Following the withdrawal
of the British garrison in 1870, the colonies slowly came to the
realisation that defence was not a matter of individual effort. To be
effective, it needed co-ordination at the national level. In 1877, at
the insistence of New South Wales, Major General Sir William Jervois
(who later became Governor of South Australia) and Lieutenant Colonel
Peter Scratchley RE were made available to advise the colonies on
defence matters. A succession of inter-colonial conferences, to consider
the defence of Australia, were held from the early 1880s. These
initiatives clearly illustrate the importance of the defence debate as a
factor in the overall impetus for federation.
While a gradual process,
training and efficiency of the colonial forces did improve. The
introduction of higher defence structures, and the posting of British
officers and warrant officers to appointments in these higher
headquarters, as well as into units, introduced an air of reality into
colonial defences and did much to improve the efficiency of colonial
While the colonies
believed the Torres Strait, New Guinea and King George's Sound were an
Imperial responsibility, they also recognised their strategic
importance. A small detachment of Royal Marines was stationed at Port
Albany, on Cape York, between 1865 and 1867. After their withdrawal,
Queensland maintained a tenuous presence there, although it was realised
that Thursday Island would be a better location.
The threat of German
annexation of New Guinea led Queensland, supported by the other
colonies, to annex New Guinea in April 1883, much to the astonished
consternation of the British Government which was firmly opposed to
further colonial expansion. Resolute action by the colonies finally
secured a British Protectorate over southern New Guinea (Papua) in
October 1884. Much to colonial chagrin, an astute Germany annexed the
northern portion two weeks later.
In 1887, the defences of
Thursday Island and King George's Sound were discussed at a London
conference. By 1893, both areas had been fortified and garrisoned.
communications within Australia had developed to the stage where, in
spite of different gauges, it was possible to transfer troops rapidly
from one colony to another, except Western Australia and, of course,
Tasmania. In 1889, Major General Brian Edwards, who had recently
completed a survey of colonial military forces, noted that it would be
possible to mobilise on a standard brigade basis.
In his view, this
would 'prevent the unseemly scares which take place (in Australia),
whenever the relations of the mother country with a foreign power are
somewhat strained'. He further believed purely volunteer units were
unsatisfactory - judging paid or partly paid forces ideal for
Australia's needs. While neither Britain nor Australia did not fully
endorse his views, his concept of mobile rather than static defence,
based on coastal forts, gradually came to be accepted.
to the Civil Power.
During the late 1880s and early 1890s,
Australia's economy worsened, leading to reduced funding for the
colonial armies and to the possibility of internal unrest. In 1890,
during the Great Maritime Strike, the Victorian police expected rioting
on a scale beyond their control. Six hundred troops including 200 from
the Victorian Mounted Rifles were called out, and their presence in
Victoria Barracks did much to dampen the threat.
In the following year, the Queensland
shearers withheld their labour when the pastoralists, refusing to
recognise the Shearers' Union, began importing non-union labour from
other colonies. The ensuing confrontation was deemed sufficiently
serious to call out 1442 members of the Queensland Defence Force and
send them to centres where the unionists were concentrated. By May 1891,
the strike was virtually over, without the employers having conceded
freedom of contract to the strikers. The troops received the thanks of
the Queensland Parliament but earned the long held suspicion of several
sections of the Australian community.
It is significant that the Defence Act of
1903 prevented the raising of regular infantry and, for the defence of
Australia, fostered a citizen army which could not be used in industrial
disputes or serve outside Australia.
On 9 July 1900, Royal
Assent was given to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. On
17 September of that same year, an Order in Council approved a
proclamation which declared that the union of New South Wales, Victoria,
South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia should take
effect from 1 January 1901.
On 1 March 1901, 28,923
colonial soldiers, comprised of 1,457 permanent, 18,603 militia and
8,863 unpaid volunteers, were transferred to the new Australian Army.
However, until the Defence Act of 22 October 1903, these troops
continued to be administered under the relevant state acts. (Prior to
federation, the separate Military Commandants of the Australian Colonies
had already successfully lobbied their governments and the Colonial
Office to allow their respective artillery formations to combine into a
federal unit, which occurred on the 24th of August 1899.)
Major General Sir Edward
Hutton, who had previously commanded the New South Wales Military Forces
from 1893 to 1896, took command of the Commonwealth Forces from 26
December 1901. His recommendations for the structure of the new force
were accepted by Government and, shortly before he relinquished his
command in 1904, a Council of Defence, a Military Board of
Administration, and an Inspector-General were established by the Defence
Act of 1904. The Act was further amended in 1908 to provide an
additional member to the Military Board and to re-allocate duties among
||While compulsory military
training had been debated since 1902, it was not until December 1909
that the necessary amendments were made to the Defence Act. Before they
could be implemented, however, Lord Kitchener was invited to report on
His recommendations were embodied in further
amendments to the Act in December 1910. As a result, in June 1911, the
Royal Military College, Duntroon, was established.
exceptions, Kitchener’s recommendations also resulted in a system of
universal military training for junior and senior cadets from ages 12 to
18 and, thereafter, in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) to age 26.
In 1911, 155,000 youths were registered, of whom 90,000 were in
training, with 20,000 inducted each year until the outbreak of World War
development of aviation and its use in war had not passed unnoticed, and
by 1912 the Military Board had approved the formation of the Australian
Flying Corps and the establishment of a Central Flying School at Point
Cook, Victoria. (The Royal
Australian Air Force was later established as a separate service, in