ANGLO-BOER WAR CENTENARY
(Auburn) [10.24 a.m.]: I move:
That this House notes the motion and debate by the New South Wales Colonial Legislative Assembly on 17, 18, 19 and 20 October 1899:
This House is of the opinion that New South Wales should equip and despatch a military force for service with the Imperial Army in South Africa.
In October 1899 troops from northern Transvaal and the Orange Free State, after a confrontation with the British Imperial Army, crossed the border into Natal. They proceeded to a place called Newcastle where they engaged in a slight battle. They then encircled the British Army, which was facing them, at Dundee, which was in Natal Province. The British Army retreated to Glencoe and, believing that they were going to be totally cut off by the Boer army - in Afrikaans the word "Boer" means farmer - they retreated further to Ladysmith, where they dug in, and for a long period during that siege at Ladysmith they engaged the Boer army in battle. As a consequence of that battle the Home Office in London, in an attempt to secure a United Nations front, called upon all its colonies to supply troops. It also called upon the six colonies of the continent of Australia to supply troops.
On 17, 18, 19 and 20 October 1899 debate on the matter ensued in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Yesterday was the centenary of the passing of a resolution to send 500 New South Welshmen to the Transvaal. Prior to these events Australia had sent colonial troops to Sudan - an unconstitutional act as no colonial parliament authorised the action. The sending of troops to South Africa was the first time that an Australian Parliament had authorised such action. The debate that ensued in the Legislative Assembly was entertaining and interesting. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald
of 18 October 1899 refers to the problems that the British were facing in South Africa. The article states in part:
The Free State troops hold the line railway from Kimberley as far south as the Orange River Station, near the border.
The defending force at Kimberley comprises 4000 men.
The Boers are advancing southward from Kimberley upon Belmont.
Dundee has been ordered to be evacuated by the British.
Three thousand civilians have been transferred to Ladysmith, some miles to the south-west.
Six members of the Natal Mounted Police were ambushed at Dejaagers Drift, 18 miles east of Dundee, and captured by the Boers.
There are 7000 Boers at Dejaagers Drift.
The word "drift" in Afrikaans means a ford across a river. The article states further:
Major Marchand, the French officer, has offered to help the Boers. General Gallifet, the French Minister for War, has warned him that this step would involve the forfeiture of his commission in the French Army.
An article in the same newspaper about the debate in the Legislative Assembly reported:
The leader of the Opposition -
I point out that the Leader of the Opposition at that time was Mr Reid -
- was the first to support the Government’s action. His speech provoked considerable interruption, not to say disorder. Several times the Speaker appealed to the House to preserve order.
That sounds familiar. This issue was the cause of heated debate in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Yesterday, when I sought to reorder business to have the matter debated today there was much howling and carrying on by members of the Opposition. Debate in the Legislative Assembly was just as rowdy on 17, 18, 19 and 20 October 1899.
I hasten to add that the honourable member for Hawkesbury, the former Speaker of this House, did not interrupt when I was speaking in the House yesterday; he understands the historical significance of this matter. In 1899 a Mr Holman, who was vehemently opposed to sending troops to South
Africa, contributed to that debate. Interestingly, he was expelled from the Labor Party in 1916 for supporting conscription. He said, in part:
Unfortunately, it frequently happens that the proposals of a government are supported in their most blatant and most bloodthirsty aspect by those whose duty, one would imagine, would be to criticise them.
That is the case here. At that time the two principal political parties were the Protectionist Party and the Free Trade Party. The Labor Party sat on the crossbenches. The House was in a state of uproar when Mr Barton - who later became Sir Edmund Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia - asked Mr Holman a question. The following exchange is recorded in Hansard
Mr. BARTON: Would the hon. member mind telling us one thing - whether he wants the Boers to win or the British?
Mr. HOLMAN: I am not to be alarmed at any question of that kind. Whilst my country is fighting in a just cause I hope I shall be as ready to support its claims as any other member. But as I believe from the bottom of my heart that this is the most iniquitous, most immoral war ever waged with any race, I hope that England may be defeated.
Hon. MEMBERS: Shame! Shame!
