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Category: Food

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Rationing in Australia in WW2

Cards or coupons were issued to control the purchase of goods in a Government controlled attempt to ration the amount of goods used or consumed.
Most forms of material was involved. Food, clothing and fuel.

Food in the war years - rationing and new tastes

As part of the Curtin Government's 'Total War' strategy, certain foods began to be rationed in 1943. An important part of the Australian war effort was the provision of food to servicemen in our region, as well as the provision of food parcels to Britain. Rationed goods included tea, sugar, beef, pork and chocolate.

Rationing impacted more on some Cottesloe (Curtain's home town) families than others. In the war years Cottesloe was not as built up as it is today and many residents had large back yards which could be turned over to growing vegetables and raising hens, thus providing a steady stream of fresh vegetables and eggs.

Others had blocks big enough to support their own cow and supply themselves with butter, cream and milk.

How to make delicious sandwiches without butter! by Elizabeth Cooke. Here are 26 different ways to make really mouth-watering sandwiches. And not one of them needs a dab of butter. The secret is in these three recipes for tasty spreads shown below .. the Cheese spread ... the Cheese and Bonox spread ... the Cheese and Worcestershire Spread. Just make these spreads then use any of them as you would butter, simply adding the other ingredients as suggested below. Remember to use only smooth, golden Kraft Cheddar when you mix these Spreads - it melts so quickly, cooks so evenly, tastes so deliciously and is packed with nourishment.

Cheese Spread

4 ounces Kraft Cheese
4 tablespoons milk
salt and pepper to taste
Grate the cheese into a saucepan with one tablespoon milk. Heat and stir till melted smooth . Then stir in rest of milk slowly over fire until smooth and thick, and season to taste.

Using the Cheese Spread and wholemeal bread - First spread the Cheese Spread as you would butter, then add the following:
1. Marmalade or melon jam ... it's easy
2. Bananas mashed and flavoured with a little lemon juice ... always popular.
3. Grated apple, seasoned with salt ...M-mh!
4. Chopped raisins mixed with a dash of lemon juice ... delicious.
5. Just spread with honey ... and eat!

Extract from Kraft Cheese advertisement, Women's Weekly, 5 May 1945

Courtesy Kraft Australia

Prior to the war most Australians ate large quantities of fried food and meat, drank strong tea and enjoyed sweet foods such as cake and biscuits. The government feared that rationing would result in a deterioration in health on the home front but, in fact, the outcome was positive. Rationing resulted in a decline in diet related problems like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

There was a growing awareness in the 1930's of the link between eating well and good health. An outcome of this was a trial, begun in 1940 in a Victorian school, to assess the value of the Norwegian designed 'Oslo lunch' - a salad sandwich on whole-meal bread, a bottle of milk and a piece of fruit. 

The trial showed that children eating the 'Oslo lunch' gained weight, had more energy and that their scratches and cuts healed faster.

There were no trials in WA until 1945. Dr Jim Graham, who was a student at Cottesloe Primary School during the war years, recalls that his mother usually cooked a hot meal in the middle of the day, so he would run home for lunch.

When this wasn't possible, she would pack him a lunch with a variety of sandwiches including nuts and Marmite, jam and cheese or meat and sauce.

Many families found it hard to make do without butter once rationing began in 1943. The Curtin family did not have a cow so it was up to Elsie (Curtain's wife) to make the butter last as long as possible. Butter could be expanded by adding gelatine and water or by substituting dripping.

Fish, sausages, chicken, ham and rabbits were not rationed. The "rabbit-o" walked the streets selling rabbits and skinning them for customers on the spot. 

The fish monger came to the back door once a week and would scale and fillet the fish right there and then.

Recipes designed to cater for the lack of eggs, butter and meat appeared in newspapers and magazines on a regular basis. 

The Women's Weekly interviewed Elsie Curtin during the war. She was happy to share her ration recipes and ideas for the austerity campaign with them. 

Both she and John took the campaign very seriously and set an example to all householders.

Animal parts such as brains, livers and kidneys were more readily available than better cuts of meat during the war and formed a significant part of people's diets.

Hand mincers were well used kitchen appliances at this time. Elsie Curtin used hers to make one of her husband's favourite meals, shepherds pie, by mincing left over meat and combining the mince with stale bread and eggs.

Elsie was lucky that her family liked plain food because many spices, including pepper were not available during the war as these were imported from countries captured by the Japanese. 

Hawkers from Rawlins and Watkins visited homes in the Cottesloe area on a regular basis. They carried their own brands of groceries, toiletries and sometimes if you were lucky, they might even have spices for sale.

Shopping during the war was very different from today. Sometimes you had to queue at the grocers for rationed goods.

 When Elsie visited McAllister's grocer, Mr. Mac would personally fetch things off the shelves for her as he would for any customer. An assistant would weigh her requirements for sugar, tea and flour, package it, check to make sure that she had not exceeded her ration allowance for that week and collect the required coupons from her. A boy on a push bike would deliver the goods to her door if they weighed above a certain amount (as determined by government regulations).

For those women who were unable to get to the shops, S J Luce, the proprietor of a shop under the cinema on Stirling Highway, had a man who traveled the district every week collecting orders for delivery.

The milkman, butcher and baker made regular deliveries to homes but once rationing was introduced the frequency of home deliveries by the butcher was reduced. 

Some of these services were still provided by horse and cart rather than motor vehicles which were subject to petrol rationing.

Children could buy sweets at the corner shop opposite the Cottesloe School in Keane Street. 

Sweets were laid out in glass containers and jars ready for individual selection. Dr Jim Graham recalls that you could buy quite a lot of sweets with one penny. He recalls also that you could buy an apple, a pear and a small bunch of grapes at Dennis and George's fruit shop in Napoleon Street for just three pence (3 cents).

Next door was Bice's delicatessen which sometimes had homemade milk icy poles for sale.

Outside this shop there was also a chewing gum dispenser which gave out a free packet of gum every sixth time. 

American servicemen had a big impact on families in Cottesloe. The Sea View Golf Course had been requisitioned for the American Army and both the Ocean Beach and Cottesloe Hotels were favourite watering holes for the American servicemen. Families who invited servicemen to their homes found them very generous. The Americans had plenty of money and often raided their own canteens to provide gifts of food for their hosts. They were especially generous to children and often brought chocolate with them, a rare treat in the war years. In this way they added to the limited rations of host families who would otherwise have struggled to feed them. They also introduced many Cottesloe families to the delights of Coca Cola, hamburgers, tinned spaghetti and Spam.

Food in the post-war years

When the war ended in August 1945, rationing was only gradually phased out as Australia continued to support Britain with food parcels and exports for a number of years.

Sugar rationing, for instance, was finally abandoned in July 1947. A major increase in the world production of sugar meant that Britain no longer depended on Australian supplies.

The meat situation was quite different. In Britain the meat ration had been further reduced and in an effort to support the British public, the Australian Government maintained meat rationing and price controls until 1948.

The American influence on Australia's eating habits persisted after the war as well. Coca Cola, tinned spaghetti, Spam and hamburgers became part of the Australian way of life as did supermarket shopping. Dr Jim Graham recalls Freecorns setting up its first supermarket in Napoleon Street. He describes it as a revolutionary new fad that gave Cottesloe its first taste of self-serve shopping. 

Wording from


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