Australia and WW2: On the Home Front

History Teachers’ Association of Victoria
2011 Conference: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’
Australia and WW2:
On the Home Front
Professor Kate Darian-Smith
The Australian Centre, School of
Historical Studies
University of Melbourne
‘Dig for Victory’ campaign – launched in
Australia by Prime Minister John Curtin in
1942. LEFT: Commonwealth Food Control
(ARTV02474) and RIGHT: Department of
Commerce and Agriculture (ARTV02452)
LEFT: Commonwealth Food Control
(ARTV00161) and Department of
Commerce and Agriculture (ARTV02158)
James Northfield, ‘A united
'Fighting Mad' Australia - can never
be enslaved’, 1942-1944, State
Library of Victoria.
H.B. Armstrong, ‘Don't spill
the good oil’, 1943,
Australian War Memorial,
The Squander Bug,
Australian War
Memorial, RC02344
& RC02345
The Squander Bug in Australia (LEFT) and Britain (RIGHT)
The Second World War 1939-1945
• Military Fronts
• From 1939 in Europe and the Middle East
• From 1941 in the Asia-Pacific - following the
bombing of Pearl Harbor
• Distance and proximity between the military and
civilian (home) fronts
• Period of national uncertainty and anxiety,
following the advance of Japanese through S-E
Asia, and fall of Singapore
• Visible signs of war: air raid precautions, ‘brownout’
• Australia looks to US for military protection
The impregnable British Fortress at Singapore fell to
Japan in February 1942.
Over 15 000 Australians were taken prisoner.
‘All-In’ War Effort
• Conflict or Unity?
• Impact of military enlistment on society
• Expansion of industrial base - for instance,
Melbourne the hub of the national armaments
• Labour shortages and demands
• Shortages of goods and rationing
Leads to…
• Generational differences understanding war in context of
• Shifts in expectations about gendered
• Greater mobility - occupational,
physical, socio-economic
• New definitions of femininity and
masculinity in context of patriotism
Paid Employment
• Labour shortage acute by 1941
• Manpower Directorate formed to register and
control all labour by 1942
• Need to attract women into ‘war jobs’
• So - new type of patriotic woman engaged in
war-related paid employment
Feminine Patriotism – Voluntary Work
• Experiences of voluntary
work in WW1
• With WW2, popularity of
voluntary paramilitary
• Federal government had
a National Voluntary
Register - 30,000 names
by 1940
• Middle class
Women making flares
Melbourne 1941
Women and Paid Employment
• In 1939, 644,000
women recorded as
being in paid
employment; rising to
855,000 by 1944
• At peak in 1944,
women’s employment
represented 25% of
labour force - up about
2% on immediate prewar and post-war
• Type of work women did was overwhelmingly
traditional ‘women’s work’
• Some positions that had been held by men were
taken over by women ‘for the duration’
• Women’s Employment Board appointed
• War strengthened demarcation between men
and women’s jobs, and did little to encourage
equal pay
New Alignment of Paid Work with Patriotism
• Media and government
campaigns to ‘lure’ women
into workforce
• Civilian positions
• Auxiliary military forces
• Women’s Land Army
• But revealed tensions
between women’s role as
‘home-makers’ and as
Femininity and Sexuality
• Changing concepts of
femininity in interwar
years (Lake) - new
expressions of
• In wartime, new
emphasis on women’s
sexuality and how it
could be ‘controlled’ to
further war effort
• War also sparked a
new examination and
emphasis on the family
Albert Tucker Victory Girls 1943
Control of Sexuality
Policing of Public Behavior
Venereal Disease
Legislative changes - ie
restricting women’s access to
• Enforced Detainment and
• Women’s Loss of Civil
Learning to Jitterbug in Melbourne
Australia looks to America
• 27 December 1941 Prime
Minister Curtin delivers his
famous New Year’s
message to the nation…
• ‘I make it quite clear that
Australia looks to America,
free of any pangs as to our
traditional links or kinship
with the United States….’
Balance of the Sexes
• Arrival of the US
Forces: 30,000
in Melbourne by
May 1942
• ‘Victory Girls’
• Leonski
• Marriage Rate –
• ‘War Fever’
The South West Pacific Theatre
Part of the 7th Marine
Camp, Mount Martha
Party, Melbourne
Cricket Ground,
Marines and
Aussies line up for
U. S. Marines in Melbourne
• St Kilda and Luna Park
• Walks along the Yarra River and in
the Botanic Gardens
• Dancing at the Palm Grove and the
• Eating steak and eggs at military
clubs like The Dug-Out
•Riding the trams
•Shopping; attending movies, the
theatre and the races
• ‘Chloe’ in Young and Jacksons’
War Brides
Article about Robert Barton and Shirley Pearce,
Melbourne Herald Sun, June 14, 1993
Russell and Patricia Pope
(Bob Barton in background)
At their wedding in Melbourne
A War Bride’s Tale: Dawne and Fred Balester
17-year old Melbourne girl Dawne McLeod-Sharpe met her
future husband — Marine corporal Fred Balester — in a chance
encounter at Flinders Street Station in 1943. Conscious that he
was returning to battle, Fred decided it was not in Dawne’s best
interest for them to marry in haste. They wrote regularly and
Fred finally proposed by letter in 1945.
Along with many other Australian war brides, Dawne embarked
on the lengthy sea voyage to the US and on the SS Monterey in
1946. After three years apart, the couple were married within a
week of her arrival in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and
honeymooned at Niagara Falls. Their happy union ended when
Fred died in early 2009. Dawne, who brought up five children in
the U.S., feels tied to both countries: ‘when I am in America,
Australia is home, and when I am in Australia, America is home’.
Wedding of Fred and Dawne
Balester, Wilkes-Barre,
Pennsylvania, USA, 1946
Melbourne ‘Moms’
Many young Marines became substitute sons to Melbourne women whose own sons
were serving abroad. Mrs. Doris MacKenzie of East St. Kilda ‘adopted’ Marine private
Jack Callaghan, and cared for him as one of her own. She sent long letters of
reassurance to his mother in Oklahoma.
My dear Mrs. Callaghan - You no doubt will be surprised to hear from me but I am
writing to let you know where your son “Jack” is. I have had him staying with me and
my family and I might tell you my dear that he is having a good rest and is looking
wonderfully well. They have been here about 2 months. We have grown so fond of
“Jack”, and he is one of the family. He says we remind him so much of home. I try to
cook him things that he used to get at home. He is a great kid. I have only one son and
he is in uniform too. He is a great pal of Jack’s…They go everywhere together.
Further resources