CM – The brief moment of equality for women on the home front


Behind her calm appearance lay an extraordinary strength and power that distinguished Australian women in war.

It was a brief moment in the equality era when gender norms and stereotypes fell away when women emerged to take positions left by men on the front lines.

They may not have fired bullets at the enemy, but their contribution to maintaining society in wartime was vital.

These silent women, so often overlooked for the exploits of struggle, can now be honored for their hard work.

It was an example of America’s Rosie the Riveter, but wartime Australian women did far more than just work for our booming ammunition industry and keep the Australian economy going.

The accepted myth of Australian women at war insists that most of the paid work on the home front during World War II was done by women.

The reality, however, was that during these war years only around 30 percent of the available female labor force was paid labor.

Beyond paid work, women provided the glue that kept families intact, volunteered for community service in an unprecedented manner (and were never reached again), and became the backbone of the Red Cross, which has an accredited membership in the Second World War that included one in seven Australians girls and women.

In a largely forgotten part of our military history, women have also poured their energies into the Australian Women’s Land Army established in July 1942 to ensure food production continues.

The AWLA was created because few men were available to do the hard work traditionally associated with farming. She employed women for an average of 48 hours per week and a salary of 30 shillings per week, the minimum wage at the time.

Women picked fruit, raised pigs and poultry, and worked throughout the wool industry while being paid significantly less than men doing the same work.

The Australian War Memorial reports that the number peaked in December 1943 when the Land Army recorded 2,382 permanent members as well as 1,039 auxiliary members.

These « country girls » from Queensland had to go anywhere in the state that was often housed in makeshift clubs in local households.

Permanent quarters were established in the districts of Atherton Tableland, Home Hill and Ayr, and temporarily on Magnetic Island off Townsville.

They plowed, cultivated and harvested in the Atherton Tableland and Cairns districts to produce food for around 90,000 Allied troops in the north.

When the AWLA was dissolved on December 31, 1945, the serving women were not entitled to military services, but were questioned for a civil service medal following a recommendation after a parliamentary inquiry in 1994.

But Rosie the Riveter, the muscular wartime factory worker founded in 1942, is the long-standing advocate of women involved in the Allied war effort and one of the most successful wartime propaganda campaigns of all time.

The image of Rosie evolved well beyond World War II into an image of female empowerment that radically changed the cultural landscape in the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s an image the effectiveness of which was recognized even by Hillary Clinton, who used « Rosie » campaign buttons in her 2016 White House campaign.

In her book Australian Women at War, published in 1996, Patsy Adam-Smith noted the strong opposition in Australia during World War I against women who work outside of the domestic service or the food and clothing industries

By 1942, when Japanese expansionism put war on Australia’s doorstep, the mood had changed dramatically.

« Australian women have entered the world of work in unprecedented numbers and even been allowed to do ‘men’s work’, » wrote Adam-Smith.

« Women were paid at lower rates than men and were expected to resign and return to their homework after the war. »

In a country that has lost the core of its once thriving manufacturing base, it is instructive to examine what it can achieve when our collective minds become focused by an impending invasion and gender is not a barrier to employment.

Australia built 700 Beaufort bombers (a variation of the British Beaufort, also known as the DAP Beaufort) between 1941 and 1944, with each bomber requiring 39,000 separately manufactured parts.

These 39,000 parts were given to over 600 companies that helped develop an aircraft that was acquired by the Royal Australian Air Force in 1941 for being such an effective defense against the Japanese.

The planes were built under the auspices of the Aircraft Production Department, which occupied seven large factories in three states and directly employed 8,500 workers, a third of whom were women.

Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, Chair of History at Flinders University in South Australia and President of the Australian Historical Association, believes Australian women proved extraordinarily patriotic during World War II, and there is no question that they paid in record numbers Workforce have entered.

This exodus from home to the workforce played a key role in sparking the second wave of feminism in the 1950s and 60s when women realized they could do many of the jobs traditionally reserved for men.

However, what is not universally recognized about Australian women during WWII, especially working-class women, was the amount of unpaid labor they put into the war effort.

« It is interesting that even at the top, only about 30 percent of the women available were employed, » says Professor Oppenheimer.

« We see the women working in the factories and doing their job so that the men can go to war. »

« But you also see that many working-class women do their day jobs, for example working on the Beaufort bombers and then volunteering at night, doing their volunteer work with the Red Cross or contributing to the comfort funds (building packages) of sometimes luxury items to complement the army nations).

The answer lies in volunteering in a capacity that has not been fully appreciated or recognized.

« You can only successfully pursue a war if you have people who support your men on the front lines.

« Australian women have done that and I think these are the areas where we will see more recognition and recognition in the years to come.

Wendy Taylor, the first vice president of the Queensland RSL in its 105-year history, agrees.

« I think there was a problem in our past that we fought wars only for men.

« We need to tell these stories about women in order to get the younger generations’ attention. »


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