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Polygamy advocated given male death toll during World War 1. Kathleen Hotson

Kathleen Hotson was a key organiser, activist, leader, lecturer during WW1. Her achievements have been recently listed online. Biography of Kathleen Hotson

Kathleen Hotson was educated at Dryburgh House[1] and the University of Adelaide. She is another of the clear-thinking women peace-makers who was a highly educated ‘Advanced Woman’, one of the first generations of women entering the universities. Born in Robe, South Australia, she taught for a while at Miss Twiss’s College in Adelaide, before going to Naracoorte to teach at St Andrews School in 1907. She achieved excellence presumably in ‘sociology’, and in music among other fields (yet to be identified). She wrote verse. At the outbreak of World War 1 she was involved in South Australian intellectual and political circles including the Navy League, and by September 1915, she participated in a delegation to the South Australian government about free speech.

Kathleen Hotson achieved notoriety earlier in May 1916 when she asserted that polygamy was being discussed in South Australia given the extensive loss of life of male Australian soldiers. In a deputation with the Australian Peace Alliance to the acting prime minister in Melbourne, Kathleen Hotson was reported as saying:

Women were studying sociology, science, and political economy, and they had found many interesting things in their studies. They were disgusted with the present state of affairs. They were not satisfied with either party, and they were working out a non-partyism. They did not know where they were coming to, but they were coming somewhere.

She had been attending the May peace conference in Melbourne, where Emma Miller was to meet her. The deputation included Vida Goldstein, Cecilia John as well as key men such as R S Ross. Resolutions passed by the conference were given to Senator Pearce in ‘impudent talk of peace’ as the headlines of newspaper called it:

That this conference expresses the opinion that the imposition of Continental conscription in Australia would tend to the foisting of a despotic, militaristic system on the people; prove a ready means for the further enslaving of the industrial workers, and fundamentally endanger democratic institutions and ideals; and, further, would seriously jeopardise the peace of the Commonwealth, and be a blow to securing the establishment of universal peace.

Kathleen Hotson

During the anti-conscription, anti-militarist campaigns, Kathleen Hotson became a much sought-after speaker, initially for the first 1916 campaign in South Australia; then for the second in Queensland. She arrived in Brisbane in early August 1917. She was involved with the Women’s Peace Army, the Australian Peace Alliance, and spoke on the platform at key anti-conscription, anti-militarist events again, and again, and again. She toured and lectured, she consulted and advocated.

Anyone know anything further about Kathleen Hotson? Did she write poetry? She was clearly a key national figure in the second conscription campaign. When she was to return to South Australia, after three years in Queensland, many were to feel the loss, notably Jennie Scott Griffith who accused Queensland men in print of failing to find a stipend for her, so she could continue her work in Queensland.

In 1933, Kathleen Hotson married John William Benton. When he died in 1938, he was reported as eighty-one years old with three children. Whether these were Kathleen’s children, or from a previous relationship, is not clear. In 1936 Kathleen and he had published a book together titled Valuation – Human and Financial. If we lived in a different publishing country, Valuation might still be on our shelves. As it is, only three copies survive in our libraries, none in Queensland.

Hotson, Kathleen and Benton, John W Valuation : human and financial. [K. Hotson], Adelaide, 1936.

[1] Later called Presbyterian Girls’ College.

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SECOND MILITARY CONSCRIPTION REFERENDUM, 20 December 1917 Brisbane, Queensland

nla.news-page000020807864-nla.news-article179434459-L3-efcdbe934cb9088e2f351fb65d05a711-0003

