The Great Depression in Sydney Australia 1934

Soup and milk for school children during the Depression … Sydney Australia 1932

Great Depression … Sydney Australia

The Great Depression (1929 — 32) was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. For many people this period began before the market crash in prices and lasted until the Second World War (1939 — 1945).

CR Gotts, Sustenance projects during the depression — campsite in the forest, 1921–1940.

Even before the devastating stock market crash on Wall Street (the centre of stock market trading in New York, United States of America), unemployment in Australia was already at ten per cent. The Wall Street crash in October 1929 signalled the beginning of a severe depression for the whole industrialised world.

After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work.

A contributing factor was the visit in 1930 by Sir Otto Niemeyer from the Bank of England who visited Australia to advise governments to implement a deflationary policy. Niemeyer contended that wages must be ‘depressed’ (i.e. cut) to make exports more competitive and to raise profits. Niemeyer advised savage cuts in all existing social services. More significantly Niemeyer demanded that Australia not default on her international loan obligations to Britain. This created great political differences and resulted in the Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, being dismissed when he refused to pay the loan obligations.

What caused the Great Depression?

The ultimate cause of the Great Depression is still the subject of debate by economists. Although the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange determined its timing there were several factors involved:

A fall in export prices and sales

A fall in overseas loans leading to a reduction in government capital spending

A fall in residential construction

At the time, privately owned banks controlled Australia’s monetary policy and the country relied heavily on borrowing money from other countries to bring in new investment. When the banks refused to extend overdrafts to Australia the government began selling off gold reserves.

Social impact

The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.

A Great Depression survivor recalls the hardship:

People were forced into all sorts of tricks and expediencies to survive, all sorts of shabby and humiliating compromises. In thousands and thousands of homes fathers deserted the family and went on the track (became itinerant workers), or perhaps took to drink. Grown sons sat in the kitchen day after day, playing cards, studying the horses [betting on horse racing] and trying to scrounge enough for a threepenny bet, or engaged in petty crime, mothers cohabited with male boarders who were in work and who might support the family, daughters attempted some amateur prostitution and children were in trouble with the police.

Lowenstein, Wendy. Weevils in the Flour: an oral record of the 1930s depression in Australia , 20th anniversary edition, Scribe, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia, p.2, 1998.

Other social consequences of the Great Depression included:

working class children consistently leaving school at thirteen or fourteen years old

married women carrying a greater domestic burden: home-making was still considered a woman’s role, so even if a woman had worked all day scrubbing floors to bring in some money, her unemployed husband would still expect her to cook dinner and keep the house in order

jobs being easier to find for young people, but the work had little future career prospects and many young workers were sacked by the time they turned sixteen, eighteen or twenty-one years of age

migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, being resented because they worked for less wages than others despite having relatively little in the way of family or friends to call on for help.

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In memory of my son Latorrie’s who was gun down by a serial killer last year December 13th of 2017, I started a scholarship fund,to keep his memory alive