Keeping healthy


Barbed wire and sandbags
Getting around
Keeping in touch
A House in the suburbs
Keeping healthy
School days
Working hard
Having fun
"Make do and mend"
"Populate or perish"
War and Peace Home

Online activities

Food in the war years - rationing and new tastes

As part of the Curtin Government's 'Total War' strategy, certain foods began to be rationed in 1943. An important part of the Australian war effort was the provision of food to servicemen in our region, as well as the provision of food parcels to Britain. Rationed goods included tea, sugar, beef, pork and chocolate.

Rationing impacted more on some Cottesloe families than others. In the war years Cottesloe was not as built up as it is today and many residents had large back yards which could be turned over to growing vegetables and raising hens, thus providing a steady stream of fresh vegetables and eggs. Others had blocks big enough to support their own cow and supply themselves with butter, cream and milk.

There was a growing awareness in the 1930s of the link between eating well and staying healthy. Concern about the likely impact of rationing on the health of the civilian population led to federal government education campaigns and programs to create greater awareness of the value of good nutrition - food was accepted as one of the munitions of war.


Trixie the cow in her Perth suburban back yard

'Trixie' the cow in her Perth suburban back yard in the war years.

Courtesy Evelyn Christie

  A positive outcome of the war period and heightened interest in good nutrition was the improvement in the type of lunches many children ate at school. In 1940 a school in Victoria began a trial to assess the value of the Norwegian designed 'Oslo lunch' - a salad sandwich on wholemeal bread, a bottle of milk and a piece of fruit. The trial showed that children eating the 'Oslo lunch' gained weight, had more energy and that their scratches and cuts healed faster.

In WA, the first Oslo lunch trials began in two schools in 1944 and good outcomes from these encouraged other schools to participate in the program. While Cottesloe Primary School was not involved in the trials at this time, the recollections of Jim Graham, a student at the school during the war years, provide an idea of what some children ate for lunch. He recalls that his mother usually cooked a hot meal in the middle of the day, so he would run home for lunch. When this wasn't possible, she would pack him a lunch with a variety of sandwiches including nuts and Marmite, jam and cheese or meat and sauce. [4]

Oslo salad, 1945

'When the thermometer says Make a salad, Make an Oslo salad' - Kraft cheese advertisement

Women's Weekly 24 Feb 1945


Many families found it hard to make do without butter once rationing began in 1943. The Curtin family did not have a cow so it was up to Elsie to make the butter last as long as possible. Butter could be expanded by adding gelatine and water or by substituting dripping.

Fish, sausages, chicken, ham and rabbits were not rationed. The rabbit-oh walked the streets selling rabbits and skinning them for customers on the spot. The fish monger came to the back door once a week and would scale and fillet the fish right there and then.

Recipes designed to cater for the lack of eggs, butter and meat appeared in newspapers and magazines on a regular basis. The Women's Weekly interviewed Elsie Curtin during the war. She was happy to share her ration recipes and ideas for the austerity campaign with them. Both she and John took the campaign very seriously and set an example to all householders.

Sandwiches without butter,  1945

'How to make delicious sandwiches without butter!' - Kraft cheese advertisement.

Women's Weekly, 5 May 1945


Animal parts such as brains, livers and kidneys were more readily available than better cuts of meat during the war and formed a significant part of people's diets.

Hand mincers were well used kitchen appliances at this time. Elsie Curtin used hers to make one of her husband's favourite meals, shepherds pie, by mincing left over meat and combining the mince with stale bread and eggs.

Elsie was lucky that her family liked plain food because many spices, including pepper were not available during the war as these were imported from countries captured by the Japanese. Hawkers from Rawlins and Watkins visited homes in the Cottesloe area on a regular basis. They carried their own brands of groceries, toiletries and sometimes if you were lucky, they might even have spices for sale.