‘Keep Australia Free’ was the catchcry, ‘for the sake of future generations’. So Randolph Bedford, journalist, mining speculator, writer and politician, told the huge gatherings of people the night before the vote was to be taken for the second conscription referendum.
Its appears the Irish John Fihelly wrote the piece ‘Great Final “No Rallies”: Demonstration in Brisbane, Torchlight Procession and Huge Meetings, Inspiring Scenes in Southern States, Great Victory for Australia Predicted’ for the Daily Standard. Fihelly, a member of the Queensland parliament and Minister for Justice, was known for his outspoken opposition to conscription even his outstanding lead on the issue, an issue clear for him after the Easter uprising and the execution of Irish Home Rule leaders without trial by the British authorities. ‘Fihellyism’ had come to signify disloyalty, pro-Hun and Sinn Fein allegiances.
His was a magnificent account of the night of the 19th December: ‘the spectacle in Brisbane was history making—the great crowds, the torchlight procession, the men and women who marched, through avenues of cheering people, the cheers rising and falling as the sounds wafted and carried on the wind… ’
Women took up their position at the head of the procession. The demonstrators, or rather perhaps better described as revellers, gathered in Turbot Street and marched towards Queen Street, and then onward to William Street where four platforms had been set up, with speakers at each. Many thousands gathering to listen, records Fihelly. And he records the differing styles of the speakers, some jesting with a keen sense of humour, others hot and burning, returned soldiers making stirring speeches, some serious earnest appeals and then there were ‘Befordisms’. Mostly male politicians and returned soldiers were on the platform.
Isabella Skirving was the only woman among the bevy of leading public figures who spoke. Margaret Thorp was probably on a platform in Nambour. Helen Huxham’s husband, John Huxham, was on one of the platforms, but she did not speak at this mass ‘meeting’.
What Isabella Skirving did say was written up in terms of women’s maternal and domestic responsibilities, of the ‘devastating impact of conscription’ on ‘home-life’. Nothing about militarism in opposition to feminism as Adela Pankhurst might have argued, but Adela was languishing in a prison in Melbourne for damage to property during ‘food riots’, that is demonstrations in opposition to the costs-of-living spirally out of control. All these Queensland speakers, by 1917, would have been careful to restrict their arguments to anti-conscription, not anti-war, for they too faced arrest if they were ‘prejudicial to recruiting’.
The crime of voting some-one else’s life away was the rhetoric Isabella Skirving used in supposedly addressing the more ‘the irresponsible and emotional of her sex’. As the war progressed, recent historians, notably Robert Bollard in The Shadow of Gallipoli, argue that people became increasingly politicised, increasingly despairing, increasingly radicalised—that is the members of the Labor movement, the Irish Home Rule supporters, the Russians, and so on. Women, on the other hand, seem to have been increasingly excluded from leadership roles, and gender expectations became increasingly polarised. Motherhood, especially, was extolled. Surely it is unlikely women were afraid to stand up because of the increased violence against speakers? There was more currency in having a returned soldier in uniform speak out against militarism, than a women’s rights woman?

 

LEADING LIGHTS MRS BIRKBECK

First Anzac parade on Queen Street Brisbane 1916.jpg

Francesca Julia Louis Lantona Birkbeck née Clement d 22 June 1926

Mrs Birkbeck was elected a vice-president of the Women Peace Army when it was first formed in late 1915. Misspelt in the Worker account as a Mrs Birbank. She gave a talk to the second meeting of the WPA alongside Margaret Thorp.

There is one clue as to who she may have been in an advertisement for a talk at the Theosophical Society on ‘Peace’ soon after World War One was declared. It may not be the same woman but as someone ‘well known in artistic and modern thought circles’ in Brisbane, let us presume it was.

The story gets more interesting. Francesca Julia Louis Lantona Birkbeck had two children, one a girl, Dora, the other a son. He was Gilbert Samuel Colin Latona (1876-1947) and has an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography because of his military fame. During World War One had enlisted with the 2nd Light Horse and went to Egypt. Initially a captain, later a major, he was awarded a DSO a distinguished services order. Let’s presume Francesca, or was she known as Julia, was thirty when her son was born, that would mean she was born in about 1846.

