Food shortages & rationing

In Australia, the war did not only affect those men and women who went to fight and serve abroad. Many things also had to change for those who remained at home.

Many men left their jobs to join the armed forces leading to a shortage of labour. New industries had to be created to supply the troops with weapons, uniforms and ammunition . The government had to control the buying and selling of scarce goods, to ensure that everyone received a fair share.

Australians began to experience shortages of almost everything they needed in daily life. At the time of World War II, most of them drank tea, not coffee. When the Japanese captured many of the countries that grew the tea supplied to Australia, this caused severe shortages. Enemy action in the Pacific also disrupted the normal supply of goods by ship to Australia. Australian troops abroad had to be supplied with food produced in Australia, and when thousands of American troops arrived in Australia to fight the war in the Pacific, they also had to be fed.

To ensure that everyone received a basic amount of essential supplies such as meat, butter, sugar and tea, the government brought in a system of rationing. Everyone had to apply for ration books, which contained a number of coupons. Each coupon gave the holder permission to buy a certain amount of something, usually over a weekly period. Despite the hardship, rationing was well received by the public because it applied to everyone equally. Nevertheless, when the government announced in May 1942 that they would impose rationing on clothing, there was a rush to buy as much as possible before rationing began.

RUSH TO BUY CLOTHES - Stampede buying following recent ministerial announcements…has so depleted stocks held by Melbourne traders that blankets and other articles are now virtually unobtainable.

- Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1941

Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1941, p 15

Because of a shortage of cloth, the Government even made rules about how many pockets a man’s suit could have, and banned the making of ‘luxury’ garments for women. Some of the wartime food rations: Australians could have 226 grams of butter, one kilo of meat and half a kilogram of sugar each per week.

People were encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible: to keep hens for eggs, and to grow their own vegetables at home. Even some public parks were dug up for vegetable gardens. Shortages and rationing also led to hoarding: people who had access to some rare commodity, such as petrol, would store up as much as they could, for their own use in the future. This only made shortages worse. It also led to a black market: items that were in demand were sold privately, at very high prices, outside the rationing system.

But rationing was not enough. The government also needed large amounts of money to pay for weapons, aeroplanes, ships, tanks, ammunition, and soldiers’ wages. One source of this money was the savings of individual citizens, who were encouraged to lend money to the Government by purchasing bonds called ‘Victory Loans’. In order for people to have more money to spend on bonds, the government tried to discourage them from spending it on themselves, for things like cigarettes, beer, movies and gambling.

Newspaper feature on replacing a decorative garden with a productive one.
Fund raising tracker featuring images of Hitler and Tojo.
Newspaper advertisement exhorting wives to take care with food due to war shortages.
Photograph of toys collected for donation to Britain during World War II.