Australia Between the Wars
Australia Between The Wars

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New Settlers' Handbook to Victoria: the land of opportunity for young men with grit, 1925, a handbook of advice for soldier settlers and immigrants to Australia in the 1920s on how to make a success of life on the farm

Australians greeted the start of the decade of the 1920s with great optimism and hope. The 1920s in Australia, as in much of the world, were years of turmoil and of social and economic extremes. It was an era of fast living, new
fashions, booze, crime, jazz, motion pictures, motor cars, mass production, the wireless, the vacuum cleaner and the exploits of aviators. It was also an age of wealth and poverty, and of conflict between revolutionary ideas and
conservative reaction.

After the ‘war to end all wars’ had been fought and won, and despite the heavy loss of almost 60 000 men and the bitter divisions the war had caused, Australia emerged with a sense of national pride and a confident belief in the future.

It was hoped Australia would never again send its young men away to be slaughtered. When the soldiers returned, there was a genuine desire to treat them well and reward them for their efforts.

A Soldier Settlement Scheme was set up to give ex-diggers land so they could become farmers. The scheme failed as many soldiers were inexperienced on the land. The Australian economy was quite prosperous during the 1920s, but falling export prices and a collapse in world demand for primary products ended this.

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Comfort and style became the focus of women's fashions in the 1920s.Women no longer wished to wear uncomfortable and restrictive corsetry.
During the war women had emerged from their houses to fill the jobs left empty by the men serving in the war.
The movement from house to workforce made by many (but not all) Australian women, led to the birth of the new woman of the 1920s. Liberated by her experiences during the war, women worked and lived in the manner men had enjoyed for decades.

But her liberation was not total - although women were working, they were working for half the pay men received, and though women could leave the house to pursue a career, society frowned upon those women who did not complete their 'duty' as mother and housekeeper.

The Great Depression

The crash of the Wall Street Stock market in New York in late October 1929 brought in a worldwide economic Depression. This catastrophe brought unemployment, homelessness and despair to many hard-working Australian families.

Australia owed much money to overseas banks and had to pay it back. Australia was a nation divided in the 1930s between those suffering from the Depression and those lucky enough to remain employed and managed to live quite well.

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Two children on the streets of Sydney in the 1930s showing the extent of the poverty and suffering of the Depression years.

The most visible indication of the hardship during the depression years was the lines of the unemployed outside soup kitchens and in ‘susso’ or dole queues.The high levels of unemployment had serious social effects. Families that could not pay their rent faced eviction from their homes. Their few possessions were often thrown on to the street. Others lost their homes and farms as they found they could not meet their loan repayments to the banks.

These homeless and dispossessed people often moved to makeshift settlements in public parks or on the outskirts of towns. By 1933 there were over 40 000 people living in such shanty settlements. The best known was a settlement called Happy Valley in the sandhills of La Perouse to the south of Sydney.

There were frequent scenes of political and industrial violence. the economy started to recover from about 1934, but it took the outbreak of World War II in 1939 to bring the Depression to an end. For many Australians, the 1930s had been a lost and pointless decade without hope.

School children line up for free soup and a slice of bread during the Depression