October 1916 began with several days of torrential rain. “[Commemoration of the]8 Hour Day. Rained all day, no procession,” Margaret notes on 2 October, though she braved the weather to attend a film (again unnamed) at Glebe Pictures. The following day, it is “still pouring.” Rain also disrupts an important event the day after that: “Stop Work day to discuss conscription.” The national debate over conscription, evocatively dramatised by Frank Hardy in his classic novel Power Without Glory (1950), brought fault lines within Australian society to the fore.
The appalling loss of life at Gallipoli had sent shockwaves across Australia and created serious doubts about British military strategy. Many young men who might have enlisted in the understanding that a glorious (and ultimately victorious) adventure awaited them now reconsidered their plans. Australia had committed 5,500 troops to Britain in the immediate short term and yet, despite spirited recruitment campaigns, the number of men signing up for duty was dwindling.
The Australian Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes, was a strident advocate of conscription. In fact, his Government already held the right to conscript young men for home defence under the Defence Act 1903, and only an act of Parliament was required to extend this right to overseas actions. However, Hughes was facing internal dissent within his own ruling Labor Party over the idea, with enough members willing to cross the floor in the Senate to imperil a parliamentary vote.
Though usually described as a referendum, the public vote which Hughes scheduled for 28 October 1916 would actually be a plebiscite - a direct appeal to the people, with which Hughes hoped to form a mandate to persuade his own dissidents to fall into line. Those in favour of conscription pointed to what was considered an inalienable allegiance to ‘The Mother Country’. Britain had been promised 50,000 Australian reinforcements, and could not be let down. Certainly, many Australians had died in her defence, but proponents argued that abrogating the responsibility to help those that remained was a poor way of honouring their memory. Those who chose not to enlist were derided as 'shirkers’ and 'slackers’.
Source: State Library of Victoria
Those who opposed conscription cited a number of different reasons. Why should Australia be obliged to make a commitment so disproportionate to its small population? Opposition was particularly strong in rural areas, where farmers argued they were already doing plenty to keep the country afloat, and would face financial ruin if forced to abandon their properties.
Both sides were guilty of certain scare tactics, the Pro side building up the unlikely scenario of a German invasion on Australian shores, and the Anti warning of a flood of cheap immigrant labour replacing Australian workers forced to go to war.
It might also be noted that opponents of the war itself were frequently portrayed as radicals or lunatics - if they were mentioned at all.
Further divisions existed in the Catholic community, of which Margaret and her family were active members. The recent Easter Uprising in Ireland had radicalised many young Irish-Australian men. Why should they sacrifice their lives for a country that was an enemy to their cause? The fact that their community was overwhelmingly working class also led some to regard conscription as a form of class warfare. Margaret’s family would not have been the only one to hold back a son for economic as well as compassionate reasons. Trade unions were particularly wary of conscription, and several had combined to convene the national Stop Work day that Margaret mentions. In Sydney, the rally was held at The Domain, traditionally host to Sydney’s largest political meetings, though reports bear out Margaret’s recollection that it was 'too wet.’ Some 5,000 participants adjourned to the Sydney Town Hall to continue the meeting, passing a number of resolutions - none of them supportive of conscription.
Source: The Mirror of Australia, 21 October 1916
From the perspective of most of the world, it was extraordinary that Margaret had a right to vote in this plebiscite at all. Australian women were amongst the earliest in the world to gain suffrage, in 1902. While Margaret was becoming a thoughtful participant in democracy, her equivalents in England and America were still battling for the same right. Advocates of both sides were well aware that young women such as Margaret would play a major role in determining the result of the vote, and they were the target of many a direct appeal. On one hand, should a mother send another woman’s son to his death? On the other, could any woman not wish to avenge the atrocities committed against the women and children of France and Belgium?
In his typically thunderous style, Prime Minister William Morris Hughes gave the following speech to a gathering of South Australian women during his national tour in support of conscription:
Women of Australia, mothers, wives, sisters, will you condemn to death those gallant men who have gone to fight for you to preserve your honour, your liberty, your bodies, from those foul outrages inflicted upon the poor Belgian women and children? For if you do not send them support you basely abandon them, and by your abandonment, you do abandon them to death, you do trample to the dust the great sacrifices they have made for you, you dishonour the brave who have died for you, you quench every spark of hope in the hearts of the mothers and wives and sisters of those 300,000 brave men— the glorious dead and the no less glorious living who face death every day for your sakes; you cover with the mantle of eternal shame the country that bore you and to which you owe everything.
