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.
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.
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)
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 Rices
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).
Its 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.