World War 2
Australia in WW2

How did World War 2 affect the Australian homefront?

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2008-11-18 08:43:54

The Home Front - World War 2 Initial reactions When war

broke out in September 1939 the Australian Government was much

better prepared for it than in 1914. As in 1914 most Australians

seemed to support the decision to be involved in the war. All major

political parties, churches and newspapers supported involvement.

The only groups not to support the decision were and hard core

socialists who opposed involvement because the Soviet Union opposed

it. Nor was there the same rush to enlist. The government

deliberately moved more slowly and in a more organised way -- they

had learned from 1914 when many men in essential occupations had

been allowed to enlist, to the detriment of the home front effort.

Government Controls As in World War 1, the Commonwealth

Government imposed a large number of new controls over people's

lives. They did this through the authority of the National Security

Act of 1939. This Act did two major things: it effectively overrode

the Constitution for the duration of the war - giving the

Commonwealth power to make laws in areas where it did not have that

power under the Constitution; and it effectively overrode the power

of parliament by giving the government power to make regulations,

that is, laws that required only the signatures of some ministers

and the Governor-General. The government used its powers to make a

huge number of laws and regulations affecting all areas of people's

lives. Among these were: · the reduction of the Christmas - New

Year holiday period to three days; · the restriction of weekday

sporting events; · blackouts and brownouts in cities and coastal

areas; · daylight saving; · increased call-ups of the Militia; ·

the issue of personal identity cards; · increased enlistment of

women into the auxiliary forces; · regulations allowing strikers to

be drafted into the Army or into the Army Labour Corps; · the

fixing of profit margins in industry; · restrictions on the costs

allowed for building or renovations; · the setting of some women's

pay rates at near-male levels; · internment of members of the

Australia First organisation; · controls on the cost of dresses; ·

the rationing of clothing, footwear, tea, butter and sugar; · the

banning of the Communist Party, and the Australia First Movement

for opposition to the war;

Women Did the war change the role and place of women in

Australian society? Propaganda at the time stressed that for the

first time women were being asked to do 'a man's job', either in

the Services or in industry. Certainly more women entered the

workforce than had been there before, and many took on jobs that

had previously been available to men only. These women gained all,

or nearly all, the male rate for these 'men's jobs'. However, most

of the new women workers went into traditionally female areas,

where the wage was typically 54 per cent of the male rate - though

by the end of the war was closer to 70 per cent. Economy The

war was a huge boon to the Australian economy. As many Australian

primary products were purchased as could be produced, and secondary

industries manufactured many new items for the Services. Rationing

and restrictions meant that there were few consumer goods

available, so personal savings rose. Man powering and essential

industries also meant that there was near-full employment.

Conscription In 1943 the issue of conscription arose. As in

1916 and 1917, the government had the power to conscript men for

home service, but not for overseas combat. 'Home', however,

included New Guinea, where Australia had a protectorate, and

therefore conscripted troops could be and were sent to the war

front where they were needed most. But as the Allies began to

defeat the Japanese, the war front spread north, and there was a

demand that Australian troops be able to go to the new areas which

were outside the definition of home. American conscripts were

fighting in these areas so it seemed unfair that Australian

conscripts should not also be compelled to fight there.

As in 1916 and 1917, all the government had to do was to change

the Defence Act and it could achieve this - unlike the situation in

1916, Prime Minister Curtin knew he had the majority in both Houses

to make this change. Legacies and Impacts One of the main

effects of the war was to start the 'migration revolution' of

postwar Australia. The Australian Government had fears of an

invasion, and believed that we had to 'populate or perish'.

Migrants from traditional sources were not available in large

enough numbers so Australia started accepting refugees and

displaced persons from the northern and eastern European countries.

This was the beginning of the end for 'White Australia' and the

start of modern multiculturalism.

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