Australian Women and the Second World War: Great Debates

Australian Women and the Second World War: Great Debates cover
Table of contents

The Great Debates series is designed to assist teachers with classroom investigations of how war and conflict have affected Australians. This debate resource focuses upon the effects the Second World War had upon Australian women and the roles they played.

Department of Veterans' Affairs
Publisher
Australia
Series
Great Debates

Theme one: Women in Politics

The affirmative case

Background information

In caring for their children widows are performing a national service, and are entitled to community assistance both for themselves and for the one child not covered by child endowment.

From legislation relating to the Widows Pension Act introduced in 1942

Australia's political system was put under considerable stress by the Second World War. Support for the Allies' war effort had to be balanced against the need to repel the Japanese army as it moved closer to Australia. The Australian population had to be protected and kept motivated in relation to helping the war effort. Australia's federal, state and territory governments were kept busy as they met the many demands of the war. Meeting those demands provided opportunities for Australian women to engage directly in the political process or enjoy benefits brought about by legislation designed to aid the war efforts.

Women campaigned to take up major roles in government. Their campaigns took advantage of the 'war footing' of Australia; that footing saw circumstances emerge that might not have existed during times of peace. Two women secured positions in Australia's federal parliament. Representation at that level for women was vitally important in relation to employment and the pursuit of equality. Australian women in federal parliament gave a new platform for concerns and influenced the legislative process. Other Australian women now had the means to make their opinions and attitudes heard in the country's parliamentary system.

The changes in Australian politics gave many women the confidence to express their views and to seek better social and working conditions. The value of their contributions to the war effort had built a higher profile; that higher profile would need to be carried into the years after the war. Australian women set out to fight genderbased discrimination and to seek better conditions, whether that be at work or in the home. The Australian political system during the Second World War provided some significant opportunities for women to improve their position in society.

Source 1.1

Two women walking into the entrance of a building with a man watching on

In August 1943, Enid Lyons (the woman at right in the image) was the first Australian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. With Enid Lyons is Dorothy Tangney, the first Australian woman senator, elected to represent WA in the Senate. AWM 139712

Source 1.2

Portrait of woman in hat and glasses
Muriel Heagney, trade unionist and feminist, campaigned for wage equality for women during the Second World War. Image courtesy of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party.

In 1937 Heagney helped to found the Council of Action for Equal Pay under the auspices of the New South Wales branch of the Federated Clerks' Union, and was honorary secretary until 1949. A witness in basic wage hearings before the Arbitration Court in 1937 and 1949, she appeared before the New South Wales Industrial Commission in support of the Clerks' Union's case for equal pay in 1940. By 1941, the year she attended the International Labour Organization conference in New York as an observer, she believed victory on female wages was imminent. But while the Women's Employment Board awarded a high percentage of the male rate of pay to women in 'male' industries for the duration of the war, women in the traditional female sector remained disappointingly on 54 per cent.

Australian Dictionary of Biography
adb.anu.edu.au

Source 1.3

The Curtin government introduces the Widows Pensions Act in 1942.

It has long been recognized both in Australia and other countries that widows with dependent children are in a particularly unhappy position...In the majority of cases the widows are without private means and must therefore work for a living in default of outside assistance. In that case they deprive their children of essential parental care and supervision. In caring for their children widows are performing a national service, and are entitled to community assistance both for themselves and for the one child not covered by child endowment.

Joint Committee on Social Services, Interim Report, 24 September 1941, p. 8
https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_ inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/report/c05

Source 1.4

Australia women's charter adopted

Sydney, Monday.—An Australian women's charter, incorporating principles agreed to by the Australian Women's Conference, was adopted at the final session of the conference tonight. The charter will be circulated throughout the Commonwealth and signatories sought from women's organisations or individual women interested.

Mrs Jessie Street, who presided, said practically all decisions had been unanimous. In view of the different character of the organisations represented, this was a splendid effort.

The basic aim of the charter, she said, was the removal of limitations based upon sex-discrimination against women. Its broader objective was the improvement of social conditions for all democracy. Justice and security were indivisible. They must be enjoyed by all sections of the community. The charter discussed the status of women in various roles, such as citizen mother, homemaker, voluntary worker, member of the services, country dweller, in public life, and at the peace conference.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW: 1876 - 1954), 23 November, p. 3.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133419194

Source 1.4

Five people sitting in a large hall with a crowd of people seated in a separate section behind them
Senator Dorothy Tangney, Australian Labor Party, the first woman Senator in Australia, sits in the Senate Chamber with the Honourable W E Aylett (Senator for Tasmania, 1938–1965), September 1943. AWM 139696

Source 1.6

Women and politics

"Facism is male dominance, and the government households of democracy need housekeepers," said the Rev. Bernard Cockett, M.A., F.R.G.S. (president Australian Council of Churches). "The rule of man and the rule of money have produced two world wars in one lifetime," he went on, "and many of the social evils which degrade democracy will remain until awakened women remove them. Nations are adding woman-power to man-power," he continued, "and women have done 'a man's job' in a totalitarian war cannot be relegated to a secondary position in a new order, which promises freedom of worship and speech, freedom from want and fear."

Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Qld.: 1922 - 1954), 4 December 1942, p. 6.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article78050613

The negative case

Background information

In the maelstrom of war they needed to be watchful that female labour was not exploited, the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. D'Alton) told the women's section of the Australian Labour Party in Tasmania which met in conference at Devonport yesterday.

From the Launceston Examiner, March 1941.

