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WESTERN AUSTRALIA ATTEMPTS SECESSION IN THE 1930's

I have no recollections of the persistent concerns that the W.A. residents had about staying in the Australian Federation, right up to the end of WW II in 1945. Moreover, even in the 1970's a Westralian Secessionist Movement was formed with the financial backing of mining magnate, Lang Hancock. The movement represented a conservative reaction to the centralist views of the Whitlam Labour Government. During the 1999 Federal referendum campaign, the W.A. secessionists urged electors to vote ‘NO’ to a new Federation.

The cover had a roller cancel of PERTH/ 8 APR/ 1933/ W.A. canceling a 1d green KGV head stamp. It had a printed "REFERENDUM DAY/ SOUVENIR/ 8TH April 1933/ VOTE/ SECESSION/ OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA/ FROM FEDERATION/ or CONVENTION?, and included a picture of a young woman with her hand on a symbolic black swan (Figure 1).

 

 

 

The following discussion concentrates on the 1930's: "In October 1929 more than a quarter of the population of Perth crammed the city’s streets to watch the centenary parade....While the twenty-fifth anniversary of Federation in 1926 had passed almost unnoticed in Western Australia, the centenary of the founding of the Swan River Colony was celebrated with energy and enthusiasm. Few among the crowds along St George’s Terrace could have imagined that within five years they would vote in overwhelming numbers to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia....The federal government was a remote institution about which local politicians and public figures ....regularly complained".

W.A., and Perth its capital, in 1929 were isolated by great distances from the eastern States, and interstate travel was costly and inconvenient. It wasn’t until 1933 that the first Australia-wide radio broadcast took place, and W.A. did not have a cricket team in the Sheffield Shield competition until the 1950's. "...a sense of distance fostered a distinct identity, and in the difficult years of the Depression, fueled those secession sentiments which ran deep throughout the State."

"Throughout the early 1930s the frustration and resentment of ordinary people who felt powerless to control their own destiny was directed at Canberra and the East....By the time the secession referendum was held in 1933 the electorate....(voted) to secede by a margin of (almost) three to one while paradoxically on the same day rejecting the pro-secession government of Premier James Mitchell"(no relation to the Mr. S. Mitchell on the cover?)

"The Dominion League had been formed in 1930 to agitate for the separation of W.A. from the Commonwealth, and for the creation of W.A. as a Dominion in the British Empire. The Federal League had been formed in 1931 in response to the Dominion League’s campaign, and the Federal League’s members were criticized frequently for protecting their own interests (strong commercial links with the east) rather than guarding the welfare of the W.A. State. The only area to reject the call to secede was the goldfields ....(which called for) a national convention to alter the Australian Constitution".

"The W.A. Secession Delegation arrived in London in 1934 with high hopes to persuade the British Parliament to overturn the Act of Parliament with which they had formed the Commonwealth of Australia and given to the Australian people their Constitution". The delegation returned within 2 years in complete failure, for the petition was rejected "on the grounds that the British Parliament could not act without the Australian Federal Parliament’s approval....Almost as quickly the secessionist storm had descended on Western Australian politics, it blew itself out as people got on with the business of recovering from the Depression."

By the late 1930s the Australian economy was well on the road to recovery. By 1941 John Curtin, the first and only W.A. Prime Minister was in office ( 7 October 1941 to 5 July 1945), after six years as leader of the Labor Opposition. In addition, the outbreak of WW II in 1939 had increased Australia’s sense of national purpose.

My thanks go to David Whiteford, senior archivist at the W.A. Battye Library and all the quotations are from their superb website, http://www.liswa.wa.gov.au/federation/sec/index.htm.

Addendum (September 2007):  An almost identical cover has just been found about Referendum Day 8th April 1933, with the option of Secession or Convention printed in red, with a roller cancel PERTH/ 10 30AM/ 8 APR/ 1933/ W.A. addressed to the same Mr. S. Mitchell (who may be the producer of the cover),at the same address as in Figure 1, the postage being paid by the green1d KGV head stamp (Figure 2). 

 

 
 

Addendum (February 2012):  Another of these Western Australian Secession covers has been found which is printed in red and addressed to Mr. W. C, Greenham, Post Restante, Boulder City, Western Australia (Figure 3).

In addition I have found an advertisement in The Sunday Times, Perth,  May 21, 1933 which shows that Mr. S. Mitchell of Figures 1 & 2 was the producer of these covers. The advert reads: "SECESSION VICTORY Celebration Day Covers, specially designed , 9d each.  S. Mitchell, 376a Murray-street, Perth. (Figure 4).

 
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