Australia in the 1940s

The home front

In 1941, prime minister John Curtin gave the directive that Australia was to be converted to a war economy with economic, domestic and industrial resources assigned to the war effort. In March 1942, rationing began in Australia. Accessing everyday commodities was limited, for example, to 58 grams of tea and 450 grams of sugar each week. Clothing purchases were reduced, and over the following two years butter (227 grams a week) and meat (1 kilogram) rationing were introduced.

In June 1940, prime minister Robert Menzies appointed newspaper owner Keith Murdoch as director-general of information. Murdoch owned a chain of newspapers across the county and the government wanted to ensure that, through him, they controlled the release of sensitive wartime information and propaganda. Murdoch, with (Sir) Richard Boyer, set up a US division of his department, aiming to entice the USA into the war. He was the founder of the Australian–American Association, of which he remained president until 1946.

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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