The struggles for Australia's population during the Second World War included the rationing of food and fuel and the loss of some liberties. Australians made sacrifices designed to help with the war effort. Changes in roles for Australians occurred as the nation focussed upon producing armaments and providing support for its armed forces. The political environment changed as the demands for war production increased. Working conditions changed to meet those demands; the way those conditions changed and how they were changed were important to many Australians.

Australian federal and state governments were faced with balancing workers' rights with the urgent production of materials for war. Women in the workforce were often paid less than their male counterparts, even when they were doing similar jobs. Organisations trying to advance women's rights in Australia were up against the demands of war and faced opposition from male-dominated trade unions; some of those organisations saw a need to combine their resources as they campaigned for rights and equality. Their arguments for rights and equality needed to be strengthened so that they might be heard in the political turmoil of the war effort.

Australian politics remained dominated by men as the war was fought. Women made major contributions on the home front but they struggled to assert themselves in the country's political system. Resistance to change from some people within the political world meant that women had to work harder to be included in that world. Old attitudes were still an influence, along with beliefs about women's abilities that were associated with discrimination. Australian women faced major challenges in overcoming these limitations so that they could have a stronger 'voice' in the nation's politics during the Second World War.

Source 1.1

United In Common Object

Early this year, members of the Victorian Women Citizens' Movement, the Women for Canberra and the League of Women Electors held a meeting to discuss the possibility of the three organisations joining together.

Having for their basic policy so much in common, it was felt that a forward move would be made by linking up to work for political, national and international reforms, equal status, proportional representation and uniformity of legislation, especially in regard to women. Also it would give greater strength to representations to the Government, enabling women as a body to take part in international affairs.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.: 1861 - 1954), 10 October 1945, p. 11.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245667791

Source 1.2

During the Second World War, many Australian women joined the workforce, filling essential industry positions left vacant by men who had gone overseas to fight. In doing so, they performed duties that were usually considered part of the male domain, including farming, building and manufacturing. These workers formed women's employment organisations to fight for their working conditions and rights. In 1943, their lobbying led the Australian Government to establish the Women's Employment Board and secured women 75 per cent of the male wage for performing the same jobs. Prior to this, women had been receiving around two-thirds (or less) of the male wage.

This was considered an excellent outcome and many women were happy to be working and earning money while also aiding the war effort. Female participation in the workforce greatly decreased after the war, when men returned from fighting and resumed their old positions. This had an impact on the wages of women as many returned to lower-paying jobs with fewer benefits and stricter working conditions, including the requirement that women resign on getting married.

https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/equal-pay-for-women

Source 1.3

Women's Employment Board

There does not appear to be any reason why the Government should not consider the views of one side of industry as well as another. No time should be lost by the Government therefore in ending the long range artillery skirmishes that have marked the history of the Women's Employment Board, in favour of closer consultation with the employers in order to arrive at a settlement acceptable to all.

The situation is that the employers have stated that they are opposed to the Women's Employment Board but, provided the Government is prepared to give them assurances, they are prepared to put aside their rooted objections and make nominations to the board.

The Canberra Times (ACT: 1926–1995), 17 October 1942, p. 2.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2605801

Source 1.4

A.L.P. Women Confer at Devonport: Warning by Minister

In the maelstrom of war they needed to be watchful that female labour was not exploited, the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. D'Alton) told the women's section of the Australian Labour Party in Tasmania which met in conference at Devonport yesterday.

He outlined the possibility that in the future women would be called on to play a much larger part in the industrial sphere. In the maelstrom of war, he said, they would need to be watchful to see that the labour of women was not exploited and that wages and conditions of work were fair and reasonable.

Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900–1954), 26 March 1941, p. 5. (LATE NEWS EDITION)
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52410086

Source 1.5

Women and the War

Although the war is raising women to new status there still remains much to be swept away before they reach anything like equality with men in the economic sphere alone. The wages of women, even though the work is the same, are usually far lower than the wages of men. The Curtin Government has made an important decision in this connection by providing that where women, in the munitions industry, do work performed previously by men and reach the same output, they are to receive the same pay. That is a most progressive step. It is unfortunate that it is so limited in its application. The time has come when the principle of equal pay for the same classification of work, expressed in the slogan "Equal pay for equal work", should cover the whole field of production, without exception. The vast increase in the number of women in industry raises sharply the need for a new approach on the part of the Unions to their organisation to enable them to take their proper place in the Union with full rights in the determination of policy and leadership.

Communist Review (Sydney, NSW: 1941–1943) 1st July 1942, p.10.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209258408

Source 1.6

Women's place in politics

Some surprise has been shown over the fact that as many as eight women are offering themselves as parliamentary candidates at the elections to be held on September 28, but as 17 presented themselves in 1943, so far as numbers are concerned, the present effort shows retrogression rather than advance. Numbers are not the main consideration, however, for out of the 17 only two succeeded in winning a seat. 'History was made' so it was said, 'when Dame Enid Lyons took her seat as the first woman member of the House of Representatives and Dorothy Tangney hers as the first woman member of the Senate.' 'History must be a leisurely dame where women's suffrage is concerned,' comments another.

Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld.: 1860–1947), 24 September 1946, p. 6.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151445541

Theme two: Representations of Women

The affirmative case

Background information

In the plane Sister doesn't wear the traditional starched dress and immaculate white flowing veil. She wears instead khaki slacks and a shirt, a fur-lined flying jacket and a forage cap. She's Atebrin-yellow, too, but to the boys on the stretchers she's more beautiful than the most glamorous pin-up girl. She's cheerful, matter-of-fact, just as efficient as though she were in a modern hospital ward. Her presence brings a sense of safe, normal everyday things and faraway homes …

From RAAF Saga, 1944.