It is clear that Margaret herself did not dogmatically subscribe to either camp, and found herself genuinely torn on the issue. She would farewell two other close family friends, Eddie and Ken Ash, during the month, the pair joining a deployment of 4,800 soldiers departing aboard the HMS Ceramic. A letter from the Front reminded her that it was now three months since her brother Jack was wounded, and that the family and friends of Frank McKay were still in the dark as to his fate. Margaret spent much of October weighing up the difficult decision on conscription, attending many different meetings supporting both sides of the argument. Perhaps as a counterbalance, she also spent more time than ever at the movies.
11th October 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 24 September 1916
Salvation Joan The star of the film Margaret and her mother saw at the Crystal Palace on 11 October was advertised so prominently that she can be excused for recording its title as Edna May, which she mistook for its actual title, Salvation Joan. Though it was barely Spring, it was already time to mail Christmas parcels to France for Arthur and Jack, the latter of whom had just celebrated his 19th birthday. Perhaps it was after a day’s shopping for food and gifts that the women spent a relaxing afternoon in the cinema.
'Edna May in 'The Belle of New York' (1907) by John Laverty. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Edna May had begun her career in her native America, but made her fame in England. Though it had only been a moderate success in her homeland, London audiences made The Belle of New York one of the greatest stage hits of the 1890s, and in the key role of Violet Gray, the Salvation Army girl, Edna became the toast of the town, her beauty making her the subject of endless picture postcards, and earning her a string of wealthy admirers.
Since her marriage to millionaire sportsman Oscar Lewisohn in 1907, Edna had retired from the stage, and had since made only a handful of appearances at benefit performances. It was only the notion of helping one of her favourite charities that inspired her to agree to a film role. She donated her entire salary for Salvation Joan to the Red Cross. Salvation Joan was written by Marguerite Bertsch, Vitagraph’s former editor-in-chief of scenarios, who had recently been promoted to become the company’s first female director. The story told of a society girl (with the rather extraordinary name of ‘Joan Crawford’!) whose compassionate nature inspires her to join the Salvation Army. She soon falls in love with Bill (Harry T. Morey), an apparent crook from the slums who may have a better side to him, unlike her fiancee Philip (L. Rogers Lytton), the millionaire who turns out to have a very bad side. International espionage unexpectedly enters the story, leading to a nail-biting finale.
Its more sensational elements aside, the scenario was clearly designed to reference Edna’s most famous role. Publicity noted that she even wore the same iconic poke bonnet she had worn on stage as Violet Gray
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 8 October 1916
Reviewers agreed that Edna May had lost none of her beauty and charm in the years since she last appeared before the public. 'The one time famous musical comedy artist can act; she plays naturally, without affectation,’ said Moving Picture World, with which Motion Picture News thoroughly agreed: 'Not the least gratifying thing about Miss May is her command of quiet emotion; her restraint; her complete avoidance of cheap acting - of which there is altogether too much on the screen.’
However, the latter identified that ongoing problem that bedevilled so many features during the transitional period of 1914-16: 'Much of the action is too slow. There is considerable padding, and a number of scenes which do not help the story along materially.’ The pace picked up after the fourth reel, when the espionage mystery began to dominate the action and built to a strong climax. By the time the film reached Australia, the film’s seven reels had apparently been trimmed to six, and was probably the better for it.
Despite the sudden death of her husband the following year and the subsequent discovery that his wealth had dwindled to only a small amount, Edna May resisted most attempts to bring her back to the stage or screen, and was content to live out her days in Europe as a society matron. Salvation Joan, her only major film role, is now lost. As she did throughout the year, Margaret omitted to mention the Keystone comedy that showed on the same bill as Salvation Joan - The Judge, starring Louise Fazenda and Charlie Murray.
16th October 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 22 October 1916.
The Big Push
“Conscription staring us all in the face,” wrote Margaret on 16 October, shortly after receiving another letter from France from her brother Jack. She still showed no sign of having a clear position on the issue. Perhaps she thought that viewing The Big Push, which she attended the with her mother at the Crystal Palace, would help her make up her mind.
Margaret and her mother must have been amongst the first Sydney audiences to see the film, which had arrived only that morning, screening continuously from 11:30am until 9:30pm at night. Union Theatres clearly anticipated huge public interest, screening the picture simultaneously at two of its major theatres, the Crystal Palace and the Lyceum.
