As Betty Millar saw it, joining the Australian Women’s Land Army in 1941 was an opportunity “to do my part” for the war effort.
“You had to do something and I loved the outdoors,” the 90-year-old member of Hobart’s Scots Memorial Uniting Church said.
The AWLA was formed throughout the nation from 1941 to combat rising labour shortages, particularly in agricultural labour, as many men left the farms to enlist.
It was all part of the Federal Government’s desire to ensure the nation could be self-sufficient in food throughout the war.
Mrs Millar jumped at the chance to swap her job as a milliner’s apprentice – “I was not cut out to do sewing I don’t think” – for the land and spent most of her time working on an experimental farm project at New Town, not far from her home.
After some stints on farms throughout Tasmania, Mrs Millar was selected to work on experimental projects. These included determining how many potatoes could be grown from particular seeds, harvesting poppy seeds, experimenting with pyrethrum daisies for use in sprays, seeking to increase the yield of tomatoes and even determining which breed of chicken was the best layer.
Some of the work was back breaking and difficult, particularly cleaning out the chook houses by hand, but Mrs Millar has no regrets.
“Once a year they had to be cleaned out and that was enough,” Mrs Millar laughed.
“I enjoyed it all and I didn’t think anything was the worst job.
“You were doing something worthwhile for the war effort and I was lucky because I could live at home and ride my bike to the farm.”
Mrs Millar admitted that some of the women who worked on farms experienced far harsher working conditions.
There was not a lot of money in the job but she said working conditions and pay improved markedly in 1942 when the AWLA was instituted as a fourth female service – alongside the three major services – rather than as a state-based institution.
“Before then we paid for our own jodhpurs and knitted our own jumpers, but when the army came in and took over we were supplied with a uniform.”
Mrs Millar said she always struggled with being indoors after her experiences.
When World War Two ended Mrs Millar joined chocolate maker Cadbury’s in Hobart and remained with the company until she married.
By Nigel Tapp