During the First World War, Australian women were often depicted in roles such as nursing or volunteering for organisations such as the Red Cross. The women were shown to be caring and kind, as if they were perhaps only capable of those responses to the war. When the Second World began, Australian women once again took up roles that related to being caring and kind. They did, however, soon move into roles that were related to supporting Australia's military activities in the zones of combat. This change in roles brought with it a change in the way Australian women were represented in the media of the times.

Australian women began to join military auxiliary organisations such as the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF), Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) and the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS). The roles they took on in these organisations had often been carried out by men. Images soon emerged showing women working on military aircraft, operating heavy machinery and using military technology. The Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) was a national scheme introduced by the Manpower Directorate in 1942. Images showed women carrying out roles in the farming sector that had often been considered as men's roles. These images depicted women operating farm machinery and maintaining farm infrastructure.

One message that was conveyed by these images was that Australian women were more than nurses and volunteers, although specific ideas of femininity were maintained. The nation's population began to frequently see women, often in uniform, carrying out roles vital to the frontline combat of the war. These images portrayed Australian women as smart, capable and committed to the war effort. A sense of strength and courage was perhaps another result of the images being shared in posters, photographs, newspapers and film newsreels. Australia's involvement in the Second World War brought its women an opportunity to demonstrate skills and attitudes that were perhaps outside what had usually been considered as 'feminine'.

Source 2.1

A poster of women dressed in various uniforms.

Join us in a victory job, by Maurice Bramley, 1943, lithograph on paper, 49 x 60 cm. AWM ARTV08836

Source 2.2

Join the Women’s Land Army, Unknown, 1943, lithograph on paper,74.6 x 47.8 cm. AWM ARTV06446

Source 2.3

In the plane Sister doesn't wear the traditional starched dress and immaculate white flowing veil. She wears instead khaki slacks and a shirt, a fur-lined flying jacket and a forage cap. She's Atebrin-yellow, too, but to the boys on the stretchers she's more beautiful than the most glamorous pin-up girl. She's cheerful, matter-of-fact, just as efficient as though she were in a modern hospital ward. Her presence brings a sense of safe, normal everyday things and faraway homes …

From RAAF Saga, produced by the Australian War Memorial in 1944 from the writings of servicemen to be read by servicemen.

Source 2.4

Point Cook, Victoria, c. 1943. Two WAAAF fight mechanics at work on an engine of a Douglas C47 Dakota transport aircraft at RAAF Station Point Cook. AWM VIC0328

Source 2.5

A poster depicting a nurse in uniform with the words Join, Australian Red Cross
Join, artist unknown, poster, 1939–1945, photolithograph, 36.8 x 24.6 cm. AWM ARTV00790

Source 2.6

Artwork for the front cover of a magazine depicting 5 women in difference services uniforms

The Australian Women's Weekly, September 26 1942. [Reproduced with permission from The Australian Women's Weekly] http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4721561

The negative case

Background information

Come on, housewife. Take a Victory job. You'll find it no harder than your house job. Easier perhaps. In fact, many war production factories, with their spic-and-span canteens, bright music and carefullyplanned rest breaks are more fun to work in than any house.

The Australian Women's Weekly, 17 April 1943

As the Second World War unfolded, Australian women were seen to move into a range of new roles. The women who occupied these roles were usually regarded as being healthy and motivated, and were often represented that way in images in the wartime media. The appearance of women in the uniforms of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) and Australian Women's Army Service, (AWAS) reinforced the idea that the women were "doing their bit" for the war effort. Young and attractive females were often seen on posters promoting the need for Australian women to support the nation's commitment to fighting in the war.

Not all Australian women were depicted in that way. The need for security across the country saw graphic designs in which women who might talk "carelessly" were shown as glamourous yet treacherous. The stereotypical housewife, with her apron, neat hair and sensible clothes, was used in images designed to encourage women to take up "victory jobs" instead of housework. Cartoons showing Australian women in auxiliary military organisations sometimes depicted them as being plump "matron" types or engaged in menial tasks. Paintings created during the war presented women working in roles supporting the war effort, however the presentation was not always accurate. One painting shows a group of young and attractive women carrying out physically demanding farm work; the women don't appear to be hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, as people might usually be when working that way.

The contrasts in representation of Australian women during the war were perhaps not unusual, given the circumstances. A need to promote certain messages to the population would have possibly influenced how women were depicted in a range of media. Seeing young and fit women involved in the war effort was certainly important, however the use of their images might have reinforced stereotypes of the era. Representing other women as a threat to national security or as comical would have shaped the perceptions of Australia's population at the time. The roles of Australian women may well have been adversely affected by the various representations of women during the Second World War.

Source 2.1

Drawing of a mother and children and having a conversation with a service woman on the road
The Bulletin, John Haynes and J.F. Archibald, Sydney NSW, Vol. 64 No. 3284 (20 January 1943, p.12) http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-535025469

Source 2.2

Artwork depicting a beautiful woman reclining in a chair and is being swooned over by 3 men behind her.

Keep mum she's not so dumb!, Harold Foster, 1942, offset lithograph on paper, 38 x 26 cm. AWM ARTV00807

Source 2.3

In these exceptional times thousands of women have voluntarily undertaken men's work to help their country in its hour of peril, and all honor (sic) to them for having done so; but that should only be for as long as the war lasts, and many of them must be realising even now that, having entered man's domain they are being taken as granted as it were and to a certain extent treated as other men.

The Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic.: Moama, NSW: 1869–1954; 1998–2002), 12 May 1943, p.2.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122463375

Source 2.4

Artwork depicting 2 women cleaning a window, one woman is smoking a pipe and leaning on the window provocatively

The Graf and the Prof, Lamberto Yonna, 1941, pen, ink and pencil on paper, 23.8 x 35 cm. AWM ART27789

In this cartoon by Lamberto Yonna, two nurses are depicted cleaning a window in a hospital ward. One nurse leans provocatively against the window as she smokes a pipe and reveals a garter on her leg. The other nurse seems unimpressed by her colleague's pose and attitude.

Source 2.5

Land Army girls on cotton, Grace Taylor, 1945, oil on hardboard,58.5 cm x 73.9 cm x 4 cm. AWM ART29759

Source 2.6

Come on, housewife. Take a Victory job. You'll find it no harder than your house job. Easier perhaps. In fact, many war production factories, with their spic-and-span canteens, bright music and carefully-planned rest breaks are more fun to work in than any house.

An advertisement to enlist housewives to work in factories rather than house work.
Come on, housewife. Take a Victory job. You'll find it no harder than your house job. Easier perhaps. In fact, many war production factories, with their spic-and-span canteens, bright music and carefully-planned rest breaks are more fun to work in than any house.Bauer Media Pty Limited The Australian Women's Weekly, (AWM) 1943. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4721938

Theme three: Social and Family Life

The affimative case

Background information

The home is the core of the nation. Let us keep it sound and take pride in the children in the homes of Australia, and when the war is over, let us all work to make Australian home life the soundest in the world.

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 13 October 1943

The demands of the Second World War on Australian society brought about change on many levels. People had to adapt to a range of circumstances that brought disruption and the need to make sacrifices for the war effort. The nation's focus was upon supporting its troops in any way possible. Many families were directly involved in that support because they had sons, fathers, brothers, uncles and husbands in the armed forces, often in the frontlines. The women in those families now found themselves in new roles, with new responsibilities. This situation brought with it opportunities for Australian families and society to explore new roles and relationships in homes, in factories and in organisations supporting the war effort.

For many families, the involvement of family members in war-related roles brought new connections. The generation that had lived through the First World War could share experiences with the generation now living through the Second World War. Mothers, daughters and sisters could support each other as they carried out roles and responsibilities related to the war. Many families had three generations participating in activities supporting the troops and their frontline efforts. This situation created an atmosphere where wisdom and knowledge could be shared for the greater good.

The war brought people together across Australian society's different classes. Women from all walks of life found themselves working alongside each other. This new environment brought opportunities for social barriers to be broken down. The war was possibly a unifying factor, as Australian women put differences and perceptions aside for the good of the nation. One potential advantage was that women could see that they shared the same concerns and that there was more to be gained in Australian society if they worked together for the advancement of their roles and rights.

Source 3.1

I think one of the things that happened during the war was that women became the head of the family. They'd taken over all the responsibility of handling the money, handling the disciplinary problems, handling what would happen to the children, making day-to-day decisions. That was an enormous change. And when the husbands came back the children in many cases had never seen their fathers, they'd never lived in the same house with them, they didn't know who they were. They were strangers, and I think many of those children never related to those fathers again — nor the father to the children.

Dorothy Hewett in Joanna Penglase and David Horner, When The War Came To Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1992, p. 236.

Source 3.2

Population and home life of Australia

Whether she realises it or not, every mother is of vital importance, and the well-being of Australia will greatly depend on how she rears her children. The home is the core of the nation. Let us keep it sound and take pride in the children in the homes of Australia, and when the war is over, let us all work to make Australian home life the soundest in the world.

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW: 1888 – 1950), 13 October 1943, p. 6.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106136290

Source 3.3

A woman and 4 children wait at a table while a woman check documents.

A woman and her children line up at a ration book issuing centre in a Melbourne suburb, June 1942. AWM 136478

Source 3.4

2 women driving a truck

Miss Alice Gould, a wealthy socialite (left) and Mrs D'Arcy-Irvine, a member of a prominent Sydney family, two drivers of the women's Australian National Emergency Service, who are part of a group of six who operate a RAN ambulance which was donated by a girls' school. Members of the National Emergency Service are all volunteers, come from all walks of life and are trained and qualified to drive heavy motor transports, including omnibuses. AWM 006656

Source 3.5

A woman in uniform serves sandwiches to people who seated in a room
Preston, Victoria, April 1944. A WAAAF aircraftwoman entertaining members of her family at afternoon tea following the pass-out parade of newly enlisted aircraftwomen on completion of their recruit training course at No. 1 WAAAF Depot. AWM VIC0365

Source 3.6

5 women sitting at a table
Melbourne, Victoria, December 1942. Twelve members of this family, five of whom are shown, are in the services and one is in munitions. On the right is Mrs I. Wilson, who has five sons in the army, talking with her daughter and two nieces, all members of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS), whose husbands are on active service, and her daughter-in-law, a munitions worker. AWM 137252

The negative case

Background information

Canberra.—Described by the Federal Director-General of Health (Dr Cumpston) as representing, although imperfectly, a picture of social conditions "which will have to be profoundly altered if the nation is to survive," the Federal Health Department has issued a 70-page summary of extracts from letters received from more than 4,000 Australian women on the reasons for the limitations of families.

News (Adelaide, SA: 1923–1954), 4 December 1944

The demands of the Second World War on Australian society brought about change on many levels. People had to adapt to a range of circumstances that brought disruption and the need to make sacrifices for the war effort. The nation's focus was upon supporting its troops in any way possible. Many families were directly involved in that support because they had sons, fathers, brothers, uncles and husbands in the armed forces, often in the frontlines. The women in those families now found themselves in new roles, with new responsibilities. This situation brought with it pressures upon Australian families and society in relation to new roles and relationships in homes, factories and organisations supporting the war effort.

