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Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression


2 Political Dissension and Social Unrest

Image 3: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - J A Beasley (centre), leader of Lang Labor, with other members of Lang Labor. Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales, is second from left.

Image 3: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - J A Beasley (centre), leader of Lang Labor, with other members of Lang Labor. Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales, is second from left.
NAA: M1409/1, item 4
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Prime Minister Scullin returned to Australia on 6 January 1931 after a six-month absence in London where he had attended the 1930 Imperial Conference. Four days after his return serious disturbances occurred in Adelaide when unemployed workers, protesting over the content of their food rations, fought with police in the streets in the infamous 'Beef Riot'.

On 22 January 1931 the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration announced a 10% reduction in the basic wage, effective from 1 February 1931. This reduction followed reductions made in the cost of living index and it signalled that the 'needs' of the employee, established by Mr Justice Higgins in 1907 as the criterion of the basic wage, had been replaced by the employers' 'capacity to pay'.8

On 26 January 1931 the Prime Minister reinstated E G Theodore as Federal Treasurer in place of J A Lyons. Theodore had resigned this position the previous July after the Queensland Government announced an inquiry into the probity of his personal business affairs. The dissension caused by his reinstatement set in motion events that led to the alienation of both the left and right wings of the Federal Labor Caucus, which culminated in the Labor Government's defeat at the hands of its conservative opponents by the end of the year.

On 29 January 1931, 50 unemployed workers in Darwin who had been refused additional relief work stormed Commonwealth offices and fought with the police. Some policemen were seriously injured and 10 rioters were arrested. In the depressed working-class streets of Sydney and Melbourne some notably vicious battles erupted between the unemployed and police as a result of a campaign of resistance to evictions organised by the Communist-led Unemployed Workers' Movement.

In the opinion of Boris Schedvin, the opening weeks of 1931 marked Australia's 'psychological low point'. The economy was adrift, the Commonwealth Government was divided and the nation faced 'imminent collapse.'9

As earlier outlined, prior to Christmas 1930 the Commonwealth Government announced that £500 000 was to be shared among the States to provide relief work for the unemployed. The records show that the Commonwealth Government's attempt to provide relief at short notice was largely thwarted. By February 1931 the money, however inadequate, had still to be disbursed fully in the form of relief work. While State Governments – for whatever reasons – were slow in allocating their share of the funds, some local authorities used the money provided to retain staff rather than to assist the unemployed. Inevitably nepotism occurred in the allocation of relief work, while single unemployed men, forced to keep moving, were simply unable to satisfy the residential qualification required to qualify for relief.

At a conference of State premiers on 6 February 1931 the Prime Minister remarked that, in his Government's experience, funding public works merely to relieve the unemployed was wasteful. Instead a program of public works was required that would both relieve unemployment and also provide taxpayers with a financial return on their investment. The Prime Minister observed, however, that in the long term only a revival of production would put an end to unemployment.10 At the same conference the Treasurer, E G Theodore, proposed a mildly inflationary plan involving a moderate expansion of credit to stimulate trade. This plan met with implacable opposition from the Board of the Commonwealth Bank, then chaired by Sir Robert Gibson, to whom inflation was anathema.

In March 1931 some individuals and organisations like the chambers of commerce sought to resurrect the discredited notion of ameliorating urban unemployment by placing unemployed men and their families on rural smallholdings. Others, with more practical experience, spoke of the 'destitute unemployed' and of 'terrible times' on the land. On 6 March 1931 the unemployed rioted outside the Treasury Building in Perth, Western Australia.11 

Later in the same month, the NSW Premier, J T Lang, repudiated interest payments due on loans raised by his Government on the London money market. The Commonwealth Government, having been forced to pay the amounts due, began legal proceedings to recover the money from NSW. Meanwhile, depositors in the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, fearing for the safety of their capital, began a run on the bank which forced it to close its doors on 23 April 1931.

In March, too, Lang's candidate, E J Ward, won the safe Federal Labor seat of East Sydney in a by-election. Upon entering Parliament, he was promptly excluded from Caucus by the Prime Minister on the basis that he had not been elected on a Federal Labor platform. This provoked the secession of six other members of Scullin's party who then formed a group under the leadership of J A Beasley. This group, 'Lang Labor', owed its allegiance to its namesake who was Theodore's implacable rival for political pre-eminence. On 13 March 1931, Lang Labor enabled Scullin to defeat a no-confidence motion during which five members of Scullin's party, including J E Fenton (former Acting Prime Minister) and J A Lyons (former Acting Treasurer), crossed the floor of the House of Representatives to vote with the Opposition Nationalists. It was clear then that Lang Labor held the balance of power in the House of Representatives.

