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Research Guides


Land of Opportunity: Australia's post-war reconstruction


Reconstruction Division, 1940–42

Planning for reconstruction

In October 1940, shortly after the general election, the Menzies government created a Department of Labour and National Service with Harold Holt as its minister. At 32, he was the youngest member of the Cabinet. Roland Wilson, the Commonwealth Statistician and economic adviser to the Treasury, was seconded to be the secretary of the new department. On 23 December 1940 Holt announced that a reconstruction division would shortly be set up within the department. Its immediate task would be to stimulate investigation into problems of reconstruction by all levels of government, universities and other organisations.

E Ronald Walker, Professor of Economics at the University of Tasmania, was immediately engaged to draw up a program of work for the Reconstruction Division. He spent a few weeks discussing reconstruction with Commonwealth public servants and also officials, academics and representatives of non-government organisations in the state capitals. In his report dated 28 February 1941, he wrote that reconstruction must be seen more broadly than only the re-establishment of servicemen and munitions workers and the removal of wartime controls. Every Commonwealth department would probably make some contribution to reconstruction policy and the state governments would also need to set up reconstruction organisations. In the immediate future, an Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction should be the linking mechanism for the government's study of reconstruction problems. The functions of the Reconstruction Division would be to provide a secretariat for the committee, assist Commonwealth and state departments in planning investigations into reconstruction problems, arrange the exchange of information between government authorities, encourage study of reconstruction problems throughout the community, and make specific investigations in areas not covered by other authorities.

Walker identified particular areas of research, such as preference for servicemen, public works, soldier settlement, international developments, the lessons of the period after World War I, and wartime changes within Australia. It was essential that, wherever possible, the division delegate research tasks to universities and other non-government organisations. It should also undertake general educational work, providing lectures and publishing pamphlets.

By this time Holt had already recommended to Cabinet the formation of an Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction, comprising representatives of relevant departments and individuals such as LF Giblin, Douglas Copland, Sir David Rivett, RB Madgwick and Sir Harry Brown. The committee met on 14 March 1941 and was chaired by Holt, with HV Evatt as the deputy chairman. Most of the participants were sceptical about the usefulness of such a committee. It never met again, but it set up two sub-committees on repatriation, training and placement (chaired by Wilson) and employment (chaired by Sir George Knowles), which both produced reports in June 1941. Other committees were created later. In addition, most of the departments and agencies represented at the March meeting subsequently produced memoranda expressing their views on reconstruction and post-war problems.

Although the Department of Labour and National Service was based in Melbourne, the Reconstruction Division was located in offices in Acton, in Canberra. The first appointments were made in March and April 1941. The division was headed by PWE (Pike) Curtin, a Western Australian economist, who was soon joined by Philip Dorrian, Percy Judd, LF (Fin) Crisp and Flora Eldershaw. Eldershaw, a well-known author, was to be responsible for liaising with women's organisations. Evatt had been accorded the somewhat misleading title of Director of Research and Mick Shann was given the task of keeping him informed of the work of the reconstruction planners. Gerald Firth, an English economist who had worked with Giblin at the University of Melbourne, was transferred to the division in September 1941.

For a time, the Reconstruction Division followed some of the recommendations of the Walker Report. The division's existence was publicised in the press and it established contact with a large number of organisations, encouraging them to discuss and undertake research on post-war problems. On 10 June 1941 it organised a conference with Commonwealth and state officials, and on 6–7 July 1941 held its first meeting with university representatives.

In the first half of 1942 the Reconstruction Division rather lost its way. At a time when Singapore had fallen to the Japanese, Darwin and other towns were being bombed, Australian troops were being frantically recalled from the Middle East, and many people feared invasion, discussion of post-war problems seemed academic and almost frivolous. The new minister, EJ Ward, showed no interest in the division and it was left to the Treasurer, JB Chifley, to submit a Cabinet paper on rural reconstruction in May 1942. Roland Wilson was preoccupied with workforce regulation in a war economy. Pike Curtin had provided little leadership to the division and moved to the Melbourne office of the department in May 1942, as did Dorrian and Eldershaw. For a time, EJR Heyward worked in the division and in February 1942 another economist, Arthur Tange, joined the staff. After Curtin's departure, Firth was placed in charge of the division. He was youthful (25) and lively, but he lacked the authority to give a clear sense of direction to his colleagues. Other bodies such as the Tariff Board and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security were producing reports on reconstruction and Firth feared that the Reconstruction Division might be quietly dissolved.