So when Mrs Birkbeck spoke to a gathering of people at the WPA meeting she is not young. Her son has been wounded twice already at the front by the time she does take up the position of vice-president. In May 1915, then again in June 1915 and she would not have seen him, presumably as he was convalescing in London All accounts of her speech are truncated, but she did speak ‘compellingly’ and ‘movingly’ against war. And when she finishes speaking, the group are so moved to action that they resolved to hold ‘monster meetings’ for peace. This is no simple matter during war time where there are severe penalties for discouraging recruiting, tight censorship and powerful emotions at play.

Francesca and her husband knew about war. They originated from Mexcio. The Mexican revolution and war were ongoing, during 1915 US continued its armed intervention. Francesca’s husband died in September 1916. She herself resigned from the Charity Organisation she was part of because of ill health the following year. In admist all the difficulties of her life, she spoke powerfully against war. The WPA does go on to hold its monster meetings, of which we know little about because of the tight censorship.

 

The first Anzac day in Brisbane, courtesy the State Library of Queensland.

 

 

 

Women’s Employment during the War

 

Within the labour movement, there were widespread fears that women’s paid employment meant the lowering of men’s wages. Indeed women were paid at a much lower rate than men, and this often meant that they undercut them. Lower rates for non-white people heightened race fears. Such was the rhetoric and the reality. With conscription being mooted by the Hughes government, sections of the trade union movement were concerned about the implications for hard-fought wages and rights.

To assist the war effort, the National Council of Women [NCW] appointed a committee for ‘Voluntary Registration’ of women. The NCW, an umbrella group of women’s organisations, had formed a Queensland branch: they hosted a meeting for NCW delegates from the affiliated societies at the Concordia Hall, to support the recruitment of women into the workforce and promote a form of national service for women. The chair, Mrs Brigadier Harris said the movement had ‘no political significance’, and that it was not ‘the intention’ of women to compete with men, but to ‘help’ them.

Fortunately for us, a Truth journalist was at the meeting. Mrs Harris’ timing was ‘unfortunate’, the journalist wrote: ‘for the power of her words to convince keen students of persons, parties, and events’, was diminished when she was immediately followed by Colonel A Thynne, MLC, one of Queensland’s bitterest and outspoken opponents of ‘both manhood and adult suffrage, and chair of the rapacious Queensland Recruiting Committee, who averred he was not associated with the Labor Party but would support Mr Hughes. The following speaker announced a further 30,000 men were needed from Queensland to add to the 40,000 already at the front and unless women stepped up there would be an economic ‘smash’. Freda Bage added 7,000,000 women were working in Britain who had never worked before. The following woman speaker, Mrs Brydon, agreed it was indeed plausible that women could fill in as industrial workers, ‘all that mattered was that men should go, and women should take their places’. The meeting until that time was normal, orderly and calm. And then, Margaret Thorp, ‘that rosy-cheeked Quaker lass, stood to speak’.

‘Feminine fury began to flame’. Remember nothing sells newspapers better than drama and spice. ‘Agitated Tory women rose and talked angrily all at the same time’. The gist of Margaret’s message was that women should not try to oust men out of their positions, indeed men were doing ‘national service’ when they worked ‘conscientiously’ on the home-front. And she pointed out conscription was not yet the law. ‘The Tory women, like sheep, follow the lead of subtle, self-seeking Tory men’, reported the Truth journalist. ‘Men have practically been forced to enlist’ said Margaret, ‘(Cries of “Quite right’ and uproar)’. They drowned Margaret out, so she sat down. ‘Miss Thorp Gagged’, ‘Freedom of Speech Prevented’, were the headlines in the Daily Standard.

