The Australian Women’s’ Land Army (AWLA) was formed on 27th July 1942 during the Second World War to combat labour shortages in the farming sector. The AWLA was modelled on the groups formed in Great Britain during WW1 and WW2. All AWLA organisations were state-based though policy was devised federally; there were extensive recruiting drives for new members.

The women could join for a 4 week period for seasonal work or for a 12 month term, with the option of further terms. All members received a uniform, working clothes and equipment (on loan only to the seasonal workers) and had to be aged between 18 and 50 years old, of British origin or immigrants from Allied Nations. Women who worked on farms or who had relatives who were farmers were unable to join. The recruits were mainly from the cities and thus were mostly unskilled in farm work. From 1942 to 1945, training in farming skills was undertaken on the farm at Mont Park, the women being accommodated on the site. The women learnt to milk cows and plough, garden and care for animals before they were sent to work on farms.

The average working week for the AWLA was 48 hours, with the minimum wage of 30 shillings per week. The women were paid much less for their work than male employees. Permanent members were also entitled to sick pay.

The AWLA women were actively promoted to the farmers and rural employees to ensure they were accepted as part of the rural work force. To improve their acceptance, the AWLA was pronounced an ‘official fourth service’ and the AWLA became a respected and praised service.

Built in 1923, was known as the Nurses Hostel and matrons Flat (RHS), then was used as headquarters for the Womens Land Army, later, for NEMPS and is now student accommodation. Image courtesy of Gary Cotchin 2018.

After a Committee of Enquiry recommendation in 1994, many of the Womens Land Army were eligible for the Civilian Service Medal. The service was disbanded on 31st December 1945.

Story by Margaret Jack