Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The reactionary and the radical: A comparative analysis of mass conservative mobilisation in Australia and New Zealand during the Great Depression

posted on 2024-05-30, 22:31 authored by Cunningham, Matthew

The Great Depression witnessed an unparalleled explosion of mass conservative mobilisation across Australia and New Zealand. Large populist movements sprang into being virtually overnight and amassed a collective membership numbering in the hundreds of thousands. At the height of their influence they posed a direct challenge to the electoral base of mainstream conservative parties. They soon faded away from the political scene and, indeed, from the collective memory of Australian and New Zealand society.  This thesis is concerned with four of these movements: the Citizens’ League of South Australia, the Australian Citizens’ League of Victoria, the All for Australia League of New South Wales, and the New Zealand Legion. The former three arose in Australia in 1931, whilst the latter appeared in New Zealand in 1933. These movements combined a populist and idealist rhetorical and organisational style with standard conservative social and economic ideas. They simultaneously sought new and radical alternatives to party politics and class conflict whilst expressing nostalgia for an illusory nineteenth century colonial society epitomised by classlessness, limited government, independent politicians, and the self-sufficient pioneer. This thesis suggests that, in order to truly understand these movements, this inherent contradiction between looking forwards and backwards for political inspiration must be embraced rather than ironed out in favour of narrative consistency. It argues that the citizens’ movements were a contradictory blend of the reactionary and the radical, and that their history, from their origins to their rapid demise, can be best interpreted through the lens of this thematic contradiction.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


McAloon, Jim; Lichtner, Giacomo; Hunter, Kate