Being a New Australian Woman during World War II

Hausarbeit, 2011

9 Seiten, Note: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Australian society before World War II

3. Awareness of War

4. Women at the home front, work and payment

5. Women at war and in uniforms

6. Women as lovers

7. After the war – a short outlook

8. Experiences of Indigenous women during World War II

9. Conclusion

Used Literature

1. Introduction

Never before had women been so emancipated from the expectations of home, family and society, than during the years of World War II (1939-45) when the role of women in main-stream Australian society changed dramatically.

Before World War II middle-class women were mainly considered to be mothers and wives limited to their homes, who worked only until they got married.

Then during World War II all women were encouraged by the government to work in previously male dominated fields as in factories or engaged as members of the defense services or Land Army. Women were needed as nurses at the front, to work military machines as well as keep homes ready for men to come home.[1] By entering the ‘world of paid work’ women were able “to enter new domains and to exercise new economic, social and sexual power”.[2]

With husbands and possible suitors gone to serve a number of Australian women found therein “a new sense of independence, self-reliance and autonomy”.[3]

It was a challenging time for married women and mothers with husbands gone, but also a very exciting one especially for young girls and unmarried women with thousands of American servicemen coming through Australia bringing a sense of Hollywood and sexual adventure with them.

Writing this essay and gathering literature about Australian women during World War II, I soon noticed that all those authors only wrote about the immigrant Australian women, the ‘new Australian woman’ as I called her in my essay topic. Indigenous women, the native Australian women, were mostly left out. For that reason I included a paragraph at the end of the essay comparing both women’s experiences.

2. Australian society before World War II

On September 1939 Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that Australian was at war because Great Britain had declared war on Germany and as its ally Australia was too. In the previous 10 years Australia had suffered from the Great Depression. Due to it the birthrate had dropped dramatically during the 1930s and the engagement period had become much longer with couples saving money before starting married life.[4] Having less or no children at all would allow women later during the war years to go to work and engage themselves in services.

Australia during the 1930s was still a patriarchal society. Men were the heroes of war, whereas women were supposed to stay at the home front, be passive and powerless and therefore needed to be defended.[5]

In the years before World War II women usually worked only until they got married and from then on became full-time housewives and mothers. Those who had worked before entering marriage worked in traditional female jobs like the textile and clothing industry or beauty salons or retail stores. But a lot of women had not worked outside their homes before.

Despite the patriarchal society or maybe because of it, women from 1939 to 1941 would beg to be allowed to assist, to help win the war, to give their talents, but were ignored. It was not until Japan’s involvement in the war during December 1941 and February 1942 that “the same women were needed as never before”.[6]

3. Awareness of War

During the war life changed for everyone: men, women and children.[7] With friends and neighbors, fiancés and husbands gone to serve, almost every family had members at war and every Australian woman knew servicemen. The main sources to get information were newspapers, radio and letters from the war front. For the first years war seemed far away and people carried on with their daily lives, waiting for news and letters from the war front.

But when Japan entered the conflict in December 1941 war became suddenly reality for all Australians at home. The appeal of new sworn Prime Minister John Curtin “to support the war effort, whether they were soldier, housewife or factory worker” in 1941 just emphasized the immediate threat and imminent change that was about to follow.[8]

One of the first noticeable changes was the rationing of food and clothing introduced in 1942 as “an attempt to ensure fair access to goods for everyone”. Soon air raid siren testing became common as well as the blackening out of houses at night out of fear of air attacks.[9]

Depending on their involvement in voluntary organisations girls and women volunteering at hospitals saw wounded and sick soldiers and also malaria.[10]

4. Women at the home front, work and payment

It was a time when housewives had to learn to be independent. They were making their own decisions, coping with rationing while bringing up their children alone and working to raise funds to help their men ‘overseas’, not knowing sometimes until the end of the war if they were still wives or widows.[11]

Women were “needed in the labour market”.[12] Thus they were given jobs wherever there was shortage and this suddenly opened up a great variety of jobs, as drivers, wireless operators, riveters, mechanics, even newspaper photographers and women eagerly took jobs which released men for active service overseas.[13]

By 1943 there were about 800,000 women in the workforce, working in factories, munitions’ and explosives’ centers; building planes, ships and weapons’ carriers.[14] This work was sold to Australian women as “patriotic and almost glamorous” when, in reality, it was hard and dangerous work.[15] However despite the wrong propaganda and the exhausting work in male domains women would still pay attention to their appearance by putting on lipstick for work to underline their femininity.[16]

In December 1942 regulations limiting women’s work in munitions factories to 52 hours per week were introduced.[17] And by July 1944 many in the vital industries got at least three-quarters of the male rate which was unusual until then.[18]

According to Lake doing men’s jobs, “women also demystified them, and the operation of the wartime economy generated refreshing acknowledgment of female capacity”.[19]

But nevertheless how good and competent a woman was in her new job, it was always made clear, that those arrangements were for the duration of war only.