Mr. NORTON: Bunkum! Bunkum!
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order!
Mr. NORTON: Am I to be singled out and called to order when the hon. member for Inverell is yelping like a rabid jingo dingo?
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: I called both sides to order.
Mr. Storey: Withdraw that remark!
Mr. EDDEN: I rise to order -
That sounds very familiar. Things have not changed in 100 years. Upon hearing this the Speaker rushed from his chambers to take control of the House. Earlier in the debate the following exchange had taken place:
Mr. SPEAKER: The hon. member has no right to speak unless the hon. member for Grenfell will give way to him.
Mr. COOK: I only wish to say that I deny all the things the hon. member is attributing to me. He is putting into my mouth words -
Debate ensued. Apparently it was private business night, but Mr Lyne, the Colonial Treasurer, sought the concurrence of the House to proceed with a resolution relating to the despatch of troops to the Transvaal. Mr Reid, the Leader of the Opposition, offered no objection to the matter being discussed at once. Mr Lyne moved the following resolution which was passed:
That it is a matter of urgent and pressing necessity, that the House should forthwith consider the expediency of equipping and despatching a military force for service with the Imperial army in the Transvaal.
The result of the division was -
There were only seven "goodies".
No, there were 10 "goodies", as the honourable member for Liverpool calls them. The rest of the House overwhelmingly supported the resolution. New South Wales was the only Parliament of the six colonies that debated sending troops. Every other Legislative Assembly concurred with sending troops. As a consequence, 16,000 New South Welshmen, Victorians, South Australians, Western Australians, Tasmanians and Queenslanders went to fight in the Boer War. At the end of the war 480 other ranks and 38 officers had been killed, and 120 officers and 1,280 other ranks had been wounded. The Australians fought as a unit at Diamond Hill and Elands River.
There is no monument to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australian troops. On 1 January 1901 Australia became the Commonwealth of Australia. I understand that next week the Prime Minister is to attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM] in South Africa, and that he will set up a monument to Australian troops at Diamond Hill. I once travelled to Elands River and the view is similar to what one would see on a train trip from Emu Plains to the Blue Mountains. For 18 days at Elands River 400 New South Welshmen and 200 Rhodesians held off an assault upon them by 3,500 Boer troops.
In my view we should consider erecting a monument there because that is where the regiment of the New South Wales bushmen fought. The flag of those troops was interesting. It was blue. The Union Jack had been straightened out, and ran from right to left in a diagonal stripe of red and white with the Southern Cross in the bottom left-hand corner. I have a flag similar to that on my office wall. The New South Wales Parliament took its responsibility seriously and thoroughly debated whether to send troops to possible death in a foreign land. Regardless of whether people think they were right or wrong, the real issue is that democracy worked well. I commend the motion to the House.
(Baulkham Hills) [10.34 a.m.]: It is almost ironic that, having sent peace-keeping troops into East Timor within the last few weeks, we should once again be considering the history of Australia’s involvement in an overseas conflict. Of course, the New South Wales of 1899 was entirely different from the New South Wales of 1999. For a start, it had a different government. Nevertheless, the fundamental issue of conscription and sending troops overseas was enough to ignite the passions of honourable members of this Chamber. Mr Holman, who was one of the leading participants in the debate, is recorded in Hansard
as having said:
A very bitter responsibility will rest upon the head of every man in this Assembly if a single man is killed by our action in sending away this contingent . . .
He further said:
There are men in my own electorate who, although they have been in this country for fifteen years, have never had a vote and never will have a vote, no matter how long they may live in the colony, or how industrious may be their share in the work of the colony, unless they throw off their allegiance to their native land and swear allegiance to the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.
They are interesting comments but the reality is that this Parliament made that decision and, as the honourable member for Auburn correctly said, it was bitterly contested and without doubt a most heated debate. It is also interesting that three of the most committed opponents of sending troops to the war were Labor members of Parliament - W. M. Hughes, W. A. Holman and Arthur Griffith - all of whom later left the Labour Party as a result of their support of conscription 16 years later.