Nevertheless, during 1942 the remaining officers began to produce some significant research papers. Firth and Tange took part in the deliberations of the Financial and Economic Committee, particularly in formulating Australia's response to Article VII of the Anglo–American Mutual Aid Agreement. Towards the end of 1942, Crisp and Firth were actively involved in drafting the Constitution Alteration Handbook, prepared under the direction of Evatt for the Constitutional Convention in Canberra. Judd did research on public works, decentralisation of industry and rural reconstruction, while Tange became involved in the problems of the building industry. The division also drew up memoranda for the Inter-Departmental Reconstruction Committee on External Relations (first set up in December 1941), the Inter-Departmental Committee on Public Works (May 1942) and the Reconstruction Demobilisation Committee (June 1942).

In October 1942 Firth became aware that a new department would probably soon be created, with HC Coombs as the head and Chifley as the minister. By early December he was preparing notes for Coombs about the staff of the division and the problem of coordination. The establishment of the Department of Post War Reconstruction was announced on 15 December 1942. Within a few weeks, Firth, Crisp, Judd, Tange and Dorrian were formally transferred from the Department of Labour and National Service to the new department.

Cabinet
COPIES OF CABINET RECORDS, 1901–60
Series: A6006

HE Holt. Coordination of reconstruction planning: proposed IDC, 7 February 1941

HE Holt. Preferential rights in employment in the Public Services and in private employment of members of the Forces of the present war and of other classes of persons, 17 July 1941

Reel 13
CURTIN, FORDE AND CHIFLEY MINISTRIES: CABINET MINUTES AND AGENDA,1941–50
Series: A2700
EJ Ward. Vocational training for members of the Forces, 29 October 1941 72
Rural reconstruction, 21 May 1942 245
Planning for reconstruction: the nature of the problem, 5 July 1942 273
Department of External Affairs
CORRESPONDENCE, 1943–44
Series: A989
IDC on External Relations: memoranda, 1942–44

Memoranda prepared by the Department of External Affairs and the Reconstruction Division for the Inter-Departmental Committee on External Relations, mostly relating to the Inter-Allied Committee on Post War Requirements and post-war relief and rehabilitation.

