership' in Australian war-making. By this he mainly means the 'dominance of the Prime Minister, [and] decisions made in secret by Ministers obedient to him' – and their 'conservative mindset of astonishing durability'.[cxiv]

Appropriately, in relation to this imperial mode of political thought and action, recent commentary on Australia's involvement in Afghanistan by the former Chief of Defence General Peter Gration[cxv] and others has been accompanied by calls for constitutional change.[cxvi] On 27 October 2010, for example, the Greens Senator Scott Ludlum issued a press release saying that only the federal parliament should have the power to declare war. Such a change is surely overdue. Yet that is all the more reason to remember that, to be effective, reform will require transformations of great historical and cultural as well as political import.

The undemocratic exercise of power to make war by a few imperial-minded ministers goes back to 1911-14. Since then, such political behaviour has had a cultural cocoon: the origin myth of the AIF and the sentimental narrative of Anzac. These cultural self-deceptions, spun out of colonial insecurity and hardened in the suffering of 1914-18 and beyond, have also proved durable because nothing has happened to change them. Anzac Day is currently our national day.[cxvii]

Schooled to be sceptical by the defeat of Australian policy in Vietnam, the above-mentioned literature on the ongoing imperial basis for our post-1945 wars has certain virtues, including not taking its subjects for granted. This writing has often dealt with the official deceptions entailed in our dependent foreign policy orientations and decisions for war. Yet, with exceptions, including spirited books dealing with the nation's status as a self-styled and self-imposed US protectorate by Humphrey McQueen (1991) and Alison Broinowski (2007),[cxviii] that literature has not often taken the next step and clearly aligned itself with the alternative to the dependent state in which it finds us: the project of the independent nation. The general position thus resonates with a recent book about decolonisation in Australia since the 'crisis' of British identity in the 1960s: James Curran and Stuart Ward's The Unknown Nation: Australia after Empire (MUP, 2010). In it, post-British imperial Australian identity is constructed as a blank – and so leaves us clinging ambiguously to the absence of the original, dependent British state and identity.

Such ambiguity is understandable when, with few exceptions since the Vietnam era, Anzac historiography itself has continued to take for granted our imperial involvement in the formative event of twentieth-century Australian history: World War I. John Mordike's work, which lends historical depth to any suggestion of a need for constitutional change, is an obvious exception. Peter Cochrane's Simpson and the Donkey: The Making of a Legend (MUP, 1992) is another. It undermines the imperial saga in an excellent, witty analysis of how tenaciously self-fulfilling that legend was. Set in a different era, David Horner's High Command: Australia and Allied Strategy, 1939-1945 (Allen & Unwin, 1992) takes an independent nationalist line. The feminist essays edited by Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake in Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 1995) can also intellectually challenge the imperial romance. In general, however, Anzac literature is currently capped by KS Inglis's narrative Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape (MUP, 1998 and 2008). An ineffable defence of Bean's imperial nation, the work's leitmotif is the statue of an 'attractive...soldier standing forever stiff and pathetic'.[cxix]

Meanwhile, even authors who are most critical of Anzac mythology have tended to remain trapped in it. Jane Ross's The Myth of the Digger: The Australian Soldier in Two World Wars (Hale & Ironmonger, 1985) is a work of astute sociological criticism. It reasonably assumes that, beginning with Bean, the digger myth became 'an integral part of our national experience'. But then, the opening sentence of The Myth of the Digger recycles the usual origin myth of the AIF: 'At the outbreak of World War I Australia had little military capability, and only the rudiments of a military tradition.' Ross has not stepped outside Bean's imperial nation and critiqued it from the perspective of an independent one.

More pointedly, in Big-noting: The Heroic Theme in Australian War Writing (MUP, 1987) Robin Gerster sees himself as being opposed to Bean's 'nationalistic zeal'.[cxx] Alistair Thompson's Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend (Oxford, 1994) seems pitted against 'nationalist Anzac history'.[cxxi] But it could be argued that such leading critics of what Thompson calls the 'Anzac faith' are unclear about what they are in conflict with. They seem unaware that, to deal effectively with Bean's vision, they need to confront his imperial construction of the nation; that they should be the (independent) nationalists because he is the imperialist.