In the audience, the skilled and mature Helen Huxham bided her time; she could draw on decades of expertise. When the need for a government guarantee that women leave the jobs on the men’s return was raised, she stood to first congratulate the women on the organisation of the meeting, then to tell them she represented the working class. She advocated equal pay for equal work. She was applauded loudly. She had accepted a position on the subcommittee in order to help protect the working class. ‘A much keener student of social conditions than any of the women who had previously spoken’, recorded the Truth journalist, Helen used the example of expensive millinery (presumably well represented on the audience) in her arguments that demand for luxury goods would decrease, hence demand for labour in some less essential areas would not be so high as forecast. ‘To many of the ultra-patriotic persons present the sight and sound of Mrs. Huxham, wife of a Labor Cabinet Minister, and speaker from many a Labor platform, was a burden too great for PROUD FLESH and blood to stand’. A ‘haughty, high-toned Toowongite’ harangued the audience in response, apparently misunderstanding Helen’s point entirely, and when she finished her rant, Helen responded, to some applause (the denunciation had received none), that, ‘though only a Labor person, she also possessed a heart and feelings, as well as a depleted family circle as the result of the military spirit of her male relatives’. The unnamed Truth journalist awarded ‘the belt of conquest’ to Helen. Neither were the journalists from the Courier and the Telegraph sympathetic to Mrs Hope Morgan, the ‘haughty Toowongite’.

Mrs Scott Fletcher took the position as president, and an office was opened in the Town Hall. It was not inevitable that the NCW would openly support the war; the Sydney branch of the NCW advocated the links between feminism and pacifism instead of calling on imperialism.

 

registration

‘Office of Voluntary Registration’. The women’s voluntary registration office opened in the quadrangle of the Brisbane Town Hall by the National Council of Women in furtherance of their scheme of a register of women willing to undertake work of any kind in connection with the war.
“THE QUEENSLANDER PICTORIAL.” The Queenslander 25 September 1915: 22. Web. 21 Jul 2017 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22301462&gt;.

Adela Pankhurst in Queensland, 1916

‘Put your sword back in its place,” … “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’[1]

Adela and Vida (2)

A rotten egg flies through the air. Adela Pankhurst is the women of the moment, the ‘star’ of the peace movement, the darling of the socialist left, and feted journalist of a series of provocative anti-war articles. The egg misses its target but smashes at the base of the quickly erected platform on which Adela is standing. She is spunky and courageous; she is only twenty-nine years old. ‘Millions of young men are suffering and dying’, she tells the assembled crowds. The smell of the egg is awful. Women are suffering during the war ‘although they had no say in the making of the war, or how the country was to be governed’ she tells them. Adela invites the audience to draw closer so they might hear her. ‘Children are starving and dying of malnutrition’. But the crowd is becoming riotous. Adela Pankhurst is increasingly becoming the target of the angst and anger generated by the war; she is a formidable symbol of the ‘war-weariness’ and war’s meaninglessness. She is spoken about as ‘anti-recruiting’, ‘pro-Hun’ and a ‘traitor’ when she speaks for peace.

This Gympie lecture had not begun well. It followed on from the visit by Margaret Thorp. The town officials had refused Margaret permission to use the town hall for the meeting, so too Adela. But even worse on Adela’s visit, the street lights hadn’t been lit. Was the crowd emboldened in the darkness? Adela, WPA organiser, talks further of English constitutional history, the oppression of the landlords and the widening of the franchise. The local socialist Mr Eastcrabbe had introduced her; after a while the lights went on but the avalanche of eggs only increases, combined with paper bags of flour and bi-sulphide of carbon. Every-one has heard of the militant suffragette Pankhurst family, even as they were unaware of the differences between pacifist Adela and her pro-war mother Emmeline and sister Christabel, and the pacifist socialist Sylvia. The local press has stirred up a hornet’s nest; the newspapers are still ‘blood-thirsty and ‘war-loving’, Adela later reports. Much of the audience supposedly turned up ‘out of curiosity to see what the result would be’. They are restless, don’t want to hear about the history of women’s rights and interject that women had the same right to vote as men in Australia. Adela keeps her smile.

