Friday, June 28, 2019

The Peace Treaty of Versailles - 100 years on

At 11am on 11 November 1918, the Armistice ending the First World War came into effect. After four years of fighting, Germany and its allies were defeated. Tens of millions of people had been killed or maimed. Two months later, delegates of the western allies convened in Paris to determine the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. On 28 June 1919 the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed - the effects of which are still being felt today. 

When the armistice came, in November 1918, it was natural that national leaders would make assessments of what had been attained by the Allied victory. In the hour of the cease-fire and the victory, the usual official opinion was that all the sacrifice, pain and valour had been in a noble and valid cause.

At the same time the world was being hit by a deadly flu pandemic, called the 'Spanish Influenza'. The pandemic lasted for about a year and resulted in the deaths of over 80 million people, most of them between 20 and 40 years of age. 

'Crash Course in World War 1’ 

In January 1919, the victorious nations of World War 1 met at the Paris Peace Conference in France to come up with a plan for rebuilding Europe and ensuring ongoing peace in the future. The leaders of 32 countries attended the firast great world conference, but negotiations were dominated by the leaders of four major powers:
  • Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain
  • Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France
  • President Woodrow Wilson of the USA
  • Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy 

President Wilson was an idealist who had a particular vision of the new world. He wanted the peace settlement to adopt his ideas of justice, humanity, national self-determination and a League of Nations. Premier Clemenceau’s attitude was almost exactly the opposite of President Wilson’s. He was a French nationalist with a deep hatred of Germany. Twice during his lifetime, in 1871 and in 1914, he had seen German armies invade France. He had no ideals of moderation or even justice for the defeated enemy. He wanted Germany to be so severely punished that it would never again threaten France. In this he represented a strong feeling among the French people. President Wilson, on the other hand, wanted to achieve lasting peace with a treaty that punished Germany, but not so harshly that they would one day want their own revenge.  

'What did the Big Three Want?' 

The Germans and their allies, including the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, were not allowed to attend the conference and when the final treaty was ready after six months of meetings, Germany was required to sign and accept it or face the prospect of the war being resumed. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919 at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.

The Germans regarded the Treaty of Versailles as severe and totally unjust. They called it a diktat, an ‘imposed peace’, and it left a deeply felt sense of bitterness in Germany. Most historians accept that the treaty was one of the factors that helped bring about World War II 20 years later. It was also a factor that helped Hitler and the Nazi Party to come to power in Germany in 1933.
The treaty was signed on Australia's behalf by Australia’s then Prime Minister William ‘Billy’ Hughes and his deputy Sir Joseph Cook - the first time that representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia had signed an international treaty. Having no official wax seal at the time, the delegation used a button from an Australian soldier’s uniform to create a seal for the occasion. An image of the signatures and seal is displayed alongside the original treaty. 

While large sections of the German public were opposed to the terms of the treaty. German representatives at the negotiations knew that if they did not sign, Allied troops would invade Germany. With Germany's army in ruins, Germany would be powerless to stop them. 

As part of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to surrender large sections of its territory and all of its overseas colonies, including the former German New Guinea colony was given to Australia. 

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to limit its army to 100,000 men who were mostly volunteers. It was also prohibited from possessing an air force, tanks, submarines or heavy artillery. Germany was required to accept full responsibility for starting the war and forced to pay reparations to the Allies. It was agreed that Germany should pay an amount close to 7 billion British pounds (the current equivalent of around $526 billion Australian dollars)

'Terms of the Treaty 1919' 

Germany's allies in the war were also punished by the treaty. For example, Austria-Hungary was also required to pay reparations to the Allies, and the empire was broken up. The borders of Austria and Hungary were redrawn and the territory lost was used to create the new nation of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. 

'The Treaty of Versailles Explained'

John Maynard Keynes wrote in the summer of 1919 The Economic Consequences of Peace and set the dominant view of The Peace Treaty of Versailles. Professor Margaret MacMillan, from University of Toronto, a specialist in British imperial history and the international history of the 19th and 20th centuries, spoke at Gresham College on 4 June 2019 on her view on whether the treaty led to the outbreak of the Second World War and whether the attempt to create a new world order was a failure. 

'Professor Margaret MacMillan Lecture'

The League of Nations was an international organisation formed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 to maintain world peace and prevent the outbreak of future wars by encouraging nations to negotiate with each other rather than engage in military conflicts. To help ensure its success, the League of Nations had the power to order countries in conflict to discuss their differences at an assembly of member countries. At these hearings, aggressors could be warned, punished with economic sanctions or threatened with military action. Forty-two countries, including Australia, joined the League of Nations. At its peak in 1935, there were 58 member countries. Although the League of Nations had been suggested by US President Wilson, the USA did not join the League. This was due largely to the reluctance of the American people to get involved in European affairs. Although the League of Nations had some early successes, it ultimately failed in its principal mission of preventing the outbreak of future wars.

