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Australian Women's Land Army - Tasmanian Chapter

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Tags: Women

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, there is an old Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky. Well, during World War II, in this country, Australian women pretty much held up the whole sky, and Tasmanian women have their own amazing story of service.

I wanted to make a contribution tonight on the Australian Women's Land Army - and the Tasmanian chapter of the Australian Women's Land Army, which was set up before the national body was established. This year is the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Australian Women's Land Army. As we know, Mr Speaker, when World War II broke out, the men were commissioned into service or conscripted into service on the land, and there was a huge labour shortage in the agricultural sector - producing food for the country, shearing sheep, keeping the farm running.

In Tasmania, in Launceston, in August 1940, a first meeting was set up to assess the viability of forming a Women's Land Army in Tasmania. This is from an article written by a former member of the Australian Women's Land Army, Billie Pearce, who wrote this story for the Launceston Historical Society. It starts:

Recipe for a servicewoman

Take one healthy female of required age and dimensions.

Examine well for flaws and, if suitable, prepare as follows:

Remove to 'rookie' course and trim neatly.

Shape into correct posture by drill and PT until you have head up, chin in and back straight.

Dress in regulation issue and soak well in 'routine orders'.

Baste judiciously with equal quantities of Duties, Lectures and Recreation, and sprinkle well with humour to bring out the Esprit de Corps.

At the end of one month, Servicewoman should be ready to 'serve', remember.

So this first meeting was established. A committee was appointed with Ms Agnes Hodgman to act as the organising secretary. She later went on to become the first state superintendent, later followed by Ms Sheila Hodgman, who undoubtedly is one of that well-known Tasmanian family.

So training camps were established in the lowlands, at the Richmond property of Mr C. T. Jones, there was a training ground for the southern girls. They experienced farming activities, driving tractors, caring for the farm implements, stockwork. The girls visited other properties and several rural-based industries. There was another camp held at the St Leonards home of Mrs Olive Ransom, training 20 girls. In the north-west of the state, quite a large group of volunteers participated in a range of rural-based activities more or less centred around the Devonport area.

The foundation members of this body began their Women's Land Army experience on the property of Mr and Mrs Parsons, of Ferlstain . As the girls became more confident, they were sent out to other properties in the district. One large band of volunteers cultivated and sowed a grain crop on 25 acres of an area near the bluff, land donated to them for that purpose. So, the Tasmanian Women's Land Army was going very well.

By 1941 there were around 200 women working on their home farms throughout Tasmania. There were another 35 trained members of the Women's Land Army stationed on properties other than their own. Then in July 1942, the federal government established the Australian Women's Land Army. It was Australia-wide. From then, everything changed for the Tasmanian organisation because they were absorbed, effectively, into the Australian Women's Land Army. The majority of the members did not leave the service of the Australian Women's Land Army until they were demobilised in 1945. That is an incredible five years of service from the women of this country to keep the country going.

They were kitted out with socks, boots, full dress and work gear, woolly underwear. Regulations were enforced as to leave entitlements, sick leave; benefits were introduced. And after a very long time, finally, in 1991, 46 years after the end of hostilities, permission was granted for the Australian Women's Land Army to join the Returned Services League. It was finally agreed to offer membership to the 2500 full-time members of the Australian Women's Land Army. Now, after 50 years, says Mrs Billie Pierce :

We are to receive a medal in recognition of our war service. It does seem to be a little too late to make up for all the put-downs over the years, but we can look back from 1940 and say with pride that we also served.

It was my great honour in 2011, as minister for women, to induct the Australian Women's Land Army (Tasmania Division) members onto the Honour Roll of Tasmanian Women following a nomination made by Mr Chris Bowen of Howrah . As he says in his little message to me recently:

The young city land girls of the Australian Women's Land Army did back breaking work in the defence of our nation during World War II.

He was hoping that we could give mention to the current community, recognising the huge contribution to this country by these exceptional women.

That is a great Tasmanian story. It is a great Australian story. It is a great story about the feminist movement, that when the men had to go off to war, the women who were there could step up and do all the jobs that needed doing. There was an adjustment for women when the men returned from service because suddenly the power dynamic had changed very much. We should all be enormously thankful for the service given by those 2500 Tasmanian members of the Australian Women's Land Army.