The Starvation Debenture
I recently came across this political propaganda piece in the Camden Museum collection. It is a political flyer for the United Country Party from the 1932 New South Wales state election. The flyer was titled the ‘Starvation Debenture’.
It is reasonable to assume the flyer was circulating in the Camden area at the time for it to end up in the museum collection.
The certificate was issued against the wider background of the Great Depression, the White Australia Policy and the conflict between the rise of communism and fascism in Europe. These forces were played out in the 1932 state election and were just as relevant in Camden as anywhere else in the state.
Stephen Thompson from the Powerhouse Museum has argued:
New political ideas were coming to Australia from migrants from Europe. These ideas included fascism and socialism. These ideas were embraced by some as solutions to the growing racial and economic problems facing the world after World War One. To conservatives it was a direct threat to Australia’s links to the past of protection and governance by Britain and British class structures.
The Interwar period also saw the emergence of a number of organisations that influenced state politics:
- the Old Guard – a secret fascist organisation formed as a counter-revolutionary group and opposed the Lang Government, originally established in 1917;
- the New Guard – a fascist paramilitary organisation that split with the Old Guard was pro-monarchist, anti-bolshevik, and pro-imperialist;
- the New State Movement – the Riverina and New England State movements.
Reports of the flyer in the Sydney and country press
The Sydney press published a picture of the United Country Party flyer and there was an immediate demand for the leaflet. In the end, the United Country Party distributed over 200,000 flyers across the state. (SMH,4 June 1932)
The country press carried reports of the circulation of the flyer. The Wellington Times reported that the UCP flyers circulated around the town for the ‘amusement of the townspeople’. (Wellington Times, 9 June 1932)
At a political rally in Albury United Country Party supporters handing out flyers brawled with Langites who ‘did not like the leaflets’. (Sun, 8 June 1932) and the Melbourne press carried more reports (Argus, 6 June 1932).
United Country Party organisers were elated with the response to the flyers:
All over the country there has been a rush to secure the “starvation debentures” as souvenirs, and in many places they are pasted on the walls of hotels. (Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1932)
1932 State Election
Polling for the state election was held on Saturday 11 June 1932 for the single chamber of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. The opposing camps were Jack Lang’s Labor Party and Bertram Stevens’s United Australia Party and United Country Party coalition.
The third Lang government had been dismissed by Governor Philip Game on 13 May 1932. The Governor requested the Opposition Leader, BSB Stevens, to form an interim government until the election.
The Stevens coalition won the election with an 11 per cent swing against the Lang government and ended up with a 42-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly.
The Labor vote was diluted because the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party ran 43 endorsed candidates against the state division candidates. The ALP had split in 1931 and none of the Federal ALP candidates was elected. Both parties re-united in 1936.
Camden and the 1932 election
Camden and the surrounding villages were in the state electoral district of Wollondilly which also took in the Southern Highlands and Picton districts.
The endorsed candidates in Wollondilly were: United Australia Party was represented by Mark F Morton, MLA, John J Cleary represented the ALP (NSW) and Patrick W Kenna ALP (Federal). Morton was re-elected with a 71% primary vote.
The Camden press reported the remarks of the acting premier BSB Stevens in a front-page editorial. It stated:
Above all, each and every one of them wishes to maintain Australia’s membership of the British Empire the greatest of all democracies — and to keep Australia free from the taint of communism and its tyrannous methods. Freedom-loving Australians, like Britons from whom they are descended, shall never be the slaves of such a demoralising, dishonest, and humiliating system. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)
The Camden branch of the United Australia Party organised a public meeting addressed by MF Morton, the endorsed UAP candidate. The meeting was chaired by Mr EA Davies, and Mr Morton
gave an interesting resume of the events leading to the dismissal of the Lang Government ; stressing the point that it had been the first Ministry of the Crown to incite disobedience to the law of the land. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)
Mrs W Larkin and Miss Grace Moore moved a motion of thanks.
Enthusiastic rallies and vitriol
The 1932 election campaign was typified by large gatherings on both sides of the political spectrum, with a number of public meetings in Camden.
The acting premier, Bertrum Stevens, travelled over 1000 miles across the state in the days before the election. There was a particularly large rally at Peak Hill where over 5000 people gathered to listen to the acting premier and gave him a ‘thunderous reception’.
Another rally in the Domain organised by the Same Democracy League denounced Langism and one speaker that voting for Jack Lang was ‘voting for civil war and bloodshed’. (Argus, 6 June 1932)