A couple of months ago, I wrote briefly about the New Guard, a right-wing paramilitary movement that sprung into being in Australia during the Great Depression.
Since that time, I have been in Australia conducting research for my PhD. And since the New Guard features in my work, i’ve spent a good deal of time looking at the material left behind by its leaders and members. At this point, i’m sure many of you are stifling a yawn, and wondering “what’s so exciting about dusty old papers and pamphlets?” Well, lots, if you’re a history geek like me… but history ‘aint all paperwork, you know.
Take the following New Guard cartoon, for example, which speaks volumes on the guardsmen’s adherence to orthodox economics and its attitude towards Labor Premier Jack Lang:
Note Lang’s priestly raiment – the New Guard often portrayed him as a false prophet of the working class
Or how about the colourful armbands worn by New Guardsmen to denote their locality and rank – two of which are located in the Mitchell library of New South Wales:
The armband of a Five Dock locality member (left) and the locality commander (right)
But perhaps the most exciting historical remnant i’ve come across recently is the sheet music for the New Guard’s anthem. This anthem would have been sung before meetings and rallies of the New Guard, including the Monster Rally in February 1932 attended by over 3000 guardsmen. Using a little elbow grease and some handy freeware music editing software, I managed to reproduce the anthem in all its cheesy glory. So, played out loud for the first time in almost eighty years, here it is – “The Song of the New Guard” by Sydney Calland and Celene Hooper:
So you see, history isn’t all paperwork. It’s something you can see, something you can hear, something you can touch – in short, it’s a veritable wonderland for the imagination. And what may seem like a cheesy little ditty today would have, in its time, been a powerful marker of imperial patriotism and loyalty. Imagine, if you will, three thousand fervent guardsmen thundering songs about God, King and Country off the walls of the Sydney Town Hall. Understand the drawing power of such displays, and one can go a long way towards truly understanding the motives of historical figures.