Sport and the Australian war effort during the First World War: concord and conflict
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Xavier James Fowler
This thesis investigates sport and its relationship with the Australian war effort between 1914 and 1918. As a significant cultural element within Australian society since the settlement of European colonists, many envisioned sport as holding a higher purpose outside mere leisure or entertainment. With concerns surrounding national security emerging from 1900 onward, ideas surrounding the playing of sport as a preparation for warfare became common. The outbreak of war in 1914 oversaw the variable explosion of this connection between playing and battlefields. Through propaganda, recruitment, fund-rising, sporting competitions, education and gender relations, patriots sought to hone sports influence in order to aid in the defence of Empire. Australia therefore celebrated sport, for it encouraged its citizens to ‘Play the Greater Game!’ Yet sport possessed the ability to divide with as great a strength as it did to unite, becoming embroiled in the social turmoil that engulfed the nation after 1915. Bitter public debates surrounding the appropriateness of games and the eventual government intervention against sport in 1917 speak to this conflict. Even more than this, violent altercations between recruiters and war-weary crowds and the suspension of increasingly violent school games indicate the dangerous levels with which sport was fuelling social discord. With this division in mind, the nation also began to reconsider for the first time the place and role of sport in its society. When viewing these paralleling developments, we can decipher that sport had an altogether paradoxical and complicated relationship with Australia’s war. The purpose of this thesis, therefore, is to remind audiences that, in spite of what several contemporary governments and sporting codes tell us, the celebrated place of sport in our memory of the war is one to be questioned. By doing so, we can hopefully re-evaluate the manner in which we remember the Great War itself, not exclusively as a nation-making exercise, but perhaps as something far more complex.
KeywordsSport; war; First World War; Australia; conflict; home front; amateurism; professionalism; public school
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