During the Second World War (1939 – 1945), Australia, in common with other Allied nations, rationed important commodities, including food, petrol, rubber, and clothing. Australia implemented rationing for a variety of reasons, including reduced imports, a smaller labour force, the urgent need to provision Australian and Allied troops, trade agreements with the Great Britain, and concerns about inflation. Rationing in Australia was never as severe as in Britain, whose supply chains were heavily impacted by the German blockade of the North Atlantic. As Australia was less reliant on imported produce, domestic farming supplied much its food.
Wartime (c. 1944) photo of a Brisbane street corner, possibly Edward and Queen or Adelaide Street
Australia began to ration food and clothing in 1942, with each adult citizen receiving a ration book containing an annual supply of coupons. Ration coupons were required for the purchase of clothing, sugar, butter, tea, meat, and, intermittently, for the purchase of milk and eggs. In addition to formal rationing, the Australian population was encouraged to plan meals carefully, reuse clothing, forgo cosmetics, reduce consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, and grow their own fruit and vegetables. (The Queensland experience of food rationing was somewhat eased by its large suburban blocks, which allowed many families to grow their own produce.) While frugality was widely viewed as patriotic, there was also a thriving black market dealing in coupons and rationed goods. In Brisbane, which saw a massive influx of American troops, Australia’s strict licensing laws created the conditions for a thriving black market in liquor. Although rationing continued in Britain until the mid-1950s, Australia abolished the rationing of food and clothing following the 1949 election.
Van equipped with gas bags on roof to provide fuel to reduce petrol consumption (Brisbane, c. 1944)
Maintaining Australia’s petrol supply during wartime posed a serious challenge, as Australia was completely reliant on imported petrol and did not possess a significant reserve. Authorities were initially reluctant to introduce petrol rationing due to limited public support. Despite the measure’s unpopularity, the urgency of the situation had prompted the introduction of petrol rationing in 1940. (The immediate result was petrol hoarding and blistering criticism from the industrial sector.) The public was also encouraged to switch from petrol to gas producers (units which converted charcoal to gas). Gas producers were generally mounted on the backs of cars, the sides of trucks, and the roofs of buses. This measure was also far from universally accepted, as the public was largely unfamiliar with gas producers and the units themselves were cumbersome and often inefficient. Despite the unpopularity of both rationing and gas producers, petrol rationing was only permanently discontinued in February 1950.
- Don Bartlett. “Producer Gas and the Australian Motorist: An Alternate Fuel During the “Crisis” of 1939 – 1945.” Engineering Heritage Victoria Guest Speakers’ Series. 21 February 2008. http://consuleng.com.au/Producer%20Gas%20&%20the%20Aussie%20Motorist%201939-45.pdf.
- Lorna Froude. “Petrol Rationing in Australia During the Second World War.” Journal of the Australian War Memorial 36 (2002). https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/journal/j36/petrol.
- Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. “Collection of Seven Ration Cards.” Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 2019. https://collection.maas.museum/object/397038.
- Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. “Ration Ticket, ‘1 Gallon’, Petrol Rationing, Ink on Paper, Printed by Australian Note and Stamp Printer, Issued by the Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, 1949.” Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 2019. https://collection.maas.museum/object/11528.
- Judith Powell. “Ervin Task.” SLQ Blogs. 3rd May 2018. http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/jol/2018/05/03/ervin-task/.
- Reserve Bank of Australia. “Rationing, Austerity and Black Markets.” Reserve Bank of Australia. 2019. https://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/make-your-money-fight/rationing-austerity-and-black-markets/.
- Queensland Government. “Rationing.” Queensland WWII Historic Places. 29 July 2014. https://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/homefront/rationing.
