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Nurses marching ANZAC day 1919

Our Anzac heritage is so much more than the official version we have been taught.

As far back as 1919, Vida Goldstein reported an Anzac day service as having three elements - glorifying Australians, grieving loss, and commitment to righting social wrongs.

Shouldn't this centenary be used to tell the whole story?


Troops returning Port Melbourne Pier 1919 State Library of Victoria

Will we continue to leave the stories about war and Australia’s identity to others to create and interpret? Or will we get together to share and record our own stories of those who have lost their lives or quality of life because of war.

Joy Murphy Wandin: 
'When my Dad, as an ex-serviceman of WW1, returned to Coranderrk, (his home) and like so many of our Aboriginal men at that time, who served not only for their country but for their families so that there might be some equality in life later on ... he’d hoped that when he got back that his Mum would still be there and she was.

And she was one of five people, elderly people who said, “I’m not going. This is my place, I’ve had all my children here, I’ve brought all my children up here, I’ve raised them here. This is my country, this is my home, this is my husband’s place. I want to die here”. And so they were granted leave to stay. 

But on return from the war, my father had to get permission from the police to visit his Mum and then he had to be escorted onto Coranderrk, and he was only allowed one half an hour with her before he was sent off to Lake Tyers in Gippsland...

So, Coranderrk was closed then officially in 1923 ...
the land was supposedly sold up for soldier settlement
http://www.abc.net.au/missionvoices cited in womenworkingtogether.com.au (underlining mine)

This is war and Australia's identity too. This other account, this other heritage, is seldom told.


I think it is timely to again take up our tradition of sharing stories so we will have something concrete to use to educate politicians and, more importantly, our children. Many of us have stories about our heritage:

• What about our heritage of activists who opposed WW1 such as Vida Goldstein?

• What about our heritage of veterans who, as quoted by the army chaplain who preached the Anzac service on the ship Orsova in 1919, were concerned about the social conditions that had killed their comrades before they entered the trenches and ... made them resolve that when they returned to civil life they would do all in their power to ‘right the wrongs under which their comrades had lived.’* 

• What about our heritage of veterans the war didn’t damage greatly but the unemployment they had to endure when they returned did. A great-uncle of mine spent WW1 in New Guinea and didn’t see a shot fired, but on his return was unemployed and killed himself with rat poison.

• What about our heritage of those who didn’t make the war such as another great-uncle of mine who couldn’t enlist because of rheumatoid arthritis, but as he had no family and had an independent income when the war was over he gave his job to a returned soldier with a family to support, became depressed and - it is believed - suicided. 

• What about our heritage of the War Widows Guild that decided it would ‘no longer take part officially in the Anzac Day Service in 1953 and organised a Remembrance Day (November 11th) ceremony in 1954 in its place for war widows, mothers and other relatives to mourn and grieve.’ (see below)

• What about our heritage of war widows living in unacceptable poverty and children brought up in unacceptable poverty because of war, and children who were proud of their fathers but pleased they didn’t return because of what they heard and saw of some men who did come home.
See womenworkingtogether.com.au Chapter 1919-1935 - Surviving.

And, of course, what about the shocking story Joy Murphy Wandin told us.

As a child I overheard stories of returned WW2 soldiers who could not recover and in their despair inflicted violence on their families. I felt the utter helplessness of the woman who recounted - ‘this isn’t the man I married’ after her hero husband had raped her. I remember my grandmother seemed to shrink as she observed so sadly ‘it happened after the last war, too’.

Even though they were the lucky ones, those strong women seemed powerless in the face of the consequences of war.

If we neglect stories like these, we are accepting a distorted and incomplete version of our herstory/history.

This is what our children will learn; our children, grandchildren and on to the future. What about honesty?


At the end of WW1 Australia was in a bad way and we were looking for an interpretation that makes us feel good about ourselves, I think. Some women who had been anti-war, however, interpreted the situation differently.

Woman Voter 22 May 1919: ‘The old order has not changed... The map will be changed, that is all.’

