Wartime Rationing

Rhonda Byrne

It was in June, 1942 that the Commonwealth Rationing Commission was set up. Its aim was to limit the waste of money and goods, thus helping Australia to support troops fighting abroad. Rationing was imposed on petrol, tea, butter, clothing, sugar and meat. Today, when petrol is occasionally rationed or in short supply, people will always think back to the hardship of the days of wartime rationing.

At first, ration books were issued, each contained pages of coupons designed to last for a year. The first commodity rationed was petrol. By the time Japan entered the war, private motorists were allowed enough petrol to drive about 26 kms a week. This caused some people to install gas producers in their cars – usually on the running board, which ran along each side of the car underneath the doors.

These were stoked with coke and worked best on bumpy roads. If the road was smooth, the driver had to stop frequently and stir the coke with a poker. Another substitute for petrol was household gas, which was carried in balloon like containers.

Clothing was rationed from June 15th, 1942. Each person was given 112 coupons a year. Some of the coupon values were – overcoats: men's – 40 coupons; women's 27 coupons. Men's 3 piece suits – double breasted – 42 coupons, single breasted 38. Women's 2 piece costumes – 29 coupons, women's frocks were 13 coupons. Material purchased in lengths to make clothes also required coupons, as did the thread, ribbon, binding and trimmings.

Coupon values were worked out keeping in mind how long clothes lasted – a coat lasts several years, but socks don't. The usefulness of the item was also a factor. A bathing costume was rated at 15 coupons, and work overalls were 6. The amount of material was considered. Shorts rated fewer coupons than long trousers.

Children under 16 years were given a better ration than adults, because they grew out of their clothes more quickly.

Tea rationing became necessary when Malaya and the East Indies fell to Japan, cutting off most of Australia's tea supplies. Rationing began on July 6th, 1942. Each person over the age of 9 years was allowed 0.23kg (1/2 lb) of tea every 5 weeks and this required 4 coupons. In November 1942, when regular supplies of tea became available from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the ration changed to 0.23kg., each 4 weeks. A popular topic of conversation during the years of rationing – even more popular than the weather – was the poor quality of the tea.

When sugar rationing began on August 31st, 1942, everyone was limited to 0.9kg (2lb) each fortnight and this was 1 coupon. On June 27th, 1943, butter was rationed to 0.23kg (1/2lb) per person per week and was 1 coupon.

During the next year a serious drought affected butter production and in addition there was a shortage of farm workers. This meant that the butter ration was reduced to 0.17kg (3/8lb) per week on June 5th, 1944.

The last item to be rationed was meat, which came into effect on January 17th, 1944. People over 9 years of age were allowed 1kg per person per week and this required 2 coupons. Under 9 year olds were allowed ½ kg per person per week for 1 coupon. Later, there were two further reductions to the meat ration, bringing it to 0.83kg. Because meat varies in quality it was grouped under four headings and different quantities were allowed for each.

Some meats were not rationed: – poultry, ham, rabbits, bacon and fish. Cooked and preserved meats such as frankfurters, sausages, potted meats, ham loaves and canned meats; offal such as tripe and tongue, were also not rationed. However, it was almost impossible to buy bacon and ham, as all supplies were sent to the Services. Poultry and fish were rarely seen in the shops, and it was difficult to buy as a substitute.

Some people went to the country and shot rabbits, hares, galahs and wild ducks. In the city they caught pigeons. Everyone ate more vegetables. Dogs and cats did not have a meat allowance. They were fed non-couponed meats and offal.

Sugar rationing ended on July 3rd, 1947, clothing and meat on June 24th, 1948 and petrol shortly after that.