Universal military training in Australia, 1911–29 – Fact sheet 160

Between 1911 and 1929 Australian males aged between 18 and 60 were required to perform militia service within Australia and its territories. The Defence Acts of 1903 and 1904, empowered the Australian Government to call up 'unexempted’ males in time of war. The Defence Act 1909 made training and service compulsory in time of peace.

The visit of Field Marshal Kitchener

A bill providing for compulsory military training in peace time (referred to as universal training) was introduced to Parliament by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin in 1909. It was a measure with broad parliamentary support, having been adopted by the Opposition Labor Party at its 1908 conference. At the invitation of Deakin, Field Marshal Viscount Kitchener of Great Britain visited Australia in 1909 to inspect the existing state of defence preparedness of the young Commonwealth, and advise on the best means of providing Australia with a land defence. Kitchener’s report, submitted in February 1910, recommended the introduction of compulsory military training. A public version of Kitchener’s report was published as 'Defence of Australia: Memorandum’ in Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers – General (Session 1910, Volume II, pp. 83–104).

Records about Kitchener’s visit and report


 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemLord Kitchener1909A2, 1910/1731
ItemLord Kitchener1909A2, 1912/945
ItemReport on the defence of Australia by Field Marshal Viscount Kitchener1910A463, 1957/1059


 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemLord Kitchener’s visit1907–10MP84/1, 1901/13/16
ItemLord Kitchener, visit to Australia1909MP84/1, 1901/13/2
ItemPrinting of souvenir books on Lord Kitchener’s visit1909MP84/1, 1901/13/95
ItemTelegrams from Lord Kitchener1909MP341/1, 1909/8599
ItemLord Kitchener’s report1910MP84/1, 1901/6/3

The universal military training scheme

The first scheme of universal training came into operation on 1 January 1911. The Minister for Defence presented a comprehensive report on the progress of the scheme for the period 1911 to June 1912. Annual statistics for the number of registrations, medical examinations and exemptions under the universal training scheme are included in the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia for the years 1910 to 1929.

The scheme had a chequered rate of success. The junior cadets were abolished in June 1922, and universal military training and the holding of military camps was suspended from 1 November 1929, pending a general review of defence policy.

Selected records about the administration of universal training




Information in the 'Shedden Collection'

Following his retirement as Secretary to the Department of Defence in 1956, Sir Frederick Shedden, who had held the position for 19 years, was asked to prepare a history of Australian defence policy. His manuscript, titled 'The History of Australian Defence Policy' was not published, but is held by the Archives as part of the Shedden collection. Several chapters of the draft relate to universal training.

Collection references

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2016