Australia in the 1940s

The Japanese attack

On 19 February 1942, the Japanese bombed Darwin. More than 243 lives were lost and the population experienced a total of 62 raids over the next two years. The death toll and reports of casualties were intentionally diminished by the government to maintain national morale. Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby and Port Hedland, Millingimbi, Exmouth Gulf and Horn Island were also targeted, with loss of military and civilian lives.

In April 1942, General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia as Supreme Commander of allied forces in the south-west Pacific. More than 900,000 Australians served in the forces during the war, which was three times more than the number of service people in the First World War.

Between May and June 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy made a series of attacks on Sydney and Newcastle. Three midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour, in an attempt to sink United States and Australian warships. Having been detected, the crews of two of the midget submarines sunk their boats and committed suicide.

The suffering of Australian soldiers as Japanese prisoners of war first became public in November 1944, after Australian men were rescued from a torpedoed Japanese troop ship. More than 22,000 Australian servicemen and approximately 40 nurses were taken prisoner in 1942 when Japanese forces captured Malaya, Singapore, New Britain, and the Dutch East Indies. Hundreds of Australian civilians were also interned. By the end of the war, more than one-third of these prisoners, approximately 8,000, had died.

Japanese air raid on Darwin, 1942

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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