Monday, August 4, 2014

The Day the World Changed

New troops march through Perth

Wednesday 5th August, 1914, was a day like no other in Perth, Western Australia.

The winter sun beamed down on the city, unseasonably warm, and an anxious crowd was gathering outside the offices of The West Australian on St Georges Terrace.

There were no other outward signs of change around the Sandgroper state. In the wide streets in town, the clerks and the salesmen carried on their business as usual. Out on the land, our sheep-and-wheat farmers lamented another day of no rain in a drought that had dragged on for three years. On the harbour at Fremantle, in the mines of the Goldfields, and on the rails of the Transcontinental Railway project, the workers laboured on, steady and strong. In the parlours of Subiaco and Mount Lawley, society talk bounced between the serious matter of the double dissolution Federal election that was underway, and the frivolity of the latest productions at His Majesty’s Theatre.

The future was bright for the state. Just a couple of weeks ago, the first ever class graduated with pomp and ceremony from the new University of Western Australia. Around the footy grounds, consistently strong performances from the Bulldogs and the Sharks saw a Fremantle derby shaping up as the big finish to the sporting year. Families frolicked at Cottesloe Beach, strolled the grounds of the zoo, and relaxed by the Swan.

For weeks, news had been trickling through about the growing tensions in Europe after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, and the people of Perth had been watching it all unfold. For the last week, the newspaper billboards had indicated something big was coming. Each day, more people turned out to the Terrace to see what would happen next.

Around 12:30pm, a new update arrived, and a cheer rose up from the crowd.

The wait was over.

War had been declared.


By the evening, spirits were running high, and youth were lobbing stones at the Austrian embassy. By the next day, the rush to enlist was already beginning, and the march to war was very much underway.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the First World War, and tomorrow the centenary of the day the news officially arrived.

There are many differences between the lives we lead today, and those of one hundred years ago. Perth itself has changed considerably- the centre of town is unrecognisable, except for a few preserved buildings. At the same time, we still have plenty in common with the ancestors who walked these streets on those fateful days, and we can still understand them.

We are now entering the full swing of the centenary commemorations, remembering the events that occurred from this date forwards. Considering what existed before the conflict gives crucial perspective to what was lost. The people who heard the news of war that day, and those who acted on it, hurrying to enlist, are very recognisable to us now. What war did to their world is the entire reason we still feel the impact today.

For the people of Western Australia, from this day forward, change was coming. Life would never be quite the same again, and the conflict and the loss on the other side of the world would play a part in shaping who we are today.