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November 13, 2019

A Papier-Mache Cow is Being Tied to the Car by a Field Officer in the Women’s Land Army, Melbourne, 1944

A papier-mache cow, used for milking demonstrations at the Werribee experimental farm, being tied on to the luggage carrier of Mrs Mellor’s car for transport to the farm. Mrs Mellor is Field Officer in charge of the Women’s Land Army Mont Park training depot.

A papier-mache cow on Mrs Mellor’s car, 1944. (Photo: Australian War Memorial collection)

The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was an organization created in World War II in Australia to combat rising labour shortages in the farming sector. The AWLA organized female workers to be employed by farmers to replace male workers who had joined the armed forces.

The AWLA was formed on 27 July 1942 and was modeled on the Women’s Land Army in Great Britain. It was overseen by Lieutenant General Carl Jess. When Japan joined the Axis in 1941 male agricultural labour was recruited into the Australian military to defend the country. To meet the shortfall in rural labour, state and private women’s land organizations began to form under the jurisdiction of the Director General of Manpower. The AWLA disbanded on 31 December 1945. In 1997, many members became eligible for the Civilian Service Medal.

The minimum age for recruits was 18 with a maximum of 50 years of age. Women had to be either of British origin or immigrants from Allied nations. AWLA women were generally recruited from urban areas and were often unskilled in rural work. Members were given farming instruction and undertook work in primary industries, rather than any domestic duties at the hostels in which they were lodged in farming areas. The AWLA reached its peak enrolment in December 1943, with 2,382 permanent members and 1,039 auxiliary members. Women in the AWLA worked an average 48-hour week, with pay starting at the AWLA minimum wage of 30 shillings a week. Permanent members were also entitled to sick pay. As was common at the time, Women in the AWLA were paid much less than their male counterparts for the same work. Members of the AWLA covered a variety of agricultural labours, including vegetable and fruit growing, pig and poultry raising, and sheep and wool work.

A member of the Australian Women’s Land Army milking a cow on a mixed farm at Sturt, South Australia in 1943. (Photo: Smith, D. Darian/State Library of South Australia)

The AWLA was planned to function in two divisions:
  • Full-time members: These enrolled for continuous service for 12 months (with the option of renewal); such members were to receive appropriate badges, distinctive dress uniform, working clothes, and equipment.
  • Auxiliary members: These were available for periods of not less than four weeks at nominated times of the year; such members were to be used for seasonal rural operations, and to receive a badge, working clothes, and essential equipment on loan.


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