Conscription of Wealth!

Tony Smith
Language: English

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Conscription of wealth
© Tony Smith 2015
Do you remember what happened that night
In the springtime of nineteen seventeen?
When the authorities turned out the lights
On Melbourne’s busiest streets?
Perhaps you were with Adela Pankhurst
When she led the march through the town
To protest the soaring price of food
While workers’ wages were kept down

The Government of Hughes was totally loyal
To Britain in the iron grip of war
It promised that into the shambles in France
Resources and men it would pour
It aimed to draft anyone it could find
And signed agreements to supply
The Empire first with wheat and beef
And to do it at a special price

Pankhurst and others on the broad left
Condemned those who profit from wars
They saw families beginning to starve
While others had bulging stores
Low wages they saw as a government ploy
A way of enlistment by stealth
So they rallied and dared to talk of peace
And pushed for ‘conscription of wealth’

Pankhurst with Vida Goldstein at her side
Said that they came to deplore
How hatred of Huns had made people numb
To the ghastly horror of war
And how some women sent sons away
Because of ‘uniforms and bands’
They led the Australian Womens Peace League
And took an anti-war stand

But the war propagandists soon got to work
Planting fear of ‘Reds’ in people’s minds
Events in Russia great emotions stirred
And ‘Wobblies’ were well demonised
A train strike in Sydney and shortage of coal
Played into the government’s hands
The socialist cause was soon cut adrift
And talk of food prices was banned

As she rose to speak along the Yarra Bank
Mary Grant’s blouse was ripped and torn
Jingoists behaved ‘lower than beasts’
As violent threats were roughly sworn
When only selected people may speak
Freedom of speech is curtailed
Some Labor MPs tried to protest
But their courage very soon failed

The War Precautions Act turned marches to riots
So the war was not for liberty
Police pressured councils not to hire sites
To Pankhurst or the League
The leaders were promptly thrown into jail
But she broke the terms of her release
So Hughes considered deporting her
This champion of justice and peace

Contributed by Tony Smith - 2016/1/24 - 00:37

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