1943/735/29
Post war reconstruction: pronouncements and aims, 1939–44
Statements, speeches and broadcasts by the prime minister and ministers on post-war reconstruction.
1943/735/141
Post war reconstruction: reconstruction organisation, 1941–44
Memoranda, newspaper cuttings and statements on post-war planning, including a statement (23 July 1942) by R Wilson to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security and a departmental memorandum (22 October 1942) on post-war reconstruction organisation.
1943/735/146
Reconstruction: External Relations Committee, 1941
Agenda and minutes of the first meeting (4 December 1941) of the Inter-Departmental Reconstruction Committee on External Relations, chaired by JF Murphy.
1943/735/831
External Relations Committee: correspondence, 1941–42
Correspondence, statements and notes concerning the first meeting of the Inter-Departmental Reconstruction Committee on External Relations. The correspondents include R Wilson and WR Hodgson.
1943/735/832
Department of Labour and National Service
CORRESPONDENCE, 1940–53
Series: B2915
Vocational training: proposed scheme, 1941–42
Report (19 June 1941) of a sub-committee, chaired by Sir George Knowles, of the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction dealing with preference of employment and correspondence on vocational training and placement of returned servicemen. The correspondents include R Wilson, J Webster and DJ Gilbert.
509/10/4
Department of Post War Reconstruction
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1941–50
Series: A9816
IDC on External Relations: general correspondence, 1941–44
Correspondence concerning the formation and functions of the Inter-Departmental Reconstruction Committee on External Relations and the later Inter-Departmental Committee on External Relations, research on international economic collaboration and the effects of Article VII of the Mutual Aid Agreement. The correspondents include R Wilson, E Abbott, JB Chifley, PMC Hasluck and LF Crisp.
1943/441
IDC on Public Works, 1941–42
Proceedings of a conference (10 June 1941) of Commonwealth and state officers on reconstruction, minutes of a meeting (11 May 1942) of the Reconstruction Public Works Committee, and correspondence concerning public works and post-war planning. The correspondents include R Wilson, JB Chifley, AC Joyce and Sir Harry Brown.
1943/492
Public works documents prepared by Reconstruction Division, 1941–43
Memoranda by PR Judd, GG Firth, AH Tange and JG Crawford on public works and post-war reconstruction.
1943/493
Relations of Division with Department of War Organisation of Industry, 1941–44
Correspondence concerning liaison between the Reconstruction Division and the Department of War Organisation of Industry and research on land use surveys, rationalisation of industries and other matters.
1943/542
Relations of Division with Coordinator-General of Works, 1941
Includes notes prepared by Sir Harry Brown for the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction.
1943/544
ID Advisory Committee on Reconstruction: correspondence, 1941–42
Correspondence concerning the formation and membership of the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction.
1943/550
ID Advisory Committee on Reconstruction: correspondence, 1941
Includes a letter (28 February 1941) from ER Walker to R Wilson on matters to be included in the minister's introductory statement at the first meeting of the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction.
1943/552
ID Advisory Committee on Reconstruction: minutes, 1941
Report of the first meeting (14 March 1941) of the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction, chaired by HE Holt, with HV Evatt as deputy chairman.
1943/553
ID Advisory Committee on Reconstruction: statements, 1941
Memoranda and statements on reconstruction prepared by Commonwealth departments and agencies following the first meeting of the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction.
1943/555
Relations with states: conferences, 1941–44
Notes of a conference (10 June 1941) of Commonwealth and state officers on reconstruction, chaired by R Wilson.
1943/571
Relations of Division with New South Wales, 1941–46
Correspondence on the work of the Reconstruction Division and the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction, the formation of the New South Wales Reconstruction Advisory Committee (November 1941), rural reconstruction and university research grants. The correspondents include AW Fadden, A Mair, WJ McKell, R Wilson, G Gray and JG Crawford.
1943/596
Relations of Division with Tariff Board, 1942–45
Correspondence and memoranda concerning the Tariff Board's reconstruction inquiry (1942) and liaison between the Reconstruction Division and the Tariff Board. The correspondents include PWE Curtin and GG Firth.
1943/619
Relations of Division with Tariff Board: statements, 1941–43
Correspondence and statements relating to the reconstruction inquiries of the Tariff Board.
1943/620
Organisation: administrative instructions to research officers, 1941–47
Administrative notices circulated to Reconstruction Division staff, including functions of officers of the division (1942).
1943/739
Weekly reports of Division's activities, 1941–42
Incomplete set of weekly reports recording work of the division, sometimes signed by PWE Curtin or GG Firth.
1943/743
General correspondence with Research Director, 1941–43
Copies of letters from KCO Shann to HV Evatt, who was notionally Research Director of Reconstruction, on reconstruction matters, responses to inquiries, approaches to organisations, publications and other matters.
1943/751
General correspondence with Minister, 1941–43
Includes a letter (13 June 1941) from R Wilson to HE Holt on the current work of the Reconstruction Division and a letter (6 November 1942) from ER Walker to JB Chifley on the difficulties faced by the division and the need for political decisions on the post-war aims of the government.
1943/787
Relations with States: Western Australia, 1941–46
Includes notes (18 August 1942) by PR Judd of discussions with HJ Goodes of the Treasury on Western Australian reconstruction plans.
1943/793
Relations with Treasury, 1942–46
Includes a letter (25 November 1942) from LF Giblin to JB Chifley on the reconstruction problem, full employment and the need for a fully planned peace economy.
1943/809
Relations with Commonwealth Bank, 1942–45
Includes a memorandum (1 September 1942) on Article VII of the Mutual Aid Agreement and correspondence with D Badger of the Commonwealth Bank on the liquid assets of Australian companies.
1943/882
Program of research: economic, 1941–45
Preliminary report (3 January 1941) and the full report (28 February 1941) by ER Walker on the proposed functions and activities of the reconstruction division and two memoranda (March 1941) by JW Burton on the coordination of research by unofficial bodies and a program of work for the division.
1943/929
Publicity: bibliographies, 1941–45
Includes bibliographies and lists of films compiled by the Reconstruction Division (March–October 1942).
1943/980
Prime Minister's Department
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1934–50
Series: A461
Post war reconstruction: general representations, 1941–44
Representations on post-war reconstruction and the New Order sent to the Prime Minister by a wide range of local authorities, interest groups, professional associations, trade unions, churches, political parties and other organisations. The replies were drafted by the Reconstruction Division.
B387/1/1
Post war reconstruction: Commonwealth–State cooperation, 1941–43
Correspondence of RG Menzies, AW Fadden and J Curtin with state premiers on the establishment of the Reconstruction Division and the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction, and state reconstruction activities.
E387/1/1
Treasury
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1901–76
Series: A571
Educational and vocational training: members of the Forces, 1941–42
Reports (31 July 1941, 2 October 1942) of the Sub-Committee on Repatriation, Training and Placement of the Forces (chair: R Wilson), Cabinet and War Cabinet agenda, and correspondence on vocational training of discharged servicemen and preference of employment for servicemen. The correspondents include WE Dunk, NR Mighell, AC Joyce and GPN Watt.
1943/3117 Pt 1

