Almanac Politics: Who was Anstey?

Way back in September 2011, I had an Almanac posting on a man called Frank Hyett. He played cricket for Carlton in district ranks, as well as playing football for Brunswick in the VFA. Sadly he died in early 1919 a victim of the worldwide influenza break out.


As well as his sporting prowess Frank Hyett was very active in politics. Hyett worked closely with people like John Curtin and Frank Anstey,  One of Hyett’s key activities was in opposing conscription during the First World War. Hyett , Anstey, Curtin with thousands of others worked to oppose conscripting Australia’s young men to fight in this war.  They opposed a Federal Government who proposed the following to the people of Australia.


Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency the same compulsory powers  over citizens, for the term of this war, outside the Commonwealth as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth


On October 28 1916 a plebiscite of eligible voters was conducted. A majority of votes, 1,160,033, representing 51.61% of the electorate, said No to the government’s proposal. Australia would not conscript its men to fight, and die, overseas. A year later a second plebiscite was held. This time the No vote was even higher.


Sadly we tend to forget these momentous events in our history. Individuals like Frank Anstey and Frank Hyett are not spoken about. Unlike Hyett, Anstey did not have  a claim to fame in the sporting arena but he played a pivotal role in mobilising the community to oppose what Archbishop Mannix so eloquently labelled as “Great Trade War”.  For those of us who have an interest in an honest understanding of our history, we need to share this knowledge.


Next Monday. August 22, there will be a public meeting at St Ambrose Community Centre, 287 Sydney Rd Brunswick looking at the role Frank Anstey played in this vital campaign,  a key part of Australia’s democratic history.


As we approach the centenary of the first plebiscite re conscription, October 28, there will be events taking place to commemorate this important part of Australian democracy. Do yourselves a favour, pop on down to St Ambrose Community Centre next Monday to discover who was Anstey.




  1. Glen – Power Without Glory is my seminal book, and Frank Ashton (the character based on Anstey) is the character I most empathised with when I read the book several times in my teens and twenties. From memory Hardy portrays him as highly principled but corrupted by his moral weakness for the drink. I often think back on uneasy parallels in my own life. Destiny or wish fulfilment?
    Anstey allies with Archbishop Mannix and his money man John Wren over their mutual dislike of the English aristocracy and money power and WW1. Anstey for socialist reasons and Mannix and Wren as Irish Catholic nationalists. My enemy’s enemy is my friend.
    Anstey is a great flawed (aren’t we all) figure in Australian Labor history. His most lasting memorial is his mentoring of a young John Curtin who overcame his weakness for the drink in a way that Anstey didn’t. Anstey burnt his unpublished memoirs not long before his death. Either in a drunken rage or at Wren’s bidding, depending on whether you believe Hardy’s version or not. A great lost archive of the political struggles of the working class in Australia over 50 years in the late 19th and early 20th century.
    Would love to be in Melbourne and attend the meeting on August 22. Congratulations to the organisers on keeping the flame alive.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    Glen, if people are going to the meeting they might like to catch the Upfield line train and get off at Anstey Station and hoof the two blocks south from there.


  3. Spot on Steve.


  4. Well we had a great turnout to our meeting on who was Anstey? Over 70 people attended to hear Professor Peter Love give the talk.

    I said in my post of 16/8 that Frank Anstey had no claim to fame in the sporting arena; he did, slightly. He was the President of the Brunswick Football Club in the VFA.

    On October 28 we commemorate the centenary of the first plebiscite on conscription. Pencil that date in. More events will be forthcoming.


  5. nineofclubs says

    There are some interesting parallels between Frank Anstey and another great Australian, Arthur Calwell.

    Both were committed socialists. Both were Australian nationalists. Both opposed conscription and Australian involvement in foreign imperial wars. Both supported immigration restriction. And Calwell was a foundation member of the North Melbourne football club; he apparently mortgaged his house to help The Roos get off the ground.

    There’s a little-studied thread of Australian nationalist thought which runs through people like Anstey, Jack Lang, John Curtin, Calwell, Eddie Ward and the nationalists of the late 20th century (Alec Saunders etc) that’s now anathema to the socially liberal globalist clique which completely dominates our mainstream media and worldview. This thought-thread is nationalist but not right wing, opposed to the Money Power but not the market, socialist but not Marxist and traditional without being socially conservative.

    In my view, Australia needs this way of thinking back again.

    To the Australian Revolution!


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