Australia in the 1940s

Women's wartime achievements

Between 1941 and 1945, about 27,000 women entered the defence and civilian workforces to replace the men who were involved in fighting at the frontline. During the Second World War a host of organisations was formed for women to aid the war effort. These included the Women's Employment Board, which was set up to facilitate the entry of women into employment, the Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA), in which women were placed to work on farms where there was a labour shortage, and the Australian Comforts Fund.

Women were paid at a lower rate than their male counterparts, doing exactly the same job. At the end of the war many of these jobs disappeared. The service experience, however, did liberate many women who sought jobs and remained in the post-war workforce.

In November 1940, Margaret Doyle became the first woman announcer on ABC radio, following a new policy to free up male announcers for active service in the war. In April 1941, minister for the navy and then prime minister Billy Hughes approved the employment of women as telegraphists in the Royal Australian Navy. Soon after, the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) was formed, reaching a size of 2,000. In August 1941, the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was created and reached 25,000 in three years. In 1941, the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) was formed with Clare Stevenson as its director. In 1942, the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) was established.

In September 1943, Dame Enid Lyons (widow of 1930s Liberal prime minister Joseph Lyons), and Labor Senator Dorothy Tangney were the first two women to win election to federal parliament.

Leaders of the women's services meet in Melbourne, 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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