In both cases, the film formed one half of an incongruous double bill. Alongside the regular British Illustrated Gazette and Australasian Gazette, some audiences saw a slapstick Keystone comedy. Audiences at the Lyceum saw Madcap Ambrose, starring Mack Swain; while at the Crystal Palace, Margaret and her mother would have seen Sennett’s zany The Surf Girl, starring Raymond Griffith. Advertisements specifying the starting time of the main features suggest that many chose to skip the short. Later in the season, an episode of the serial The Iron Claw was substituted.
The Big Push was described as "a series of five reels of official British War Office pictures of the fighting during the advance on the Somme.“ Why the film was released in Sydney under this title is a mystery. It had made its Australian premiere in Victoria and Western Australia earlier in the month under the title by which it is now generally known, The Battle of the Somme, though the fact that some advertisements used both titles suggests that the battle itself was not yet recognised under any particular name in Australia.
The Battle of the Somme, the birthplace of modern warfare, was one of the most appalling incidents that mankind has ever known. The brutal machinery available to the modern soldier was capable of carnage on a scale unimaginable to previous generations. Sixty thousand British soldiers died on the first, dreadful day of the ‘big push’ alone. Over one million men would would perish over the course of the battle, including 23,000 Australians. Such figures remain staggering, even a century later. For a person of 1916, to see rose-tinted and heroic depictions of scenes at the Front in the newspaper was one thing. Being the first ever civilians capable of witnessing the battle for themselves through the medium of the motion picture was another; a dubious privilege indeed. "Every face, tired or cheery, passes before the spectator,” observed the Sydney Morning Herald, in full realisation that many faces were making their first and last appearance.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney) - 5 November 1916
Most people who saw The Big Push would never before have witnessed such graphic images as a person in the process of being shot, or a dead body. Various publications made arguments in support of the film’s unflinching view. "Not the glory of war do the pictures depict, but war - war in all its grim, murderous reality and hideous ruin,“ reported Britain’s Daily Telegraph. ”[It is] relieved only from utter repulsiveness by the heroic companionship and cheerful suffering of the human souls overshadowed and dwarfed by the gigantic powers of destruction around them.“
Despite the horror it depicted, the film was considered potent propaganda, and New South Wales’ Premier J.H. Holman clearly felt it would create a new groundswell of support for conscription. "These pictures of the advance on the Somme are by far the most realistic group of battle pictures I have ever seen anywhere,” he said. “Their wide dissemination is likely to have a most educational effect on the public, and help enormously in the efforts we are now making to create an understanding of the real position."
With the knowledge that their brothers and sons were in the process of living through this horror, The Big Push must have made confronting viewing for Margaret and her mother - or indeed for anyone. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Margaret spent a good deal of the following week taking in much lighter fare as she continued to ponder her very difficult decision. The Big Push, considered one of the most important surviving records of World War I, was also one of the first films to be deliberately preserved and archived, a process which began in 1920. It has recently been restored and is available on DVD under its more common title, The Battle of the Somme.
18th October 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 24 September 1916
It is tempting to suggest that Hell’s Hinges, which Margaret saw with fiancé Fred at the Audley Theatre on 18 October, was Fred’s selection - and yet, to defy the stereotype, Margaret had already demonstrated a marked partiality for both star William S. Hart and the Western genre in her other movie selections during the year.
Unlike its initial season at the Lyceum Theatre in the city, it is not likely that either The Little Schoolma'am or 1 a.m. played in support. If anything did, it may well have been the first episode of the serial The Iron Claw - of which more later. It had been some time since Margaret had seen one of the much-hyped Triangle photo plays - maybe, after declaring The Ne'er Do Well ‘rotten’, she had decided that their quality did not live up to the hype. In any case, Hell’s Hinges was a wonderful choice, and one of the films Margaret saw in 1916 that is still considered a legitimate classic today. It was a product of Thomas Ince’s Kay-Bee Films, one of the three companies that made up the 'triangle’ of Triangle Pictures.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 24 September 1916
Blaze Tracy is the epitome of the 'good bad man’ that William S. Hart had by now made his signature character: an outsider, a loner, and somewhat of a cynic who, emboldened by love, proves more innately virtuous than the hypocritical bastions of so-called decency, here represented by a weak-willed missionary (Jack Standing) whose attempts to tame the rough town known as 'Hell’s Hinges’ are immediately rejected.
