New Guard

From Academic Kids

The New Guard was a paramilitary Fascist organisation that existed in Australia in the 1930s. Though it had members from all over the nation, its membership and support base was concentrated in the State of New South Wales and its capital city, Sydney.

The New Guard was founded in 1930 by Col. Eric Campbell, an officer veteran of the First World War. It was established with the ostensible aim of forming grassroots political opposition to the New South Welsh State Government of the populist left-wing Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, whose Australian Labor Party administration sought to default on foreign debt repayments at the height of the Great Depression. The vast majority of this foreign debt was owed to financial institutions in England, therefore, this was regarded as high treason and disloyalty to the British Empire - not to mention disrespect to the values of law and order and sanctity of contracts, values that are dearly held by many authoritarian people.

The New Guard also sought to oppose the doctrines and activities of Communists in Australia - a political ideology that was becoming more and more attractive to many Australians in an era characterised by mass unemployment, civil unrest and occasional starvation.

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 First World War officers and veterans, the bourgeois and many other people with traditionalist beliefs and attitudes. The organisation's activities quickly descended into thuggery and street violence primarily directed against street meetings and rallies of the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party of Australia. The Labor Party formed a paramilitary self-defence group, the Australian Labor Army, to counteract the often bloody street battles between trade union members and New Guardians.

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 when a member, Captain Francis de Groot, an Irish-born veteran of the First World War and furniture maker, sneaked into the official ceremonial parade on horseback at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his old 15th Hussars uniform and slashed the opening ribbon with a cavalry sword before Premier Jack Lang had the chance. De Groot declared the bridge open in the name of the loyal and decent people of New South Wales and the British Empire, and was promptly arrested by a NSW State Police officer and taken to a mental asylum for examination. The ribbon was hastily re-tied and duly cut by Jack Lang.

Less well known are the attempts to kidnap Jack Lang while being chauffered home along the Parramatta Road from his Parliament House office at night - foiled only when Lang switched to a cheaper, older car and drove himself home. The plan was to detain Lang in an unused gaol at Berrima, a village approximately 100km 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 Phillip Game in 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 may well have ensued had they attempted the coup, as important government buildings throughout the city of Sydney were being guarded by members of the New South Wales Police (thoroughly loyal to the democratically elected Lang Government) and the Australian Labor Army. Certain Commonwealth 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 the coup. All in all, widespread civil strife and bloodshed was narrowly avoided in that one hour on an autumn evening in 1932.

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 WWII, which remains to this day Australia's leading anti-Semitic far-right political organisation.

Further reading

  • The Secret Army And The Premier (ISBN 0868402834). This book describes in detail the attempted coup on the night that John Lang was relieved of his commission of Premier of New South Wales
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