It is fair to say, as a matter of history, that conscription has always been a problem. Many members of the Labor Party, and indeed other members of the community, have wrestled with their consciences over it. Nevertheless, in addressing this issue it is important to note that when the War Office sought assistance it expected to have people that could supplement British troops. However, the situation changed somewhat dramatically when troops arrived from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the other States. That impression was soon corrected when the fighting began and the colonial troops were to prove their mettle. Afterwards Lord Roberts said that all the colonials did extremely well, were very intelligent and had what he wanted his men to have - more individuality. That statement is equally true in 1999. Lord Roberts said:
They could find their way about the country far better than the British cavalrymen could do.
The situation could well be the same in 1999. There are a number of interesting sequences and matters arising from the Boer War and the participation of Australians. It is important to remember, for the purposes of this debate, that they were not only Australians, they were New South Welshmen. One of the first persons from New South Wales to pay the supreme sacrifice for his country was an assistant teacher from Carlingford Public School, Frederick Isaac Kilpatrick; a corporal in the New South Wales Lancers. That fact is even more interesting because Carlingford is in my electorate. Mr Kilpatrick fell on the battlefield at Rendsburg, South Africa on 16 January 1900 aged 26 years. A plaque erected by the school pupils and friends in his memory is inscribed as follows:
In loving memory
Frederick I. Kilpatrick
Corporal, New South Wales Lancers,
Parramatta Half Squadron
and Assistant Teacher at
the Public School, Carlingford
Who fell on the battlefield at
Rendsburg, South Africa
On January 16, 1900
Aged 26 years
Erected by the school pupils and friends.
"A glorious death is his
Who for his country falls."
A newspaper report from the period stated:
"Kilpatrick’s was one whose death has consolidated the Empire" stated John Perry, NSW Minister for Public Instruction.
Frederick Kilpatrick, a teacher, was one of the first New South Wales soldiers to fall in the Boer War.
In the days before federation, each of the Australian colonies had rushed to support Britain’s call in 1899 -
I do not know whether New South Wales rushed, but that is what the report stated -
for troops for the war with the African Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
The Boers were descendants of Dutch Calvinists and Britain wanted them part of a United South Africa. This was a war between Europeans in Africa.
The conflict was not without controversy as some had criticised its morality and the need for New South Wales to be involved.
John Perry, NSW Minister for Public Instruction, however was a staunch advocate of the war. He particularly sought out its opponents, especially amongst teachers.
On 16 March 1900 Minister Perry, along with the District Inspector of Schools and the Mayor of Dundas visited Carlingford Public School to unveil a memorial to one of the colony’s first casualties, a teacher, Frederick Kilpatrick. It was an opportunity the Minister could not resist.
Perry used the occasion to graphically vilify the Boers, their supporters and apologists and to attack those who had criticised the war effort, especially members of the NSW teaching service.
This did not apply to the man whose name was on the memorial.
The report stated that Frederick Isaac Kilpatrick was 26 years old, was born at Adelong in New South Wales and was one of seven children. He was described as follows:
. . . a young man of fine physique and being "six foot three inches in his stockings". He was an active member of the Leichhardt Rowing Club.
. . . an assistant teacher to Carlingford Public School headmaster William Kennedy described Kilpatrick as "a thoroughly conscientious and painstaking teacher". The District Inspector noted he was well known and respected in the district.
It is interesting to note also that another famous soldier, Ray Simpson, a Victoria Cross winner, was a former pupil at the same school, the Carlingford Public School. It was a momentous occasion for New South Wales and its sovereign Parliament to decide to send troops overseas. Of course, many people would have said this war had nothing to do with us and that it involved people thousands of miles away; that it was simply a war between Europeans in South Africa and why should we get involved in it?
Issues of conscription, morality and whether Australian troops should fight overseas have always been fundamental within the community and issues for the consciences not only of the Australian Labor Party but of many others. But the Boer War was an interesting part of history because in 1889 Australia had separate sovereign States. The Federation of Australia came about whilst that war continued. Soldiers representing the sovereign State of New South Wales would have changed their identity during the war to represent Australia. That itself is a significant matter.
