In 1928, nestled in the Anthropology Lecture Room, the University of Sydney’s League of Nations Union (LNU or SULNU) was founded. Eight years after its namesake was convened, this club’s endeavour rested upon four key principles: to study international problems, to study the League itself, to create a well-informed public, and to collaborate with organisations of similar intent.
In their first general meeting, the secretary reported that the minutes of the AGM had been destroyed. How, why, or when, we just don’t know. But under the inaugural presidential leadership of Professor Radcliffe-Brown, the LNU was off to a rocky, if not exuberant, start.
From its inception, the bread and butter of the LNU were talks and speeches by scholars and eminent personalities. Complemented by occasional discussion sessions, the LNU hosted talks such as “Organising for Peace”, “Who wants war?”, and “Can Russia join the league?”. Funny questions to ponder with the benefit of hindsight.
The LNU puttered along from ‘28 onwards, weathering Manchuria in 1931, Abyssinia in 1935, and the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Not much changed from its inception until 1931, when it was decided that the LNU should recruit a bit younger. In our current world of UN Youth, such an idea may not seem out of place. While a motion to expand into secondary schools was carried in the 1931 AGM, by 1932, only one school had signed up to open a branch. Pymble Ladies College was the only school enthusiastic about intergovernmental geopolitical organisations, apparently.
It all had to end eventually, though. The LNU showed some foresight in June 1939 when they organised two public discussions with two equally pressing questions: “why a League of Nations?” and “why an LNU?” Little did they know how prescient those questions were.
The LNU tried to prevent war by passing motions against armaments and defence propaganda and hosting peace conferences at the Women’s College with campus Christian organisations. Regardless of these efforts, the war eventually came. Following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939, and France and the UK’s declaration of war two days later, World War II had begun. While the actual League officially disbanded in 1946, many consider the outbreak of war to be a better marker of its demise (the same logic applied to USyd’s own league). With this in mind, on the 19th of September 1939, the LNU decided to propose disbandment at the Union’s AGM in October. While the exact results of that AGM are unknown, the lack of records following that September meeting suggest the proposal was successful.
In a decision that is poetic as it is tragic, the very last event the LNU organised was a discussion of World War II to be hosted on the 25th of September 1939. With their last gasps, Sydney University’s very own League of Nations devoted precious breaths to discuss the war that would dissolve the society.
No club is forever. Just as the Glee Club was run to ruin in the throes of World War I and the Lego Society couldn’t make quorum in 2019, the history of USyd is a history of the rise and fall of clubs across campus. There are periods of growth, decline, and long-dormant slumbers. But, while a club may end, that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t begin again. Today USyd has the United Nations Society, a successor to the LNU before it, modelled on an organisation that followed in the footsteps of the League. Only time will tell if they have the prescience to predict their own demise too.