Working hard


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

The war years

In the initial stages of the war many Cottesloe men volunteered for service in the various branches of the Australian Imperial Forces.

Some men, like Clyde Snook who was living on the edge of Cottesloe at the time and working in a local car manufacturing factory as a fitter and turner, would like to have volunteered. His wife Jane stubbornly refused to let him join up. He found himself out of work in early 1940 when the plant closed down due to shortages of car parts and materials. Clyde was able to find work at the Midland Railway workshops but the starting time at the workshops was very early so Clyde and his family moved out to Midland for the remainder of the war.

As it turned out, when the Curtin government introduced conscription in 1943, Clyde's job was designated a "reserved occupation" by the Minister for War Organisation of Industry. Had he tried signing up for the armed services, he would have been refused on the grounds that his skills were essential to the effective prosecution of the war on the homefront.


Midland Railway Workshops, 1941

'Turning 6-inch practice shot - Midland Railway Workshops, October 1941

Courtesy West Australian News Ltd


The onset of the war had the effect of increasing employment and prosperity. New industries like munitions and aircraft manufacturing created employment. Other industries which converted to war production now operated longer hours and required more men. In 1940 and 1941, however, the economy was still taking up the slack from the depression and women could only get jobs after all men had been employed.

A visitor to Australia from South Africa, Mr Leslie Blackwell, commented in a letter to John Curtin in late 1941 that Australia was not making sufficient use of its vital resource - women. Curtin had only been Prime Minister for two months at this stage and his plans for 'Total War' were not as yet in place.

In early 1943 Curtin introduced conscription for men for overseas service and manpowered women to take their place in war industries.

Letter from Leslie Blackwell to John Curtin, 10 Dec 1941 (page 1)

Letter from Leslie Blackwell to PM Curtin, 10 Dec 1941 (p. 1)

Text version of whole letter

Courtesy National Archives of Australia


The manpowering of women changed the way of life of many women in Cottesloe. Young women, in particular, often found themselves doing jobs that they might otherwise not have chosen to do. The manpower directorate, under the Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, John Dedman, determined into which occupations women would go to serve the war effort. It also determined which occupations were 'reserved'.

Many Cottesloe women found themselves required to work in munitions factories in places like Welshpool and Midland. Sometimes in these jobs they were dealing with dangerous chemicals that posed serious risks to their health.

Woman munitions worker, 1942

A woman operating a turning machine in a munitions factory, 1942.

Courtesy Australian War Memorial


Women from Cottesloe could also join the various women's services in order to contribute to the war effort. The Women's Royal Australian Navy Service (WRANS), the Women's Australian Auxillary Airforce (WAAAF) and the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) were just a few of these services.

Women took on driving taxis and became bus conductors. They even became mechanics in aircraft factories. They delivered morning bread and milk, drove ambulances and heavy vehicles.

John Curtin talking with servicewomen, 194?

John Curtin talking with a group of servicewomen, c 1942

JCPML00544/13. Courtesy National Library of Australia


Where women took the place of men in war industries they were paid close to men's wages, otherwise they were paid only 60% to 75% of men's wages.

The Curtin Labor government was criticised by women's organisations for not giving women equal pay, especially as it was part of the Labor Party platform.

The Women's Australian National Service was set up during the war by women to serve the war effort. This organization spawned the women's land army, without which farming would have been impossible during the war.

Letter from Federation of Women Voters to John Curtin, 1 March 1942

Letter from Federation of Women Voters to Curtin, 1 March 1942

Courtesy National Archives of Australia


The West Australian branch of this service was known as WANSLEA. Its brief was to provide short term house keeping assistance to women who were ill or confined and with no-one to care for their children. Many women who volunteered to assist at WANSLEA had day jobs. They would then come to the children's home to feed them their evening meal and later work in a canteen serving servicemen, followed by an evening out dancing entertaining other servicemen. WANSLEA was originally located in Perth but moved to Cottesloe in the post war years.

There was also a huge home industry in Cottesloe during the war. Cottesloe women knitted jumpers and socks for servicemen, made camouflage nets and helped make Red Cross parcels. They also helped fund raise for the war effort. Children were willing participants in all of the above activities. At home women could also do their part by recycling materials such as paper, rubber, food scraps, old clothes and blankets. Elsie Curtin set the example by living an austere way of life.

Group photo of women who served in WANSLEA

Women who served in WANSLEA, pictured in their working uniform - overalls.

Courtesy WANSLEA

  Women in Cottesloe were extensively involved in the provision of various medical services during the war. The Defence Department had requisitioned a number of properties in the local area to be used as Red Cross Hospitals. When the Independent Order of Odd Fellows' (IOOF) orphanage closed it doors due to a lack of numbers, the Lady Mitchell Convalescent Home was set up on the site to provide medical care for convalescing servicemen and Italian POW's. The Ministering Children's League Home was turned over to the Red Cross for the duration of the war and provided employment mainly to women. Cottesloe women could also join the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) which provided clerical services including wireless and teleprinter operators. The Australian army had requisitioned premises in Cottelsoe which required clerical services such as these.