AP

It was the second Queensland lecture tour that she and Cecilia John has undertaken for the Women’s Peace Army and the Australian Peace Alliance. They arrived in Brisbane from Sydney on August 5th, 1916, and were billed as part of the campaign for ‘No to Conscription’ to appear at Mount Morgan, Ipswich, Rockhampton and Bundaberg. Previously through June and July Adela had toured successfully through New Zealand speaking to overflowing venues working with the Women’s International League in conjunction with the Labor Representation Committee. This Queensland tour is in part to raise funds to ensure Australian women delegates attend the peace negotiations in Europe at the end of the war. The WPA also hoped that new branches would be formed in regional Queensland. In July after the Somme offensive, however, the Billy Hughes government wants more troops, and compulsory conscription. When Adela and Cecilia had arrived in Brisbane, it was the time of the annual show; Adela was shocked to see the celebrations with such little regard for ‘the time of crisis’.

adela in new zealand

Author/Contributors: Holt, Sheila Betty, 1909-1998
National Library of New Zealand Ref: 1/2-067533-F, Photograph of Adela Pankhurst with founding members of the New Zealand branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, during Adela’s visit to New Zealand in 1916. Location unidentified, probably Auckland. Photographer unidentified.

Adela is well experienced as an orator and campaigner, used to handling both adulation and rough crowds, unsympathetic audiences and those swept away by her passion, ever since the days she went out into provincial Britain advocating women’s right. Returned servicemen had jostled and heckled women peace-makers in Melbourne where, as biographer Verna Coleman describes, Adela was ‘unflinching’ even ‘rejoicing in the excitement, still slight and girlish in appearance’ in facing attacks.[2] On other occasions she was to glory in her ‘triumphant debate’ and be carried shoulder high to ‘thunderous cheers’.[3] In Gympie she smiles ‘rather wearily’ as the ‘patriotic songs’ drown her out. A recruiting sergeant in their midst announces he had a volunteer and ‘would anyone else accompany him’. A larrikan ‘returned Anzac hero’ mounts the platform and yells out how the women in England were ‘pleased to work while their husbands went to war’. Then the crowd began to ‘count out’ Adela. They boo and jeer at the ‘suffragette’.

 

Adela Pankhurst’s Put Up the Sword was published in July 1915 by the WPA. Cecilia John wrote the foreword: ‘War is murder’. The pamphlet advocates ‘joint management’, ‘universal justice’ even a ‘federation’ of hostile states to ensure ‘permanent peace’:

‘I have written this book with the object of setting forth the causes and disastrous social effects of war, of internal warfare by the Government and monied interests of every country against the people of every country, and of international warfare promoted entirely in commercial interests. I wish to make it clear that I am assailing a vicious system, not the persons who are merely the tools of the system. They, as well as the masses of people, are apparently blind to the way in which the system lays the mines, and seeming circumstance acts as the fuse that sets uncontrollable human forces ablaze in social, industrial and international affairs.
The forces which have built up the British Empire, as we know it, are at work in Germany as well as in our own country… A permanent civilisation can only be built upon a foundation of justice. The present system is a denial of justice. It gives way to the strong and tramples upon the weak, it stifles the cry of the oppressed, it gives unlimited advantage to the ruthless. It weakens the race by taking the strongest, healthiest and bravest of the young men, and stamping their lives out of them, leaving young women forlorn, and children fatherless. Today we watch 10 million men smashing what generations have built up. While they march and slay and burn they are fed and clothed by the labour of women and little children; they consume the bread of growing children, and they even drink the mothers’ milk, robbing the suckling babes, whose mothers must needs wean them to work in the factories and fields, filling the places of absent men… learn that by our weapons we slay, not others only, but ourselves as well.’

