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Land of Opportunity: Australia's post-war reconstruction

old man emu

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We have been talking about the disposal of stockpiled war materiel, with reference to Lend Lease, but we should not forget what our Government's plans for dealing with the people's needs in the the post-war period were. As early as October 1940, the Government established a Department of Labour and National Service. On 23 December 1940 it was announced that a reconstruction division would shortly be set up within the department. Its immediate task would be to stimulate investigation into problems of reconstruction by all levels of government, universities and other organisations.


In December 1940 Australian troops were in North Africa ready to fight the Italians,  but already, our government was planning for the effects of a victory over Axis forces.  Here's an opening door for those of you who want to learn about how the Government went about preparing itself for a return to peaceful times.





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Some pretty heavy reading there, OME - but a very good reference item. It's staggering to think that 550,000 servicemen and women were demobilised, and most went back into the workforce, between Oct 1945 and Feb 1947.


The population of Australia was only about 4.7M then (from memory), and transport and services were only a shadow of what they are today.


Shipping and trains were the main methods of moving lots of people back then, cars were a luxury, only owned by probably a third of the population, motorbikes and pushbikes sufficed for many people, and long trips by air were only for the rich.


So to move around 12% of the population from a war footing, providing all their needs, then transporting them back to their own (or requested) region, and putting them back into a position where they had to supply everything themselves (including a roof over their heads) was no mean logistical feat, and meant a major re-organisation of supply channels, transport systems, and distribution.


It's hard to imagine those days again, but I recall Mum and Dad having a hard time between 1945 and 1950, with general shortages, rationing still in place (including petrol and tyres), pricing controls, and yet an urgent need for development and expansion as migrants and displaced persons landed here in ever-increasing numbers. 


I was born in 1949 and only remember a few things from about 1951 onwards.


My Dad was a signwriter and painter by trade, but he had a temporary, fill-in job in early 1941, working in a galvanising works - a job he soon hated, and which job he wanted to leave, as soon as a better job presented itself.


He obviously thought there was some benefit in joining up, so in June 1941, aged nearly 36, he joined the RAAF, and was set to be trained as a diesel mechanic in that force.


But the bosses of the galvanising works immediately got to his CO, and claimed Dad was working in a Reserved Occupation, because the galvanising works had a major contract with the U.S. Navy submarine fleet based in Fremantle, doing galvanising work for the U.S. subs. They did this of course, because they struggled to get anyone to work for them, at the best of times.


So the CO immediately called him in, and berated him for not advising him he was Manpower, and sent him back to his crap galvanising job, for virtually the duration of the War!


Of course, Dad didn't know his bosses had declared their works to be vital to the War effort. I don't think he knew at that point in the War, that he could've sought release from his Reserved Occupation, as it wasn't mandatory in 1941.


But by January 1942, the Manpower Directorate had been formed, and by then, it was very difficult to get out of a Reserved Occupation job.




On top of doing this crap job in the galvanising works (hot, hard, dangerous work, long hours, and dealing with acid burns constantly), when General Mobilisation was initiated in March 1942, he voluntarily joined the 3rd Battalion, Swanbourne Volunteer Defence Corps on 16th March 1942, and ended up guarding coastal defence positions around Fremantle, Cottesloe, and Swanbourne, W.A.


But the combination of long hard hours in a crap job, and doing picquet on beaches at night time with the 3rd SVDC, soon proved to be too much for him, even for his substantial levels of energy.


He requested to be demobilised in early May 1943, and he was immediately allowed to leave the VDC, as it was only a Volunteer corps, anyway.


Of all the Wartime controls, the Manpower Directorate was the most powerful and controlling Dept, of any of the civilian control organisations formed during Wartime conditions, and they exercised great power.


Dad did finish up quite well-off at Wars end, due to a pretty good level of pay, and lots of overtime - but he never did look back on that era with any fondness.


As soon as the War ended, he left the job, to go back to house painting, which was in high demand in the late 1940's, due to pent up levels of well-overdue house painting needed, thanks to Wartime restrictions.


There was a huge pent up demand for new housing directly after the War, but you struggled to get adequate amounts of building materials, if you wanted to build a house.



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I need to correct an error above (I ran out of editing time). The unit Dad served in, was actually 3 Swan Battalion VDC, not 3 Swanbourne Battalion VDC.


This error occurred because the AWM has changed the name from 3 Swan Battalion, to 3 Swanbourne Battalion, in their official records of service.


But I have Dad's service records, and "3 Swan Battalion" is clearly written on them. Plus, the newspapers of the day state it is Swan Battalion VDC.


The W.A. VDC Battalions get a mention under the "Home Guard" article heading, here - https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/37947279



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  • 4 weeks later...

My father tried to join the RAAF but was stopped by that same lot. At the time, he was a night operator at the Alice Springs power station.Well at least he survived. Our military could not have been more stupidly managed at that time. 



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