I concede that when the honourable member for Auburn raised this matter yesterday it seemed to be fairly basic and of no real significance. However, I reflect now that it has great significance and this Parliament should devote time discussing the fact that New South Wales, as a sovereign State in a very young country in the reasonably early days of parliamentary process and experience, had to make a decision whether people from that sovereign State should go overseas to fight someone else’s war. Subsequent Australian governments have made similar decisions since Federation up to and including East Timor within the last few weeks and through the many conflicts before then. It is true to say that when the chips are down the Aussies are always there. We believe in defending freedom, democracy and a unique way of life, which is exemplified by what we call the democratic Westminster system.
(Liverpool) [10.44 a.m.]: This is an interesting debate. When it was first raised yesterday a number of people on the Opposition benches looked in my direction and said, "How could you possibly participate in this debate, granted your commitment to the Left?" It is precisely because of that commitment that I want to speak in this debate. The problem with history is that it is written by the victors. So whenever the subject of the Boer War is raised in debates in this place it is assumed that it is going to be a glorification of what I would have thought was the lunatic decision by this Assembly to send a bunch of colonial troops to the other side of the world to participate in a speculators land grab against the goldmines of southern Africa.
One of the most useful things that can be done in studying history is to follow historian E. B. Thompson, who talked about rescuing from the enormous condescension of posterity those who lost debates and fights. There has always been a strong antimilitarist, anticolonial and anti-imperialist strand in Australian history. It certainly exists today and most certainly existed in the 1890s. Our contingent going to the Boer War was not a simple and easy process. As Graham Freudenberg points out in his book Cause for Power
, the real comparison of the Boer War was with the Vietnam war. That was a matter of incredible contention and fight within the Australian community or within the communities of the various colonies at that stage.
The Labor tradition was strongly antimilitarist. The example of the Eureka Stockade was still fresh in people’s memories as it had occurred only 40 or 50 years earlier. So there was a great deal of scepticism amongst democratic forces about militarism. Earlier that decade the colonial militia, the people who went to the Boer War, were out shooting shearers in Queensland. They were being used to crush an industrial dispute. New South Wales miners had Gatling guns and the colonial militia used against them. There is no surprise that there was a degree of scepticism in the ranks of Labor about anything that smacked of supporting militarism.
The great irony of course is that it is a couple of the greatest rats in Labor demonology, Holman and Hughes, that in fact presented the correct Labor tradition. The point to raise from that is that it is sometimes a mistake to personalise the politics of these matters. Whatever they did later - and what they did later was utterly appalling - what they did in 1899 was to genuinely represent Labor traditions. However, it is interesting to note that the positions Holman and Hughes adopted in the Parliament were reflective of something very much broader in the community. One of Australia’s greatest poets, Henry Lawson, wrote for the Bulletin
an article entitled "Concerning the Awful Contingent" about the contingent that went to the Boer War. He said:
England is not going to fight for England - not for English interests, but for the interests of syndicates, and because she is forced to it by the power of private gold assisted by its contemptible and ignorantly-willing cat’s paw, Jingoism. Oh! The cruel, blind, murderous Crimes of Crowds! - Popular Cries! And we are going to help a big nation crush a little one which is fighting for country and freedom only, and all because we want to have a spree . . .
A little later he wrote a poem that was also published in the Bulletin
entitled "The Blessings of War", which says in part:
I’m in favour of the war, and of half-a-dozen more;
And I think we should have had one long before -
There is nothing to deplore; I’m in favour of the war
Independent of all statements made by Briton or by Boer.
‘Tis a healthy stirring up of the dregs of sorrow’s cup;
‘Tis a joyful thing, as I have always held,
For it brings us something new. And I’m looking forward to
The festive time when Sydney shall be shelled!
There was lots of other support in a similar vein. Whilst, as the honourable member for Auburn said, debates in other colonial legislatures did not quite reached the heights and depths of the one here, it is worth noting that 13 Victorian members of Parliament opposed the sending of the contingent from their State to the Boer War. H. B. Higgins, a not unknown figure in Australian history who achieved a great deal of fame for a series of reasons, said:
I have come to the conclusion that this war is unnecessary, that it is unjust, and that it is unscrupulous.
