The dole inspector

[Episode 8 | 1938 : Colum]

The dole inspector is a feared authority in the neighbourhood where Colum and his family live. When the alarm is given that he is on his way, the families hide any evidence of making a living. The dole inspector could enter the homes of people receiving the dole and tell them to leave their house or sell their belongings.


The Australian curriculum: History

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The Australian Curriculum: History aims to ensure that students develop: 

  • interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be informed and active citizens 
  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society 
  • understanding and use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability 
  • capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication.

History activities [3]

Activity 1: Hard times
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Historical events; Social order and education
  • What did the Great Depression really mean in Australia? Refer to the 'Decade timeline' for descriptions of the 1930s. Read about the effects of the Great Depression on families and individuals.
  • The dole inspector is portrayed as a much feared character, and the community work together to defy the inspector so they can sell market produce grown in their backyard to make money to survive.

  • Students view the clip, 'The dole inspector' and create a class poster, or mind map, of characteristics and facts that visually represent a community experiencing unemployment and economic hardship. Use examples of clothing, food, housing and communities.
  • Students research the beginnings of the economic crisis that became the Great Depression in 1930s Australia. Information gathered should include the following key research items:
  1. jobs
  2. unemployment
  3. housing
  4. the dole
  5. recollections of experiences.
  • As an added experience, research groups can view excerpts from the documentary series, 'The Bridge' (55 mins), which is the first episode of the three-part series entitled Constructing Australia. The film is available at Screen Australia,
  • Other helpful websites include:
  2. Australian, 'Australian History: The Great Depression',
  3. Screen Australia Digital Learning,
  • Students, working in small groups, can present the information they find as a front page story for a newspaper on the topic 'Tips for surviving the Great Depression'. The information can be set out with major headlines, diagrams, old footage pictures gathered from various websites and articles relating to the Great Depression in Australia.


Activity 2: Individal strength
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Historical events; Social order and education
  • Research and examine some inspirational stories of the Great Depression. Discuss why optimism is so important in times of hardship, and encourage students to make the connections to their own community.

  • Students watch the following clips from the Screen Australia Digital Learning website and take notes about what they see and hear, so they are ready for discussion on the inspirational stories.
  1. The Prime Minister's National Treasures, 'James Scullin and the GCMG',
  2. Constructing Australia, 'The Bridge', 'The Bridge Workers',
  3. Australia Today – Men of Tomorrow,
  • Students share their thoughts on the clips and draw comparisons on their own community experiences. Tough economic times also affect the lives of students today. Use Student Activity Sheet H8.2 to encourage students to brainstorm their thoughts on how people cope with tough times, both past and present.


Activity 3: Susso
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Historical events; Social order and education
  • Many people were homeless and relied on relief schemes and food tickets to keep themselves alive. Farmers struggled, unable to pay back loans. Soup kitchens and 'tent cities' sprung up in many cities and towns.
  • A form of unemployment benefits was introduced known as the 'susso', which was an abbreviation for sustenance, but its recipients felt a sense of undeserved shame. Long dole queues were found across the land. Many families who lost their homes moved to tent city towns, such as Happy Valley in the council of Waverley in New South Wales. The Unemployment Relief Works Program built valuable roads, pools and buildings giving hundreds of people employment and a sense of self-worth.
  • Ask students to discuss the question: Should government unemployment benefits still exist?

  • Students conduct a debate: 'For or against the dole.'
  • The students are divided into groups of five and given a 'for' or 'against' tag. Ask them to work in their teams to research information on the current unemployment benefits scheme and investigate points for or against it. There may be two teams for it and two teams against it. Each team should be given the opportunity to debate in a formal or informal debate setting.


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