Woman Voter 3 July 1919: ‘Peace has come. Let those who can still deceive themselves celebrate it. Of peace I have little to say. It is unspeakable, what there is of it. We have saved the world from Germany. Heaven send something to save the world from us.The Home Government, through Mr Churchill, has quite frankly explained the necessity for preparing for perpetual war.

Woman Voter 18 December 1919: ‘The world is sick unto death, and the sources of Government - if we may put it so - polluted. The blockade is the devilish ant-climax of the war, the cold blooded, unimaginative concerted actions of our rulers, into whose hands we, with the other democracies, lie like puppets, dumb and obedient, guiltily impotent, or wickedly acquiescent to the awful horrors done in the name of the expediency by our representatives.

The anti-war activist Vida Goldstein also suggested in the Woman Voter:

‘The peoples, as well as the Governments, have sown the wind of misunderstanding and of hate and are reaping the whirlwind.’

In an open letter to the women of Australia at the start of the war in 1914 she appealed:

'History will proclaim you false if you are silent now. "Come out and be separate from all that makes for war.'

It was a long time ago, yet so many of their words are so significant today I looked further.

Even by 1916 the Women's Peace Army of the Women's Political Association had claimed:

'We do not say that this war was promoted with the deliberate object of crushing the workers, but we do say that: belief in Might, the fear of enemies without and within national boundaries, the use of the press, of armament firms, of secret diplomacy, under which the great mass of people live in avoidable anxiety, wretchedness and ugliness, had made such a clash of interests that a clash of arms between nations prepared for war ... became inevitable when circumstances and opportunity sounded the toscin of alarm.'
The Women's Peace Army, Pat Gowland from Women Class and History ed. Elizabeth Windshuttle, Fontana 1980 p.220


Fundraising badge, Gallipolli, 1919 Australian War Memorial

The Women’s Political Association vigorously opposed WW1 but kept Anzac day with respect, seemingly as a matter of course. Vida Goldstein spoke of it in her letters from shipboard when on her way to the Zurich conference in 1919.

The Woman Voter 7 August 1919:
H.M.T. Orsova, Nearing Suez, 28 April 1919,

Vida Goldstein:
 'The Anzac sermon was preached by an army chaplain; it was a glorification of the Australians, with some humorous sidelights. It had none of the dignity and impressiveness that one would have thought the occasion demanded, and offered no comfort to those present who had lost relatives at Gallipoli and on other battlefields.

He denied absolutely the oft-repeated statement that the Australian soldiers were undisciplined. They were splendidly disciplined, he said, but their disciplined conduct had no trace of servility.

He spoke feelingly of the social conditions that had killed soldiers before they entered the trenches; the evidence in the trenches of the terrible results of those social conditions had roused many men to the sense of their duty to their fellows, and made them resolve that when they returned to civil life they would do all in their power to right the wrongs under which their comrades had lived.

At last night's service Miss John sang very beautifully, "Oh, rest in the Lord." The passengers, as many of the crew as could get to where the service was held, and some Indian officers who are commanded by the King to visit England, and their "boys" hung on every note.'

Also, Janet Butler explains in her biography of a WW1 war nurse - Kitty’s War the remarkable wartime experiences of Kit McNaughton - some reasons the protagonist 'Kit' called herself an Anzac as early as 1915:

‘(S)he selects and privileges material that validates the (Anzac) legend, and simultaneously draws upon the constellation of qualities embodied in it - and lionised by it - to create her own images.’
University of Queensland Press p.17

But after WW1 women were amongst those who were progressively banned from participating; whether as nurses, mothers, or wives.

Joy Damousi describes this in The Labour of Loss Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavements in Australia:

'... By the 1930's mothers had lost their distinctive contribution to these public commemorations. On Anzac Day women's rituals became universalised as one, thus negating the specificity of mothers ... the categories of 'mother' and 'widow' were conflated into 'women' and they became marginal to the memory of war because they were no longer defined by their 'sacrifice' ... 

This became a particular issue in Melbourne in 1938, when mothers and wives were reported to have 'intruded' into the dawn service. Towards 'the end of the procession', 'nearly one hundred women joined the double file of returned soldiers, and walked past the Rock...