The war effort consumed much of Australia's resources and forced major changes upon families and society in general. Australian women saw the men in their families leave to take up frontline roles in combat zones across the world. The absence of the men often changed the situation at home for women who had to manage increasing demands upon their families without help from male family members. Juggling family responsibilities with contributions to Australia's war efforts could be the source of significant stress for women. Their social lives were possibly also affected as they tried to keep up connections with friends while making sure that their home lives were not suffering from the effects of the war.

As the war drew to a close, many Australian women prepared to welcome home their men who had been on the frontline. Women welcoming home men who had been prisoners of war faced special challenges as those men resumed life in their families and communities. The roles women had been carrying out at home and in the workforce were under threat as men came back expecting to resume those roles. Families faced the awkward situations of traditional roles possibly being contested as the men sought to take up their previous positions in their homes. Australian society was faced with more disruption caused by the war, but this time the disruption would continue after the fighting was over.

Source 3.1

We can get out of those slacks and put on one of those vogueish floral cottons with crisp muslin frills, and dress our daughter in a snip of the same. Hand in hand we can skip down the drive and forget the half-ton of wood dumped there waiting for a husband to come home and cart it into the garage.

Kate Darian-Smith, On the Home Front, OUP, Oxford, 1990, p. 40.

Source 3.2

No Home, Help or Security

Why Families Are Limited

Canberra.—Described by the Federal Director-General of Health (Dr Cumpston) as representing, although imperfectly, a picture of social conditions "which will have to be profoundly altered if the nation is to survive," the Federal Health Department has issued a 70-page summary of extracts from letters received from more than 4,000 Australian women on the reasons for the limitations of families. Dr Cumpston says in the preface to the extract that the general impression left is that women limit their families for the following reasons:

  1. No home.
  2. No help.
  3. No security either national or economic.
  4. No hope for any change for the better in any of these things.

He says that it is impossible to escape the conclusion from the letters that just as the effects of the depression on family life are still bitter memories, so will the great mental and physical disturbances arising from the war have delayed effects over many years.

News (Adelaide, SA: 1923–1954), 4 December 1944, p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129880607

Source 3.3

Women and children watch a ship sail out to sea from a wharf
Family and friends stand on a Melbourne wharf as the troop transport Strathallan carrying the Advance Party of the 6th Division AIF departs. One woman uses binoculars to keep the ship in sight. AWM 000304/01

Source 3.4

Mrs Hardy, with a resigned sense of uncertainty of what the futures holds, watches her husband in a RAAF passing out ceremony while her daughter, Barbara, sleeps on her lap, Melbourne, November 1942. AWM 136993

Source 3.5

A woman hugging a man in a crowd
Sydney, NSW, September 1945. An emotional family welcome home at Mascot airport for a former prisoner of war Captain Kay Parker (right), Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). Captain Parker was one of six Australian Army nurses captured at Rabaul in 1942 along with seven civilian administrative nurses, four Methodist missionary nurses, and a civilian housewife. They were all transported to Japan and interned at Yokohama. The woman on the left is possibly Lieutenant Daisy (Tootie) Keast, AANS, another inmate from Yokohama. AWM 115949

Source 3.6

A crowd of soldiers and women gather infront of a building
Sydney, NSW, 1941. Soldiers gather in front of a building with their kitbags and rifles to say goodbye to family and friends before receiving orders to embark on a troop transport ship to carry them to the Middle East for overseas service. AWM 007228

Theme four: Work and Employment

The affirmative case

Background information

At first, it was a total battle to get men to accept us as workers. They were very hostile … Articles in the press didn't help. 'Servicewomen keep their femininity', and 'Girls don't lose their femininity in barracks'.

Dorothea Skov, quoted in Patsy Adam-Smith, Australian Women At War (1984)

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Australian women in the nation's workforce held jobs that were often regarded as 'women's work'. Roles such as secretaries, typists, switchboard operators and shop assistants were frequently occupied by women. Roles in areas such as mechanical repairs and farm machinery operations were still often carried out by men. Women were still often expected to fulfil the roles of domestic life, while their male family members and friends were involved in roles traditionally considered to be more masculine.

As Australia became more involved in the war, much of its male population began to be taken away from those masculine roles as the demand for men in the armed forces increased. It wasn't long before the need to occupy those roles began to overwhelm the traditional ideas about who should carry them out. Australian women began to move into roles that had previously not been available to them. Roles in both military and civilian settings began to open up to women as the need to maintain those roles became more urgent.

Australian women began to acquire new skills and took on more responsibilities in a range of jobs. At the peak of Australia's involvement in the Second World War, women were engaged in roles that were critical to the war effort; there's no doubt that the women carrying out those roles made major contributions to the Allied victory.

Source 4.1

At first, it was a total battle to get men to accept us as workers. They were very hostile … Articles in the press didn't help. 'Servicewomen keep their femininity', and 'Girls don't lose their femininity in barracks'. This type of article abounded. The soldiers saw us as playing at war. Women had gone into the services with such a load of enthusiasm; they'd go from dawn to next daylight. Soon officers said, 'The morale and behaviour of men have lifted since women joined the Service.' … Every girl who enlisted expected to release a man for active service. The returned men appreciated this when they got used to seeing us around.

Dorothea Skov, quoted in Patsy Adam-Smith, Australian Women At War, Penguin, Melbourne, 1984 pp. 195–196.