In relation to this, Joy Damousi in 2007 amplified the soupy 'paradox of loyalty – at once to nation and Empire'.[cxxii] She maintains Bean's sentimental narrative of the coalescence of national and imperial interests. She has joined the long line of writers, including Joan Beaumont, who had offered up again in 1995 'our last man and our last shilling' and claimed: 'to Australians of 1914 there was no conflict between their dual loyalties.' But they surely did conflict in defence policy before 1914 and later in the war. Twenty-five pages after Beaumont's claim of dual loyalty, she even manages to mention 'the distrust of the British which many Australian soldiers felt during the war'.[cxxiii]

Most recently, Craig Stockings, editor of Zombie Myths of Australian Military History (UNSW, 2010), emphasises the need for a 'rational', 'analytical' approach to military history. Most of the book's ten essays thus suggest frustration with the sentimental narrative. As far as Zombie Myths goes, it is a stimulating read. But still, Stockings has excluded Mordike's work[cxxiv] and neglected to even mention the origin myth of the AIF.


THIS ARGUMENT DOES not impugn the valour of the Anzacs. It makes the point that what even critical Anzac literature has in common both with the conservative legacy of Bean and with the ongoing expeditionary reflexes of the state is silent acceptance of the imperial nation. Grounded in a sentimental, unchanging worldview, that writing continues to overlook Australian geography and British imperial power. It is yet to relate the British conquest of the continent and the continent's proximity to Asia: the fearful 'Aboriginal-Asia' link, which in turn produces the link between white Australia's Aboriginal and other Great War(s). Clinched by the origin myth of the AIF, the literature's sentimentality protects the imperial ascendency of 1911-14 in the culture as well as the politics of the nation to this day.

That is the great deception: Australians still have as little idea of why they were fighting in World War I as of why they are now fighting in Afghanistan. The deception has nurtured the autocratic war-making powers of a few ministers each time they decide to send off an expedition. The expeditionary strategy and related culture has saved us from nothing, caused great grief and could cause more. Given the recent expansion of Chinese strategic space in the Pacific, it makes less sense than it ever did to assume that we can depend eternally on the protection of our big and powerful friends. This does not mean we should abandon old alliances. And threats from the north could develop. But it cannot be helpful for us to have largely lost the sense, since Gallipoli (and so soon after Federation), of the most rational foundation on which we might stand as a community to face the complex challenges of the future: an independent sense of national identity.


Thanks to Ann Curthoys, John Docker, Peter Cochrane, Trevor Fuller, Jennifer Phipps, Rae Jones, Ross Sydney, Danny O'Neill, Eric Aarons, David Walker, and Alison Broinowski. I am also grateful to Julianne Schultz for suggesting I write on the way Australian historians deal with Asia and our discussions on this essay.


[i] Jane Golley, 'China's rocky road to prosperity', East Asia Forum, 18 November 2010; Ross Garnaut, 'State of Defiance', Sydney Morning Herald, 4-5 December 2010, p. 18.

[ii] Hugh White, 'Power Shift: Australia's Future Between Washington and Beijing', Quarterly Essay 39, 2010, especially pp. 1-35; and 'Negotiating the China challenge', East Asia Forum, 26 December 2010.

[iii] Michael Wesley, 'A victory for the culture of paranoia', Sydney Morning Herald, 4-5 December 2010, p. 9.

[iv] For earlier international relations perspectives see Greg Clark, In Fear of China (1967) and Alan Renouf, The Frightened Country (1979).

[v] John Fitzgerald, Big White Lie, p. 21.