Link to article by Elsie Curtin in Women's Weekly

'Prime Minister's wife gives lead to nation'
By Mrs John Curtin

Women's Weekly 19 Sept 1942


Shopping during the war was very different from today. Sometimes you had to queue at the grocers for rationed goods. When Elsie visited McAllister's grocer, Mr Mac would personally fetch things off the shelves for her as he would for any customer. An assistant would weigh her requirements for sugar, tea and flour, package it, check to make sure that she had not exceeded her ration allowance for that week and collect the required coupons from her. A boy on a push bike would deliver the goods to her door if they weighed above a certain amount (as determined by government regulations).

For those women who were unable to get to the shops, SJ Luce, the proprietor of a shop under the cinema on Stirling Highway, had a man who travelled the district every week collecting orders for delivery.

The milkman, butcher and baker made regular deliveries to homes but once rationing was introduced the frequency of home deliveries by the butcher was reduced. Some of these services were still provided by horse and cart rather than motor vehicles which were subject to petrol rationing.

Shops lining Stirling Hwy, Cottesloe, 1945

Shops lining the Stirling Highway in Cottesloe, 1945

JCPML00347/29. Courtesy West Australian News Ltd.

  Children could buy sweets at the corner shop opposite the Cottesloe School in Keane Street. Sweets were laid out in glass containers and jars ready for individual selection. Dr Jim Graham recalls that you could buy quite a lot of sweets with one penny. He recalls also that you could buy an apple, a pear and a small bunch of grapes at Dennis and George's fruit shop in Napoleon Street for just threepence. Next door was Bice's delicatessen which sometimes had homemade milk icy poles for sale. Outside this shop there was also a chewing gum dispenser which gave out a free packet of gum every sixth time. [5]

American servicemen had a big impact on families in Cottesloe. The Sea View Golf Course had been requisitioned for the American Army and both the Ocean Beach and Cottesloe Hotels were favourite watering holes for the American servicemen. Families who invited servicemen to their homes found them very generous. The Americans had plenty of money and often raided their own canteens to provide gifts of food for their hosts. They were especially generous to children and often brought chocolate with them, a rare treat in the war years. In this way they added to the limited rations of host families who would otherwise have struggled to feed them. They also introduced many Cottesloe families to the delights of Coca Cola, hamburgers, tinned spagetti and spam.

Tea and doughnuts for Sunday supper

Link to article 'Doughboy comes to Sunday supper'

Doughboy* comes to Sunday supper
'Supper recipes for when boys from the States pay you a Sunday visit'

Women's Weekly 13 June 1942

*doughboy was a term used for an American infantryman, dating from the Mexican-American war of the 19th century and the habit of the American soldiers of making a meal out of dough.

  Food in the post-war years

When the war ended in August 1945, rationing was only gradually phased out as Australia continued to support Britain with food parcels and exports for a number of years.

Sugar rationing, for instance, was finally abandoned in July 1947. A major increase in the world production of sugar meant that Britain no longer depended on Australian supplies.

The meat situation was quite different. In Britain the meat ration had been further reduced and in an effort to support the British public, the Australian Government maintained meat rationing and price controls until 1948.

The American influence on Australia's eating habits persisted after the war as well. Coca Cola, tinned spaghetti, spam and hamburgers became part of the Australian way of life as did supermarket shopping. Dr Jim Graham recalls Freecorns setting up its first supermarket in Napoleon Street. He describes it as a revolutionary new fad that gave Cottesloe its first taste of self-serve shopping. [6]


Advertisement for specials at Freecorns Supermarkets in 1948

Food specials available 'At all Freecorns Stores' in 1948 included dessicated coconut for 1 shilling and 9 pence per box.

West Australian, 9 Dec 1948

  Health issues in the war years

The Cottesloe Health Board, a government nominated local board, unlike the rate payer elected Cottesloe Council, looked after local health issues in the 1930s and early 40s. These boards had to deal with many types of diseases unheard of today. Medical practitioners were obliged to inform local authorities of any infectious illnesses that they treated. Diseases like diphtheria, tuberculosis and infantile paralysis (poliomyelitis) were common in Australia in the 1940's.