Source 4.2

Release a man .. Join the AWAS, Ian McCowan, 1941–1945, lithograph, 61 x 48.3 cm. AWM ARTV01049

Source 4.3

Female employment in Australia (thousands)
Year Employers & Self-Employed Wage & salary earners Total Civilans
  Rural Industry Other Total Rural Industry Other Total  
1933 15.1 56.2 71.3 4.4 447.5 451.9 523.2
1939 16.0 62.0 78.0 4.0 561.6 565.6 643.6
1941 14.0 56.8 70.8 6.0 656.2 662.2 733.0
1943 11.7 34.4 46.1 28.1 682.1 710.2 756.3
1945 17.0 43.1 60.1 23.0 667.1 690.1 750.2
1946 16.0 61.0 77.0 21.0 660.9 681.9 758.9

Source 4.4

The war had a tremendous effect on the liberation of women. To be important, that was the thing: to be absolutely necessary for the running of the country, that women should work, and this is not a light thing and it couldn't possibly be forgotten once the war was over.

Joanna Penglase and David Horner, 1992, When the War Came to Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, p. 242.

Source 4.5

A woman carries a block of ice, from the ice truck behind her, on her shoulder as part of her ice delivery rounds to houses and businesses. c.1944. AWM 044519

Source 4.6

Women in uniform marching along the street.

Members of the Australian Women’s Army Service give 'eyes right’ as they pass the saluting base during the servicewomen’s march through the city, Melbourne, September 1942. AWM 136899

The negative case

Background information

When the war was over, I went back to being a clerk in the Bourke Street store of Coles. I didn't mind because it was made perfectly clear to us when we were made managers that it was for the duration of the war only.

Beattie Crawford of Melbourne in When The War Came To Australia (1992)

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Australian women in the nation's workforce held jobs that were often regarded as 'women's work'. Roles such as secretaries, typists, switchboard operators and shop assistants were frequently occupied by women. Roles in areas such as mechanical repairs, farm machinery operation and operating technology were still often carried out by men. Women were still often expected to fulfil the roles of domestic life, while their male family members and friends were involved in roles traditionally considered to be more masculine.

The range of opportunities for employment of Australian women seemed to significantly increase during the Second World War. Australia's war efforts saw thousands of men leave jobs they traditionally held as they moved into the armed forces. This movement appeared to offer Australian women access to jobs that they perhaps never imagined they might carry out.

As the war progressed, Australian women proved themselves to be capable of taking on roles that had been previously held by men. The end of the war proved to be a difficult time for Australian women. Thousands of Australian men were returning from overseas, while locally many were finishing up a range of roles related to the eventual Allied victory. Women across Australia quickly found themselves under pressure to give up the jobs they had held while men were involved in the conflicts around the world. It seemed as though Australian society was going to return to the way it was before the Second World War. For many women, the challenge now was to balance the country's need to employ the men while keeping the gains made in carrying out the numerous roles previously held by males. This challenge would prove to be complex and its effects would be felt for decades to come.

Source 4.1

[During the war] you felt you were important, that you were doing something worthwhile and also you had the standing of the Army behind you. When I was demobbed and got into civilian dress I felt that I was bereft, I was out on my own. I had no support. [Before] you knew that if anything happened you'd just go to someone in the services and they'd help you sort it out.

Nancy Freedman in Kate Darian-Smith, On the Home Front, OUP, Melbourne, 1990, p. 142.

Source 4.2

A poster to advertising a booklet titled Return to Civil Life

Return to civil life, poster, 1945–1946, lithograph, 51 x 62.2 cm. AWM ARTV00535

Source 4.3

Nominal and Real Wages, Male and Female (average weekly wage, shillings and pence)
Year Female wage as % of male wage
1939 55.3
1940 55.3
1941 55.8
1942 55.6
1943 57.2
1944 60.2
1945 59.8

Australian Women In War, Department of Veterans' Affairs, 2008, p. 64.

Source 4.4

Women got [paid] much less [than men who performed the same work]. As far as general office administration, women had been trained in business colleges and were able to do the job much better really, but we got less money than the men did … And most of the girls didn't want [equal pay] because if the man got as much as they did when they went out they would have to pay for themselves. And it was so nice to have someone bring you a box of chocolates or flowers – so much more romantic. So they didn't want it on equal terms.

Nancy Freedman in Michael McKernan, All In!, Nelson, Melbourne 1983, p. 64.

Source 4.5

Despite a vigorous advertising campaign, the AWLA (Australian Women's Land Army) was competing with the other women's services, so in January 1943 Cabinet decided to make the AWLA an 'official fourth service', to be brought under the National Security Regulations. However, delays meant that at war's end, the AWLA was not officially recognised as an enlisted auxiliary service, despite being issued with khaki uniforms. This meant that they were discharged as a civilian body–they had signed on with the Directorate of Manpower, not the defence forces, so members of the AWLA were not eligible for the same benefits as the other women's services, nor were they allowed to march on Anzac Day until 1985. Twelve years later they were awarded the Civilian Service Medal.

Melanie Oppenheimer, Australian Women and War, Department of Veterans' Affairs, Canberra, 2008, p. 115.

Source 4.6

When the war was over, I went back to being a clerk in the Bourke Street store of Coles. I didn't mind because it was made perfectly clear to us when we were made managers that it was for the duration of the war only. You've got to remember that women were second-rate employees and we didn't argue with it. Women just weren't given these opportunities and we didn't worry about it, it was accepted in those days.

Beattie Crawford, Melbourne, in Joanna Penglase and David Horner, When The War Came to Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1992, p. 242.