[vi] Official History, vol. 1, pp. xviii, 8 and 11. Bean seems to have received some criticism for some of these words by from his editor, George Robertson. Beside the sentences in the typescript of Chapter 1 about the war falling out of a 'clear blue sky' and how 'a hundred years of peace, sheltered by the British Navy, had rendered the Briton guileless and unsuspicious even whenever there was a threat', for example, Robertson had written 'a perfect example of misconceived and misbegotten'. Exactly what he meant by this is unclear. This is especially when the published version is very close to, but not identical with, the wording in the typescript. Angus & Robertson – papers relating to CEW Bean's History of World War One, 1919 1933, Mitchell Library (MLMSS7309).

[vii] On p. ix.

[viii] 'We should do this thing quietly', p. 95. Meaney already had this geographical focus in The Search for Security in the Pacific 1901-14, pp. viii-ix and 10.

[ix] David Day's Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia (HarperCollins, 2008) lists both of Mordike's books in the biography. Yet his account of the 1911 Imperial Conference remains silent about the military discussions, thereby missing the political deception and Fisher's implication in it.

[x] Hamilton to Asquith, 14 April 1914, Hamilton 5/1/87, Hamilton Papers, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College London, quoted in Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', p. 90. Mordike's discovery and publication of the Hamilton letter was a big find for Australian history. Yet Reynolds also quotes from the same letter in Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds with Mark McKenna and Joy Damousi, What's Wrong With Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian History (2010), p. 64, offers a garbled citation for it in note 27, and does not refer to Mordike's work.

[xi] As an act of literary myth-making, that narrative was designed to shore up the insecure sense of Australian colonial identity. In 'The Anzac Tradition', Meanjin Quarterly, March 1965, p. 28, his supporter KS Inglis noted that both his pre-war journalism on British-Australian character and his war history is 'factual reporting and imagining'. In Big-noting: The Heroic Theme in Australian War Writing (MUP, 1987), Chapter 3, his critic Robin Gerster has discussed the history as one of the 'books of the tribe' and emphasised its 'idealisation' of the soldier.

[xii] Official History, vol. 1, p. xvi. Emphasis added.

[xiii] Official History, vol. 1, facing p. 101.

[xiv] Ibid, vol. 11, 'The Royal Australian Navy', pp. 340-42, claims 'most cordial relations' between the Japanese and Australian naval authorities. For more nuanced accounts see Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen, The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorised Australia and the Southern Oceans in the First World War (2009).

[xv] Official History, vol. 1, pp. 4-7.

[xvi] Ibid, pp. 18-19.

[xvii] Ibid, p. 13. Guilliatt and Hohnen, The Wolf, shows how slight the German naval menace turned out to be. Furthermore, if the Australian government really did see a German threat, why didn't it change the Defence Act and introduce conscription? If it considered the possibility, it would have concluded that the electorate would not have supported such a change, because it did not perceive a German threat either. Additionally, when the British pressured Hughes to introduce conscription in 1916, they indicated that Japan was the threat and failed to refer to Germany. And, of course, the conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917 failed.

[xviii] Official History, vol. 1, p. 19.

[xix] See also Neville Meaney, Australia and the World: A Documentary History from the 1870s to the 1970s, p. 203.

[xx] 'We should do this thing quietly', pp. 98-100; Army for a Nation, p. xvii.

[xxi] Official History, vol. 1., pp. 34-35; see also vol. 11, p. 239.

[xxii] Official History, vol. 1, pp. 16 and 24.

[xxiii] "Unbounded enthusiasm": Australian Historians and the Outbreak of the Great War', Australian Journal of Politics and History, 53:2, 2007, 360-73, p. 362, note 17. The authors of the studies are FLW Wood, AGL Shaw and HD Nicholson, Donald Horne, Helen Palmer and Jessie Macleod, Stephen Alomes and Frank Welsh.

[xxiv] Mordike, Army for a Nation, pp. xvii-xx. In the Constitution's words, the Australian colonies were federated 'under the Crown'.

[xxv] Ibid, especially pp. 50-51.

[xxvi] Ibid, pp. 72-74. Deals with the precise debates surrounding the two ways of referring to the Governor-General in the constitution. See also p. 22, pp. 30-32, pp. 38-39 and pp. 49-53.

