Australia in the 1940s

The Americans

On 17 March 1942, General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Darwin after his retreat from the Philippines. He became the supreme commander of all Allied forces in the south-west Pacific, and based his operations headquarters first in Melbourne, then in Brisbane.

By June 1943, there were about 178,000 US servicemen stationed throughout Australia, representing the greatest influx of a foreign group into Australia. The influence they had on Australian culture, fashion, lifestyle and attitude was considerable. But this influence also brought tensions and rivalry; it was reported that up to 20 brawls a night were occurring between the US and Australian servicemen. Many factors contributed to these tensions, including the fact that US forces received better rations than Australian soldiers and shops and hotels regularly gave preferential treatment to US troops.

In November 1942, the notorious 'Battle of Brisbane' between Australian and US troops took place, when more than 3,000 Australian soldiers attacked a US army canteen. One Australian soldier was shot dead and 20 were seriously injured on each side. It was the largest of a series of clashes between the two groups in wartime Australia.

General Douglas MacArthur

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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