The New Order

In his report of 28 February 1941, ER Walker recommended that one of the functions of the new Reconstruction Division should be to encourage and assist the study of reconstruction problems throughout Australia. When PWE Curtin and the others took up their duties in the weeks that followed, they immediately began to write to a range of non-governmental organisations urging them to discuss and study Australia's post-war aims and reconstruction problems and to send publications and papers to the division. In some instances, the organisations or individuals took the initiative, having read in the press of the formation of the division.

The following items document the relations between the Reconstruction Division, and subsequently the Department of Post War Reconstruction, and some of these organisations and individuals.

Department of Post War Reconstruction
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1941–50
Series: A9816
Australian Industries Protection League, 1941–46 1943/3
Australian Natives Association, 1941–45 1943/7
Anglican Church, 1941–46 1943/9
Catholic Church bodies, 1941–43 1943/39
Chambers of Commerce, 1941–47 1943/41 Pt 1
Chambers of Manufacturers, 1944–46 1943/42 Pt 1
Constitutional Association of New South Wales, 1941–42 1943/46
Country Women's Association, 1941–45 1943/48 Pt 1
Sir Herbert Gepp and CD Kemp, 1941–42 1943/86
National Council of Women of Australia, 1941–44 1943/140
Jessie Street, 1941–42 1943/170
United Associations of Women, 1941–46 1943/263
League of Women Voters and other women's organisations, 1941–44 1943/291
Town and Country Planning Institute of New South Wales, 1941 1943/292
Returned and Services League, 1941–45 1943/356
Australian Labor Party, 1941–49 1943/375
Australian Council of Trade Unions, 1940–44 1943/749
Miscellaneous contacts: trade unions, 1941–46 1943/924

Reconstruction research

At the conference between the Reconstruction Division and university representatives in June 1941 it was agreed that social scientists at universities could undertake an extensive program of research on reconstruction problems. The universities suggested an annual grant of £9000 to enable them to engage extra research or relief staff. Wilson supported the request, provided that the division approve each project and that the universities provided an annual report on work carried out under the grant. Holt took the proposal to Cabinet and it approved the sum of £6700, in addition to the £2300 grant which since 1936 had been paid for social science research. Another meeting was held on 31 October 1941 and reconstruction grants were allocated to each of the universities, ranging from £2400 for the University of Melbourne to £250 for the New England University College.