Tracy is the most feared man in Hell’s Hinges, and yet he develops a soft spot for the preacher’s gutsy sister (Clara Williams), who is able to look beyond his tough exterior. Though Tracy sees to it that the church be established in peace, the preacher’s spineless ways lead him to alcohol and the clutches of a vamp, Dolly (Louise Glaum) and the townspeople are soon on the warpath. In setting the wrongs right, Hart not only gets to do some first-class gunslinging and impressive stunts but demonstrate the slow-burning, unpretentious style of acting that had made him a favourite. Said the New York Herald:
“William S. Hart is beginning to typify certain things in the film world. He is ever stoical, slow to anger, but possessed of the powers of a hundred men when aroused. He is a big, bluff, wholesome fellow, whose ideas are frequently a little peculiar, and he goes about matters in exclusively his own way. But when the showdown arrives, depend upon it, William S. Hart will be found lined up on the side of righteousness. This week, for example, Hart is appearing at the Knickerbocker Theatre in Hell’s Hinges. Hart has the opportunity to do some good riding, to carry a drunken minister on his back, to shoot the villain and some sub-villains, to set the town afire and to marry the minister’s sister. The Kaiser himself has appeared in pictures and done less.”
Though greatly admired by Variety and Motion Picture News, some reviews for Hell’s Hinges were surprisingly tepid. Whilst describing the film 'brilliant in subtitle, strong in treatment, with occasional notes of true pathos,’ Moving Picture World also believed "William S. Hart should try himself out in some other role, or, at least, in some more decided variation of story in which he quite regularly appears.“
In Australia, Hell’s Hinges also received an unusually middling review from The Mirror of Australia, at a time when most newspapers kept their film coverage light and objective. 'Although the Triangle Co. must have spent a whole lot of good money in producing Hell’s Hinges, the result was not particularly captivating,” wrote The Mirror. Though considering the camera work good, the reviewer declared that “the theme of the picture is particularly foolish.”
Audiences and critics of later years disagreed, and yet it is also interesting to note that Hart himself felt it necessary to dispel the notion that the Western was a genre on the wane. “William S. Hart is out all the time to prove that the day of the Western drama is by no means past,” reported the Sunday Times. “His contention is that it is only just dawning … the Westerns that Hart is producing are far different, however, to the old style, inasmuch as unlimited gun-play has no place in them.” Of course, Hart was correct, and the Western would prove one of the most enduring genres of the 20th century.
In the same way that Charlie Chaplin had helped to bring nuance to slapstick comedy, William S. Hart helped to show not only that the Western could be more than a simplistic battle of 'goodies versus baddies’, but that the matter of who was truly on which side could be a complicated one. Today, Hell’s Hinges is regarded by many not only as Hart’s best film, but one of the greatest and most influential Westerns of all time. It is also one case when the modern viewer can easily make up their own mind, the film not only being extant but widely available.
21st October 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 1 October 1916
The Iron Claw Ed Hulse’s recent book Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders is helping to break down long held perceptions that the weekly screen serial was nothing more than the cheaply-produced poor cousin to the feature.
As an indicator of the interest a serial could generate in an audience of 1916, when Margaret went to the movies on 21 October, she recorded not the name of the main feature but the serial that accompanied it - The Iron Claw, starring Pearl White, whom she had seen earlier in the year in The New Exploits of Elaine. The ‘iron claw’ of the title referred to the prosthesis sported by the serial’s villain, played by Sheldon Lewis, who lost his original hand in a fight with the father of foundling Margery (Pearl White). As the series progresses, Margery is rescued from multiple calamities by a mysterious benefactor known only as The Laughing Mask. Much attention was focused on his actual identity, which was sensationally revealed in the final chapter.
Margaret saw Episode 2, “The House of Unhappiness”, which was serialised in Australian newspapers as follows:
“The House of Unhappiness.” After being rescued by that mysterious avenger of wrongs, known to the underworld as “The Laughing Mask,” and returned to her father, from whom she was kidnapped as a child, Margery is again threatened by the sinister master criminal Legar, alias “The Iron Claw.” Legar's purpose is to wreak vengeance on Enoch Golden, the girl’s father, who, years before, finding Legar, then his friend, unfaithful, had the latter’s face seared with white hot irons and his hand crushed in a vice. To intimidate Golden into returning his daughter to his (Legar’s) clutches, the master criminal, with the help of Stein’s Electric Ray Projector, a deadly instrument, sets fire to many of Golden’s properties and threatens further mischief should his demands not be acceded to.
