A Genuine Smoker: reading one small document in the AWLA records

A recent blog entry here described the scope of the Australian Women Land Army records in the John Oxley Library. I want to add to that discussion just one small piece of paper that leapt out at me.

As Karen Hind described in her blog entry, this is a vast collection of material related to a particular wartime institution, where work, patriotism, volunteering, national need, payrates, dirt-under-the-fingernails, sweat and a challenge to expectations of women were all played out. And along with the propaganda-style images of wholesome work, there are also impromptu photographs, pictures that show elaborate heirarchies, and some that just seem bizarre.

The collection also contains some of that intriguing paper detritus that, in its own apparently incidental way, reminds us about difference, about history, about the material of daily life and experience.

But perhaps I'm overplaying this one piece of paper. But it was one of those pieces of paper that, in a day of carefully turning over pages in that stylised, reading-in-the-archives way, really made me stop. It even made me smile, which may not be the acceptable response, after all . . .

Annie Bolton was the young woman's name. She lived in Mt Gravatt and was discharged in 1945. She served for three years, and her Service Record Book was part of the collection.

She was also given a certificate, her "Special Tobacco Ration for Ex-Service Personnel". Tell me what your cigarettes meant to you, Annie . . . a simple addiction, a passing whim, somethng you'd earned, or a daring act of bravado on the streets of Brisbane? Did they let you be, or do you damage? Did you cough, or just enjoy lighting up?

OM90-04/3: Special tobacco Ration fo Ex-Service Personel, Australian Women’s Land Army Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Her monthly quota was 120 cigarettes. A note on the back lists the allowance: 240 a month if you're a man; 120 for women.

And as part of this one piece of paper that carries us to a different time and set of expectations, she had to sign her declaration:

"I declare that I am a genuine smoker, that all supplies to be drawn as above are for my own personal use, and that I have no other source of supply."

Item: "Special tobacco Ration for Ex-Service Personnel", Australian Women's Land Army Records, OM 90-04/3, John Oxley Library, State Library of Qld.

Kate Evans, Historian in Residence, John Oxley Library

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