Violence against women was increasingly widespread as the war continued. The Ipswich mayor had refused the WPA access to the town hall for their meeting forcing them to hold these challenging open-air meetings in the streets. At Rockhampton, the demonstration of returned soldiers were ‘put down’ by the audience, it was reported, but as yet we have no further information about this. Back in Brisbane, a special WPA meeting discussed the forthcoming legislation on Venereal Disease ‘Social Evil and Its Relation to War’. Cecilia chaired the gathering, Adela was chief speaker and the audience asked questions. The meeting called for free, adequate and voluntary treatment of venereal disease: any system of state control was ‘futile’. It was ‘indefensible’: ‘it makes vice appear safe for men at the expense of women’. Another meeting was billed on ‘Women and War’ on the ‘true meaning’ of the women’s movement; a ‘very pleasant evening’ ‘social’ for Adela and Cecilia held at Trades Hall; and the ‘informative and entertaining’ lecture ‘War and the Workers’, with which she had toured New Zealand, was packed out. For an hour and a half, Adela held her audience spellbound.

Just as Adela was the target of masculinist anger and despair, just as she was booed off the stage as a ‘suffragette’ in Gympie, she also became the figurehead of the peace movement in Australia. Her biographers come close to capturing her extraordinary abilities to bring truth to power, but underestimate her commitment to pacifism as a core human value, and the empowerment that understanding brings. Coleman writes of her ‘vehemence in this cause’ and tries to relate it to Adela’s sympathy for the ‘underdog’;[4] Kay Saunders found her life ‘perplexing’ in its ‘irrational devotion to various causes’[5] motivated by a ‘love of the spotlight, the roar of crowds’ but confirms her empathy for the hardships of working-class women’s lives. Both Coleman and Saunders warn of her rhetoric; her obsessions about race and sex, her exaggerations and sentimentalities. We could point to the arrogance engendered by the British imperial connections, or the celebratory statue of the Pankhurst name, the belief that ends justify means, or a long standing preoccupation with the domestic sphere. When Adela was asked by the reporter Freda Sternberg ‘Why do you bite policemen’ she replied that if the militant suffragettes had been men, they would have killed them long ago, and they knew it. Both Coleman and Saunders highlights the tensions and rivalries, the painful exclusions within the Pankhurst family itself to understand Adela’s drive, and argue the importance of the support and moderating mentorship of Vida Goldstein, employer and friend.[6] Indeed, the WPA was critical, as Adela was spokesperson for a movement, not the movement itself however powerful her personal connections, and she knew Annie Kenney the suffragette friend of Billy Hughes, or however at odds her ideas may now be with the feminists that followed.

What was the legacy of Adela and John’s 1916 visit to Queensland for Queenslanders and the women’s peace movement? Verity Burgmann in a different context, argues the radical flank of the socialist movement, and the Industrial Workers of the World were extremely important in marking out the perimeters of the debates about the war and allowing the space for more moderate anti-war voices. Certainly, Adela’s speeches and articles were provocative interventions and functioned as outspoken cornerstone; her words were yeast to leaven the anti-war movement. Yet Adela’s success also rested on her ability to draw together strands of what was in the heads of many people at that time of crisis in Western civilisation, to argue a case that engaged with their concerns and resonated with their passions.

 

[1] Matthew 26: 52.
[2] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 70.
[3] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 74.
[4] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 63.
[5] Saunders, Kay, Notorious Australian Women Sydney ABC Books HarperCollins, 2013, 106.
[6] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 60.

LEADING LIGHTS: Isabella Skirving

Skirving.jpg

Helen Huxham and Isabella Skirving

Isabella Skirving was highly regarded as a ‘forceful and logical speaker’, a ‘born banner-bearer for Labor’, early president of the Shop Assistants Union, and represented at the State Labor conferences. Born in Rockhampton in 1867, by the war years Isabella Hyland had had long experience working alongside Emma Miller and Helen Huxham with the women’s unions, in the key Labor suffrage organisation, WEFA, and she was active in the Woolloongabba WWPO. She was another extremely capable peace-maker and organiser who seems to have relied on her oral communication skills rather than any writing capacities, as none of her written material appears to have survived. She was also a key figure in an intimate partnership with a senior Labor man. Alexander Skirving (1868-1935), whom she had married in 1907,  was president of the Industrial Council, stood for state office (unsuccessfully),  and later was a member of the Legislative Council with Joe Silver Collings (that went on to dissolve itself). He was a very successful long term alderman for the Brisbane City Council.  They had one son. When he died in 1935, Isabella stood for Labor pre-selection at a plebiscite in his former ward the following year, but was unsuccessful.

