1909: Fusion

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"The man was a young man. Life had not yet operated on his face. He was good to look at; also, it would seem, good. Because he had nothing to hide , he did perhaps appear to have forfeited a little of his strength. But that is the irony of honesty."  (The Tree of Man by Patrick White, pages 9-10.) [1]

The Australian political landscape underwent a seismic change in 1909 when Alfred Deakin’s Protectionist Party and the Free Traders merged to form the Commonwealth Liberal Party, frequently referred to as “the fusion”. Instead of three teams on the field of play there were now just two, and the era of repeated minority and coalition governments would soon be at an end. On 2nd June Alfred Deakin, appointed leader of the new liberal alliance in May, was sworn in as Prime Minister for the final time. The fusion’s main objectives included:

to secure in parliament liberal legislation for the development of Australia on a democratic basis …… to uphold the federal union, to maintain the policy of effective protection, to establish a White Australia, to develop the Australian naval and military forces by means of universal training, to achieve the assumption by the Commonwealth of the public debts of the states, to promote economy in the public expenditure and efficiency in the public services, and to assert the principle that all representatives of the people should be directly and solely responsible to the people for their votes and actions.[2]

Both parties in the fusion had to make concessions, meaning that the new party could not be regarded as the direct antecedent of either. In short “Liberalism had abandoned its role as a pioneer in social reform and committed itself to the defence of the status quo”.[3]


Major initiatives pioneered by the fusion administration included replacing Dalgety with Canberra as the site of the nation’s future capital, using Australian-mined silver and bronze in the making of the country’s coins (British coins had previously been used), and forging an agreement with Britain for the construction of an Australian battle fleet comprising one heavy battlecruiser, three light cruisers, six destroyers and three submarines. The only provisos of this last initiative were that the ships were to be built in British shipyards and, in the event of war, would come under the control of the British Admiralty.

With Germany rapidly adding to its already formidable armoury many in both Britain and Australia were understandably nervous. In Australia, the Defence Act of 1909 made conscription for home defence compulsory, but overseas service remained voluntary, a fact which would give rise to considerable debate and even two national referendums during the Great War.

Just as newsworthy, if of rather less significance, London born Colin Defries made the first powered flight over Australia on 9th December. Progress thereafter was swift, and by 1914 a regular airmail service between Sydney and Melbourne had been introduced.

In ‘the Mother Country” many headlines were made by the growing suffragette movement. Most notable was the case of Marion Wallace Dunlop who, after being jailed for disturbing parliament, went on a hunger strike that lasted ninety-one hours and attracted sufficient publicity for the government to agree to meet with suffrage movement leaders, something they had hitherto declined to do.  The intervention of King Edward VII on behalf of the suffragettes was perhaps crucial. However, the meetings produced nothing meaningful in terms of government policy; it would take a global conflict to bring about a shift in attitude.

In the VFL, 1909 brought about a breakthrough from a team widely regarded as a slumbering giant, South Melbourne. Throughout the first twelve seasons of the breakaway competition South had been consistently mediocre, but season thirteen proved to be anything but unlucky. You can read about the southerners’ premiership triumph elsewhere on the site.

Brunswick won the VFA premiership with a 10.11 (71) to 8.7 (55) defeat of Prahran. Elsewhere there were premiership triumphs for West Adelaide (SAFL), East Fremantle (WAFL), Cananore (TFL), North Shore (NSWAFL) and Wynnum (QFL). South Melbourne played West Adelaide in Melbourne in a match which many regarded as being for the club championship of Australia. The home side won by 18 points, 11.8 (74) to 7.14 (56). In Tasmania, an official state premiership play-off was contested for the first time, with TFL premiers Cananore overcoming their NTFA rivals Launceston by 26 points in Hobart.


FOOTNOTES

[1] Patrick Victor Martindale White (28 May 1912 – 30 September 1990) was an Australian writer who is widely regarded as one of the most important English-language novelists of the 20th century. From 1935 until his death, he published 12 novels, three short-story collections and eight plays. In 1973 he became the first Australian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


[2]  A Short History of Australia by Manning Clark, page 222

[3]  ibid, page 222