Australia's South African war 1899-19021
AbstractAround twenty thousand Australians fought in the great war between the
British empire and the republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Those Australians constituted five in every thousand of their people, or three in every two hundred of their male workers. In South Africa they made up just one in every twenty-five soldiers in a British army of almost half a million.2 As these bald figures immediately suggest, Australia's contribution to the war was too small to be decisive,
and its experience of the war involved too few of its people to make a powerful impact on its society, let alone wrench its history onto some different course. Still, that contribution and that experience were unprecedented for a people who had never before gone to war as a people, and deserve more attention - and more balanced, dispassionate, critical attention - than they've yet received from historians of the war,
of Australia, and of the British empire.3 In this lecture I'll strive for such balance by outlining why and how Australians went to war in South Africa, what their soldiers did there, and the war's legacy for their country and their descendants today.