Source analysis worksheet

Source What is the source? Who created it? What information does the source provide? What argument(s) does the source provide? What questions are you left asking?


 
       


 
       


 
       


 
       


 
       

Glossary of terms

Arbitration A method to resolve disputes outside of the court system.
Atebrin An anti-malaria drug taken by people serving in the tropics.
Auxiliary A group or organisation which assists a larger one.
Clerk Someone employed in an office or shop to keep records or accounts and attend to correspondence.
Demobbed When a soldier is discharged from the army
Discrimination The unjust treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex.
Domain A field of action, thought or influence.
Douglas C47 Dakota A military transport aircraft used extensively by the Allies in the Second World War.
Embark To board a ship for a voyage.
Enlisted Being engaged for military or naval service by enrolling for that service
Equality The state of being equal, especially in relation to status, rights or opportunities.
Femininity The quality of being female or showing womanliness.
Hostile Unfriendly; opposed in feeling, action or character.
Inmate A person confined in a hospital or a prison.
Keep mum Remain silent
Kitbag A long canvas bag in which soldiers carry their personal belongings.
Liberation The freeing of oppressed or minority groups.
Liberties Powers or rights of doing, thinking and speaking according to choice.
Lithograph A print produced by lithography, which uses greasy or oily substances on a flat surface to make an image
Maelstrom A restless confusion of affairs or influence.
Missionary A person sent to spread their religious faith, usually among the people of another country or region where that faith is not widely practised.
Morale A mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence and zeal.
Munitions Materials used in war, especially weapons and ammunition.
Newsreel A short film presenting current news events, shown in cinemas in the pre-digital world.
Nominal Of less importance when compared with the actual value of something
Perceptions The way in which something is regarded, understood or interpreted.
Peril Exposure to injury, loss, destruction, risk or danger
Ration The allowance of supplies given to an individual soldier or citizens.
Senator A member of the Senate, or upper house, in a parliament made up of upper and lower houses. The lower house is also known as the House of Representatives.
Socialite A member of the social elite, or someone who would like to be in the social elite.
Stereotypes A standardised idea or concept used to categorise people
Suffrage The right of voting, especially in political elections.
Treacherous Deceptive, unreliable, unstable or likely to betray

Teacher's guide

Introduction

Great Debates: Australian women and the Second World War is designed for teachers and their students studying the Year 10 Curriculum: History. It enables them to investigate the impact the Second World War had upon the roles of women both at home and in the services.

Students studying the Second World War and its effect upon Australia might feel compelled to focus upon the major military aspects of the conflict. This resource is designed to engage students with notions relating to how the Second World War affected the lives of Australian women. The resource provides students with information relating to the challenges and circumstances that Australian women faced as the nation was engaged in the global conflict.

Learning approach

Great Debates: Australian Women and the Second World War adopts a debate format using theme-based sources to explore the statement "That the Second World War changed the roles of Australian women".

The activity employs an inquiry-based learning approach. Students are not given synthesised information; they are provided with sources to investigate the debate topic via a range of themes. The themes selected for the debate topic address the notions of work, politics, social and family life and representations of women. Students examine the sources provided to ascertain the forces that were influencing the roles of women in wartime Australia. The resource uses formative assessment via peer-marking.

Using this resource

This education resource has been developed as a debate activity, however teachers can be flexible in the way they use it.

The amount of time that this activity takes will vary e.g. it could be used over four to seven lessons of 45-minutes duration. It can involve the entire class working in small groups, or just eight students, who present the debate for the rest of the class. You may like to use the resource in conjunction with the other Great Debate resources.

These are available on the Anzac Portal at anzacportal.dva.gov.au.

Further suggestions for using this resource in the classroom can be found below in the 'Advice for teachers' section.

Australian curriculum links

This resource is aligned with the Year 10 Australian Curriculum: History – Humanities and Social Sciences (History) – "The modern world and Australia". The resource relates directly to the depth study of "World War II (1939 – 45)":

  • The impact of World War II, with a particular emphasis on the Australian home front, including the changing roles of women and use of wartime government controls (conscription, manpower controls, rationing and censorship) (ACDSEH109)

Resource components

Advice to teachers

This section provides suggestions for how the resource might be used in the classroom.

Background information

This section provides historical context for teachers to share with their students before they start preparing for the debate.

Assessment rubrics

Two rubrics are included in this resource: one for teachers to assess student performances and one for students to assess their peers.

Debrief

This section provides suggestions for post-debate discussion and more exploration of the topic.

Theme sources

This section provides the theme-based sources to be used in the students' preparation for the debate.

Background information

Roles for Australian women on the home front during the First World War consisted mainly of raising funds, volunteering for organisations like the Red Cross, packing relief parcels and knitting socks for soldiers fighting overseas. Women took care of wounded soldiers, home from the frontlines, as well as looking after their families. There was little scope for roles beyond those described; for many Australian women, their biggest role was to simply wait as many male family members and friends fought the protracted and costly battles of the war, on the other side of the world.

The period between the First World War and the Second World War saw a few changes for Australian women on the domestic front. Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to an Australian parliament (in Western Australia), while the minimum wage for women was set at 54 per cent of the wage rate for men. These changes were the exception, however, as Australian women continued in many of the same roles they had carried out since before the First World War. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 was set to bring about some significant changes for Australian women; some of those changes would have short-term effects while others would have influences that extended beyond the end of the war in 1945.

