The march of the Wallabies
In January 1916, one of the largest World War I recruitment marches came to Lake Macquarie. Sixteen men enlisted at the West Wallsend recruitment meeting, joining the growing number of volunteers who eventually formed the 34th Battalion AIF - 'Maitland's Own'.
During World War I, in rural New South Wales, route marches were a feature of volunteer recruiting drives for the Australian Imperial Force . These marches were a response to the heavy casualties suffered in the Gallipoli campaign, sending out the call for more men to replace the fallen soldiers.
Between October 1915 and February 1916, nine marches started from various points in the state. The marches were also known as "snowball marches" the hope was that more and more recruits would join as the group moved on, and numbers would grow like a snowball running down a hill.
The March of the Wallabies
The March of the Wallabies was one such recruitment drive, which took place between December 1915 and January 1916. The march officially commenced at Narrabri on 8th December 1915, though a large contingent of men travelled by train from Walgett, Burren Junction and Wee Waa to Narrabri to join the drive. The progress of the march was intentionally slow, as when camp was made overnight elaborate recruitment meetings could be held which helped stir prospective volunteers into action.
Much advanced publicity including newspaper articles and posters preceeded the marchers, and communities were encouraged to arrange a rousing welcome for the prospective recruits. Collieries on the South Maitland Coalfields were closed on 3rd January 1916, so that miners could attend the meetings, and possibly swell the numbers.
Forty-three men began the march in 1915 and by the time the group marched into Newcastle 281 miles later, 265 new recruits had enlisted.
Overnight camp was made at the following towns along the route, the men sometimes spending two days at larger towns.
|Place camped overnight||Date|
The intention was for all of these marches to end in Sydney, but it was officially announced on 8th January 1916 that the new recruits from the Wallabies march were to form a new unit with their camp based at Maitland. They became the 34th Battalion - ‘Maitland’s Own’ - and were trained at Maitland and Broadmeadow camps, before embarking for the front on board the Hororata on 2nd May 1916.
The march was a cause for great fanfare in the towns which it passed through, with much preparation and publicity going into rallying the townsfolk to meet the new soldiers.
In West Wallsend the marchers were met at Minmi and led into town by a procession of mounted troopers and the West Wallsend Town Band. A recruitment meeting was held in the main street at 7.30pm. The festivities were organised by the West Wallsend Patriotic Committee.
The Newcastle Herald of Thursday 6 January 1916, reported
“It was a stirring welcome that the Wallabies received upon their entry into West Wallsend. The contingent had been so augmented on the route between Minmi and West Wallsend, that it had swollen into a procession of very large proportion. The Wallabies set out from Mimi at six o’clock and at the boundaries of the Tarro and Lake Macquarie Shires at the junction of the Young Wallsend and West Wallsend roads. They were handed over by Councillor Wilkinson, representing the Tarro shire to Councillor W. Beath president of the Lake Macquarie Shire. The column was joined by a company of West Wallsend cowboys and girls on horseback. A little further on, and about a mile from the borders of the town, the Wallabies were met by the West Wallsend brass band conducted by bandmaster Payne, the Councillors of Lake Macquarie Shire, the executive and other members of the Patriotic committee, and a troop of 28 boy scouts, under scoutmaster O’Donnell. There were also several motor cars, and a number of sulkies bringing up the rear.”
The Wallabies come to Lake Macquarie
“Every inch of Carrington Street was crowded, and It was unquestionably the greatest number of people who have ever lined the long, wide thoroughfare. The hand played enlivening patriotic airs, the horses of the cowboys and cowgirls pranced and ambled to time, and the Wallabies and their escorts kept pace to the tuneful music. As the march progressed, the crowds got denser, and the cheers became louder. The patriotic fervour was animating everyone, …. but the ardour was the warmest with the women and the girls, who acclaimed their welcome in remarkable fashion. To the travel stained boys who had already covered on foot some hundreds of miles, it was a worthy welcome. The town was gaily decorated. Streamers of flags were suspended across the streets, bunting was displayed from the balconies of the shops, and houses and several building were completely decked out in patriotic colours.”
The subsequent recruitment meeting that night resulted in the enlistment of 16 men from the district.
After camping at the showground overnight the Wallabies made their way to Wallsend the next day, stopping at Salty Creek for a swim and lunching at the Crossroads.
A re-enactment of the march was held on the 75th anniversary in 1990/1991.
Dial, David H. (David Henry) 1990, The march of the Wallabies : Walgett-Newcastle, 1st December, 1915-8th January, 1916 : the definitive history of the North West Route March, R.H. Kerrigan, Maitland, N.S.W
1916 'AT WEST WALLSEND.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 6 January, p. 5. , viewed 15 Apr 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137100801
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