War is sometimes regarded as a regenerative force, rather like the Australian bushfire that consumes energy, burns away the outmoded accretion of habit and allows new, more vigorous growth to occur. The Great War brought no such national revitalisation. It killed, maimed and incapacitated. It left an incubus of debt that continued to mount as the payments to veterans and war widows continued. Even in the depths of the Depression in the 1930s there were more Australians on war benefits than in receipt of social welfare. Its public memorials were a constant reminder of loss but provided little solace to those who mourned, for the ethos of national sacrifice discouraged excessive personal grief as selfish. So, far from strengthening a common purpose, it weakened the attachment to duty: to live for the moment was a common response to the protracted ordeal. The war increased rather than lessened dependence, hardened prejudice, widened divisions. (A Concise History of Australia by Stuart McIntyre, pages 168-9.)
In Australia, the legacy of the war hung heavy. At least half the households in the nation had a personal reason for grief, having lost a family member during the conflict. Many questioned if Australia’s involvement in the war had been necessary or desirable, but there were also many whose loyalty to Britain and to Empire had been both ratified and augmented. This made division and conflict, in words if not actual brute force, inevitable.
Elsewhere, the world was still dealing with the fallout from the Great War. In Russia, the Bolsheviks were gradually tightening their grip on the country's affairs, whilst also negotiating the ground rules for their relations with many of their neighbours. Estonia and Lithuania, for example, were recognised as autonomous, separate states. Rebellion in Siberia was quelled, and the leader of the anti-Bolsheviks, Kolchak, was executed. The main thorn in the side for Russia was Poland. In August the Soviet Red Army was defeated and routed in the Battle of Warsaw, which was remembered by Poles as the "Miracle on the Vistula.” Stalin, aged forty-one, was there as a political commissar and would resent the defeat for the rest of his life.
In the Netherlands, the country’s leader, Queen Wilhelmina, refused to extradite Kaiser Wilhelm, the main propelling force behind Germany’s war effort, to the Allies for prosecution. She - along, it must be said, with a large number of people in Australia - regarded the Allies as grossly hypocritical in endeavouring to occupy the moral high ground all by themselves.
Reflecting Queen Wilhelmina’s viewpoint, in 1920 the British engaged in a number of atrocities in Ireland against advocates of Irish Home Rule. The most notorious occured on Sunday 21st November. The Irish Republican Army, on the instructions of Michael Collins, killed fourteen British undercover agents in Dublin, most of them in their homes. In retaliation the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary opened fire on a crowd at a Gaelic Athletic Association Football match in Croke Park, killing thirteen spectators and one player and wounding sixty. To Irish republicans this became known as Bloody Sunday.
Meanwhile the Treaty of Sèvres ended the war between the Allies and Turkey. The treaty, which limited Turkey to a military force of 50,000. gave Britain, France and Italy full control over Turkey's financial affairs. It also France and Italy "zones of control and influence", and granted autonomy to the Kurds. Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI's representatives signed the treaty confirming arrangements for partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. However, the vast majority of Turks in refused to recognize the treaty.
In the USA, on 16th January, prohibition - a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages - was introduced. It remained in force until 1933.
Less newsworthy - at the time at any rate - was the meeting in Munich on 24th February at which Adolf Hitler presented a twenty-five point program, combining elements of socialism and racism, to the newly formed National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis).
In Australia the main political development was the emergence as a viable force of the Country party. Formed in 1913 in Western Australia the Country party became a national body in 1920 after the coming together of various state-based parties such as such as the Victorian Farmers' Union and the Farmers and Settlers Party of New South Wales.. The new party’s first leader was William McWilliams from Tasmania. In his first speech as leader, McWilliams laid out the principles of the new party, stating "we crave no alliance, we spurn no support but we intend drastic action to secure closer attention to the needs of primary producers” The Country party attracted many former Nationalists and was sufficiently popular to suggest it might well hold the balance of power at the next election. Indeed, for the next four decades it would play the role of corner party to perfection, extracting concessions for Country party interests in return for support.
Sport continued to enjoy a prominent place in the minds of many Australians. In the southern states, football was emphasising its status as the king of winter sports by attracting record crowds, including an all time high of 62,220 for the semi final clash between Carlton and Richmond on Saturday 18th September. Carlton emerged victorious from that particular encounter, but then went down to Collingwood in the final. The Magpies then met minor premier Richmond in the challenge final, a match won by the latter by 17 points, 7.10 (52) to 5.5 (35). It was Richmond’s first ever VFL flag.
The VFA also attracted bumper attendances. Its premiership deciding match is reported on here.
In the SAFL North Adelaide achieved premiership success for the first time since 1905 thanks to a thumping 9.15 (69) to 3.3 (21) defeat of Norwood in the final. The match attracted a crowd of 31,000. A challenge final was unnecessary as North had claimed the minor premiership.
For the sevond season in succession East Perth captured the WAFL premiership. Just as in 1919 the Royals were opposed in the decisive match of the year by East Fremantle and only inaccuracy in front of goal prevented a massacre, East Perth winning 6.16 (52) to 4.6 (30).
Other premiers in 1920 were North Hobart (TFL), Paddington (NSWAFL), Wynnum (QFL) and Vesteys (NTFL).
William McWilliams, the first leader of the Country party
1920: Bloody Sunday