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The New Guard was a perceived fascist movement in Australia formed in 1931. It was formed by a split in the Old Guard which had formed in 1930. It was opposed to communism and corrupt parliamentary democracy, called for class collaboration to replace class conflict, and engaged in street fighting against opponents and in plans for a coup d'état against the New South Wales State government of Premier Jack Lang. It was led by Colonel Eric Campbell.
The New Guard was founded in Sydney in February, 1931 by a group of concerned citizens, one of whom was Col. Eric Campbell, a First World War veteran asked to act as leader. Membership application forms set out the principles proclaimed by the New Guard: "Loyalty to the British Throne and support for the British Empire; Sane and honourable government in Australia; Suppression of disloyal/immoral elements in government, industry and society; Abolition of machine politics; Maintaining individual liberty."
The stated ideology of the New Guard can be seen as a response to a perceived communist threat, given that one of the criticisms that was made of communism was that it took away individual freedom and was therefore antithetical to democracy. In the international context of the 1920s and 1930s, Joseph Stalin's rise to power in the Soviet Union was seen by critics of communism as further evidence of its dangers.
In addition, many First World War veterans viewed the Russian Bolshevik armistice and treaty with Germany as a betrayal of the Allies since it broke the 4 September 1914 Triple Entente agreement not to conclude a separate peace with Germany or Austria-Hungary. The revolution also went against the notion that subjects should remain loyal to their rulers. In any case, the agreement took Russia out of the war and allowed Germany to reallocate troops from the eastern front to the western front, making life more difficult for Australian troops. Anger over Russia's withdrawal led the other Triple Entente members to invade Russia in support of the Russian tsar.
The 1930s was also the decade of the Great Depression, which caused extreme hardship around the world. Financial hardship in Australia meant that the possibility of popular uprisings did not seem then as distant and remote as it would now. The name New Guard, then, suggests not only the idea of guarding a set of values but also physically guarding the community, if necessary, against revolution. There is certainly some irony in this, given that the organisation went on to plot the forcible removal of Premier Jack Lang from office.
New Guard and Jack Lang
International communism may have been seen by the New Guard as a potential threat. However, in New South Wales, Jack Lang's Labor Party government, which was elected in October, 1930, posed a more immediate problem. Many of the reform policies that Lang introduced during his term were not welcomed by the New Guard. In particular, his administration sought to default on foreign debt repayments at the height of the Great Depression. Much of the debt was owed to financial institutions in Great Britain. This step was therefore regarded as treasonous and disloyal to that country.
The New Guard also sought to oppose the doctrines and activities of communists in Australia. However, once Lang and the Australian Labor Party were defeated in the elections of 11 June 1932, the New Guard lost its momentum.
Membership and activities
While the New Guard began as a relatively peaceful outfit that used lawful means to advance its objectives, its platform was immediately popular with many World War I officers and veterans as well as others with traditionalist beliefs and attitudes. The organisation's activities quickly descended into thuggery and street violence in a reaction to the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party of Australia.
The New Guard was reputed to have over 50,000 members within Sydney alone (which had a population of 1.2 million at the time), and its membership was organised along strict military lines with ranks, divisions, drill parades and a large private arsenal. It achieved its greatest fame in March 1932 when a member, Captain Francis de Groot, an Irish-born veteran of the First World War and furniture maker, infiltrated a mounted parade at the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Wearing his old 15th Hussars uniform, de Groot slashed the opening ribbon with a cavalry sword before Premier Jack Lang could perform the ceremony. He declared the bridge open "in the name of the loyal and decent people of New South Wales". Arrested by police, he was taken to a mental hospital for examination. The ribbon was hastily retied and duly cut by the premier.
Attempted kidnapping and civil unrest
Less well known than de Groot's exploits on the Harbour Bridge are the attempts to kidnap Jack Lang while he was being chauffeured home along the Parramatta Road from his Parliament House office at night. This attempt was foiled because Lang had switched to a cheaper, older car and driven himself home. The plan had been to detain Lang in an unused gaol at Berrima, a village approximately 100 km south-west of Sydney, stage a coup d'état and place NSW under martial law.
On the evening of the dismissal of Jack Lang by Governor Sir Philip Game on 13 May 1932, a brigade of several hundred men of the New Guard were stationed in the basement of a department store building several hundred metres from Parliament House. They had threatened to march upon Parliament House and stage another coup attempt if he did not resign before seven o'clock. Lang was sacked at six o'clock. A civil war[dubious ] might well have ensued had they attempted the coup, as important government buildings throughout the city of Sydney were being guarded by members of the Australian Labor Army and the New South Wales Police (legally responsible to the Crown through Governor Game but allegedly loyal to Lang's ministers). Certain Army officers, loyal to the Federal Government, were also members of the New Guard and might have been expected to bring out their troops in support of a coup.
After Lang's dismissal and subsequent electoral defeats, the New Guard waned in popularity, though they remained active right up until the start of the Second World War. Many of its members went on to help found the Australian League of Rights after World War II, which retains a small membership to this day.
- Larsen, Stein Ugelvik (ed.). Fascism Outside of Europe. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-88033-988-8. P. 282-284.
- Blamires, Cyprian; Paul Jackson (2006). World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 66. ISBN 1576079406. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
- The Secret Army And The Premier (ISBN 0-86840-283-4). This book describes in detail the attempted coup on the night that Jack Lang was relieved of his commission of Premier of New South Wales