Living with war

On 9 September 1939, the National Security Act became law. The Act enabled the Australian Government to invoke compulsory clauses of the Defence Act and to control areas that it was not able to control under the existing Constitution. New laws and regulations were required to help win the war and they affected many areas of the day-to-day life of ordinary Australians lives.

Men and women were 'manpowered' (ordered) into essential industries with many women entering the work force taking on jobs previously only available to men. For the first time women were recruited into the three armed services in non-medical auxiliary roles. Despite their importance in the war effort, female salaries were far lower than those of their male counterparts. Although many of their jobs disappeared at the end of the war, the new freedoms many women had experienced during the war years exposed them to wider and more varied employment opportunities. This increase in wartime production meant that Australia experienced almost full employment during the war years.

Civilians, as well as the troops both at home and overseas, needed to be fed. New rationing regulations were imposed on Australian men, women and children in order to cope with the huge demands placed on both agricultural producers and manufacturers. Petrol rationing was introduced in 1940 and, in 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin introduced personal identity cards and ration books for clothing and food.

The new rationing regulations included food items such as meat, tea, butter and sugar as well as clothing and footwear. Prices were pegged and daylight saving and shorter holiday periods were introduced to boost production hours. Power blackouts and 'brownouts', standard wartime air raid precautions in cities and coastal areas, also saved precious resources.

The Australian Government also introduced a National Savings Campaign to raise the enormous sums of money necessary to fund the war. Intensive publicity campaigns encouraged Australians to donate to the new war loans funds and to participate in whatever work they could do to assist the war effort. Advertisements and articles in newspapers and magazines and government-sponsored radio programs all reinforced and encouraged the new wartime lifestyle but it was the rationing of so many consumer goods that really forced Australians to practise thriftiness in their everyday lives.


Last updated: 1 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Living with war, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 12 August 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/resources/all-australian-homefront-1939-1945/living-war
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