Howards (History) Way

His Royal Highness, Prince Howard of Canberra wants all schools to teach Australian History, with an officially sanctioned curriculum.

I’ll bet this bit won’t be taught.

1931 / 1932 – The Great Depression.

Have a guess, readers, which countries had the highest unemployment during the Great Depression?

HANDS UP all those who guessed Germany (highest) and Australia (second highest)?

And which country had armed militias prepared to overthrow their elected governments during this period?

Yep – Australia again.

One of the more interesting – and lesser known – parts of Australia’s history is that during the 1914-1918 First World War, Australia agreed to help out the British Empire by supplying troops for use as English canon fodder.

However, Australia may have supplied the troops, but it was also required to pay them (their wages), pay for uniforms, pay for ammunition, pay for transport, pay for billeting, and on and on.

The money for all this was not available to the young Australian nation, so it was BORROWED – from English bankers. At the end of the war, Australia owed £350 million.

By about 1931, during the depression, the Australian war debt was £90 million (about $6.3 billion in todays terms). At the same time that the British had persuaded the USA to grant interest rate concessions on their war debts, they refused any such concessions for Australia.

The interest being paid by Australia was an unbelievable £36 million ($2.5 billion) per year!!

At that time the Federal Government had very limited revenue raising ability, this money was paid by the states.

The amount of interest being paid on war debts was crippling to Australia and led to massive political ramifications, including all state government policies being dictated by the British banker Sir Otto Niemeyer. This policy was for severe austerity measures, which in turn exacerbated the already large unemployment.

Consequences of the austerity measures included riots in Adelaide (the Beef Riot), Perth (Treasury Building Riot), Cairns (Bloody Sunday riots), and Sydney (Glebe and Newtown riots).

Only one politician was prepared to challenge the financial measures being imposed by the British – Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales. Whilst he was denouncing the measures, and threatening (and later carrying through with the threat) to refuse to meet the interest payment, there was a young, aspiring Victorian politician who felt differently:

“If Australia is to surmount her troubles by the abandonment of traditional standards of honesty, justice and fair play, it would be far better for Australia that every citizen within her boundaries should die of starvation during the next few months.”

This address by Robert Gordon Menzies was greeted by rousing applause – such were the polarised times!

While political feelings were heated, shadowy groups were preparing to overthrow the governments of New South Wales and Victoria. In New South Wales, the New Guard was led by Eric Campbell, and at one time boasted over 100,000 members – prepared to remove the Labor government of the day. A similar group in Victoria was much less well known, and called the White Army. The best, most publicly known of the exploits of the New Guard was the slashing of the ribbon by Francis de Groot at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Such were the times of the Great Depression: Riots, 700,000 unemployed (and adding at the the rate of 5000 per week), massive political unrest, private armies, and a politician who would rather see the people starved than fight payment of usurious interest to Britain.

Will this be taught in the Australian history curriculum?


References and further reading:

“1932″, Gerald Stone, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2006. (A cracking good read).

“Working for dole – Commonwealth relief during the Great Depression”, Don Fraser (National Archives)

“Riot acts – The history of Australian Rioting”, David Lowe, 1993, pp 16-18.

Australias WW1 debt to Britain, in 1931, in answer to a question in the Senate was £79,724,220 (National Archives).

The Australian newspaper, Peter Lalor Blog (Sword Point article, comments): “Feel free to call me Peter, Pete, or even mate. Feel free to explain to me why the UK never fully repaid its war debt to the USA but Britain demanded Australia pay it back. Also explain to me why it took the same country 60 years to pay off its WWII debt but never gave Australia such latitude.”

“The Centenary of Treasury 1901-2001, An Informal History”, Highlights (Part 3), Commonwealth of Australia, 2001: “Significant economic instability followed the end of the war. Australia emerged from the war weakened by the loss of the maimed and dead and by the monstrous burden of a £350,000,000 war debt…”

Three main points of the Lang Plan (from:
1. That until Great Britain agreed to fund Australia’s overseas debt in the same manner as America funded that of Great Britain, no further interest upon her overseas debt should be paid by Australia.
2. That the interest rate on this debt should be reduced to 3%, and that all interest rates on private finance should be correspondingly reduced.
3. That the existing system of currency be altered from a nominal gold standard to one more suited to modern conditions, preferably the goods standard.

