"Australian flora and fauna were popular decorative motifs in the Federation period, with the wattle to the fore as an Australian equivalent of the Canadian maple. The golden wattle went with golden fleece, golden grain, golden ore and the gold in the hearts of the people. According to the Wattle Day League, it stood for home, country, kindred, sunshine and love'. But Empire Day had been introduced some years earlier as a conscious strengthening of imperial links. Nationalism and imperialism were no longer rivals. You could, like Alfred Deakin, be an 'independent Australian Briton'." (A Concise History of Australia by Stuart McIntyre, page 147.)

Australia was outwardly stable in 1907, but one did not have to scratch hard to find unease and even, in some cases, the seeds of panic. Much of the concern was in the realm of foreign affairs. Japan’s conclusive military defeat of Russia the preceding year was still a source of both bemusement and anxiety, and this was reinforced late in 1906 by a dramatic deterioration in relations between Japan and the USA. For a time, indeed, war looked distinctly possible. The reason for the crisis was the decision of the San Francisco Board of Education to introduce segregation, whereby Japanese, Chinese and Korean children were educated separately from whites. Not surprisingly, Japan took this as a serious insult. Most Americans remained unmoved, but the potential repercussions of the situation were certainly not lost in Australia, with comments such as those of E.J. Brady typifying the general sentiment across the nation;

And once more, the lesson for Australia is, Johnny, get your gun! Also, build ammunition and ordnance factories. Get your people taught to shoot, and generally in a position to put the national back to the wall and fight the wildest wild-cat fight in history; for if he doesn’t fight the USA tomorrow, the chances are the Jap will be picking a quarrel with us the day after tomorrow. [1]

As feelings in Japan gradually cooled down US President Theodore Roosevelt risked reigniting them by sending the mighty American battle fleet on a cruise of the Pacific. It is doubtful if his claim that he was doing this “not so much (as) a threat to Japan as a demonstration for the benefit of Japan”[2] fooled anyone.

International affairs in general were dominated by war and fear of war in 1907, so much so that, in a bid to defuse the unease, or at least render it manageable, a peace conference, attended by representatives of all major nations, was held in the Hague, Holland in June 1907. (It was actually the second such conference, the first having been held eight years earlier.) The Second Hague Peace Conference was felt at the time to be of considerable importance as it defined in detail the procedures and behaviour to be adopted in time of war. These officially came into force on 26th January 1910, but the Great War left them all in tatters. Nevertheless, the fact that so many great powers had seen fit to broker and subscribe to a wide ranging series of protocols, and to do so at a time of considerable international tension, was not surprisingly regarded as grounds for a cautious optimism.


Perhaps the most important domestic development in 1907 was the laying down in law by Mr Justice Higgins of the principle of a standard basic wage, which was initially set at 42 shillings.

Significant occurrences outside Australia in 1907 included the implementation in Finland both of universal suffrage and of the right of women to stand for election. Finland was the first country in Europe to introduce the former, while the latter constituted a world first. At the Finish Parliamentary elections of 15th and 16th March nineteen women won seats.

Japan’s growing strength was emphasised on 24th July when the Japan-Korea Treaty brought both the government and military of Korea more directly and fully under Japanese control.

In October a committee of the Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language met in Paris and recommended that Esperanto be universally adopted.

The largest ocean liner ever built up to that point, the RMS Mauretania, made its maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York during November.

Meanwhile, in the southern states of Australia, football continued to hold a sizeable proportion of the population in thrall. In the VFL, Carlton was still the team to beat. After convincingly winning the minor premiership by two wins from South Melbourne the Dark Blues asserted their right to premiership favouritism by downing St Kilda 13.13 (91) to 4.11 (35). The 56 point margin was quite immense for the time. In the final, Carlton faced a stronger challenge from South Melbourne, but kept their noses in front all day before winning by 5 points, 6.14 (50) to 6.9 (45). The match was watched by a crowd of 45,477 at an MCG which had had its bone hard playing surface watered prior to the start. (The photo at the bottom of the page shows action from the match.)


The VFA’s resurgence continued with 24,000 spectators watching Williamstown’s 7.10 (52) to 3.16 (34) defeat of West Melbourne in the final. The Association became the first major controlling body to introduce compulsory numbering of players.

Far and away the strangest, indeed one might almost say absurd, ending to the 1907 season occurred in the WAFA, but this is dealt with in detail elsewhere.

Norwood, which was placed second on the SAFL[3] ladder at the conclusion of the minor round, won the premiership by virtue of finals victories in successive weeks over North Adelaide and minor premier Port Adelaide in both the final and challenge final. It was the Redlegs’ first flag since 1904.

Other state league premiers were Lefroy (TFL), Locomotives (QFL) and Sydney (NSWAFL).

In the interstate sphere, South Australia defeated the VFA in Melbourne but lost to them in Adelaide, while Queensland scored an impressive 9.22 (76) to 6.4 (40) victory over New South Wales in Brisbane.

FOOTNOTES


​[1] These comments appeared in the “Worker” of 17/1/07 and provide some evidence that advocacy of policies which might collectively be given the label “White Australia” transcended class boundaries.


[2] A Diplomatic History of the American People by Thomas A. Bailey, page 572.


[3] The South Australian Football Association became known as the South Australian Football League in 1907.  

​1907: Cautious Optimism

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