Historia Productions 4Articles


© N.R. Lindsay 2018
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Early Australians at Arms


Most accounts of early Australian military activity begin with the Soudan expedition. However, there were several earlier fights involving Australian forces - in compact with or against imperial forces.


First, we have to acknowledge the legitimacy of forces of a non-traditional nature, rather than manufacture excuses not to do so. Then we have to delve into what really happened, and go beyond the traditional superficial accounts, to recognise the settlers appearing in the ranks at Norfolk Island, Castle Hill, Eureka and New Zealand.


This account is deficient in not including the Aboriginal inter-tribal wars and resistance fighters: this will be added subsequently.













The Federated Ironworkers Association
of Australia and the 1939‑45 War Effort


Control of the militant Federated Ironworkers Association in 1939 was split between Communist and Labor Party adherents. The Communist Party of Australia was a creature of the Soviet Union, and after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, where the USSR came to a deal with Nazi Germany to split Poland and deliver war supplies to Germany, it used its influence in the FIA to disrupt the war effort, labelling it a 'Capitalist War'.


When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, a dramatic change occurred - the FIA members were urged to support the now 'Patriotic War' against Germany, trying to influence the peak Australian Council of Trade Unions and its other affiliates to support this aim to the detriment of union members. The ongoing unrelenting flogging of FIA members to maintain war production led to alienation from the leadership: dogma had triumphed over responsibility, and self-interest overcame duty to members, as is the case with ideologues in any field of endeavour.


The Balmain Branch carried out a successful revolt which led to the outcome of reestablishment of traditional Labor unionism, with the CPA influence marginalised.













Imperial-Australian Relations in the
formation of the Royal Australian Navy


The colonies of the British Empire were protected by the British Army and Royal Navy, however as some moved from first self-government then to national independence they became increasingly concerned to have both a say and a hand in this. While the Home government, army and navy were more than receptive to having the colonies to pay for this defence, they were unwilling to relinquish control and risk the colonies dragging them into commitments and responses which might be inimical with United Kingdom policies and interests.


As a consequence, naval self-defence aspirations were thwarted under cover of various restrictions and stratagems, avoiding the natural desire of the newly-independent countries of Australia, Canada and New Zealand to secure their own special interest rather than just the one perceived from London. Political persistence and bipartisan policy secured Australia its own navy, but this remained subject to imperial control well into both world wars.













Nationalism and its influence on the
development of Fascism in Italy


The nationalistic fervour of the Risorgimento petered out into the liberal state and its fusion governments. Failure of the brief Crispi essay into imperialism dissipated a resurgence of support for Italian greatness, leaving the field largely to nationalistic intellectuals in the early 1900s. Those limited efforts, however, laid the philosophical foundation for renewed nationalist political influence as Europe became increasingly destabilised, providing a rallying point which contributed to Giolitti’s grudging Libyan war and to the successful interventionist movement of 1915. In the widespread postwar frustration over the peace settlement, and with the progressive degradation of internal social and political conditions, the Nationalist tenets of authoritarianism, militarism and imperialism held attractions for a broad spectrum of the discontented.


Also in the business of appealing to and mobilising the discontented was Benito Mussolini and his Fascist movement. The general approach of the Nationalist Party and of the structural socialism of the Syndicalists contained substantial areas which were compatible with or useful to his own philosophy. After the electoral failure of 1919 for both Fascists and Nationalists, and the subsequent weakening of the Socialists in the 1920s depression, it was apparent that a union of forces hostile to both red and white socialism was necessary for success and also capable of success. The Fascist movement absorbed a whole range of revolutionary and right-wing movements, of which a significant one was the Nationalist Party. That absorption was not one sided, however, as the Nationalists could claim to have influenced Mussolini and the Fascist Party strongly towards the historical institutions of monarchy, church and army, in the pursuit of a greater Italy dominant in world affairs, and in using the state rather than the party as the instrument of authoritarian control of Fascist Italy.













Porton: Australia's Mini-Dunkirk


In the closing stages of the Pacific War in 1945, Australia carried out a series of operations which were unrelated to the defeat of Japan - attacking bypassed Japanese garrisons in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea and the Islands. With the US amphibious forces moving on the Philippines and towards Japan, these operations had to rest on Australian resources which were limited in scope and quantity.


One operation on Bougainville in the northern sector had run up against stiff opposition, and it was decided to carry out a small amphibious landing to outflank the position. Over-optimistic planning, limited fire support and environmental obstacles against a resourceful and determined enemy turned the landing into a nightmare from which it was difficult to extricate the force when failure became apparent.


The US forces understood that an amphibious operation, even with massive preparation and support, was a knife edge proposition. They were never impressed with the casual approach of Australian forces who relied largely on improvisation in an environment which was unforgiving of such an approach.


At Porton Plantation this caution was not heeded, with disastrous results. The story of Porton is a mixture of foolhardiness, heroism and a lesson in the fragility of amphibious operations, no matter what their scale. An example of a later attempt at a similar operation in Vietnam is given as a reminder of lessons not learnt.













The Rising Sun Badge


The origins of the Australian Army Rising Sun badge have been the subject of many attempts to pin it down, with some expressing absolute confidence in their version, and these varying versions picked over, supported, denigrated, accepted and repeated. Short of some absolute revelation, we can but guess on which images were most powerful in getting us to the version which was officially adopted and subsequently adapted. The ongoing lesson is that historians who use the words first, last, biggest, smallest etc etc are highly likely to have another researcher trump them with a firster, laster, etc version.


Always better to leave an escape by using more general expressions to allow for the fact that there is no law of the universe which says you must be right. The same applies to the luvvies who say with absolute confidence 'you're wrong!', who deserve the humiliation they often get when it is they who are caught out, and have no other resort than the personal abuse which they then have to fall back on. It is not only the climate change religionists who back them who back themselves into such corners. Historians do well to respond to others with the more polite 'why do you say that?' or 'what is your evidence' rather than dogmatic claims meant to overwhelm and intimidate others.













Irresponsible Government


Contemporary sources such as newspapers in New South Wales in the 'blended' Legislative Council era 1843-56 – pre-responsible government – routinely referred to parliamentary parties, factions, and tails. While these came into existence before political parties arose in the 1890s, they did not exist as real, cohesive groups before 1856.


Yes, they did not realise what they were saying. An analysis of the voting patterns of alleged parties and factions showed that there is no synchronisation of voting on a broad basis, that the alleged leaders of the alleged parties and factions – Lowe, Wentworth, Cooper and Thomson – led no group. It was simply a case of individuals voting the same way on specific issues on which they agreed, and these transitory alliances disappeared for the (bulk) of other issues where they voted with others with whom they had disagreed on the other issues. With 697 bills considered in the 13 years, there is no continuity of extended alliance voting patterns


It was not until the handling of departments headed by the Governor's office bearers to elected ministers in the Responsible Government era in 1856 that those ministers had to bond together in factions to avoid their competition for influence, resources and member support rendering government ungovernable.