Melbourne at War – Stop 1

Stop 1  is Government  House

From Federation in 1901, Melbourne served as the National Capital of Australia, until the Federal Parliament relocated to the new city of Canberra in 1927.

Next stop: Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road.



During this time, Government House was the residence of the Governor General. And following the Declaration of War on Germany by the British Government on 4th August 1914, it was the duty of the Governor General to issue the Declaration of War on Germany and its allies on behalf of the Australian Government.

“Commonwealth of Australia to wit, R. M. FERGUSON Governor-General By His Excellency the Right Honourable Sir Ronald Crawford Munro Ferguson, a Member of His Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth of Australia.
“WHEREAS His Majesty has been compelled to declare war against GERMANY.”

It was also the duty of the Governor General to deal with constitutional and political crises that occurred during this time.
The most fraught was the resignation of Prime Minister Hughes at the height of conscription debate in 1917.

Two referenda on the issue of conscription were held – the first in October 1916, the second in December 1917. Hughes threatened to resign if the vote was turned down a second time. This in fact occurred – the vote was lost and Hughes and his government resigned.

“As I informed honorable members yesterday, the late Government placed its resignation in the hands of the Governor General. It is only necessary at this moment to say that, consequent upon the result of the referendum, the Government considered it Its duty to resign unconditionally, and to offer no advice to His Excellency.”

A crisis in federal politics followed. Governor General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson consulted first with the minority Labor Party. He then spoke to Hughes’s Nationalist Party but they refused to form a coalition. So with no alternative, Sir Ronald reinstated Hughes as Prime Minister. But even so, he had little confidence in Hughes as an administrator.
“He’s a jackdaw … who pounces on everything and secretes it in its own nest.”

Government House also played a completely different role during the war.
Just nine days after the declaration of WW1, the Governor General’s wife, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson dedicated Government House as the national headquarters of the Australian Red Cross. Lady Helen had experience with the British Red Cross, and she called on Australian women to join.

As part of this effort, Government House’s Ballroom became the national depot for packing and despatching goods overseas to provide welcome relief for Australian troops. Here, teams of women volunteers made clothing, prepared medical supplies and packages to send to London, Egypt and France. Some of the staff jokingly referred to it as the Red Cross invasion of Government House.
The volunteers came mainly from the middle-classes, and even Lady Helen was know to roll up her sleeves and help out.

“It was a hive of activity …. Long trestle tables piled high with goods sent from Red Cross branches across the state criss-crossed the ballroom, sewing machines placed in the corners of the room busily whirred away patching and fixing, whilst others assembled and packed the Red Cross parcels in stiff brown paper and twine. In other sections of the room, industrious workers in factory-like conditions created bandages out of yards of old linen.”

The work of the Red Cross boosted morale not just for the soldiers, but also for those at home.
Sick and wounded soldiers stationed overseas received ‘care’ parcels of clothing, food, soap, cigarettes and board games. After the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, the Red Cross set up an office in Egypt to help relatives in Australian locate sick or wounded soldiers, or loved ones who were still missing.

From here, make your way to Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road.