Those sorts of feelings were reflected in a range of places. Another of my great heroes, an Irishman called James Connolly, was leading a campaign against the recruitment of Irishmen to fight in the Boer War. In fact, a group led by John McBride fought against the British in the Boer War. Connolly’s analysis was that the origin of the war was that of enabling an unscrupulous gang of capitalists to get into their hands the immense riches of the diamond fields. Before members opposite say that that is simply a typical extremism of Connolly, I shall quote Cardinal Moran, who is hardly a friend of the Left and is hardly known as a raving revolutionary. Cardinal Moran said this about the Boer War:
This is a raid by capitalists on a self-governing country.
I am delighted to quote a cardinal saying something like that. The cardinal further said:
. . . one of the special purposes for which their volunteers had gone to South Africa was to assist in annexing certain gold fields that had become very attractive to their British friends.
(Albury) [10.49 a.m.]: It is interesting that the House should be having this discussion today, on virtually the anniversary of the debate that occurred in this Chamber in 1899. Over 17, 18, 19 and 20 October 1899 there were almost 24 hours of speeches with passions waxing strongly about whether people from the sovereign State of New South Wales should be involved in the war in Africa. Interestingly, the decision to send troops was debated passionately in New South Wales but in the other colonies it was almost rubber stamped, and 16,000 troops were sent from the colonies of Australia to southern Africa to fight in that war. I am not certain but I believe that people from some of the colonies had fought in other imperial wars before the Boer War, so it was not the first time that people from this country had gone to fight in Britain’s wars.
It was the first time a motion had been put to the House.
It was the first time the matter had been debated in this Chamber. The Boer War was not the sort of war that the imperial forces were used to fighting. They liked set piece battles, but the Boers did not accommodate them in this. They formed their commandos and engaged in guerrilla-style warfare. The British found this difficult to deal with, but the Australian troops - bushmen, for the most part - were well adapted to it. It is interesting that our men were highly regarded, and the horses that came from Australia were highly regarded and used extensively as remounts for the British army in India, Africa and other parts of the world.
The horses from New South Wales were so renowned that they were known as whalers and were highly regarded for military purposes. The Boers had left Cape Town and the cape province when the British took control of that area. It should be noted that the first settlement in southern Africa at Cape Town was established by the Dutch to provide fresh vegetables and meat for the Dutch ships that were going around the cape on their way to the Spice Islands - that part of the world we now know as Indonesia.
The Dutch established a settlement in Cape Town because they needed fresh food. Today in Cape Town in the botanical gardens close to the Parliament buildings people can see where the first vegetables were grown to provide the ships with the fresh food they needed. The Boers, who were descendants of the Dutch, joined the Huguenots who had escaped from France between of religious persecution. These people, discontent with British rule, loaded their families and their possessions on wagons and set off into the wilderness to establish settlements so that they could govern themselves free of British rule. They established Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
It is fair to say that the Boer War was fought by the British to bring these people under control, to take possession of that valuable land and because of the mineral wealth of those parts of Africa. The Boers were God-fearing people who went off with their wagons, their families, their servants and their Bibles to establish free states. Sadly, I think they read only the Old Testament and spent little time reading the New Testament, which told them of God’s universal love for all mankind in Christ.
The Boers believed that they were God’s chosen people sent out to conquer this wild land, that the black indigenous people of the area had been put there by God to be their servants, and that they had the right to use those people in whatever way they wished. Their treatment of the indigenous people of the area caused the Boers enormous problems later. They were condemned, and rightly so, by nations throughout the world for their treatment of those people. The Boers believed that they were kind, fair and reasonable with the indigenous people, but to a large extent they used them simply as slaves, although they referred to them as servants, and often treated them very badly.
Despite that bad treatment, the indigenous people were often loyal to and supportive of the Boers. Interestingly, Australian troops were used to bring the Boers under control and back under British rule, which they forever resented. I believe that in the Boer War concentration camps were used by the British for the first time to control the guerrilla warfare. There are theories that they even put ground glass in the food they gave the women and children.
