1942 WWII food rationing – tea and sugar rationed

Ration books for food and clothing. Image: Australian War Memorial

To conserve food during WWII,  rationing regulations were gazetted in May 1942 and food rationing began in June. Tea was the first commodity to be rationed, the allowance being 1/2 lb (226g) per adult per five weeks. In July, sugar was rationed, with every adult allowed 2 lb (900g) per fortnight. Australians were issued with identity cards and ration books.  Food rationing did not end until 1950, with tea the last item to be rationed.

Rationing worked on a coupon basis. Each adult Australian citizen received a ration book with coupons to be used for purchasing rationed items like food, clothing or petrol.  The allocation of coupons had to last for a fixed amount of time, so purchases needed to be carefully planned. There were often shortages in the shops, even of products that weren’t rationed.

Special food coupons were issued to some groups, including servicemen on leave, invalids and residents in specified remote areas. People in remote areas were allowed 50 per cent more than the normal ration of tea and sugar.

In addition to food rationing, the government encouraged people to be thrifty and to invest any spare money in war bonds. Advertising featuring “The Squander Bug” was adapted from an English campaign and took the form of a series of cartoon strips.

A Rationing Commission was set up to police the rationing system. There were significant penalties for breaching the regulations, with fines of up to £100 or up to six months’ gaol. At the end of 1942, the government passed a Black Marketing Act which was designed to deal with more serious breaches and had penalties of £1,000 or more.

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