The Age reported the dawn service in 1938 in terms of a sacred site, which was a male preserve where women had no place to be ... The Victorian secretary of the Returned & Services League (RSL) agreed that 'this intrusion tended to break down the spirit of the occasion'.

1954... 'Public Mourning became a contentious issue in relation to Anzac Day. In the 1953-54 annual report of the War Widows Guild, (Mrs Jessie) Vasey noted that 'a matter of concern' to the guild 'was that the Melbourne ceremony for Anzac Day 1953 'from the war widows point of view' met with 'almost universal disapproval'...

The widows' resentment of their neglect reached a crisis in the furore which arose over the Anzac day ceremony in 1954. (The War Widows Guild decided it would no longer 'take part officially in the Anzac Day Service under the present arrangements.’) They organised a Remembrance Day (November 11th) ceremony in 1954 in its place for war widows, mothers and other relatives to mourn and grieve.’ 
Cambridge University Pressp.155-6.
From Women Working Together suffrage and onwards womenworkingtogether.com.au

After that I found nothing except protests against Anzac day.

Women's Liberation leaflet 1979: 
'Women walk against war...Wednesday, 24th April 6pm at the Anzac Shrine. On this evening we are walking away from the shrine in opposition to the things that are celebrated on the day that is called Anzac Day...’ 

Women Against Rape Press Release April 25 1979: 
'Australian women are angry because today, as on past Anzac days, the celebrations have concentrated on glorification of the role men play in wartime and have totally ignored the fact that in war, as in peace, women have always born the brunt of male violence... During this year's Anzac day ceremonies, representatives of Melbourne Women Against Rape collective will be remembering the women raped in wars and intend to lay a wreath in their memory.

Postscript: Women Against Rape Collective (WAR) - Women attended the Anzac Day March wearing black robes with - 'REMEMBER WOMEN RAPED IN WAR' painted in bright red letters. On arriving at the shrine we were spotted by a rather anxious looking policeman who hurriedly went for assistance, bringing back with him another policeman and an Army Brigadier. The Brigadier, after some gentle persuasion, 'agreed' to let two women lay our wreath at the shrine steps.’ womenworkingtogether.com.au

At that time the singer/songwriter Judy Small sang of women raped in war in her haunting song Lest We Forget:

‘It’s not only men in uniform who pay the price of war - lest we forget.’

The twentieth century should have taught us the dangers of idealizing our past and documenting a part-truth only. Will we learn?


There has been an unbroken tradition of opposition to militarization, though. During WW1 the Women's Political Association (WPA) and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) established a tradition of seeing war and militarism more broadly than guns; connecting war automatically to hunger, want, gender violence, etc.

After the war this tradition passed to individual women such as Doris Blackburn, Doris McRae and Joy Manton. Vida continued involvement with the women’s and peace movements, later including later anti-nuclear activism.

Picasso Peace emblem, reproduced with kind permission of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

In the 1930’s there was a large peace demonstration at the Bijou theatre in Melbourne with 35 organisations officially represented.

In the ‘70’s and 80’s there was Women’s Liberation and Save Our Sons.

WILPF has been continually active since WW1. Today, groups such as the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), Japanese for Peace, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear War (ICAN), Women in Black (WIB) and The Society of Friends (Quakers) are, with WILPF, active today.

Are we?

I hope we can come together, online and in person, and document stories of our heritage of the effects of war. I hope that by our personal stories we can document the other story, the stories so seldom told.

I finish with another quote from Vida Goldstein from an open letter to the Women of Australia published in the Woman Voter at the start of the war (29 September 1914):

'Dear women of Australia, dear women of every shade of political and religious thought, come and let us reason together about war; the present war and war in general.'

If they had come together four or five years earlier, before war was declared, who knows what they could have done?