(Wallsend) [10.54 a.m.]: A few weeks ago I received correspondence from David Dial who described himself as a Boer War and First World War historian. In his letter to me he stated:
You may . . . wish to "raise the awareness" of the Premier and the NSW State Parliament to the Centenary of the commencement of the South African Boer War on Monday 11 October and perhaps this important milestone could be observed with an act of remembrance to the 314 officers and 5,796 other ranks from New South Wales who enlisted to serve overseas in South Africa between 1899 and 1902.
In this debate I am happy to help raise awareness of this centenary in the New South Wales Parliament. One hundred years ago the colony of New South Wales sent a military force abroad for service with the imperial army, and today we are noting the debate that took place in the New South Wales Parliament at that time. David Dial is a constituent in my electorate of Wallsend. In his letter he outlined - and he has done careful research on this - that the six colonies of Australia prior to Federation in 1901, and then the Commonwealth of Australia, sent more than 16,000 volunteers and about 16,000 horses to South Africa.
Mr Dial’s research shows that 600 of the volunteers came from the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region, and more than 5,000 of the total number of horses from Australia were bred in the Hunter Valley. Interestingly, about 10 per cent of the men paid their own passage to South Africa to enlist in either British or South Africa contingents. About 4 per cent of those who went from the Hunter Valley died while on active service, and a number of the Boer War volunteers from the Hunter Valley enlisted and served overseas during the First World War.
Men from all six Australian colonies served in South Africa. Certainly, New South Wales provided the largest number of volunteers who enlisted to serve in South Africa. My constituent David Dial has done a thorough job of researching the people of the Hunter and their participation in the First World War and the Boer War. His work was recognised in an article in the Newcastle Herald
of 12 October under the headline, "Historian hits the road with exhibition on Hunter’s role". The article stated:
. . . the Hunter Valley’s contribution to the [Boer] war effort is to be acknowledged in a landmark exhibition.
The work of David Dial has led to the preparation of material for an exhibition featuring previously unpublished images that will go on display from next month, and he has a database of the people from the Hunter who enlisted. Mr Dial hopes to encourage the councils of the Hunter to establish war memorials for the Boer War soldiers or to upgrade existing memorials. Mr Dial’s work is an important part of gathering information about the people of the Hunter.
The Federal Government is commemorating the centenary of the Boer War through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Their Service - Our Heritage campaign, several projects to produce rolls and databases honouring Australians who served in South Africa, various re-enactments and funding for adding the names of those who served in South Africa to existing war memorials. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has talked about wanting communities to uncover their own links with the Boer War and to upgrade their memorials to honour those who served a century ago.
Two days ago the Premier spoke in this House about war memorials and the safety of monuments. He talked about legislation that would increase the penalty for damage to war memorials. But in particular he stated that at the request of the RSL the New South Wales Department of Local Government will conduct, through local councils, a survey of all memorials. The survey, which is to be concluded within 12 months, is expected to serve as an important historical document.
Following the survey, guidelines will be distributed to councils indicating the best way to protect, preserve and enhance memorials. Mr Dial has made other contributions to the military history of the Hunter Valley in particular. In 1991 he organised the first re-enactment of the Wallabies World War I recruiting march through the Hunter Valley to Newcastle. The then Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister for Defence, Science and Personnel were patrons of that March and were at the finish. I am pleased to take part in this debate, and to acknowledge the role played by New South Wales. [Time expired.
(Monaro) [10.59 a.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to speak to the motion that notes the centenary of the Imperial Army in South Africa. Many New South Welshmen spoke in that three-day debate in Parliament 100 years ago. The result of the first vote on the debate was 75 ayes and 10 noes. I have early memories of the Boer War - not personal memories, of course; I would not be standing in this Parliament if that were the case. As a young boy I can remember playing with a pith helmet and admiring a sword that a relative had left with my family.
I heard stories of the Boer War way back then. I was very young and they did not mean a lot, but as I grew up and we celebrated and remembered other wars, in particular the Vietnam War, the stories I heard as a young boy had more significance. A short time ago this House noted that Australia had sent a peacekeeping force to East Timor, as a result of East Timor recently being granted independence by the Indonesian Government. Debate on the motion has been interesting. The Australian Encyclopaedia
states in regard to Australia’s involvement in the Boer War:
Australia, although rapidly moving towards Federation, was still politically a collection of six separate colonies owing a common allegiance only to the Crown. Each colony was jealous of its independence, and the organisation of land defences was entirely local.
