Australia First Movement – Fact sheet 28

Background

The Australia First Movement grew out of strong anti-British sentiment and vigorous Australian nationalism. Several elements fuelled its creation, including the severity of the Great Depression and the imperialistic attitude of some prominent Britons living in Australia.

If the movement could be assigned forefathers they would include writer Percy Reginald Stephensen and William John Miles, a Sydney businessman. Over a six-year partnership they attracted the wholehearted opposition of the Labor left and the tolerance of the right due only to their strong anti-communism. The movement was attributed with a growing sympathy towards the German, Italian and Japanese governments.

The Australia First Movement existed for five months until its leaders and some of its members were secretly interned in March 1942. Their internment was based on the suspicion that the movement might attempt to provide help to Japanese invaders. [1] This led to a Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr Justice Clyne which sat between 19 June 1944 and 17 May 1945.

Between 1936 and 1942 the movement published 16 volumes of a newsletter titled The Publicist. This publication stated that its aim was to 'arouse in Australians a positive feeling, a distinctive Australian patriotism of a thoroughly realistic kind'. Although The Publicist was regarded as dully repetitive, argumentative and sometimes childish, it featured prominently in the Commission of Inquiry – mostly due to its seemingly pro-Japanese stance, when Australians were living in fear of Japanese invasion. [2]

Records dealing with the Australia First Movement

Commisson of Inquiry into the Internment in 1942 of certain persons connected with the Australia First Movement Group (CA 945)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesTranscript of evidence1944–45A1107

Commonwealth Investigation Service (CA 650)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files of the Commonwealth Investigation Service1916–60A8911
SeriesCorrespondence files1941–48A373

Investigation Branch, Central Office (CA 747)

Security Service, Central Office (CA 660)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemPress cuttings relating to Australia First internees1942–44A375, NN

Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files, W (War) prefix1939–49A472
SeriesSpecial correspondence files1952–A467

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (CA 1297)

Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1934–50A461
ItemAustralia First Movement1946A461, U327/1/4
SeriesCorrespondence files1939–47A1608
ItemAustralia First Movement part 11941–49A1608, S39/2/3

War Cabinet Secretariat (CA 1468)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesWar Cabinet Minutes without Agenda files1939–46A2676
ItemWar Cabinet Minute nos 2067 and 2095 – Australia First Movement1942A2676, 2067 and 2095

Department of Defence [III], Central Office (CA 46)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesThe Shedden Collection1937–71A5954
ItemAustralia First Movement1942–45A5954, 431/10

Security Service, New South Wales (CA 946)

The Hon. Sir Thomas Stuart Clyne (CP 265)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPersonal notebooks of His Honour Judge TS Clyne1939–62MP688/1

Records held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesOfficial History, 1939–45 War, Series 4 (Civil) Volumes I & II: Records of Paul Hasluck1945–69AWM68
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017