Outback Life







Alice Springs RSL Club

Women - Civilian Women
Civilian Women | Women in the Armed Forces | Activities and Entertainment | When a British MP visited the Outback

Civilian Women
Before the arrival of troops to the Central Australian region, women made up around 40% of the civilian population, then around 900. The region covered a huge area including the Alice Springs township, and as far north as Barrow Creek and Lake Nash Station near the Queensland border and as far south as Finke near the South Australian border. This was an increase from the previous decade.

Since the extension of the railway line to Stuart (later known as Alice Springs) in 1929, and the mining boom in Tennant Creek of the 1930s, the region had flourished compared to the previous decade. Several women accompanied their husbands to make a new life in the outback – wives of pastoralists, stockmen, miners, police officers, storekeepers, railway employees, postal and telegraph workers, labourers and tradesmen. But as was the norm of the day the majority remained stay-at-home wives and mothers.

Alice Springs, NT 1945.
Sergeants from the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) "Living it up" with drinks at the AWAS barracks. They are Anne Frost (rear) and, from left, Jesse Miller, Frances Delahunty and "Ding Dong" Bell. (Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial)

The Electoral Roll for 1940 indicates that less than 5% of the female population was in paid employment (although admittedly this had changed after the bombimg of Darwin in 1942). The most popular work was domestic service such as housemaid, cook, laundress, and waitress. There were also 3 shop assistants including Mona Minahan who ran Centralian Traders and Mrs Kathleen Rice, wife of Jim, owner of Rice’s Newsagents, both located on Todd Street; and Uanita Gregory, a dressmaker. Single women were attracted to office work but at this point the town boasted only one stenographer (someone who did shorthand) and typist. The 9 government clerks were all male. 12 teachers were listed on the Electoral Roll, 10 of whom were women but one assumes that some worked as tutors or governesses since there was only Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (opened in 1938) and Hartley Street schools in operation. 5 nurses worked in Alice Springs prior to 1942, 3 at the newly opened government hospital and 2 at the AIM (Australian Inland Mission) Hostel on Todd Street (Adelaide House). It’s interesting that in 1940 there were 2 male but no female hairdressers based in town. Where did women have their hair done? During the 1930s it was reported that it was the AIM nurses that took on this role.

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