The politics of fear from the pro-war Australian Women’s National League (AWNL):

Woman’s Paper Melbourne 24th May, 1906:
‘We stand as the white man’s lonely outpost in Eastern Seas. Looming up above us are the mysterious, crowded lands of Asia.
Once their hordes went west, desolating everything before them. Now, they will come south should the opportunity ever be presented to them.

But that chance can only be given should Australia, in a fit of blindness, removes herself from the protection of Empire …

It is a happy sign of the times that the first plank of our newest political body, the Australian Women’s National League, is “Loyalty”.’ (Appendix 2 Prejudice and Reason some Australian women’s responses to war prejudiceandreason.com.au )

In 1916 the AWNL used Anzac day to call in support for conscription. The Woman 1 June 1916 cited in womenworkingtogether.com.au

Formed by brewers and employers in Parliament forming the Employers Federation, it was established to be anti feminist but it took on an identity of its own that included some feminist ideas.

It was active from 1904 to 1945, when it merged with the Liberal Party. The activism also continued through the DLP and the National Civic Council, the Endeavour Forum, Women Who Want to be Women, Women’s Action Alliance and the so-called ‘Moderate Feminists’ etc in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, to groups that promote this philosophy today, in my opinion, such as the Women’s Forum.

Anti-war from the Women's Political Association

The Woman Voter

Formed by non-party Vida Goldstein (though she said that personally she was socialistic), in WW1 it created the Women's Peace Army to cater for people who did not want to keep strictly to a non-party line.

It also worked closely with WILPF.

After closing in 1919, activism continued through women such as Olive Schreiner and Doris Blackburn, Women’s Liberation in the 70’s and 80’s,

Groups such as Japanese for Peace, Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear War (ICAN), Women in Black, are, with WILPF, active today. What is not active today is a group that carries forward the particular, amazing traditions of the WPA.


Perhaps it is time to reclaim the WPA, too. These responses to challenges women in the WPA faced ‘speak’ to us today about challenges we face, both as inspiration and warning.

I have entered them chronologically. They are taken from Prejudice and Reason some Australian women's responses to war, book or website prejudiceandreason.com.au

Woman Voter 29, September 1914 prejudiceandreason.com.au

Woman Voter, 15 December 1914 prejudiceandreason.com.au 
Woman Voter, 15 December 1914 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Woman Voter 29, September 1914 prejudiceandreason.com.au

Woman Voter 27 October 1914 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Woman Voter 16 February 1915
Uncensored Woman Voter 
23 December 1915 prejudiceandreason.com.au 
Woman Voter 5 January 1915 prejudiceandreason.com.au.com.au

Woman Voter 27 January 1916 prejudiceandreason.com.au 

10. THE PRESS ...9 continued
Woman Voter 17 February 1916 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Woman Voter 24 February 1916 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Woman Voter 9 March 1916 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Woman Voter 16 March 1916 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Woman Voter 30 March 1916 prejudiceandreason.com.au
Appendix 11 Woman Voter 1 September 1919
Woman Voter 1 September 1919

Geraldine Robertson,
September 2013


Geraldine Robertson, Women’s Web stories actions -www.womensweb.com.au

Geraldine Robertson, Prejudice and Reason some Australian Women’s responses to war - www.prejudiceandreason.com.au

Geraldine Robertson, Women Working Together suffrage and onwards - www.womenworkingtogether.com.au


The Australian Women’s National League, Woman’s Paper, 1906, The Woman, 1907-1934, State Library of Victoria

The Women’s Political Association, The Woman Voter 1909-1919, State Library of Victoria

Eleanor Moore, The Quest for Peace as I have known it in Australia Melbourne 1950?

Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds with Mark McKenna, Joy Damousi and Carina Donaldson, What’s Wrong with Anzac? The Militarization of Australia’s History, University of New South Wales Press Ltd 2010

Janet Butler, Kitty’s War the remarkable wartime experiences of Kit McNaughton, University of Queensland Press 2013 Joy Damousi, The Labour of Loss, Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavements in Australia, Cambridge University Press 1999

Women’s Liberation Archives, University of Melbourne

Geraldine Robertson, October 2013
Tel: 03 94861808 womensweb1@gmail.com