Both men and women workers, in Cottesloe, benefitted from changes that occurred during the war years. In 1941 workers were granted one week's paid leave on full pay and two and half days sick leave, on full pay, with a medical certificate. These improvements, however, were not matched by a rise in the basic wage. The case for an increase was held over in the Arbitration Commission because of the war.

AWAS and AAMWS recruitment advertisement, 1945

Join the AWAS or AAMWS recruitment advertisement. "You'll be sorry if you don't Jean ..."

Women's Weekly 17 February 1945

  The post-war years

The post-war years brought important changes in employment for people living in Cottelsoe. In March 1946, nearly 9 months after the end of the war, manpower controls were lifted. Many Cottesloe women who had been working in factories found themselves out of a job as men returned from the front and took up positions they had had before the war or they found that their job no longer existed. This was a welcome release for many women.

How did women feel about leaving their jobs at the end of World War II?

Read some
quotes from WA women


Employers were obliged to give first preference to ex-servicemen whom they had employed before the war, as well as to disabled ex-servicemen, before they could employ anyone else. When the Curtin government began its post war planning in 1942 it made a commitment that people who had served in the armed forces would be adequately compensated for their war service and preference in employment was part of this . The government's Reconstruction and Training Program came into force prior to the end of the war and offered many opportunities for education and training to both male and female ex-service personnel.

Many servicemen and women returned from overseas unable to take up work due to wounds or illness. Anyone with a highly contagious disease such as TB had to endure quarantine at a country location like Northam for a further 12 months before they could resume their former life. Some servicemen and women spent their convalescence at one of the local hospitals like the Lady Mitchell Convalescent Home or the John Nicholson Convalescent Home, which had been specifically established during the war for sick and injured members of the armed services.


Extract from statement by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction
on the re-establishment of members of the forces.


By 1946 the basic wage had risen to five pound and 5 shillings, an increase of nearly 25%.This was a welcome increase for many men because the cost of living was rising, pushed up by shortages and high demand. Housing costs especially, were rising faster than the cost of living. The Federal Government had done a good job of keeping inflation under control during the war using price and wages control but these controls could not continue indefinitely. Apart from the basic wage, a worker in Cottesloe could also now enjoy two weeks annual paid leave, double what he might have expected in 1942. A further improvement came in 1948 when the 40 hour working week was introduced. Skilled tradesmen like Clyde Snook were no longer required to work on Saturdays as part of their regular hours. Men could now take on more paid overtime or a second job, thus increasing their incomes.

While the basic wage was still fairly low in the post war years, professionals such as doctors, lawyers, architects and dentists living or working in the Cottsloe area were paid well above the basic wage. Nurses at Devonleigh Hospital and teachers at the two local state schools, though professionally trained were not well paid. Skilled tradesmen building houses in Cottesloe or working on the extension of the sewer system were paid well above the basic wage. Shop assistants at Freecorns and Macallisters in Napoleon Street received an income just above the basic wage as did unskilled workers in local factories and train conductors. Teenagers' wages reflected their age and training. Most went out to work at 14 and could expect their wages to rise in increments every year until they became a senior at 21. There were plenty of apprenticeships available in the postwar years, especially in the building trades. A young lad in Cottesloe, for instance, could be apprenticed to Vivian's Plumbers and be assured of a very bright future.

Vivian Plumbers premises, Cottesloe

W.R. Vivian & Sons, Licenced Plumbers premises, Cottesloe

Courtesy Ros Marshall


There was also plenty of employment locally for nurses and other hospital support staff in the late 1940's with the rise in numbers at the Deaf and Dumb School following an epidemic of measles and at the Lady Lawley Cottage as a result of the Polio epidemic of 1948-49. WANSLEA re-located to Cottesloe in the post war period further adding to the employment opportunities. During the late 40's the Municipality of Cottesloe purchased the extensive Broome Street property of Perth businessman Claude De Bernales and converted his home and grounds to a civic centre and war memorial. This created a lot of work for local tradesmen and labourers. Home building in the local area was an important source of employment in the latter part of the decade as was the extension of the sewer system in the Cottesloe-Claremont area. Migrant hostels and camps in surrounding areas like Swanbourne and Graylands also created employment. A major public works program designed to rebuild the Causeway into Perth was begun in 1948. This was an opportunity for employment for workers from all over Perth, including Cottesloe.

Men and women who had been in the armed services were given the opportunity to retrain after the war through the Commonwealth's Reconstruction and Training Program. Many women did not take up the opportunity preferring to marry and have a family. The Commonwealth Employment Service directly assisted with the placement of migrants in employment in the late 1940s.

Commonwealth Employment Service Poster,

Commonwealth Employment Service Poster

The Bulletin 8 May 1946

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