In 1942 29 individuals and 14 groups received grants, mainly in the fields of economics, sociology, rural sociology and public administration. The grants continued until 1945, although actual expenditure was well under £9000 per annum in 1942–44. Some researchers, such as WD Borrie and Margaret Hentze of the University of Sydney, Wilfred Prest of the University of Melbourne and Sheila Rowley of the University of Western Australia received reconstruction grants for several years and maintained extensive correspondence with staff of the Reconstruction Division. The division also encouraged learned societies and other organisations to undertake research on reconstruction problems. Its efforts met with limited success, but the Sydney and Melbourne branches of the Australian Institute of International Affairs set up committees that produced papers on post-war political and economic problems and international organisation.

Commonwealth Office of Education
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1945–60
Series: A1361
Research grants: University Reconstruction Research conferences with liaison officers, 1941–46
Includes minutes of conferences on reconstruction research in the universities chaired by SM Wadham (6–7 July 1941) and RC Mills (31 October–1 November 1941).
19/21/8 Pt 1
Research grants: social sciences, 1941–46
Correspondence and notes concerning the Commonwealth reconstruction research grants and the proposal for an Australian National University. The correspondents include R Wilson, GG Firth, LF Crisp and T Owen.
19/21/14 Pt 1
Department of Post War Reconstruction
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1941–50
Series: A9816
Research on internal subjects: economic fluctuations in Australia, 1943
Includes a letter (14 January 1943) from NG Butlin to TW Swan on research within the department on public investment and employment in 1938–41.
1943/402
Research on internal subjects: women's interests, 1941–42
Includes memorandum (17 June 1941) by Flora Eldershaw of the Reconstruction Division on the role of women in reconstruction.
1943/403
Research on internal subjects: educational opportunities in Tasmania, 1942–43
Report by BM Gibson, University of Tasmania, on educational opportunity in Tasmania in relation to post-war reconstruction.
1943/404
Research on internal subjects: assistance to art, 1941
Undated memorandum by Flora Eldershaw on assistance to art as part of post-war reconstruction.
1943/407
Research on internal subjects: 1918–19 transition from war to peace, 1941–46
Papers by CH McKay, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, C Beaumont and BF Denholm, University of Melbourne, on the transition from war to peace in Britain and Australia after World War I, and correspondence between the Research Division and RM Crawford, ND Harper and KH Bailey.
1943/409
Australian overseas trade, 1941–46
Correspondence (July 1942) referring to research by G Schneider, University of Melbourne, on Australian overseas trade.
1943/429
International relations: population problems and migration, 1941–46
Correspondence concerning research of WD Borrie, University of Sydney, his reconstruction research grant, his research on family structure and fertility, and work that he undertook for the Commonwealth Government on population policy and migration. The correspondents include WD Borrie, PR Judd, LF Crisp, GG Firth and JG Crawford.
1943/446 Pt 1
Reports of WD Borrie, 1942–44
Papers by WD Borrie on the Australian population, differentials in family structure and fertility, the role of immigrants in population growth, imperial policy in migration, and the quota system in relation to Australia's immigrant requirements.
1943/446 Pt 2
Research on internal subjects: public works, 1941–43
Papers by PR Judd and GG Firth of the Reconstruction Division and correspondence concerning post-war public works.
1943/491
Public works documents prepared by Reconstruction Division, 1941–43
Papers by PR Judd, GG Firth and AH Tange of the Reconstruction Division on public works in the reconstruction period.
1943/493
Relations with Australian Council for Educational Research, 1941–46
Correspondence of R Wilson and PWE Curtin with KS Cunningham of the Australian Council for Educational Research concerning reconstruction research projects that might be undertaken.
1943/504
Relations with Australian Institute of Political Science, 1941–45
Correspondence of R Wilson with NL Cowper and D McLelland of the Australian Institute of Political Science concerning reconstruction research projects.
1943/506
Relations with Australian Institute of Public Administration, 1941–42
Correspondence of R Wilson with JA Aird of the Australian Institute of Public Administration concerning reconstruction research undertaken by the institute.
1943/507
Relations with Australian National Research Council, 1941–46
