The 28 February 1931 Armidale meeting had placed the Northern Separatist Movement on the radical path proposed by Earle Page. But another and more radical movement was emerging that would create opportunities and challenges for the Northern separatist cause.
The Riverina Separatist Movement had collapsed following the 1925 Cohen Commission Report. However, Riverina’s political grass had now become tinder dry, ready to burn.
The Depression induced collapse in commodity prices caused acute distress in farming regions. Farmers were angry about the Depression related tariff increases that raised their costs. Then, in 1930, the Federal Government launched a disastrous grow more wheat campaign in an attempt to increase Australia’s export income. Increased production drove prices down, adding to wheat growers’ financial woes.
The Farmers and Settlers’ and Graziers’ Associations combined to form a new body, the Producers’ Advisory Council, to organise country interests. The Council held protest meetings across NSW demanding reduced Government spending, taxation and tariff protection.
The Council met with greatest success in the wool and wheat districts of the Central West and Riverina, areas hit hard by the grow more wheat campaign. In so doing, it prepared the way for a new Riverina Movement led by Charles Hardy, a Wagga Wagga timber merchant.
The thirty two year old Hardy had played a major role in Riverina activities, establishing a wide network of friends and contacts. A man of great personal charm with a magnetic personality, Hardy also proved to be talented agitator.
On 8 February 1931, a week before Page’s Glenreagh speech, thirty men from various parts of the Riverina including Hardy met in Wagga Wagga to consider what action might be taken in view of the deteriorating political and economic circumstances. They decided to adopt the Producers’ Advisory Council platform and to hold two mass protest meetings, one at Wagga on 28 February, a second at Narranderra on 7 March.
The next day NSW Premier Jack Lang announced the Lang Plan. As had happened in the North, this electrified the political situation. On 28 February, the day of the Armidale meeting, 10,000 people gathered on the banks of Murrumbidgee River near Wagga.
The first motion calling on the Government to affect immediate and drastic reductions in the cost of government, to relieve primary producers from statutory burdens and to prepare proposals for drastic reductions in interest rates was carried with wild cheers.
A second motion was then carried stating that if the Government did not accede to these wishes by 31 March, a referendum should be held on the question of Riverina secession. On 7 March, a 5,000 strong mass meeting at Narranderra carried similar motions.
Driven by Hardy, the new movement spread rapidly across the Riverina, with sister movements springing up in the West and Monaro. A new force had been born.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 November 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014,.
If you want to follow the story of the Northern or New England self-government movement, this is the entry post for the whole series