Walcha history: World War II changes the face of employment across the region

Time gone by: A Christmas-time photo from the late 1930s of the staff at the McRae Brothers store.
Time gone by: A Christmas-time photo from the late 1930s of the staff at the McRae Brothers store.

The pre-war staff of 32 at McRae Brothers store in Fitzroy Street was reduced to less than 10 in the early 1940s as a result of enlistment in the armed services, manpower regulations and stock shortages.

It was not until 1946 that the store’s new owner, Jack Cutler, was able to re-open departments that had been closed for years and re-employ staff discharged from armed service and released from other obligations.

An Australian War Memorial report says of the campaigns: “It was necessary that most of our resources and means of production be directed towards winning the war and Australians had to adjust to a life in which even the most common commodities were either rationed or simply not available.”

A list of reserved occupations designed to prevent the voluntary enlistment of skilled workers employed in essential services came into effect in 1940. It covered a wide range of manufacturing and rural activities.

In January 1942, the government established the Manpower Directorate to control the employment of males aged from 14 to 60. It remained until after war in the Pacific ended.

In the meantime, it had wide-ranging powers and could prevent employers from hiring or firing staff and could prevent employees from resigning. It could also direct employees to move to more important jobs.

The government expected that shearing in 1942 and later years would be done with fewer than half the normal workforce and introduced zoning to help resolve the shortage. Walcha was in Zone 6, an area covering the northern and southern tablelands of NSW, in which shearing could not be undertaken during July, August or September. Young lambs and stud stock could be shorn without restriction, as could flocks of fewer than 1000 sheep.

In emergency situations applications for shearing “out of time” could be made if supported by a statutory declaration, counter signed by a Justice of the Peace.

Graziers were asked to make the maximum effort to employ women, boys and older men in unskilled shearing time jobs wherever possible.