Australia in the 1940s

Australia declares war

Between 1937 and 1940, Japan had moved southwards conquering the Asian countries in its path. For Australia, the conflict became far more localised on 19 November 1941, when HMAS Sydney and all its 645 hands were lost, sunk by the German raider HSK Kormoran. This tragedy represented the greatest loss of life on an Australian warship, and the largest Allied vessel to sink with all hands during the war.

On 7 December 1941, the Japanese launched its Pacific offensive with Thailand, Malaya, the Philippines and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, all suffering attacks. On 9 December 1941, Australia's governor-general, Alexander Hore-Ruthven, declared that Australia was at war with Japan. This was the first time Australia had declared war on another country as an independent nation, expressing its relatively new principle of self-governing responsibility in international affairs. Prior to this, Australia had relied on Great Britain for its foreign policy.

On 11 December 1941, the War Cabinet agreed to call up men for full-time home defence army service. By June 1942, nearly 100,000 men had enlisted.

HMAS Sydney, 1940

A snapshot of 1948

  • January
    • Employees working under the Federal Award System begin working a 40-hour week.

  • May
    • The Housing Commission in Melbourne holds its first ballot to allocate new homes for families of returned servicemen.

  • June
    • The federal government ends the rationing of meat and clothing.

  • August
    • The federal government's legislation to nationalise private banks is declared invalid by the High Court.

  • October
    • The first Australian Holden motor car comes off the assembly line and becomes a symbol of Australian prosperity.

  • December
    • Dr Herbert Vere Evatt (1894–1965), former minister for external affairs and attorney-general, is elected president of the General Assembly of the United Nations.


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