Australian troops returned from Vietnam march through Brisbane

Australian troops returned from Vietnam march through Brisbane

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World War I

Over 324,000 Australians served overseas in this conflict and more than two-thirds of those became casualties. While the raw statistics gloss over the extent of this human tragedy, the records reveal the personal stories of sacrifice, bravery and despair.

Australia's involvement in World War I was played out against the backdrop of a protracted conscription debate.

World War II

World War II forced Australia to question its relationships with the rest of the world. The Australian Government turned to the United States for help rather than to Britain, our traditional ally. Many people from Europe, displaced by the war, made Australia their new home as part of an ambitious immigration policy. Australia reconsidered the reality of its position in the Pacific as it coped with new threats and forged new alliances.

As in all conflicts, the nation's story is the sum of the personal stories of those whose lives were so affected by these events.

Cold War

The 'new world order' after World War II included hard-line communist countries with which Australia did not have formal relations. Political stand-offs, spy rings and defections became part of the political landscape in the 1950s and 1960s.


Compulsory enlistment for military service within Australia was first introduced in 1903. The contentious aspect of conscription has usually related to compulsory service overseas. This was the subject of fierce debate, and two unsuccesful referendums, during World War I.

Perhaps this experience was recalled during World War II, when conscription was introduced only for home defence. However, the definition of 'home' was extended to New Guinea and the adjacent islands.

During the Vietnam War conscripts were again sent to serve overseas, while a fierce public debate raged at home.