Summary of the decade
The early 20th century was a time of relative calm and global peace. European nations politically and economically expanded into new territories in Asia, the Indies and the South Pacific. France, Germany and Britain arose as pre-eminent superpowers. This European imperial development and expansion came to a dramatic and catastrophic end with the First World War (1914–18).
At the beginning of the First World War, both sides of Australian politics competed to give enthusiastic endorsement for Britain's war effort. In 1914, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader and soon to be prime minister, Andrew Fisher, declared Australia would back Britain 'to the last man and the last shilling'. This war tested Australia's national pride and newly established independence. It was a time when both the Anzac legend and a 'national identity' developed.
But this unity was to be short lived. The 1916 and 1917 conscription referendums split the country and left a bitterness that lasted for more than a generation. Australian politics saw factional confrontation between Irish and British Australians, between Catholics and Protestants, inside the ALP government's own ranks, and between pacifist and militarist patriots.