Document Study 1
Anti-conscription article by Curtin's friend and mentor Frank Anstey in the Timber Worker, a union newspaper, 1915

Background information

John Curtin was born in Creswick, Victoria, in 1885. He left school at 14 years of age, like many of his generation. His father was a publican and the family were not well off. Curtin's early experiences of life were pretty grim. He rejected the Catholic faith of his upbringing and turned to socialism. In 1902, when he was just 17, Curtin was drawn into the labour movement. He joined the Labor Party and then in 1906, Tom Mann, a British socialist and labour movement leader, set up the Victorian Socialist Party which Curtin also joined. Mann was an internationalist and anti-imperialist. He believed that imperialism and nationalism led to war between countries.

When World War One broke out it wasn’t long before the people calling for peace were swamped by the great propaganda of the pro-war lobby. Speaking out against the war became a dangerous thing to do. When the conscription referendum was thrust upon the people, Curtin was appointed secretary of the anti-conscription committee and spent a good deal of time stumping around the countryside spreading the anti-conscription case. After the bloodbath in Gallipoli and Flanders the Labor Party, particularly in Melbourne, became strongly resistant to the idea of forcing young men to go to war.

Early board of directors of Melbourne Tocsin, c1896. JCPML00633/7.

JCPML. Records of Lloyd Ross. Early board of directors of Melbourne Tocsin, c1896. JCPML00633/7. Original held by National Library of Australia MS 3939, Series 15, Box 67.
Frank Anstey is the middle of the 3 men.

Document: Anti-conscription article by Curtin's friend and mentor Frank Anstey in the Timber Worker, 12 October 1915

Source: JCPML. Records of the Timber Workers Union. The Timber Worker, 1913-1930. JCPML00256/1


The Defence Act contains provisions that Parliamentarians and other sacred persons are not to risk their limbs or lives within or without our borders. Thus they can afford to heroically shed the last drop of everybody else's blood without fatal consequences to themselves

... If a Government commandeers life, let it commandeer property. If it nationalises the manhood of the country for slaughter, let it nationalise the wealth of the country for a like purpose. If it conscripts labor, let it conscript capital...

... Conscription does not mean Revolution. If it did, it would be militant Labor policy to advocate it. But it does not. It means the organised extermination of a large portion of the working class, and the weakening of the remainder...

The politicians offer to the workers no glimpse of a happier day. Their only message is "Go and die". The anwer should be, "Go yourselves."


a If you read the first paragraph of this document aloud, what tone of voice would you use? Support your answer by quoting from the paragraph.
b. What does Anstey mean when he says 'If the government commandeers life, let it commandeer property too'?
c. How does Anstey describe conscription? Quote from the document.
d. What does he say the politicians can do if they really want conscription?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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