Fortunately, Australia has moved on. We no longer fear internal conflict. The Australian Encyclopaedia
Earl Beauchamp informed him [Mr Chamberlain] that in New South Wales 1860 officers and men had notified their willingness to serve if required. With the outbreak of war on 11 October 1899 . . .
It was only a week or so later in this House that debate on the matter ensued. I am moved by the names of those who were involved in the debate, such as Barton, Reid and Hughes. They were involved in not only the colony of New South Wales but also the Federation of Australia. The debate about sending troops to the Boer War demonstrates how this colony came together and its influence on the development of New South Wales.
In the ensuing 100 years Australia amassed troops for the First World War - the Great War, the Second World War, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and recently East Timor. Australian troops have also been involved in numerous United Nations peacekeeping forces in many countries. It is interesting to note the procrastination and deliberation about what to call our troops: light-horsemen, a cavalry, or an infantry; how they should be designated; and what divisions they should be assigned to. The Australian light-horsemen have been involved in many famous conflicts, such as Beersheba and the Light Horse Charge. In 1896 Mr Chamberlain said - [Time expired
(East Hills) [11.04 a.m.], by concurrence: I congratulate the honourable member for Auburn on moving the motion. The decision
taken after 24 hours of debate to fund and send a New South Wales contingent to what is now called the Boer War was a good one. Other speakers have covered the history of the debate and the votes. I shall focus on some of the comments made by Mr Billy Hughes, who remained a member of Parliament in one parliament or another and one party or another until his death in 1952.
Except the Nationals.
He said he would never join the Nationals. He had to draw the line somewhere. Much of the debate focused on the term "loyalty", which still occurs in many debates in this place. At one stage Billy Hughes said:
The right hon. gentleman, when he was not abusive, and he was regularly abusive, was hysterically loyal . . .
We, and I believe those men who are associated with us both here and in other parliaments, are perhaps in the true sense of the word some of the most loyal subjects the country has. But there is something always required in a contingency of this kind besides the mere empty mouthing of loyalty. The assumption is that all men are loyal until they have proved to the contrary. But what does the right hon. gentleman say? He makes a deliberate and a cowardly charge against the party to which I belong with reference to their loyalty, and charges them with being the upholders of a spurious and rotten democracy. I shall not attempt to defend our democracy.
He then said:
Great Britain may engage in any infamous war, it may engage in any contemptible and cowardly undertaking, and we here, who have not an opportunity of saying whether we believe it to be right or wrong, are to go along pell-mell at the tail of a great general. For my part, while I still yield to no man loyalty to the nation I belong to . . .
I venture to say the greatest enemies the British race have to-day are these very men who would shove us into any dispute so long as a handful of powerful syndicators are to be served.
Perhaps in some ways not much has changed. He went on to say:
Are the Boers so much to be feared, or is the British nation so weak, in spite of the fact that she spends millions every year in making her military force an effective fighting machine, that to-day she is unable to do anything unless New South Wales and Tasmania, and other great military powers, throw in their lot with her?
He then spoke about the gallant little island of Tasmania, and said:
But now we are to understand that the empire is to totter to its fall if Tasmania cannot send half a unit towards the infamous task of exterminating these unhappy people [the Boers].
I thought he was talking about you.
Possibly. He then said:
I do not object to any man, or any hon. member, going to the Transvaal. I am given to understand that the minds of several hon. members are so palpitating with military ardour that they intend to go. I hope they will. I hope one hon. gentleman whose name has been largely advertised lately will go. I hope he will go to the front. It would be the one thing necessary to secure my consent to this otherwise infamous proposition, that New South Wales should relieve itself of this incubus, and that the Parliament of New South Wales should be a parliament not thronged with volunteer officers, who, with lightning-like rapidity, and without experience or training, are able to pass as colonels and generals of division. These gentlemen should have the option of being either members of Parliament or officers in the army, unless it is proposed to supersede our admirable system of parliamentary government by a military despotism.
