by John Shaw Neilson
Fear it has faded and the night:
The bells all peal the hour of nine:
The schoolgirls hastening through the light
Touch the unknowable Divine.
What leavening in my heart would bide!
Full dreams a thousand deep are there:
All luminants succumb beside
The unbound melody of hair.
Joy the long timorous takes the flute:
Valiant with colour songs are born:
Love the impatient absolute
Lives as a Saviour in the morn
Get thou behind me Shadow-Death!
Oh ye Eternities delay!
Morning is with me and the breath
Of schoolgirls hastening down the way.
Stanley Melbourne Bruce
1922: Changing the Guard
The British Empire was in decline, or so common understanding had it. However, somewhat perversely, in terms of the geographical area it covered the Empire in 1922 was larger than it had ever been, accounting for a fifth of all the land on earth, including, of course, Australia.
The fabric of Empire was altering though. Countries of the Empire ostensibly had King George V as head of state, but in an increasing number of instances this status was merely nominal. A case in point was Ireland, which had just achieved its independence, and was an autonomous dominion. In real terms, the British Empire was a declining force in world affairs, if indeed it could even be said to be a force, at least in any discrete, coherent sense.
Arguably the most significant events of 1922 occurred not in Britain, but in Russia. That year saw the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, as it was known, assuming control over former territories of the Russian Empire, and becoming known as the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lenin remained as head of the government. On 3rd April Joseph Stalin was selected to the influential post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. On 26th May Lenin suffered a stroke, and thereafter his health declined rapidly. Ultimately, he would be succeeded by Stalin whose impact, not only on his own nation but also the world at large, would be immense.
Of much less significance in global terms was Australian National Party Prime Minister Billy Hughes’ fall from grace:
“To many, Billy Hughes’ post-war career would seem erratic, with the meetings of cabinet seeming strange, volatile affairs, and with the Country Party refusing to join him in government because of his apparent socialism in having his government buy into a Commonwealth Shipping Line, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries and Amalgamated Wireless. He would fall from office after the 1922 elections, the Country Party agreeing to give their weight to the Nationals only if the Melbourne businessman and Gallipoli hero (fighting with the Royal Fusiliers) Sir Stanley Melbourne Bruce took over the leadership.”
Like Hughes, Bruce was a singularly distinctive character, but there the resemblance between the two ended. It has been said of Bruce that he was in actual fact an Englishman who just happened to have been born in Australia. Given the sentiments which it was believed had motivated Australia’s involvement in the first world war he was an odd, bewildering choice as Prime Minister.
“Not by birth, education or temperament did he ever feel any sympathy with the bush myth of mateship and equality, or the larrikin tradition of the towns. Naturally aloof by inclination, he advertised his difference from the democratic tradition by the Englishness of his clothing (he wore spats), by his English rather than Australian accent, and by his English manners of speech when speaking to the working classes (he always addressed a member of the Labor Party in the lobbies of the House by his last name only.)”
For the larrikins, of course, sport, particularly football, was infinitely more important than politics. The 1922 VFL season, especially the finals series, was especially absorbing. After four closely contested finals the premiership was won by Fitzroy who overcame the challenge of minor premiers Collingwood by 11 points, 11.13 (79) to 9.14 (68), having also earlier defeated the Magpies in a semi final. The crowd for the semi final clash between Essendon and Carlton attracted an Australian record attendance of 64,148.
The VFA premiership went to Port Melbourne who defeated Footscray in a thriller by 2 points, 9.6 (60) to 8.10 (58).
Other premiers were Norwood (SAFL), East Perth for the fifth successive time (WAFL), Cananore (TFL), Paddington (NSWAFL), Brisbane (QFL) and Vesteys (NTFL).
In the interstate sphere Victoria downed South Australia in Melbourne but lost to them in Adelaide. Second string VFL combinations also played New South Wales twice, winning by 45 points in Sydney and by 17 points in Melbourne. New South Wales and Queensland met in Sydney with the home side procuring victory by 15 points.
 When Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 Ireland’s status as an autonomous dominion meant that it was not obliged to follow suit, and it elected to remain neutral. Australia, by contrast, chose to enter the war,
 Australians: Flappers to Vietnam by Thomas Keneally, page 19.
 A Short History of Australia by Manning Clark, pages 241-2.