The military district (MD) was the basic administrative unit of the Australian Army for most of the twentieth century.
Establishment of military districts
Prior to the Federation of Australia, each colony maintained its own military and naval forces.
After Federation, the forces came under control of the Commonwealth. To assist with administration of the new Australian army, each state was allocated a military district to be known by its state name. The Northern Territory was not allotted to a district, although it was administered by South Australia. It was re-allocated to Queensland in 1911.
In 1911 the boundaries for the military districts were changed. Although based on states, the new districts did not strictly follow state boundaries:
- 1 Military District (1MD) – Queensland and the 12th Battalion area, including Casino, Lismore, Grafton, and the Northern Territory.
- 2 Military District (2MD) – New South Wales (excluding: the 12th Battalion area as above; Broken Hill, Torrowangee and Silverton; and the 44th Battalion area, including Corowa, South Corowa, Mulwala, Moama, Mathoura, and Deniliquin) and the 57th Battalion area of Victoria, including Wodonga, Barnawartha, Chiltern and Tallangatta.
- 3 Military District (3MD) – Victoria (excluding the 57th Battalion area as above), including the 44th Battalion area as above.
- 4 Military District (4MD) – South Australia and Broken Hill, Torrowangee, and Silverton in New South Wales.
- 5 Military District (5MD) – Western Australia.
- 6 Military District (6MD) – Tasmania.
The territories of Papua and New Guinea were allocated to 1MD after the First World War.
Reorganisation of military districts and regional commands
In 1939 the Northern Territory and the territories of Papua and New Guinea became separate military districts. They were designated 7 Military District (7MD) and 8 Military District (8MD) respectively.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the districts were reorganised into geographic commands:
- Northern Command – Queensland (1MD)
- Eastern Command – New South Wales (2MD)
- Southern Command – Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania (3MD, 4MD, 6MD)
- Western Command – Western Australia (5MD)
Early in 1942 the army command structure was again reorganised based on a system of operation headquarters. New South Wales and Victoria (Northern and Eastern Commands) became the First Australian Army; Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania (Southern Command) became the Second Australian Army. Western Australia (Western Command) was replaced with 3 Australian Corps; 7MD was renamed Northern Territory Force; and 8MD became New Guinea Force. Each area was administered by a Line of Communications.
After the end of the Second World War the regional command structure was reinstated. In 1950 South Australia and Tasmania were removed from the Southern Command and respectively formed the Central and Tasmania Commands.
In the early 1970s the army moved from geographical commands to a system of functional commands, which absorbed many responsibilities of the military districts, such as training and logistics. However, smaller military district headquarters remained to provide general support within their areas and to act as points of contact between the army and state governments.
Military districts were finally disbanded in 1997 under reforms to reduce administrative costs.
Australian Military Forces, General Orders, GO 3, 30 April 1942.
Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior, and Jean Bou (eds), The Oxford companion to Australian military history, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2008, p. 362.
Military Board, Military order 517, 29 November 1911.
Military Board Instruction 58, 9 October 1939.
Albert Palazzo, The Australian army: a history of its organisation 1901–2001, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2001.
The Defence Acts 1903–1904: regulations and standing orders (provisional) for the military forces of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1905, Robt S. Brain, Melbourne, 1905, regulation 41.