Crisis 1914: the call to arms
On 28 June 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was shot and killed by a Serbian radical in Sarajevo. This set off a chain of events that plunged Europe, and the world, into what was the bloodiest war in recorded history to that time. Australians, members of the British Empire, learned on 4 August that they were also at war with Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. There was no question that Australia would fight, and very little opposition.
A new exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House explores the opening stages of the war and the effect it had on Australia. The war broke out while a federal election campaign was being fought, while a drought was ravaging the country, and only a year after Australia had developed its own navy.
The ‘hero object’ of our new exhibition is the original cabinet table, used in Melbourne by Federal Cabinet to make crucial decisions about the war, including the initial commitment. This was, of course, before Parliament came to sit in Canberra. We aren’t entirely sure for how long and where the table was used, but we do know it was the cabinet table used during the war, because we have photographs of the Cabinet sitting around it. One of these photos accompanies the table and shows Joseph Cook’s Commonwealth Liberal Party ministry, which was in office when war was declared.
The Australian War Memorial very kindly loaned us some of their artworks to go into the exhibition; the largest is Charles Bryant’s beautiful painting of Australian and New Zealand troop ships leaving Albany in November 1914. The AWM also loaned us some of its recruitment posters, which we have also displayed in the space. The whole exhibition is filled with a soundscape (which I might add is my personal favourite part of the exhibition), with snippets of speeches and letters being read to evoke the mood in Australia when the war broke out.
The exhibition was officially launched by His Excellency the Governor-General, General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC, yesterday afternoon. Here you can see some photos of the launch, and of the exhibition.
Keep your eyes peeled for my longer blog post in the near future, where I will share some behind-the-scenes stories and lessons learned from the process of creating and installing Crisis 1914: A Call to Arms.