At 9.15pm on 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Menzies said in a radio address to the nation “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war”. World War II would affect every aspect of Australians’ lives, including how they worked, lived and ate. Production and supply were controlled by John Dedman.
Soon after the declaration of war by the Governor-General, the Commonwealth Government passed a National Security Act which, among many other powers, gave them the power to control prices for all goods and services. There had been a sharp jump in prices after Menzies’ announcement, but the government wasted no time in ensuring they returned to those in force on August 31. Price control would continue throughout World War II and for many years afterwards, although after 1948 it was the responsibility of the state governments.
The availability of food was affected by a shortage of labour as agricultural workers enlisted in the armed forces, by the need to send food to a beleaguered Britain, by the requirement to feed the military and by the blocking of supply routes. When Japan over-ran countries in South-East Asia, the shortage of tea prompted the beginning of rationing in 1942. The government encouraged the creation of “victory gardens” and created the Women’s Land Army to replace men as agricultural labourers.
From October 1941, in John Curtin’s Labor government, the Minister in charge of production and supply was John Dedman. He was dubbed the Minister for austerity and lampooned in the media as the “man who killed Santa Claus” after he banned seasonal advertising leading up to Christmas in 1942. Among his austerity measures was mandating that icing on wedding cakes should be white, not pink. He prohibited the manufacture of many non-essential, but popular goods.
Australians were urged to be thrifty and invest their money in War Bonds. Not everyone accepted the new social order and, despite severe penalties, profiteering and black markets persisted during the war.