She was active in the Women’s Peace Army and the Anti-Conscription Coalition Committee. Isabella Skirving was the key organiser in raising funds for ‘distressed’ working people during the war, raising money through the workers’ distress fund art union.

Unrestricted Freedom of Speech without Interference from the Military or Police.

The right to ‘freedom of speech’ is a long-standing tradition in Western democracies; in the Australian context it can mean the right of an individual to have direct access to the general public and ‘speak’, that is to stand on a soapbox and orate, lecture to and express one’s truth to those who are prepared to listen. This was one of the bases of the fearless and charismatic Emma Miller’s political power. She could reach out to new audiences and further educate others. In Brisbane, the place for political leaders and intellectuals was often the Botanical Gardens in the Domain; Sydney had a similar ‘Domain’; and in Melbourne crowds mostly congregated on the ‘Yarra Bank’. Yet during World War One, unrestricted freedom of speech was under threat. There was a permit system in place.

A deputation to the Government was formed through a loose association of groups. The Women’s Peace Army chose Emma Miller as their representative. It was a very serious concern; the WPA had been refused permission by the Commissioner of Police to speak in the street on a Sunday night.

This deputation requested ‘unrestricted freedom of speech without interference from either the military or the police’ meeting with the Queensland home secretary, John Huxham. It included representatives of the Australian Peace Alliance, the Australian Socialist Party and the unions, including the International Workers of the World and the Australian Worker’s Union. Emma Miller, the ‘grand old woman of Queensland’ was a veteran, well known for speaking out, and was very highly regarded by her younger colleagues.

‘The spectacle of Mrs Miller appealing for free speech should impress Mr Huxham very much’, said one of the contingent. It was a large deputation of over forty people.[1] Emma Miller spoke for the Women’s Peace Army. She told of how the WPA had received a written reply from the police refusing her request to speak.

‘If they could not speak now, with a Labour Government in office, when could they speak? And Mr Huxham also should remember that they should not be interfered with by the military’.[2]

‘That is a matter for the Federal Government’, replied Mr Huxham.

‘Oh, yes, I know that’, replied Emma Miller.

Emma Miller knew John Huxham very well. She and his wife had worked closely together on the rights of working women and the right of women to vote.

‘Give us a place where we can go on Sunday afternoons’, Emma Miller interjected during the speeches by other delegates.

‘The women are so backward because they have no place to go. After the war the women will have to be dealt with to prevent their being sweated’.[3] It was a timely suggestion, a compromise, if the government could allow them at least four places across Brisbane where soapboxes were allowed, some measure of ‘free speech’ could be retained. But it was only a few years after the euphoria and disaster of the 1912 general strike in Brisbane, the first general strike in the Western world which had been undermined and sabotaged by the Commissioner of Police, Cahill. The labour movement wanted him gone; the police should not be able to determine whether they had the right to speak.

‘To whom would you give it’, asked John Huxham.[4]

‘Let it be in the hands of the Government’, responded Emma Miller, ‘because we can deal with them afterwards’.

John Huxham promised to take the deputation’s request to the state Cabinet, but little could they all foresee the coming battles with the federal government about surveillance, censorship and harassment of speakers.

 

 

 

 


[1] ‘Claim for Free Speech’, Telegraph, 29 July 1916, p. 9.

[2] ‘Claim for Free Speech’, Telegraph, 29 July 1916, p. 9.

[3] ‘Freedom of Speech’, Courier, 29 July 1916, p. 4.

[4] ‘Claim for Free Speech’, Telegraph, 29 July 1916, p. 9.