The interwar period in Australia consists of a relatively similar characterization to that of Britain. This was dominated by political protest, peace movements and an intensified fear of insecurity. The League of Nations (‘The League’) played a big role in this era, and was born out of the Great War. While the Covenant was approved during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the League officially came to be on 10 January 1920 along with the enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles and is comprised of the first 26 articles of said treaty. The Australian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference was led by Prime Minister Hughes, who was the most prominent player in opposition of the Japanese proposed racial equality clause. The destruction, loss of life and trauma of the Great War were unprecedented, and thus created a universal desire for international peace and co-operation. The 25-year existence of the League quickly came to an end, when it failed spectacularly to keep the peace broken by the start of the Second World War, with its last meeting being held in April 1946.[1]

Comparably, political protest and civic ritual spread throughout Australia during the interwar-years. International citizenship kept ‘essentially voluntary social movements’ that were associated with the labour and women’s rights movements informed and running.[2] Voluntary political protest was expressed in Australia via the broad Labour movement which encompassed the Trade Union movement, Unemployment movement, Christian movement and Anti-Conscription movement (which was highlighted through the defeated conscription referendums of 1916 and 1917). Unionism was of great importance for the interwar duration as unions had membership and represented the majority of Australian employees for the first time by 1920.[3]

Archival research has greatly deepened our understanding of the League and enabled historians to have a unique insight into the activities of the League, its origins and resolution. However, as a consequence of the short-lived nature and alleged failure of both the League and the League of Nations Union (‘LNU’), it has been a neglected area of research, which tends to be dismissed as irrelevant. The archives of the League’s Geneva secretariat were scarcely touched for thirty years.[4] It is perhaps only now when the efficacy of the United Nations (the successor of the League of Nations) is questioned constantly, that interest in the strengths and weaknesses of the League are again becoming a relevant subject. After all, the lessons of history are there to be learnt from. More recently, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought old questions over how to reconcile stability amongst new claims of sovereignty to the forefront.[5]


[1] Susan Pederson, “Back to the League of Nations”. The American Historical Review. Vol. 112, No. 4. (2007): 1091.

[2] Nicholas Brown, “Enacting the International: R. G. Watt and the League of Nations Union”, in Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World, eds. Penny Russell and Angela Woollacott (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2008), 75.

[3] Bradley Bowen, “The Rise and Decline of Australian Unionism: A History of Industrial Labour from the 1820s to 2010”.  Labour History. No. 100 (2011): 59.

[4] Susan Pederson, “Back to the League of Nations”. The American Historical Review. Vol. 112, No. 4. (2007): 1091.

[5] Susan Pederson, “Back to the League of Nations”. The American Historical Review. Vol. 112, No. 4. (2007): 1091.