 'The Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and its Consequences’ 

You can find out more about the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on European society and politics, and the attempts to construct a new world order by joining the State Library of New South Wales specialist on World War 1, Elise Edmonds on 28 June 2019 from 12.30pm. More information at

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Queensland Day – another wrong date

It’s the Queen’s Birthday weekend all around Australia except for Western Australia and Queensland who have the long weekend in October. Coincidently the 6 June was also Queensland Day which commemorates when Queensland officially separated from New South Wales as an independent British colony on 6 June 1859. The problem is the true Queensland Separation Day is 10 December 1859.

Moves towards Queensland becoming a colony began with a public meeting in 1851 to consider separation from New South Wales.

As the push for separation gained momentum, Queen Victoria was approached to consider establishing a separate colony based on Moreton Bay. The Queen gave her approval and signed the Letters Patent on 6 June 1859, now known as Queensland Day. Not surprisingly, she favoured the name Queensland over suggestions to call it Cooksland in honour of Captain James Cook.

The only problem with celebrating 6 June 1859 is that 160 years ago, nobody in Australia knew it had happened. We are talking about a period before the telegraph, when all communication was by sea mail. It was many many weeks before anybody knew the key documents to create Queensland had been signed and were on their way to the south seas with the new Governor.

Indeed, Queenlanders were completely oblivious to what Queen Victoria was about to do. Even as the key documents were being signed to make Queenslanders resident of their own colony, Queenslanders were getting ready to elect members of parliament to their old colonial parliament in Sydney.

All this is just another example of the ambiguity of Australian history. So many of the dates we celebrate as part of our road to nationhood are often ambiguous. Australia Day celebrates the arrival of 11 boat loads full of military men and convicts, few of whom actually wanted to be here. Trying to name a date when most of the Australian colonies started self-government is complex, and even trying to name a day when Australia became fully independent of the British government in Westminster is ambiguous.

NSW had been granted responsible government in 1856, always with the proviso that the Moreton Bay colony would be separated. The administrative arrangements for this had been underway in 1859 when a political crisis took place in NSW forcing the colony to an early election. With a new electoral act in place that greatly expanded the right to vote, the 1859 NSW election was historic in breaking the control of the colony's 'squattocracy'.

But the early election meant that Queensland had to elect MPs to the NSW Parliament for the third time, even though it was known that in the future, notice of the separation of the colony would arrive from London.

The Queensland leg of the NSW election started on 10 June 1859 when nominations from the hustings took place for the division of Brisbane. 13 June saw nominations for Ipswich. A day later saw William Henry Walsh elected unopposed for the vast district of Leichhardt. In the next week Robert Cribb defeated William Tooth in East Moreton and Henry Mort won West Moreton.

The final elections took place on 5 July when Gilbert Eliott won The Burnett and John Douglas and William Handcock were elected for the two-member district of Darling Downs.

One final election involving Queensland took place on 6 July. The 1859 NSW electoral boundaries included three specialist electorates that covered the Gold Fields. The right to vote was slightly modified for the Gold Fields districts, the holding of a mining license creating the right to vote rather than registration at a fixed address covered by the state's magistracy system.

The members elected for Queensland continued to hold their seats until 1 December when NSW proclaimed the separation of Queensland.

On 20 July 1859, the new colony of Queensland held celebrations when they were told Sir George Ferguson Bowen would be the colony’s first Governor. Fireworks, cannon fire, flag raising and the sound of gunshots expressed the public’s sentiment.  

Governor Bowen arrived in Brisbane, with his wife Lady Diamantina Bowen, on 9 December 1859.  He disembarked at the (City) Botanic Gardens and with his party travelled along George St and Queen St to Adelaide House, the first Governor’s residence.  Adelaide House, overlooking the Brisbane River at Petrie Bight, was built by Andrew Petrie for Dr Hobbs and was to become the temporary residence while the Government House at Gardens Point was under construction.  It was from the balcony of Adelaide House that Queensland was proclaimed. 

Then on 10 December 1859, the newly appointed Governor of Queensland George Ferguson Bowen formally read the proclamation in Brisbane, creating the colony of Queensland. 

December 10 became an official holiday throughout Queensland, and it was celebrated in many ways over many years.  Sports carnivals, cricket matches and race meetings were popular events. Trips to the seaside – Sandgate and Redcliffe and Wynnum for the Brisbane folk – were undertaken, and country train stations reported record crowds travelling on special excursion trains.

Separation Day was to remain a public holiday for 60 years, until 1920.  With Federation in 1901, national matters were overtaking state concerns, but people did not want to give up a holiday, even though Queensland had moved on from a pioneering colony in the 1850s and 1860s to a modern and prosperous state of the new Commonwealth of Australia. 

So December, not this weekend, is the real occasion to celebrate Queensland Independence. That such a long gap exists between Queen Victoria's signing of the authority and its implementation five months later shows just how slow communications were in the days of sail.