WWI Affected Australia More Than Most Know

Australia and her prime minister, Billy Hughes, were relatively unnoticed by the rest of the world at the outset of WWI. When all was said and done, however, things were very different. Hughes became known to prime ministers and other world leaders before anyone else came to know him, as he argued his way through the signing of the WWI treaty and became, followed by his deputy Joseph Cook, the first Australian to put his name to such a document.

Hughes did not just argue with other world leaders for the heck of it. A complex and proud man, Hughes was put into office when his predecessor resigned following the deaths of numerous Australians in the WWI conflict at Gallipoli. Hughes was a unionist who cared for the needs and wants of his nation, and was not happy during the treaty negotiations because he wanted his people to get back more for what they had lost in life and money.

The bulk of his tenure as prime minister during WWI saw Hughes struggling to decide whether more effort should be put into the preservation of Australia or the British Empire, toward both of which Hughes had a tremendous passion. Selling his country’s wool to Britain and leaving his position in the Labor Party, Hughes often found himself uncertain where his loyalties should lie and how that should influence his beliefs, especially on the issue of the draft.

Hughes felt that as a smaller nation, Australia might get left by the wayside in WWI negotiations, and he felt a profound need to defend them. They had aided Britain by giving them literally all of Australia’s wool reserves, and they had lost a relative amount of men which was greater than the proportion of that lost by the United States. Many of his people felt that Hughes was their champion, having fought for reparations from Germany that took until 2010 to pay off in full.

Unfortunately, there were also great problems stemming from WWI that were as lasting as Germany’s debt. Australia entered WWII while still paying off pensions from the previous conflict, with welfare and health care at all-time highs in terms of national expense having cost the nation over 150 million pounds in the span between the two wars, the SBS News reports.

Australia can still see the political changes that arose from WWI to this day. Not only did the war create debts which made the Great Depression especially hard on Australia, but WWI saw the birth of new political ideals as well, with several new parties and unions created as a result. The nation still has to lean on Britain to help its industry to this very day.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE