From wool to wirraways

Ordinary Australians were drawn into the war effort on an unprecedented scale. By the middle of 1941, Australia's economy was booming as men, women and even children were urged to put their backs into the war effort. Many factories turned to war production and more women entered the work force than ever before, taking over in what had been previously male-dominated areas.

Ships and aircraft were built and heavy armaments and munitions factories employed thousands of men and women. In 1942, the government, using extraordinary wartime legislation, introduced 'manpower' regulations conscripting both men and women to essential war work. As well as employing women in many jobs, essential industries were maintained through 'manpowering'. Under this arrangement many skilled workers were declared essential to the war effort on the home front and were prevented by Manpower authorities from enlisting or changing employment. Others were directed or 'manpowered' to war-related industries from other less essential areas. Thousands of Australian women took the place of men who had left their jobs to join the fighting forces, working in munitions and aircraft factories, textile trades and food processing, particularly canning works.

Rural production needed to be increased to feed not only Australians at home but also the troops at home and overseas as well as American troops stationed in Australia and the south-west Pacific. Servicemen and women also had to be clothed which caused an unprecedented demand for wool and cotton.

On the land, many women took over the running of the family farm, others joined the Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA), the Women's Agricultural Security Production Service (WASPS) or just helped out where and when they could. Thousands of women also did voluntary work for organisations supporting the armed services such as the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF).


Last updated: 14 April 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), From wool to wirraways, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 13 August 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/resources/all-australian-homefront-1939-1945/wool-wirraways
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