During late 1915 and early 1916, a number of recruiting marches originating from country New South Wales attempted to raise enthusiasm and the number of volunteers. The first such march in New South Wales began at Gilgandra in October 1915 and other parts of the state quickly began organising marches of their own. The Waratah march passed through the Illawarra in December 1915 having started in Nowra on 30 November and arrived in Sydney on 17 December 1915.

Identifying the Waratahs is a difficult process in itself as there is no ‘list’ of the marchers and newspapers did not always name the men who enlisted along the way. The author of The Waratahs, Alan Clark, has identified 84 men as almost certainly being Waratah marchers, with 38 of these coming from the Illawarra section of the march. Thirty one Illawarra Waratahs embarked on the Makarini as reinforcements for the 1 Battalion. Another 28 Illawarra men were aboard the Makarini, but had enlisted after the Waratahs passed through the region and were members of the reinforcements for the 2,3 and 4 Battalions who were also on board the same transport.

Fifteen of the thirty one Illawarra Waratahs who embarked on the Makarini were either killed in action or died of wounds, a death rate far above both that for the AIF and the Illawarra. The Illawarra Waratahs also appear to have a penchant for disobeying rules. Seventeen of the 84 Waratahs identified by Clark were charged with committing various offences, with a disproportionate 12 of these coming from the Illawarra region.

When examined statistically as sub-group of the Illawarra volunteers, the Waratahs exhibit some different characteristics to both the total Illawarra enlistments and the AIF. At the same time as the Waratahs were marching from Nowra to Sydney the Kangaroos were undertaking a similar march from Wagga Wagga to Sydney and it is possible to also compare the two sets in some respects. For both the Waratahs and the Kangaroos the most startling difference from the AIF occurs with religion (Table 1). In comparison with the general population the Waratahs were over-represented by the 64 per cent who were Church of England adherents and the Kangaroos with 39 per cent Catholic volunteers. This undoubtedly has some basis in regional variations. Les Hetherington notes that the Riverina had a higher proportion of Catholics in the general population, but not as high as the Kangaroos’ 39 per cent. The high number of Church of England volunteers in the Illawarra appears to be at the expense of the other Protestant churches who comprised only 17 per cent of Waratah enlistments compared with 35 per cent for all of the Illawarra.

Table 1

Waratahs: Religion

Percentage of affiliation to each religion

  Waratahs Kangaroos1 AIF Illawarra
Roman Catholic 19 39 20 17
Church of England 64 48 47 47
Other Protestant 17 12 29 35
Other/Unknown 0 1 5 1


With regard to the occupational base of the Waratahs and Kangaroos, Table 11 shows that it is clear that groups of marchers were predominantly from the working class, with a high proportion of unskilled workers, especially among the Waratahs. The mobility of these types of workers was not constrained by the trappings of wealth.

Table 2

Waratahs: Occupations

Percentage of each occupation

  Waratahs Kangaroos1 AIF Illawarra
Labourers 53 48 22 24
Industry/Trade 0 21 20 9
Primary Industry 36 10 21 41
Transport 6 13 9 7
Commerce 3 3 12 7
Professional/Clerks 0 3 10 8
Other/Unknown 0 2 10 3


No professional or clerical workers were amongst the Illawarra Waratahs, and Table 3 shows that their age was even more concentrated in the 20-24 year group than the Kangaroos, the AIF or the Illawarra.

Table 3

Waratahs: age at enlistment

Percentage for each age group

  Waratahs Kangaroos1 AIF Illawarra
18-19 11 16 14 13
20-24 49 37 38 40
25-29 20 28 21 24
30-34 11 10 12 12
35-39 6 4 8 7
40 + 3 5 7 4


It appears that generally the men who joined these recruiting marches were often younger and less skilled than the average AIF volunteer, factors which perhaps made joining such a march an easier decision than for an older man with property and in a position of some responsibility.

Ernest Scott describes the snowball marches held in 1915/16 as having been effective, but is difficult to see either the Waratah or Kangaroo marches as such. For all the efforts made in each community which they passed through the ensuing number of volunteers to come forward was very small given the large number of men who were able to volunteer in January 1916. Even more unsuccessful was the ‘South Coast March to Freedom’ which passed through the Illawarra in August 1918. Numerous photographs of the march at various places in the region show crowds watching the marchers, yet not one single volunteer from the Illawarra is known to have enlisted as a result of this march.

1.Hetherington, ‘The Kangaroos March’, JAWM, 26, p.21.

Return to Illawarra at War

The Illawarra Waratahs is an excerpt from:

Caldwell, Vivienne, Illawarra at War, unpublished BA (Hons) thesis, University of Wollongong, 1999.

The complete bibliography.

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This page was last updated: Monday, 07 August 2000