5. Women at war and in uniforms

When in World War I, the only thing women could do was “knitting socks, packing ‘comforts’ for troops and raising money for the war effort”, during World War II Australian women “demanded a chance to defend their country”.[20] And by 1939 the Australian government had “recognised the practicality of using women in positions which would enable the release of their male counterparts for active service”.[21]

Soon women could be found in all branches of the Australian services, working as nurses (as already in World War I), clerks, stenographers and in many other important positions, driving ambulances and trucks, chauffeuring officers, manning anti-aircraft guns, serving planes, working as wireless-telegraphists and naval decoders.[22]

According to Lake and Demousi, warfare and military service have played key roles “in the fashioning of gender identities”. Serving women adopted masculine dress and lived in communities with other women enjoying a new freedom with friendships and also sexual relationships among the women.[23]

There were also the Land Army girls who kept the farms going while the men were fighting. Recruitment posters were showing young healthy women in uniforms doing harvest work advertised it as a “vital war job”, when in reality it demanded “endurance, devotion, bravery and self-sacrifice” from the girls.[24]

6. Women as lovers

The ideal women in the 1940s did not smoke, drink, or ‘carry on’ in public. It was a time when abortion was illegal, the contraceptive difficult to get and open discussion of sexual manners taboo. Young people were considered ‘fast’ when showing affection in public. At social gatherings men and women would form their own groups, hardly talking with each other. Women waited at home for a man to come courting with a wedding to follow soon.[25]

It seems that one of the most exciting things happening in the 1940s to young women were the hundreds of thousands of GIs who came through Australia during the Second World War “personifying the glamour of Hollywood movies”.[26] With their arrival Australian women became more active, ‘picking up’ and dating men instead of waiting for them come courting,. Australian girls were fascinated by those strangers with “their polite manners and generosity”.[27] According to Finch “American servicemen also brought a new style of dating – bringing gifts such as orchids, chocolates, silk stockings and alcohol, taxi rides, entrance to clubs and meals out”.[28]

Their attraction was that there were many of them and they were enjoying the company of Australian women. They were completely different than the Australian men.[29]


[1] Damousi J, Lake M. Gender and War. Australians at War in the Twentieth Century. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge; 1995. P. 3

[2] Damousi/Lake, P. 5

[3] Lake M. Female Desires. In: Gare D, Ritter D. Making Australian History: Perspectives on the Past since 1788. South Melbourne, Vic: Thomson Learning Australia; 2008. P. 393

[4] Strauss L, Potts A, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. For the Love of a Soldier: Australian War-Brides and their GIs. Crows Nest [N.S.W.]: ABC Enterprises for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; 1987. P. 26

[5] Lake, P. 3

[6] Adam-Smith P. Australian Women at War. Melbourne, Vic: Nelson; 1984. P. 7

[7] Strauss/Potts, P. 27

[8] Sinden B. Balmoral Cemetery Pacific Veterans /Stories of Brisbane's Balmoral cemetery World War Two Pacific Campaign veterans and life on the homefront . Friends of Balmoral Cemetery Inc.; 2007. P. 8

[9] Sinden, P. 8-9

[10] Sinden, P. 17

[11] Adam-Smith, P. 9

[12] Summerfield P. Women Workers in the Second World War: Production and Patriarchy in Conflict. Dover, N.H: Croom Helm; 1984. P. 4

[13] Strauss/Potts, P. 27 and Adam-Smith, P. 1

[14] Adam-Smith, P. 9

[15] Sinden, P. 15

[16] Lake, P. 393

[17] Sinden, P. 15

[18] Strauss/Potts, P. 26-27

[19] Lake, P. 393

[20] Adam-Smith, P. 1

[21] Scott J. Girls with Grit: Memories of the Australian Women's Land Army. North Sydney, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin; 1986. P. 5

[22] Adam-Smith, P. 8

[23] Damousi/Lake, P. 5

[24] Scott, P. 14

[25] Strauss/Potts, P. 40

[26] Strauss/Potts, P. 12

[27] Strauss/Potts, P. 32

[28] Damousi/Lake, P. 5

[29] Strauss/Potts, P. 14

Ende der Leseprobe aus 9 Seiten


Being a New Australian Woman during World War II
Griffith University
Australian History
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
451 KB
being, australian, woman, world
Arbeit zitieren
Daria Poklad (Autor:in), 2011, Being a New Australian Woman during World War II, München, GRIN Verlag,


  • Noch keine Kommentare.
Im eBook lesen
Titel: Being a New Australian Woman during World War II

Ihre Arbeit hochladen

Ihre Hausarbeit / Abschlussarbeit:

- Publikation als eBook und Buch
- Hohes Honorar auf die Verkäufe
- Für Sie komplett kostenlos – mit ISBN
- Es dauert nur 5 Minuten
- Jede Arbeit findet Leser

Kostenlos Autor werden