The Queensland Women’s Land Army
During World War Two, the threat of war in the Pacific and the unprecedented need to expand Australia's male enlistment in the military became the catalyst for several dramatic changes. These changes manifested in the roles which women could play, both on the home front and in service to the armed forces. One of the most important roles, and one of the roles which until recently has gone largely unacknowledged, is the foundation of the Australian Women's Land Army.
Several male occupations had been banned from enlisting in the military in World War One due to the profound impact their absence would have upon essential industries like food production. As a result, many farmers and graziers were blocked entirely from service to preserve the supply chain and fundamental underpinnings of Australia's emerging economy. While this presented a significant barrier, it did not stop many of these men from travelling great distances to enlist in towns where they could anonymously enlist under different occupations.
The growing need for male forces during World War Two became even more apparent upon Japan's entry into the global theatre of war. The additional threat to Australia led to the withdrawal of Australian Army forces from Egypt and the Middle Eastern campaign, leaving behind Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy units to continue service in the war against Germany and Italy. However, the quick movement of Japan throughout the Pacific region, and significant events like the fall of Singapore in February 1942 prompted increased enlistment campaigns and the foundation of the Women's Land Army in July 1942. With policy composed by the Commonwealth Government and members organised on a state-by-state basis, this was a labour force trained in agricultural practices that could be deployed seasonally for activities such as fruit picking and could also be posted on farms and stations for extended periods of time. This allowed male agricultural workers to enlist and fulfil frontline roles in the war effort.
Due to the highly dispersed and rural nature of the Women's Land Army servicewomen, they were not as regularly seen by the public as a singular organised entity in the same way that those serving in the A.W.A.S. and W.A.A.A.F. were. The Women's Land Army did not often represent itself in public marches like the other services. Many ‘Land Girls’’ uniforms were even delayed in their arrival.
In Queensland, Land Girls were posted to areas like the Redlands, where the rich red soil was ideal for farming, and further into more remote communities. State Library's detailed Women's Land Army records include copies of the Land Army Gazette, a short newspaper circulated to members and providing key glimpses into the everyday lives and celebrations of the Land Army service throughout World War Two. These collections have recently been digitised and can be accessed here
Records detailing the pay rates, the farms on which Land Girls were stationed, and the kinds of tasks they were performing are held in the Redlands Museum, who graciously agreed to be interviewed for a digital story about the Queensland Women's Land Army.
You can watch that digital story here:
- The Australian Women's Land Army Records 1942-1975
- 70th anniversary of the Australian Women's Land Army (Queensland branch)
- Australian Women at Work in WWII