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Women In Service

History

Joing the womens land army

The AWLA was formed on 27 July 1942 and was modelled on the Women's Land Army in Great Britain. It was overseen by Lieutenant General Carl Jess.

When Japan joined the Axis in 1941 male agricultural labour was recruited into the Australian military to defend the country. To meet the shortfall in rural labour, state and private women’s land organisations began to form under the jurisdiction of the Director General of Manpower.

The AWLA disbanded on 31 December 1945. In 1997, many members became eligible for the Civilian Service Medal.

The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was formed during the Second World War to combat rising labour shortages in the farming sector. From December 1941, when Japan entered the war, the nation’s need to build up its armed forces was placed above the needs of other industries. Agricultural labour was steadily diverted to the armed services and war industry.

Members of the Australian Womens Land Army tending opium poppies at a CSIRO field in Canberras north as part of medical research in the 1940s
Photo: Members of the Australian Women's Land Army tending opium poppies at a CSIRO field in Canberra's north as part of medical research in the 1940s.

To meet the shortfall in rural labour, State and private women’s land organisations were organised, modelled on those established in Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars. A national body was formed on 27 July 1942 under the jurisdiction of the Director General of Manpower. While policy was devised by the Commonwealth Government, the organisation of the AWLA remained State-based. An extensive recruiting campaign was undertaken for new members. Most members of the existing land armies were later incorporated into the AWLA as well.

land army

The AWLA was planned to function in two divisions:

  • Full-time members: These enrolled for continuous service for 12 months (with the option of renewal); such members were to receive appropriate badges, distinctive dress uniform, working clothes, and equipment.
  • Auxiliary members: These were available for periods of not less than four weeks at nominated times of the year; such members were to be used for seasonal rural operations, and to receive a badge, working clothes, and essential equipment on loan.

Recruits had to be between 18 and 50 years of age and be British subjects or immigrants from Allied nations. Women on the land who were farmers, employees or relatives of land holders were not eligible to enlist.

AWLA women were generally drawn from city areas and were often unskilled in rural work. This new form of labour had to be heavily promoted to rural employees, who were initially resistant to female labour. Sceptical attitudes, however, generally changed to praise and respect.

A group of personnel of the Australian Womens Land Army Service attached to an anti aircraft unit in Melbourne in October 1942
Photo: A group of personnel of the Australian Women's Land Army Service attached to an anti-aircraft unit in Melbourne in October 1942.

Enrolment numbers peaked in December 1943, with 2,382 permanent members and 1,039 auxiliary members. The average working week for an AWLA member was 48 hours, with pay starting at the AWLA minimum wage of 30 shillings a week. Permanent members were also entitled to sick pay, as was common at the time. Women in the AWLA were paid much less than their male counterparts for the same work, which covered a variety of agricultural labours, such as vegetable and fruit growing, pig and poultry raising, and sheep and wool work.

land army women

The AWLA was disbanded on 31 December 1945. In 1997, many members became eligible for the Civilian Service Medal, after a Committee of Enquiry recommendation in 1994.