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Women In Service

On the home front, women dealt with the consequences of war—managing children and family responsibilities alone, shortages of resources, as well as their fears for the future, and the grief and trauma of losing loved ones.

Many women were also actively involved as nurses and in other active service duties, and contributed more actively to war efforts through military service. Other Australian women were also closely connected with war through male relatives and friends away on military service.

Women in war munitions factory Kalgoorlie

Photo: Women in war munitions factory in Kalgoorlie

In World War II, women were actively recruited into jobs that had always been the preserve of men; they worked in factories and shipyards, as members of the Women's Land Army and as Official War Artists.

Fundraising and Support Roles

join red cross poster 




At the outbreak of World War I, the expected role of women was to manage the home and raise children. Women were strongly encouraged to help the war effort by joining voluntary organisations.

Groups active at this time included the Australian Red Cross, the Country Women's Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Australian Women's National League, the Voluntary Aid Detachment, the Australian Comforts Fund and the Cheer-Up Society.





Paid labour and taking on 'men's work'

When World War I started, it was uncommon for many women to have jobs, apart from domestic serving roles. The number of women working outside the home did increase slightly during the war but mostly in food, clothing and printing industry jobs that were already established as female roles.

The idea that a great number of women could take up paid work in place of the men who had gone to war was resisted for a number of reasons. This resistance lasted into World War II, even though 'women beat a path to the doors of the authorities, begging to be allowed to assist, to help win the war, to give of their talents'.

slq 161198 volunteers working on camouflage nets brisbane 1942
Photo: Volunteers working on camouflage nets Brisbane 1942

By 1942, the tides of war had shifted to Australia's doorstep and roles changed out of sheer necessity. Australian women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers and were even allowed to take on 'men's work'. These were jobs for the war, not for life. Women were paid at lower rates than men and expected to 'step down' and return to home duties after the war.

During World War Two, in Great Britain, North America and Australia and other nations, the vast number of men who were involved in the war meant that, for the first time ever, women were actively recruited into jobs that had always been considered for men. 'Rosie the Riveter' was a character used in America during the 1940s to entice women into work in factories and shipyards.

Two WAAAF flight mechanics checking aircraft engine components at RAAF Station Tocumwal 1944

Photo : Two WAAAF flight mechanics checking aircraft engine components at RAAF Station Tocumwal, 1944. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. AWM VIC0380.

Newsreels and movies of the day show women happily coming to work in the factory each day to make bomb casings, tanks or parachutes and draws similarities between the things women are used to doing (such as filing their nails) with the work they do in the factory (such as filing the inside of munitions casings). Similar recruitment programs were used to great effect in Australia.

At the end of the war, when women were expected to give up their jobs for men who returned home from overseas conflicts, this was often a difficult transition. Many women had enjoyed participating in the workforce. The 1950s saw a dramatic change in the way women's roles were defined, as females were encouraged back into the home and their traditional roles of wives and mothers reinforced and encouraged.