[xxvii] An exception is Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia, 2009, p. 158, which encompasses differences of opinion over the need for a militia designed for national defence and an expeditionary force designed to serve abroad. However, the secrecy issue is not raised.

[xxviii] Army for a Nation, pp. 219-21.

[xxix] Ibid, pp. 220-21. There are a number of other circumstantial and procedural points. Deakin himself was tired and not entirely in control of the conservative factions in his government – least of all Cook. Cook introduced the bill on a suspension of standing orders before the opposition had time to examine it and offered no clear explanation of his thinking. He was thus able to see off opposition members as formidable as Fisher and Hughes, who questioned it but did not really know what was going on.

[xxx] Ibid, p. 226. On 5 January the Sydney Morning Herald had also said the inspection was 'not so much for Australia's sake as for the good of the empire'.

[xxxi] Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', p. 35.

[xxxii] 12 February 1910.

[xxxiii] The report is not exactly dated. However, the first press commentary seems to have been on 19 February.

[xxxiv] 19 February 1910.

[xxxv] Army for a Nation, pp. 228-29.

[xxxvi] Ibid, pp. 231-36. Chris Coultard-Clark pioneered this theme in No Australian Need Apply: The Troubled Career of Lieutenant-General Gorden James Legge (Allen & Unwin, 1988).

[xxxvii] See also 'Diggers' dash for empire a myth', Adelaide Advertiser, 27 August 1992, p. 2; 'Anzac myth false – Book', Herald Sun, Melbourne, 27 August 1992.

[xxxviii] Quoted in Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', p. 39.

[xxxix] Jeffrey Grey, A Military History of Australia (2000), p.82.

[xl] Craig Wilcox, 'Relinquishing the Past: John Mordike's An Army for a Nation', Australian Journal of Politics and History, 40:1, 1993, Publisher's blurb, pp. 52-53.

[xli] Mordike, Army for a Nation, p. 247. See also pp. xvii and xx.

[xlii] See Horner's testimonial on the dust cover of Mordike's Army for a Nation and David Horner, The Gunners: A History of Australian Artillery, 1995, p. 62 and n. 32. See also note 45 below.

[xliii] p. 83. Bridge refers to Wilcox's For Hearths and Homes, 1998. But Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', pp. 137-38, shows that Bridge misreads Wilcox's simplistic, 'tension-free account of Australian preparations for war'.

[xliv] Wilcox provided no analysis based on the records in which Mordike's work was steeped. These voluminous records included those of the British Colonial Office and War Office files and correspondence. They included the extensive records of the committees, which were the powerhouses of imperial defence policy: the Colonial Defence Committee, the Overseas Defence Committee and the Committee of Imperial Defence. Ignoring the records of all these Offices and Committees – and the private papers of all the key British officials – Wilcox felt qualified to comment adversely on Mordike's work on the basis of such authorities as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911.

[xlv] Citing Wilcox's work, which had not cited the primary documents, Horner, The Gunners, p. 62, said Pearce promised to have mobilisation plans ready if an expedition had to be sent to an overseas war, but did not mention the secrecy issue or that Mordike had discovered and discussed the primary documents – which raised the secrecy. Grey may have read War Office 106/43 by 2001. However, Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', pp. 136-37, notes that in The Australian Centenary History of Defence, vol. 1, 'The Australian Army' (2001), p. 34, Grey quoted from 'the very War Office records that my research unearthed some 14 years ago' to raise the secrecy issue, but did not mention Pearce's complicity in the secrecy or Mordike's original discovery and discussion of the War Office records – which first raised the secrecy.

[xlvi] Wilcox, 'Relinquishing the past', p. 60.

[xlvii] Story based on an interview Mordike gave me.

[xlviii] pp. 95-139. On Wilcox's followers see pp. 136-38.

[xlix] Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', pp. 47-51.

[l] Ibid, pp. 50-52.

[li] Ibid, pp. 52 and 56-59.

[lii] Defence Act 1903, in Commonwealth Acts, vol. 2, 1904, pp. 110 and 116.

[liii] Mordike, Army for a Nation, pp. 83 and 199.