Doctors treating patients in Cottesloe during the war were aided by a number of important advances in medical science which included the development of 'sulpha drugs', cortico steriods, anti-coalgulants and penicillin. Illnesses such as meningitis, throat infections and pneumonia could be successfully treated with 'sulpha drugs'. Cortico steroids were used in the treatment of health problems like rheumatism, dermatitis and kidney diseases. Anti-coagulants reduced the clotting time of blood, and penicillin, available to the Australian public for the first time in 1943, was used to cure infectious diseases like whooping cough and tuberculosis.


Howard Florey, the Australian scientist who developed penicillin as an antibiotic in 1941, features in this commemorative stamp.

Courtesy Australia Post


A number of health care institutions existed in Cottelsoe before the war. These included Devonleigh Hospital, The Ministering Children's League Convalescent Home and the Lady Lawley Cottage for Spastic Children. Children at the Lady Lawley Cottage were evacuated to the country in 1942. The building, which was acquired by the Red Cross and renamed the John Nicholson Convalescent Home, provided medical care for women members of the armed services.

The Ministering Children's League Home ceased operations between 1942 and 1946 during which time the Military Forces paid to make use of the premises.

Only Devonleigh continued in its pre-war role as the local hospital. The inclusion of a midwifery section at the hospital in the 1930's turned out to be a real asset when maternity rates rose during the war.

Ministering Children's League Convalescent Home, Cottesloe

Ministering Children's League Convalescent Home, Cottesloe

Courtesy Stewart Cownie


As early as 1941, the Red Cross had acquired the Independant Order of Odd Fellows' (IOOF) orphanage in Railway Terrace behind the North Cottesloe School and converted it to the Lady Mitchell Convalescent Home for patients from the navy, airforce and army.

Another important institution in the local area was the WA School for the Deaf and Dumb. A rubella epidemic in WA in the early 1940s resulted in a growth in numbers at the school which reached 46 children by the year 1946. It was fortunate that the school had added a new wing in 1935 and that in the early 1940's the government increased its annual grant.

The link between rubella and birth deformities was discovered by Australian doctors in the 1940's but it would be some time before an immunisation program was developed.

Learn more about rubella at

WA School for the Deaf and  Dumb, 2002

WA School for the Deaf and Dumb

Courtesy Ros Marshall


Health issues in the post-war years

A disease that continued to confound the government and local health authorities in the post war years was poliomyelitis. In the 1930's this highly contagious and very debilitating disease was known as infantile paralysis because it was thought to be contracted only by children. The epidemic of 1948-49, however, also struck down adults.

Fay Lemmey, a 12 year old girl from Mundaring, found herself an unwilling resident of Cottesloe in 1948 after she contracted what the family initially thought was a bad case of influenza. Fay recalls that in those days you only went to the doctor if you were seriously ill. She was diagnosed with poliomyelitis and spent the following 12 months recovering at the Lady Lawley Cottage for Spastic Children in Cottesloe. While Fay's health returned, one of her legs was permanently disabled and for many years she wore a metal caliper to assist her to walk.


Fay Lemmy at Lady Lawley Cottage, 1948

Fay Lemmy at Lady Lawley Cottage in Cottesloe, 1948.

Courtesy Fay Lemmy


Find out more about polio on the World Health Oganisations website at

Prior to the 1940s small local hospitals like Cottesloe's Devonleigh were privately operated. Devonleigh was set up in the late 1920s in a roomy house in Anstey Street, a quiet street close to public transport. It was enlarged in the early 1930s to include a midwifery section, a bigger theatre and nurses quarters. Many local Cottesloe people can claim to be born at Devonleigh.

In 1948 the Federal Government passed the National Health Act which included provisions to assist state governments to run hospitals and medical facilities.

The state government bought Devonleigh in 1949 and further enlarged it to cater for the growing maternity rate in the post war era.


Rate of natural increase Australia 1937-1946

% Increase

From: Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No 36, 1944-45, p 470 and No 37, 1946-47, p 719

More about antibiotics and tuberculosis in the 1940s
Previous pageNext page

Creative Commons License

This website is © John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, 2002. Except for images from third parties, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License