Hughes later went on to say that if it was a struggle between Britain and any one powerful nation he would back it to the hilt, as he did in the First World War. History is clear about the conscription debate. When Hughes returned from England, having seen what our troops were going through, he became a firm advocate of conscription. It is worth noting that Hughes was always an advocate of national service. I wish to place on record the name Frederick Isaac Kilpatrick, who was a teacher and soldier of the Queen. The wording on his statue states:
In loving memory
Frederick I. Kilpatrick
Corporal, New South Wales Lancers,
Parramatta Half Squadron
and Assistant Teacher at
the Public School, Carlingford
Who fell on the battlefield at
Rendsburg, South Africa
On January 16, 1900
Aged 26 years.
I understand that was the first memorial erected in Australia and it remains on the old site of the Carlingford Public School. Frederick Kilpatrick was one of the first Australian soldiers to fall in the Boer War.
(Auburn) [11.09 a.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members who participated in this debate and those who would like to have participated. I thank Lawrie Daly, the son of Fred Daly, who has a great interest in the Boer War and who enlightened me on many critical issues about the war. In 1899 the Legislative Council passed, without debate, the motion moved by Mr Lyne. Thank God for the people’s House; at least in this place we debate the issues that make the world go around. The vote was 75 to 10 in this House. It is worthwhile quoting at length comments by the then
member for Waratah. When debate commenced on this motion the honourable member for Maitland, formerly the member for Waratah, was in the Chair. I read from page 1552 of Hansard
Mr. Macdonald: The hon. member ought to be a member of the Volksraad!
Mr. ARTHUR GRIFFITH: If I were I should be willing to shed the last drop of my blood for the independence of my country. I hope if this country is ever threatened the hon. member will be as willing to fight for it as the Boers are willing to fight for their country. If it ever happens that we must take a hand in this devil’s game of war, let it be in a cause of which we need not feel ashamed; let it be in the cause of justice and truth, and not for the sake of national spoliation and robbery; let it be in the cause of the weak against the strong. If I may use the words of the historian Motley, I would say: Let us never fight for a cause which will "fix a burning brand of shame on the forehead of the nation." If we are called upon to interfere in national affairs, let us endeavour, so far as in us lies, to see God’s justice done between state and state; let us refrain from imbruing our hands in the blood of a brave people, who are struggling, as I hope we should struggle, fighting, as I hope we should fight; willing to shed the last drop of their blood, as I hope we should be willing under similar circumstances, to shed ours, for the independence of our country.
It was a heated debate. People who voted against the war did so purely out of conscience and not out of malice. We should not lose sight of the 16,000 brave men from all colonies who fought during the four years of that war. I refer to the New South Wales Bush Regiment and the Mounted Rifles, who fought at Diamond Hill with the British. An article in the Times
about the Australians stated:
Darkness was just closing on Diamond Hill when the Boers beyond opened a furious fusillade all down the line, and the Coldstream Guards responded with equal energy . . . But this was the end for the English had captured the key of the Boer position.
The capture of Diamond Hill removed the immediate menace of Botha’s army on Pretoria.
We had only 350 men, who were camped at Elands River. As a consequence of that, six Victoria Cross awards were given to Australians in the course of the Anglo-Boer War. One was awarded to a medical practitioner who worked under fire at Elands River to attend the wounded on both sides. All those who were awarded the Victoria Cross served also in the 1914 to 1918 war. We sent brave men to fight in a war that some people thought at the time was an unjust war. We should also be proud of the flag of the New South Wales Bush Regiment, which has a blue background with a red and white diagonal stripe and the Southern Cross on the left-hand bottom corner. That was a proud moment for us. People referred to Gallipoli as the first volley of fire but those 400 brave New South Welshman who fought at Elands River should also be acknowledged. A poem by George Essex Evans states:
It was on the fourth of August, as five hundred of us lay
In the camp at Elands River, came a shell from De la Rey
We were dreaming of home faces
Of the old familiar places,
And the gumtrees and the sunny plains 5000 miles away.
But the challenge woke and found us
With 4000 rifles round us;
And death stood laughing at us at the breaking of the day.
I commend the motion to the House. Lest we forget.
Motion agreed to.