Margery, the daughter, seeing that she is the cause of great misfortune to her father, voluntarily offers herself to “The Iron Claw.” But, by the looks of things, Legar won’t have such easy sailing, for Davy Manley, Golden’s secretary, has her interests at heart, and that other mysterious agent. “The Laughing Mask,” promises to give further account of himself in the next chapter, called “The Cognac Cask.”
Of The Iron Claw’s twenty episodes, only one is known to have survived - Episode 7, which first showed in Sydney during the week of 19 November 1916. While she did watch various individual episodes of serials during the year, there is no indication that Margaret followed any one of them from beginning to conclusion - though it is possible that The Iron Claw’s first episode had supported Hell’s Hinges, and interested her enough to view the second one.
Many serials were as well and expensively made as longer films. Reports claimed that The Iron Claw boasted a budget of $US25,000 for Pearl White’s wardrobe alone, including a spectacular sequinned dress that cost $1000 and was only worn for a single sequence.
Serials also attempted to outdo one another in the matter of hair-raising stunts, which were widely (though sometimes inaccurately) hyped as being performed by the actors themselves, at considerable personal danger. In the process of filming The Iron Claw, Pearl White was carried on the shoulders of hero Creighton Hale to escape a flood, pelted with logs as she was caught on a timber sluice, and thrown clear of a trolley car accident.
Presuming that she had stayed to watch the other films on the bill, Margaret would also have seen Thomas Ince’s The Thoroughbred, a Western starring the same Frank Keenan whom she had first met earlier in the year in Ince’s The Coward, and The Waiter’s Ball, starring Roscoe 'Fatty’ Arbuckle. The latter picture had been lavishly praised in Sydney and, like Charlie Chaplin’s two-reel films for Mutual, was given the rare honour of its own half-page advertisements. The Thoroughbred survives in full, while The Waiter’s Ball, long available only in a cutdown one reel version, was recently restored to something close to its original two-reel length, a restoration that premiered at the 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Source: Picture Palace Architecture in Australia - Ross Thorne
Margaret did not often visit West’s Olympia, a theatre that sat on a corner of Oxford Street, Darlinghurst - a little out of the way from her regular haunts. A clue to her reason for being in the area can be found in her diary: "Heard Yes meeting" She notes attending a number of meetings both for and against conscription. Advertisements confirm that a major
Of all the theatres mentioned in the diary, West’s Olympia is the only one that is both still extant and was still in operation as a cinema until fairly recently. After appearing under many different names and incarnations, it was split into two auditoriums in 1973, and renamed the Academy Twin. Part of the original cinema was turned into a nightclub, while the remainder operated successfully as an arthouse cinema for several decades, until its closure in 2010. The entire complex is now for rent, and the former cinema occasionally re-opens for live performances.
25th October 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 22 October 1916
One thing that comes across in Margaret’s diary for 1916 is that she seems not to have been very interested in slapstick comedy, and rarely even noted the comedy shorts that are known to have appeared on the same bill as other features she saw during the year.
This makes her selection of Charlie Chaplin’s The Pawnbroker, which Margaret saw at the Crystal Palace on 25 October, seem an unusual choice. Perhaps she was persuaded by the recent burst of publicity surrounding Union Theatres’ exclusive contract for Chaplin's newest films, leading them to give the Crystal Palace a new slogan, ‘Where Charlie Chaplin Lives’. Perhaps, like audiences around the world, she had begun to see something different in Chaplin’s comedy. Or perhaps she wanted to take her mind off the conscription debate, and simply have a good laugh.
Chaplin was widely promoted in Australia under the tagline 'Our Mutual Friend’ - an indication of his recent contract with Mutual Pictures, a company that had rewarded him with both a huge salary and an unusual level of control over his own product.
Though brief, the Mutual period yielded what many still consider to be the best films of Chaplin’s career - small masterpieces of performance and construction that were not clouded by the sentiment or political message which some believe detracted from the pure fun in his later features.
It is a testament to the popularity of Chaplin in Australia that his films for Mutual must have been rushed to Australian shores virtually the moment they were completed. The Pawnbroker had made its American debut only three weeks before Margaret saw it.