[liv] Ibid, p. 241.

[lv] 'Questions on Defence (Military) – 2nd Day, 17 June 1911,' p. 20-21, War Office 106/43, Public Records Office, London. 'We should do this thing quietly', p. 79.

[lvi] Mordike, Army for a Nation, pp. 242-43; Thomas W. Tanner, Compulsory Citizen Soldiers (1980). The term 'boy conscription' is used and explained in Gilbert Roper, Labour's Titan: The Story of Percy Brookfield, 1878-1921 (1983), pp. 27-28. This socialist author also says that secret war preparations 'were guessed at' by those who already opposed imperial militarism.

[lvii] See 'Imperial Conference Minutes of Proceedings [Cd. 5745] and Papers [Cd. 5746-1], July 1911', NAA 359660; and 'Imperial Conference 1911, Dominions No. 9. Papers laid before the Imperial conference: Naval and military defence, Cd. 5746-2, 17 July 1911', NAA 693872. The omission of any reference to the expeditionary undertaking is particularly glaring in this second document.

[lviii] See Memo Major CM Maynard to MO 1, 12 January 1912, WO 106/53, PRO, London.

[lix] Shaw, The Story of Australia (1955), p. 218.

[lx] Robson, The First AIF: A Study of its Recruitment 1914-1918 (1970), ch. 2, p. 21.

[lxi] Coultard-Clark, A Heritage of Spirit: A Biography of Major-General Sir William Throsby Bridges (1979), p. 125.

[lxii] McKernan, The Australian People and the Great War (1980), pp. 2-3.

[lxiii] Serle, Monash: A Biography (1982), p. 201.

[lxiv] Wilcox, 'Relinquishing the Past', p. 52.

[lxv] Beaumont, Australia's War 1914-1918, p. 2.

[lxvi] Meaney, Australia and World Crisis 1914-1923 (2009), p. 31. The bibliography lists Army for a Nation but not 'We should do this thing quietly'.

[lxvii] Ibid, pp. 12 and 502.

[lxviii] Bean, Official History, vol.1, p. 56.

[lxix] 'Britishness and Australian Identity: The Problem of Nationalism in Australian History and Historiography', Australian Historical Studies, 32, April 2001, pp. 76-90 and 81.

[lxx] This was during Cook's Liberal government, which succeeded Fisher's Labor one on 24 June 1913. Pearce resumed the defence portfolio when Labor was re-elected on 17 September 1914.

[lxxi] Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, p. 31.

[lxxii] Search for Security in the Pacific, p. 76. See also p. 63 n., p. 156.

[lxxiii] Wilcox, 'Relinquishing the past' (1993), p. 58.

[lxxiv] Quoted in Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', p. 34.

[lxxv] Mordike, Army for a Nation, pp. 242-44.

[lxxvi] Ibid, pp. 241-42.

[lxxvii] Pearce, Carpenter to Cabinet, pp. 98 and 104-05; Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', pp. 87-89.

[lxxviii] Mordike, Army for a Nation, p. 243.

[lxxix] Official History, vol. 11, p. 239.

[lxxx] Ibid, p. 32.

[lxxxi] Quoted in Mordike, 'We should do this thing quietly', pp. 91-93.

[lxxxii] 'The Socialists – Labour Party Condemned', p. 13. Also see note 48 above.


[lxxxiv] 'Socialists' Protest', p. 10. For more on the meeting see Roper, Labor's Titan, p. 30.

[lxxxv] 'War Notes – Wild Weekend Rumours', August 17, p. 8.

[lxxxvi] 'Australia at War', 16 September, p. 10.

[lxxxvii] Robertson, Anzac and Empire, p. 14.

[lxxxviii] Frei, Japan's Southward Advance, p. ix.

[lxxxix] Meaney, Search for Security, p. 258.

[xc] Ibid, pp. 259-60.

[xci] Frei, Japan's Southward Advance, p. 90.

[xcii] Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, p. 162.

[xciii] Ibid, pp. 109, 162, 165, 364, 445, 452, 502, 503.