This policy was greeted with a howl of mingled rage and fear from private banks, the insurance companies and the bond­holders in general. The press denounced Lang in the most unbridled terms, as a swindler and a thief, whose proper place was gaol. It published ‘scare headings’ such as ‘Lang will confiscate Savings Bank deposits’, ‘Lang will smash your bank and seize your savings’, while politicians vied with each other in prophesying the bank’s ruin in every newspaper – one Federal Member publicly stated that he gave the bank four days to run (Hansard, Vol. 128. P. 1087/8, 1181).


I also found ‘Leviathan’ an extremely enlightening read into Australia’s history, although I *ahem* didn’t quite finish it.

Glad to see you’re a fan of Calvin & Hobbes too! My favourite quote: ‘It’s hard to stay mad at someone who misses you while you’re asleep’.

Comment by Davey | October 14th, 2007 6:53 pm | Permalink

I never knew this until a year ago. Why wasn’t it taught in schools when I was growing up? My parents really suffered during the great depression and their suffering affected me all my life. Seems like we are always ready to cringe to overseas interests.
Saw the Pilger film ‘War on Democracy’ yesterday. Now I still say that Whitlam was deposed at the order of the USA/CIA.
Now what’s going to stop the next crisis being manufactured during the current election campaign so that little Johnny gets back in again?

Comment by Dad | October 14th, 2007 9:05 pm | Permalink

Hey. Although I dislike Howard’s ideology, I do support the restructing of the History program (being an ex-History teacher myself).

Currently, in Queensland schools, history is not it’s own subject but is incorporated into a greater unit of learning called “Studies of Society and Environment” (SOSE). Moreover, Australian history only gets a quick and erratic view over the course. The thing I support most about the new Howard model is the narrative – it starts at the beginning and finishes at the end. This sounds like a statement of the obvious but, in the current Qld curriculum, a History unit might ask students to profile an Australian leader but without giving them any grounding in historical perspective that places that leader within a greater set of events.

I also support Australian history being it’s own separate subject and going back to the model of History in general being a stand-alone subject.

All in all, I think it’s a positive step (although, noted, not perfect).

Comment by DunePrincess | October 15th, 2007 10:53 am | Permalink

Princess, you’ve only got half the point.

Teaching history is probably a good thing (personally, I found when I was taught history that the only thing I understood and “connected with” (ugh) was Australian history. The rest was pretty irrelevant.

What I object to is a curriculum dictated by political expediency.

It smacks of re-writing history to suit ones political ends.

Comment by Wally | October 15th, 2007 9:35 pm | Permalink

Although Howard is headlining this, my understanding is that this new curriculum was developed by an association of history professionals and related persons? Although Howard is using this as a vehicle, I don’t see the new curriculum as being a Liberal production. ?

Comment by DunePrincess | October 16th, 2007 3:12 pm | Permalink

hi all i use to live across the road from jack Lang when i was a kid, he didn’t like us and the lady next door got my mother to sign over our home to her one day mum was not very good with legal documents so she thought as they had a agreed to swap houses but that’s not what happened at all so a couple of weeks later when my mother refused to move out we were all out this night someone set fire to our house well a couple of weeks before this happened jack Lang locked us kids out of the park which is schofields oval he also told us he couldn’t wait to see our house burn to the ground before he died well our house did burn to the ground while i was at riverstone high school formal and jack Lang died the next day he got his wish until this day we have never been able to get my mothers land back we lost our home and all seven of us children had to be split up which ruined our childhood and our future thanks to this man and this solicitor living next door to us we were treated unfair i think someone should help us to investigate what happened as we were ripped off can anyone out there please help me to get justice after all these years

Comment by lyla mitchell | February 24th, 2009 6:21 pm | Permalink

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