Collection insights: Rationing in the St George

Earlier this year Hurstville Museum & Gallery hosted a Museum and Heritage Studies student from the University of Sydney, Aliza. As a part of her internship, Aliza was able to assess the condition, photograph, research, and catalogue objects from our war collection. A key part of this project was to increase the accessibility of this collection. Thanks to Aliza, over 55 of these objects are now able to be viewed on eHive, many of which have never been on display to the public. Each object signifies a story, providing us with a better understanding of the experiences of those who lived in the local region throughout the war years. Many of these items were documents which related to civilian daily life on the home front such as rationing cards.

1980.834.2 Fuel Ration Card and Motor License, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collections.

During World War II, daily life in Australia was greatly altered. A number of items such as clothing, food and petrol were rationed as resources were reserved for the war effort. The first ration to be put in place was for petrol. The proposed restrictions for petrol were lobbied profusely by the motor industry as they argued it would cause economic instability; however, it was introduced in 1940, and strictly enforced in 1942. The need to ration petrol was heavily influenced by Great Britain who pressured the Australian Government to allocate fuel to the war effort. As a nation that relied on imported fuel, rationing was crucial; at the time the war broke out, Australia had only a 3 month supply worth of fuel. Drivers were required to apply for a Fuel ration card, with ration tickets being allocated according to their needs. These petrol rationing cards were valid for six months, however, later editions were only valid for two as this reduced the chance of them being sold on the black market or forged. 

Meat rationing commences in butchers shops. Bankstown, January 1944, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Rationing for clothing was introduced on 12 June 1942. These clothing ration cards were issued to individuals annually “with each book containing 112 coupons”. The measures were intended to limit shortages, curb inflation and reduce spending. It was explained to the public that rationing was:

“not a negative step designed to keep goods from the public, but a positive campaign to ensure not only that the war effort is aided, but that there is an equitable distribution of clothing and footwear for every man, woman, and child in Australia.”

– ‘Clothes rationing’, The Propeller, 11 June 1942, p. 4.

This particular clothing ration card [pictured below] was issued in 1947 to Mollie Gwendolen Beavan of 34 Douglas Haig Street, Oatley.

1980.834.1 Clothing ration card, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collections.

By 25 March 1942, all civilians aged over 16 were required to register for a Civilian Identity card and have it on their person at all times. To receive a ration book annually, one would have to show their old ration book from the previous year as well as their Civilian Identity card. This would take place at a range of different locations usually used for voting such as halls and local schools from 9am to 5pm.


Locations to collect ration cards throughout the St George region, The Propeller, 1 June 1944, p. 3

Due to their value, there were instances of these cards being stolen. In one case, it was reported 1,500 clothing ration coupons and 400 adult food ration books were stolen from the Headmaster’s office at Kingsgrove Public School on 3 June 1944. This was the date that new coupons were issued for the following twelve months with those unissued locked in the Headmaster’s office for safe keeping.

The Propeller, 8 June 1944, p. 1

It was under the Rationing Commission, that rationing was policed. The manner in which using these coupons would work was that customers would pay for items with their respective rationing coupons. The coupons would pass from “consumers to retailers, from retailers to wholesalers, and in many cases from wholesalers to producers, who were requested to return them to the commission”. Rationing continued after the war, with the majority of restrictions ceasing in 1947. The final restrictions to be eased were that of tea and butter which were lifted in 1950.

This is just a small glimpse of the fascinating objects we hold in our collections. We currently have 175 objects available for you to see online on eHive and we are working on making even more of our collections accessible to you at home.

Title image: H00.98 Ration card, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collections.

References

‘Australia under attack: Exhibition items – objects’, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/underattack/exhibitions accessed 24 August 2021.

‘Clothes rationing’, The Propeller, 11 June 1942, p. 4, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/235580014?searchTerm=clothing%20ration%20card

‘Food rationing’, Old Treasury Building, https://www.oldtreasurybuilding.org.au/work-for-victory/housewives-to-action/food-rationing/

‘From the archives, 1944: Meat rationing starts today’, The Sydney Morning Herald, https://www.smh.com.au/national/from-the-archives-1944-meat-rationing-starts-today-20200107-p53pkj.html

Froude, Lorna. ‘Petrol rationing in Australia during the Second World War’, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/journal/j36/petrol

‘Kogarah Police Court’, The St George Call, 23 June 1944, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/233600980?searchTerm=clothing%20ration%20card

‘New ration books’, The Propeller, 1 June 1944, p. 3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/235577127?searchTerm=clothing%20ration%20card

‘Ration books stolen’, The Propeller, 8 June 1944, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/235580303?searchTerm=clothing%20ration%20card

‘Rationing of food and clothing during the Second World War’, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/homefront/rationing accessed 30 August 2021

‘Ration Card – Clothing, Commonwealth of Australia, 1948’, Museums Victoria Collections, https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/264705 accessed 25 August 2021.


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