The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was formed as a national organisation on 27 July 1942. Women in the AWLA were commonly referred to as ’land girls’.
The AWLA comprised young women who volunteered to work as rural labour to offset the labour shortage on farms created by men leaving to either join the armed services or take up essential war work during World War II.
Female recruits had to be British subjects and between the ages of 16 and 50 years. AWLA was largely made up of women from city areas who had little knowledge of rural life.
The AWLA recruits initially faced reluctance and scepticism from the farming community. However, after formal farm training, the women valiantly took on exhausting dawn-to-dusk work, eventually earning great respect from the farmers they assisted.
The women of the AWLA took on hard physical farm work such as animal raising, sheep and wool work, ploughing fields and crop work. This back-breaking work was often performed in adverse conditions and they were paid much less than their male counterparts. The average working week for an AWLA member was in excess of 48 hours.
The AWLA was a voluntary group and not an enlisted service. Although the organisation was to be officially constituted under the National Security Regulations, this was not completed before the end of the war. Therefore, women of the land army were not officially accorded the same rights and benefits of other women’s services. Until 1985, AWLA members were denied the opportunity to march on ANZAC day.
In recognition of their considerable war contribution, AWLA members became eligible for the Civilian Service Medal in 1995, which recognises the service of eligible civilians who served in arduous circumstances in support of the WWII effort.