[xciv] Ibid, pp. 109-10.

[xcv] Ibid, p. 133, also comments that in early 1916 Pearce was advising Hughes that the occupation of the islands by 'another Power' could 'not be of much danger...because of their distance'.

[xcvi] Ibid, p. 144. For a different analysis see Frei, Japan's Southward Advance, pp. 94-95.

[xcvii] Nish, Alliance in Decline, p. 167. Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, p. 144, note 77, refers to pp. 166-70 of Nish's work. See also Nish, 'Dr Morrison and China's Entry into the World War, 1915-17', in Nish, Studies in Diplomatic History: Essays in memory of David Bayne Horne (1970).

[xcviii] Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, p. 374, quoting the Melbourne Herald, 10 and 14 April 1919, and Argus, 15 April 1919.

[xcix] Ibid, p. 378 draws appropriately on Shimazu Naoko, Japan, Race Equality: The Racial Equality Proposal (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 46-66, to support the point.

[c] Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, p. 379.

[ci] Ibid, p. 503

[cii] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 1983, p. 136, also stresses that the nation exists in time and thinks in terms of 'historical destinies'. From this perspective, the race-based sense of an eternal threat would tend permanently, in the Australian case, to reinforce the imperial nation and undermine the independent one.

[ciii] Frei, Japan's Southward Advance, p. 67.

[civ] Ibid, pp. 150-52.

[cv] Ibid, p.153.

[cvi] Ibid, p. 150.

[cvii] See Stanley's Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942 (2008); and essays by Stanley and Edwards in Stockings, ed., Zombie Myths of Australian Military History (2010).

[cviii] Frei, Japan's Southward Advance, pp. 218-19.

[cix] Nicholas A Lambert, Sir John Fisher's Naval Revolution (1999).

[cx] Some recent starting points are Alison Broinowski, Howard's War (2003); Gary Woodard, Asian Alternatives: Australia's Vietnam Decision and Lessons on Going to War, 2004; Greg Lockhart, The Minefield: An Australian tragedy in Vietnam (2007); Robin Gerster, Travels in Atomic Sunshine: Australia and the Occupation of Japan (2008); Clinton Fernandes, 'Two Tales of Timor', in Craig Stockings, Zombie Myths of Australian Military History.

[cxi] The Minefield, pp. 10-15.

[cxii] Ibid.

[cxiii] Michael Sexton, War for the Asking: How Australia Invited Itself to the Vietnam War (1981), pp. 187-204.

[cxiv] Asian Alternatives, pp. viii and 5.

[cxv] General Peter Gration, 'We need an exit strategy for Afghanistan', The Australian, 19 October 2010, casts doubt on the official threat construction for being in the war.

[cxvi] I am grateful to Dr Alison Broinowski for alerting me to this.

[cxvii] Mark McKenna, 'Anzac Day: How did it become Australia's national day?', in What's Wrong with Anzac?, pp. 110-134.

[cxviii] McQueen, Japan to the Rescue (1991); Broinowski, Allied and Addicted (2007).

[cxix] Sacred Places, p. 6, quoting DH Lawrence, Kangaroo (1923). See also pp. 169 and 421.

[cxx] p. 63.

[cxxi] p.195.

[cxxii] Damousi, 'War and Commemoration' in Dereyk M Schreuder and Stuart Ward, Australia's Empire (2008), p. 289.

[cxxiii] Beaumont, Australia's War 1914-18 (1995), pp. 2-33 and 28. Ashley Ekins, 'Fighting to Exhaustion' in Ekins, ed., 1918 Year of Victory, pp. 111-29, indicates that AIF indiscipline was distinctively Australian, while going on to suggest a comparative empire framework for it.

[cxxiv] Craig Stockings, 'The Making and Breaking of the Post-Federation Australian Army, 1901-09', Land Warfare Studies Centre Study Paper No. 11, Canberra, 2007, p. 3, summarily dismisses Mordike as being 'more bent on proving "hidden" imperial agendas than he is in accurately charting early physical and technical developments' of the post-Federation army.

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