Correspondence of R Wilson and PWE Curtin with E Ashby and HR Carne of the Australian National Research Council concerning activities of the council and referring to a memorandum by Sir David Rivett on scientific aspects of reconstruction.
1943/509
Relations with Australian Institute of International Affairs, 1941–45
Correspondence of R Wilson and PWE Curtin with PD Phillips, WD Forsyth, GL Wood and RC Mills of the Australian Institute of International Affairs concerning studies undertaken by the institute on post-war political and economic problems and discussions on international organisation.
1943/511
Relations with Australian League of Nations Union, 1941–44
Correspondence of R Wilson and Flora Eldershaw with Constance Duncan of the Australian League of Nations Union concerning collaboration on reconstruction research.
1943/512
Research on internal subjects: irrigation settlements, 1942–45
Includes a report (August 1942) by JG Crawford on research at University of Sydney on irrigation settlements in New South Wales and a letter (July 1943) by Crawford about research by JA Aird on the economics of irrigation settlements.
1943/582
Research on internal subjects: rural labour problems, 1940–45
Correspondence and a paper by Sheila Rowley, University of Western Australia, on wage rates in rural industries (1938–42).
1943/583
Research on internal subjects: rural reconstruction in Western Australia, 1942–44 (2 parts)
Correspondence of R Wilson, PR Judd, JG Crawford and WT Doig with FRE Mauldon and Sheila Rowley on rural reconstruction research projects at the University of Western Australia and Rowley's survey of farming in the Avon valley. There is also a paper by Rowley on a method of conducting farm surveys (September 1945).
1943/594
Housing and building industry: Barnett building research, 1941–42
Correspondence between Reconstruction Division and FO Barnett (Melbourne) and CL Dalwood (Adelaide) concerning housing research, including population changes, demand for houses, work on housing in universities, estimates of housing shortages, minimum standards and labour requirements.
1943/609
Research on internal subjects: Commonwealth–State relations, 1941–44
Correspondence of R Wilson with R Robertson and G Greenwood concerning Greenwood's proposed research on administrative aspects of Commonwealth–State relations and later correspondence between Greenwood and JG Crawford on a survey of public administration in Australia.
1943/623
Research on internal subjects: Commonwealth–State relations, 1942–43
Includes a report by JD Holmes, University of Sydney, on constitutional and administrative effects of wartime legislation, regulations and practice in relation to reconstruction (June 1942) and a letter from Holmes on the futility of further research on post-war constitutional problems (March 1943).
1943/627
International relations: administrative preparations for the peace settlement, 1941
Papers by PWE Curtin, PR Judd, KCO Shann and GG Firth of the Reconstruction Division on Australia's political and economic interests in the peace settlement.
1943/631
Melbourne University: townships sociological survey, 1942–46
Correspondence of JG Crawford with SM Wadham and GW Leeper, University of Melbourne, concerning a sociological survey of country towns in Victoria.
1943/731
Research on internal subjects: civil re-establishment of AIF 1916–21, 1941–42
Includes a report by DJ Gilbert of the Department of Repatriation on the civil re-establishment of the AIF in World War I and a summary by LF Crisp on the Repatriation Training Scheme.
1943/768
Research on internal subjects: decentralisation, 1941–45
Includes notes by Reconstruction Division staff on decentralisation (August 1942) and correspondence of PR Judd and JG Crawford concerning research on decentralisation.
1943/784 Pt 1
International relations: mandates (Hentze Project), 1942–46
Correspondence of LF Crisp, PR Judd and JG Crawford with Margaret Hentze, University of Sydney, concerning her reconstruction research grant and her research on Australia's political and economic relationships in the Pacific, including agricultural development in Papua and New Guinea, soldier settlement in New Guinea and the Netherlands New Guinea.
1943/797
Housing and physical reconstruction: War Damage Commission, 1942
Memoranda (March 1942) by PR Judd on a Commonwealth War Damage Commission and reconstruction housing plans.
1943/885
Prime Minister's Department
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1934–50
Series: A461
Australian universities: assistance to postgraduate studies and research, 1935–44
Includes minutes of a conference (31 October – 1 November 1941) on reconstruction research in universities and correspondence concerning the creation and funding of Commonwealth reconstruction research grants.
E340/1/1 Pt 1

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