Australian critics suggested that local audiences had been disappointed with Chaplin’s most recent work with Essanay Studios, which showed a performer still in the process of evolving from the more rough-and-tumble fun of his earliest days with Mack Sennett’s Keystone company. However, “The Pawnbroker puts Chaplin right back in his place with the public,” reported Perth’s Sunday Times. “It is rather a risky thing to describe any of a man’s work as the best he has produced, but Charlie Chaplin’s acting in The Pawnshop [sic] at the Lyceum and CrystalPalace, is such that the chance is worth taking,” said the Sydney Sun. “It is unquestionably the best of the present series, and if there is one of his pictures to measure with it it must be one of the old Keystone series, in the days when he had the support of such a sterling trio of comedians as Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, and Ambrose.”
While Mack Sennett had pioneered the idea of the feature-length comedy with Chaplin’s Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), it was not until the early 1920s that comedy features began to gain precedence over the short. Many early comedy shorts provided storylines merely as framework on which to hang gags and pratfalls - and with a duration of only twenty minutes, this is all they needed to do. A feature film had to supply something more - character investment, dramatic progression, a proper storyline.
These are the elements that Chaplin had already begun to bring to his films. At the same time dramatic shorts were evolving into dramatic features, the more primitive slapstick comedy of film’s earliest days was giving way to something more nuanced and substantial. The following year, Buster Keaton would make his first appearance on Australian screens, and Harold Lloyd the year after that. All three men would ensure that screen comedy would never be the same. Margaret deemed The Pawnbroker ’v[ery] good’. The Pawnbroker is widely available today, and was recently released in a beautifully restored Blu Ray edition by Flicker Alley. Thanks to Kevin Browlow’s groundbreaking documentary Unknown Chaplin, we can even watch out-takes of the film, which show how much effort Chaplin put in to making his art appear effortless.
28th October 1916
Source: Museum of Australian Democracy
As the conscription vote approached, reports in major newspapers, which were overwhelmingly supportive of the ‘Yes’ vote, bolstered the general feeling that the measure would easily prevail. On the ground, the situation was more equivocal, and a sign of the diversity of feeling occurred on Margaret’s own doorstep.
On 25 October, the Premier, W. A. Holman, spoke at a pro-conscription rally at Glebe Town Hall. Though still vociferous in support of a 'Yes’ vote, Holman had somewhat reframed his argument, conceding conscription as 'an evil, but the lesser of two evils’. Several interjections that were recorded in reports also showed that not all the crowd were entirely on his side.
Outside the Town Hall, a number of people who had not been able to gain admission began to hold their own impromptu meeting. The crowd grew so large that it spilled into the street. After being herded away by police, the assemblage adjourned to the nearby home of a Mr Barnard, who offered the upper balcony of his terrace as an impromptu stage. The local Member of Parliament, Thomas Keegan, later joined the meeting, and declared that if what he had heard at this and similar gatherings in rural areas in recent days was reflected at the ballot box, conscription would be defeated ten to one. “The crowd of several thousands, augmented by the few hundreds from Mr Holman’s Town Hall meeting, which terminated early, gave a clue to the verdict of the Glebe on the 28th,” reported the Evening News, adding that the following resolution was been carried by the gathering without a single dissenter: “This meeting of citizens of West Sydney emphatically protests against the introduction of conscription of human life for service abroad in Australia, and further declares its intention to put its protest into action on Saturday by voting No.”
Source: Australian War Memorial.
As Saturday 28 October dawned, both sides gave their final pitches. Large crowds gathered at Martin Place in the centre of Sydney to hear impassioned speeches in favour of conscription by NSW Premier Holman and Prime Minister Hughes. A grand procession of 13,000 returned soldiers wound through the city, a parade that stretched over four miles. Though the last several meeting she had attended were in support of the 'Anti’ campaign, Margaret apparently remained uncertain: ’A great struggle, Yes or No?’ By coincidence, she bumped into a returned soldier who had served with her brother Arthur in Egypt on the way to the polls. A single word - "Yes" - written in a different ink and presumably at a different time - may indicate how she finally decided to vote, though this is far from clear.
More than two million Australians cast their vote that day. When the numbers began to come in, the results were a shock. Several days of counting confirmed that 'No’ (1,160,033) would narrowly defeat 'Yes’ (1,087,557), with one of the strongest votes against the measure coming from the Prime Minister’s own electorate.
His support for conscription had left William Morris Hughes in an untenable position within his own party. In mid September, he was expelled, taking with him a sizeable breakaway of dissident MPs. It was the first of five times Hughes was to shift parties in a 52 year political career that still rates as the most controversial in Australian history.