Women's auxiliary services

In the late 1930s and 1940s, there were public preconceptions about the role that women could play in Australia's war involvement. Women were perceived as only being useful in domestic roles, when in fact there were many different ways women could – and did – serve the war effort.

Approximately 70,000 women served in the women's auxiliary services, such as:

  • Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF)
  • Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS)
  • Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS).

These services placed women into existing military services, to allow male personnel to serve overseas. Women serving in these forces often performed stereotypically ‘masculine' jobs, such as maintenance and construction of machinery for aircraft, as well as more traditional roles like that of stenographer.

The Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) was established in 1942, and aimed to replace male farm workers involved in military work, with female workers, most of whom were unskilled in farm work. The use of female labour was initially met with resistance, but this often turned to respect and praise after farmers gained experience working with AWLA women.

Nevertheless, the starting wage for AWLA women was 30 shillings for a 48-hour week – much less than that paid to their male counterparts for the same work.

The efforts of Australian women in World War II were an important step towards changing the public attitude that women were the ‘weaker sex', and helped till the soil for the Women's Liberation Movement decades later.

Photograph of servicewomen marching.
Female ground crew in World War II.
Photograph of a woman wearing a uniform and a hat.
A female flight rigger, World War II.