World War Two significantly changed Australian life and society in a major way. The war lasted six long years and resulted in conflict between the western Allies and central powers. The Great War, fought between 1914 and 1918, was supposed to have been the war to end all wars, yet once again the world was on the verge of more conflict. On 3 September 1939, Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War. This was just the beginning for Australia’s tumultuous times.
Politics and the decisions made by politicians played a huge role in how Australians would react to this war. As a member of the British Commonwealth, Australia entered world war II when Britain declared war on Germany. Even before World War 2 began, Australia had enough experience from World War 1 to be prepared for another war. Unlike the first time, however, there was not much of an encouragement to enlist in the army, as the government learned that taking people from essential jobs was bad for the country’s wellbeing and economy. During world war II, Australia had two prime ministers. There was Robert Menzies of the united Australia party and there was also Labor Prime Minister John Curtin. Another important figure in Australian politics was Ben Chifley, who later became prime minster after Curtin. Since the government took a more direct approach in managing Australia’s affairs, the government was able to stay stable throughout the course of the war. After the war was finished, Australia’s government had begun a period of rebuilding similar to many other countries around the world. The Allies’ hard-fought defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan came at a heavy cost. Australia played its part in the Allied victory. The war gave birth to Australia’s strong alliance with the USA. It also affected Australia’s interaction with other nations, and the massive efforts of the government earnt themselves a spot in the United Nations.
This war was also a time of great social change, mainly for women. More than 66,000 women were enlisted in the army and thousands more began working in factories and other careers that were traditionally male dominant. Many women gave up their jobs and positions once peace came in 1945 but that didn’t stop them from fostering the same spirit of independence and equality onto their daughters. This wave of female empowerment during the war helped drive the women’s movements of the 1960s. Likewise, Indigenous Australians being enlisted into the army also began to experience a greater level of equality with white Australia. Approximately 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in the military. This was a huge step in the right direction for Australia to achieve equality amongst the people of Australia. Another major occurrence during the war was migration from many European countries, this added to the multicultural aspect of Australia. The burden of Australia’s participation during the war also fell heavily on many families all around Australia. Approximately 40,000 Australians were killed during the Second World War. More than 30,000 Australians became prisoners of war. This impacted the citizens of Australia immensely. During the war, the Australian government also introduced actions such as rationing and the federal government also enacted a series of other various restrictions and controls over the daily lives of Australians.
During this time, the Australian government mobilised its population, economy, and industry for total war. Australia also saw a period of engineering and technical achievement. Australia was constantly producing items to send over for the war. Due to rationing being around at the time as well, the demand for the items rose which meant that these industries would gather more profits. Taxes were also raised, and people were encouraged to spend less and save money for the war effort. Employment rates were also increasing after the Great Depression and women started to join the Australian workforce. For a country that was yet to build a mass-produced motor car, Australia’s industry rapidly modernised and expanded during the war amongst all the tragedy that was happening in the other parts of the world. Australia started mass manufacturing appliances such as aircrafts, landing crafts, and armoured vehicles. This long-awaited moment of industrialisation helped form the basis for Australia’s economic prosperity in the years following 1945.
During World War 2, there’s no doubt Australian life was drastically changed forever. For the first time, the decisions made by the Australian government had more of an impact on Australian citizens than it ever had before. There was drastic advancement in economy, female empowerment, migration, industrialisation and unity and equality. The Second World War is truly what shaped modern Australia.