Today, Central Australia is home to the world’s largest herd of wild camels. This population is a legacy of the challenges of transporting goods across Australia’s arid inland during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In 1860, three cameleers and approximately twenty camels sailed from Karachi to Melbourne to accompany the Burke and Wills expedition. Between 1870 – 1920, entrepreneurs, realising that camels could cope with conditions inhospitable to horses and bullocks, imported approximately 20,000 camels, accompanied by 2000 – 4000 cameleers. These camels were swiftly put to work and, from the 1870s to the 1940s, camel trains carried goods between towns, homesteads, mining camps, and railheads.
Camel team leaving Mount Garnet
While the cameleers were widely referred to as ‘Afghans’ or ‘Ghans’, the majority were from what is now India and Pakistan, with a smaller subset being from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, or Egypt. A subset of cameleers became successful businessmen. In 1905, Abdul Wade, the founder of Australia’s largest camel operation the Bourke Carrying Company, possessed 600 – 700 camels and was sometimes referred to as ‘the Afghan King’ or ‘Prince of the Afghans’. Wade was active in Queensland, being employed to transport coke to and ore from the mine and smelter site at Mount Garnett and from OK to Mungana.
Mount Garnet, Reverberatory building with two stacks and camel team (one of three at 70 each) arriving from Lappa
Cameleers were not encouraged to stay permanently. They were generally employed on three-year contracts and, until the 1920s, were not permitted to bring their wives or children to Australia. Widespread racism presented an additional obstacle, with members of the European population expressing concern that cameleers would serve as a source of cheap labour, spread Islam, and marry European women. Cameleers generally lived separately to the bulk of the population, with cameleers’ camps composed of huts and small houses (often referred to as ‘Ghantowns’) being established on the outskirts of towns and ports. Cloncurry, which was site of Queensland’s largest Ghantown, was home to 200 cameleers and 2000 camels.
Camel team with Mount Garnet smelters in background
While many cameleers returned to their countries of origin, some stayed for longer periods, often marrying and/or fathering children with local women. During the early-twentieth century, permanent settlement became increasingly difficult. From 1901, the White Australia Policy effectively barred the entry of Asian immigrants and made it harder for residents of Asian origin to leave and re-enter the country. The Roads Act 1902 introduced a camel tax, which restricted the ability of cameleers to travel and trade interstate. Finally, The Naturalisation Act 1903 prevented residents of Asian, African, or Pacific Islander origin from obtaining citizenship. While this increasingly hostile environment prompted many ‘Afghan’ cameleers to leave Australia, it was technology and infrastructure which put an end to the camel trains. By the 1940s, they had been rendered obsolete by an increasingly extensive and interconnected rail and road network.
- Sarah Bell. “Australia, Home to the World’s Largest Camel Herd.” BBC News. 19th May 2013. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22522695.
- Converge Heritage + Community. Mount Garnet Processing Facility Tailings Storage Facility 2 Project: Non-Indigenous Cultural Heritage Assessment Consolidated Tin Mines Ltd (Cairns: Converge Heritage + Community, 2015). https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0033/87099/585456-2.pdf.
- Hanifa Deen. “Excavating the Past: Australian Muslims.” The La Trobe Journal 89 (2012): 63 – 80. http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/La-Trobe-Journal-89-Hanifa-Deen.pdf.
- Aron Lewin. “Special Report: The King of the Cameleers: The Rebellious Patriotism of Abdul Wade.” Mojo News. 4th May 2015. https://www.mojonews.com.au/page/special-report-the-king-of-the-cameleers-the-rebellious-patriotism-of-abdul-wade.
- Ewen McPhee. “Cloncurry Afghan Cameleers.” Queensland Museum & Community Collections. 7th November 2012. https://qmmdo.com.au/2012/11/07/cloncurry-afghan-cameleers/.
- Margaret Simpson. “Making a Nation: “Afghans” and their Camels for Australian Inland Transport.” Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences. 6th May 2015. https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2015/05/06/afghans-and-camels-for-australian-inland-transport/.
- Ben Stubbs. “Islam in the Outback.” Griffith Review 61 (2018). https://www.griffithreview.com/articles/islam-in-the-outback-afghan-cameleers-stubbs/.