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Accompanying the critical shortage of manpower was the rationing of essential goods, such as clothing and food. Australia's entire economy became focused on producing items needed for war.

As workers were directed away from non-essential and civilian industries towards war-related factories, the production of civilian goods also diminished. Rationing was another form of control used by the government to direct Australian money to the war effort.


Rationing is assigning people a fixed allowance of essential and non-essential goods. It was introduced in Australia as a form of economic control to curtail Australian expenditure.

It was intended as a way in which Australians could contribute to the war effort through communal sacrifice. Rationing was supported by most Australians because it ensured that everyone would be able to access essential items. See image 1
Australia did not suffer under rationing as did Britain and other countries in Europe. Few people ever went without essential items. Most Australians were able to obtain a fair share of essential item regardless of income.
There were, however, restrictions on sporting events, non-essential travel and clothing. There were also compulsory blackouts (when all the lights in a building were turned off at night) so that enemy planes could not see cities or towns and bomb them.
Rationing in Australia caused more inconvenience than genuine hardship. Australians seemed unwilling to part with their creature comforts to support the war effort.
Between 1939 and 1941, government control and rationing were not strictly imposed in Australia. The War seemed remote and there was no sense of urgency or common purpose to assist in the war effort yet.
There was a fear of scarcity before rationing was introduced that caused hysteria among the Australian population. There was once a rumour of a match shortage. Thousands of people purchased millions of matches to ensure that they would not go without.
John Dedman, then Minister for War Organisation of Industry, announced that clothing rationing would be introduced. Sales of clothing shops would be restricted to 75% for 1941 and once the shop had reached its quota of sales for the day, sales had to be stopped for the day. Mass hysteria gripped the women of Australia as they rushed to the shops to buy clothes.
There were many administrative problems that the government had to solve before instituting rationing and its introduction was delayed for two months. Australia followed British procedures for the introduction of rationing.
Ration books and coupons were printed and were organised to be distributed. All shops were prepared for the change from a cash to a coupon economy. Each Australian citizen received a ration book with 112 coupons. Purchasable items had a coupon value, for example, a man's suit for 38 coupons, whereas a pair of socks cost 4.
At the end of the year, used coupon booklets were exchanged for new ones.
People had to plan their expenses for the year to avoid spending all their coupons before the end of the year. Once the coupon booklet was spent, it was a year-long wait for the next one to be issued. This proved easy for men, but more difficult for women and families with growing children.
Clothing rations were introduced in mid-June 1942.

Rationed items

Some goods were in short supply once the War began. There was an extreme shortage of petrol which led to strict rationing. Rationing ensured that all Australians would be able to access some supply of petrol when it was needed.

Tea was also rationed early in the War. Supply was limited after Japan occupied Malaya, the Dutch East Indies and Java - the prime tea producers for Australia. Compared with today, Australians were avid tea-drinkers, having tea with all meals and several extra cups throughout the day and night.
Since April 1942, all Australians over the age of nine were required to register with a tea supplier, such as a corner store, and receive one ounce of tea per week, which had to be purchased fortnightly or monthly.
The tea rationing caused great inconvenience for Australians as it was a cultural food. Concessions were made for the aged and outback populations for whom tea was safer to drink than water.
In August 1942, sugar was added to the ration list. Every Australian civilian was allocated half a kilogram of sugar per week. The effect was unexpected - Australians found the sugar rations an awful hardship. Australians had a sweet tooth and enjoyed their sweets, jams and puddings.
In June 1943, butter was rationed to eight ounces a week. In 1944, it fell to a meagre six ounces. Australians complained bitterly about the lack of butter, a staple ingredient in much Australian cooking.
In January 1944, the government introduced meat rationing. The government intended to export more meat to the United Kingdom.
It was difficult for the rationing department to establish a clear value on meat for the coupons. Sausages were made of many different kinds of meat, poultry and fish didn't classify as meat. Rabbit and the off-cuts of meat went coupon-free. See image 2
It was decided that Australian adults could live on 2.2 pounds of meet a week. The ration of meat included beef, lamb, veal and mutton. Purchasing the meat from the butcher was another complicated affair.
Other items that were rationed included margarine, coffee, rice, prunes, potatoes, and many fresh fruits and vegetables. Furniture, fountain pens, even facial tissues were taken away.
Rationing did not protect Australia from critical shortages. In June 1943, milk and eggs were in short supply. In 1942, there was a fuel shortage in Melbourne. 200 000 of the 270 000 private dwellings relied on firewood for heating, cooking and washing.
Manpower restrictions limited the number of timber collectors - firewood was rationed to 100 lots a week. People turned to gas to supply their heat but this further depleted an already-scarce commodity. Rationing restrictions were reinforced.

The Austerity Campaign

By mid-1942, Prime Minister Curtin sought to encourage people to more willingly volunteer to make sacrifices and to go without. See animation

The 'Austerity Campaign' (austerity meant going without luxury items) involved living as simple a life as possible in order for the government to utilise your saved income and help promote the war economy.
War was an 'All-In Effort' - all Australians were in it together with no distinctions between soldier, mother, or factory worker. 'Austerity calls for a pledge by the Australian people to strip every selfish, comfortable habit, every luxurious impulse, every act, word, or deed, that retards the victory march.'Australians fell into line with the Austerity Campaign.

People were told to:

Smoke less - burn less money.
Drink less - satisfy a need not a habit.
Plan meals for their food value.
Give up cosmetics - it's smart to be natural.
The message was 'Save and Save Australia'.
The Austerity Campaign was launched alongside the Austerity Loan plans. The government planned to save 100 million pounds. The war cost Australia up to 50 000 pounds an hour.
The government promoted saving money by promoting competition between Australian States. Australians were inspired to save their money and contribute to the War Loans. Many Australians eagerly participated in the scheme.
Australians accepted the government changes and lived under the regime of rationing for the duration of the War. Post-War Australia saw a return to pre-war spending habits and supply.

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1. What is rationing?

Assigning people a fixed allowance of essential and non-essential goods

Uniform taxation

Another term for propaganda

Government control of information released to the public


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