Australia once again committed large numbers of service men to the theatres of conflict in the Second World War. Those men were soon involved in battles on the ground, in the air and at sea. Back in Australia, their absence created a shortage of what was called "manpower"; many local industries and agricultural activities felt that shortage, so jobs traditionally held by men were opened up to women. The Australian armed forces also saw a need for women to take up a range of roles; that led to the formation of several auxiliary military services in which women held jobs that would have otherwise kept men from joining up and serving in the theatres of conflict.

The end of the Second World War saw the large numbers of Australian men serving overseas return home, with many men expecting to resume the jobs they had held before they joined the armed forces. For many Australian women, this period was one of contradiction and disappointment as they had to give up the jobs they'd carried out during the hostilities. For others, though, there was much less upset, as they dutifully handed over their roles and went back to domestic duties. There were mixed feelings among women across the country as the pre-war order tried to re-establish itself. Investigating the effect of the Second World War upon the roles of Australian women is an essential activity for students attempting to understand the foundations of modern Australia.

Advice for teacher

  1. Use the background information as you see fit in relation to your students' preparation of the activity.
  2. Explain to your students that the sources in this activity are theme-based and are designed to assist the development of arguments for and against the main proposition.
  3. The two teams required for the debate can be the minimum of four students per team or larger, depending upon assessment requirements and other factors.
  4. Supply the two teams with the source folders relevant to the team's debate position (for or against the proposition). Ensure the students are aware of the source analysis worksheet attached to the source folders; discuss how the worksheet can be used as the teams prepare for the debate.
  5. Allocate time for your students to interrogate the sources supplied and to extend their research beyond the sources. Provide an opportunity to discuss their research and how their understanding of the source themes has developed.
  6. Allocate time to discuss the process of debating with an emphasis upon techniques for presenting compelling arguments for the affirmative and negative cases. Use the assessment rubrics supplied with the resource as a method of framing debating technique. Information on debating techniques can be found at websites such as the Debaters Association of Victoria dav.com.au and the South Australian Debating Association sada.org.au
  7. Provide your students with sufficient time to prepare their arguments and to discuss their team strategies.
  8. Stage the debate. If possible, arrange to record the debate via a suitable device. This will provide supplementary evidence students can use when assessing their individual and team performances.
  9. Follow up with the peer assessment process. Encourage students to provide critical analysis of the teams and to support their assessment comments with specific examples of their peers' performances.
  10. Conclude the entire process with a discussion using the questions in the "Debrief" section of the resource. Encourage students to compose their own questions that will assist them in analysing the debate topic.

Suggested debriefing

The following questions can be used to guide a class discussion at the conclusion of the debate and peer assessment:

  • How do you think women who were serving in the forces adapted to change when they came home?
  • How did the Second World War influence the roles of women in modern Australia?
  • How have wars following the Second World War (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan etc.) influenced the roles of women in modern Australia?
  • Since the Second World War, what has changed in Australian society in relation to the roles of women?
  • What have the changes in women's roles in Australia meant for you at a personal level?
  • What might an Australian woman from the period of the Second World War (1939 – 1945) think about the roles of women in modern Australia?

Encourage your students to formulate their own questions in relation to further consideration of the debate topic and the outcomes of the debate.

Rubrics

Teacher

  Criteria / Grade A B C D E
Quality of Argument
  • proposes and delivers logically structured arguments for/against conscription
  • addresses the overarching inquiry question
  • includes a clear supporting example
  • anticipates possible arguments from the opposition and presents rebuttal points
Proposes an argument that addresses the inquiry question and all of the elements of a successful argument Proposes an argument that addresses the inquiry question and most of the criteria Proposes an argument that addresses the inquiry question and is supported by an example Proposes an argument but does not address the overarching inquiry question and/or lacks logical structure, supporting example, or clarity Does not propose an argument
Quality of
Research
  • uses source material to support arguments
  • includes statistical information, facts and events from the Second World War period that support their understanding of the debate topic
Goes beyond the provided sources and integrates own research in supporting their arguments Makes use of multiple sources, includes statistical information and/or events to support arguments Makes use of multiple sources Makes use of only one source Does not use source material or research information
Quality of Teamwork
  • makes use of the 'Team Line', the connecting thread, for a coherent and connected team argument
Arguments all connected under the 'Team Line'; arguments complement each other Arguments all connected under the 'Team Line' Arguments are connected but the team lacks coherency overall One or more arguments are not connected to the others No collaboration evident; arguments are completely disconnected
Quality of Presentation
  • uses body language, eye contact, and visual aids to convince the audience
  • speaks clearly and fluently with appropriate volume and pace
  • uses vocal expression
  • uses rhetorical language to emphasise points
  • uses palm cards with notes
Meets all the elements of quality presenting Meets most elements of quality presenting Meets multiple elements of quality presenting Only meets one element of quality presenting No evidence of making an effort in presentation

Student

Team # Criteria / Grade

Student 1
(Score 1-3)

Student 2
(Score 1-3)
Student 3
(Score 1-3)
Student 4
(Score 1-3)
Quality of Argument
  • proposes and delivers logically structured arguments for/against conscription
  • addresses the overarching inquiry question
  • includes a clear supporting example
  • anticipates possible arguments from the opposition and presents rebuttal points
       
Quality of
Research
  • uses source material to support arguments
  • includes statistical information, facts and events from the Second World War period that support their understanding of the debate topic
       
Quality of Teamwork
  • makes use of the 'Team Line', the connecting thread, for a coherent and connected team argument
       
Quality of Presentation
  • uses body language, eye contact, and visual aids to convince the audience
  • speaks clearly and fluently with appropriate volume and pace
  • uses vocal expression
  • uses rhetorical language to emphasise points
  • uses palm cards with notes
       

Copyright