Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Secession Movement

This week Damien Hassan, Senior Archivist at the State Records Office, talks about the Secession Movement and how in 1933, we almost split from the rest of Australia to become our own independent dominion. The idea of secessionism has never really gone away and remains topical and a media-worthy debate to this day (these days, secession is known as #Waxit).

A variation of secessionism emerged in the 1890s with Goldfields’ resentment against Perth fuelling the idea of a new State in the Goldfields named “Auralia”. The notion that Western Australia could do better if it operated as its own dominion was a theme even before we joined the Federation in 1901. It probably didn’t help the cause of unifying all Australian States and territories when Western Australia got left off the preamble of Australian Constitution in 1901 (this was later rectified).

By the 1920’s, the Secession League had gained considerable momentum and support. By 1930 Federal tariffs for wheat prices, allied to the Great Depression, were perceived as crippling the WA economy. A Referendum for Secession was held in April 1933 with two thirds of voters agreeing that Western Australia should withdraw from the Federal Commonwealth. Ironically the Referendum was also held at the same time that a new Labour government was sworn in, a government which was far less enthusiastic about the idea of secessionism.

While a delegation was sent to the UK to progress discussions for secession, this proved unsuccessful and the Secession League eventually withered away. However, notions of secessionism keep emerging, notably in the 1970s with Lang Hancock leading a new Westralian Secession Movement. In recent years, the idea has been re-ignited by discussions around GST distribution.

The State Records Office holds dozens of files which document the various strands of the 1920’s/30s Secession Movement, which examine in detail the cost implications for the State. The files also include the arguments that set out the case for secessionism (as well as the arguments that oppose the idea), extensive sets of press clippings … even the lyrics for the secession victory song “Westralia Shall Be Free”.

Recorded live on ABC Radio Perth on 11 August 2020.