Image 4: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - James Henry Scullin, Prime Minister, 1929–31.

Image 4: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - James Henry Scullin, Prime Minister, 1929–31.
NAA: A1200, L11185
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Image 5: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - Joseph Aloysius Lyons, Prime Minister, 1932–39.

Image 5: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - Joseph Aloysius Lyons, Prime Minister, 1932–39.
NAA: A1200, L1182C
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During March, April and May 1931, Scullin and Theodore sought to enact mildly inflationary measures by introducing a series of Bills. These included the Fiduciary Notes Bill, by which it was proposed to expand the note issue by some £18 000 000; the Bank Interest Bill, an attempt by the Government to reduce government and private interest rates charged by the banks; and the Commonwealth Bank Bill (No. 2), by which the Government proposed to ship gold to London to redeem Treasury bills due on 30 June 1931. On 2 April 1931, however, Sir Robert Gibson, Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board and apostle of 'orthodox' finance, issued an ultimatum: unless the Commonwealth and State Governments reduced their deficits and made serious attempts to balance their budgets, the board would refuse them further short-term accommodation. On 17 April 1931 the Senate rejected the Fiduciary Notes Bill and on 13 May, after Sir Robert had opposed it at the Bar of the House, the Commonwealth Bank Bill (No. 2) was also defeated. On 7 May 1931 J A Lyons emerged as the head of the new United Australia Party and leader of the conservative Opposition parties. Three days later NSW police resorted to firearms to counter resistance organised by the militant Unemployed Workers' Movement during a riot on the South Coast at the Bulli ration depot.

In its search for an effective domestic policy in a time of worldwide economic depression, the Commonwealth Government was heavily influenced by academic economists whose advice was that governments must, in accordance with the canons of orthodox finance, balance their budgets. Radicals, meanwhile, justified a policy of deficit finance on the basis that attempts to balance the budget must result in a reduction in consumption that would merely serve to deepen the Depression. One side opposed credit expansion while the other advocated that the Government should print banknotes outside the control of the Commonwealth Bank. While conservatives insisted that Australia must pay its overseas debts as they fell due, supporters of J T Lang and the Labor left advocated default on those debts. On 25 May 1931, a Premiers' Conference began in Melbourne, which, after three weeks of discussion, resulted in the formulation of the 'Premiers' Plan'.

The Premiers' Plan ostensibly received the agreement of all State premiers, including J T Lang. The plan was severely deflationary and reduced all adjustable Government expenditure, when compared to that of 30 June 1930, by 20% including wages, pensions and social services. Outstanding loans were to be converted to internal borrowing at lower rates of interest for longer periods. The Senate then approved legislation to permit the shipment of £5 000 000 of gold reserves to meet maturing Treasury bills in London.

In July, Prime Minister Scullin called on State premiers to provide schedules of proposed relief works for the unemployed in an attempt to convince the Commonwealth Bank Board that such works would materially benefit the community. While the neo-fascist New Guard established itself in the conspicuously depressed NSW industrial areas of Wollongong and Bulli, a committee report presented to another Premiers' Conference on 3 September 1931 warned of the very real danger of a breakdown in the nation's social structure unless unprecedented measures were taken to provide the unemployed with immediate relief.

Two weeks later the Commonwealth Bank Board acceded to the Commonwealth Government's request that credit of £3 000 000 be provided for wheat-growers. At the same time a request for £5 000 000 credit for the immediate provision of relief work for the unemployed was refused on the basis that such a large amount would endanger the financial fabric of Australia. The banks were only prepared to consider 'reproductive' and financially sound propositions if they were submitted directly to them by local governing bodies.

Regulations determining eligibility for dole payments were tightened in NSW. The provision of any form of relief was made conditional on registration for a continuous period of 14 days, which created consternation among workers like coal miners who might be employed for only a few days each fortnight. However, when the Miners' Federation and the Unemployed Workers' Union called for mass disobedience, the response from workers was muted.12

At the end of October 1931 the Prime Minister launched a propaganda campaign using the slogan 'Confidence is returning'. To encourage employers to recruit staff, he announced early in November 1931 that unemployed workers would be engaged in the relief work of renovating Commonwealth property in each of the States. The enactment of the Appropriation (Unemployment Relief) Act 1931 enabled the use of £250 000 from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to engage relief workers in the pre-Christmas period. Despite the provision of work, confusion ensued, along with complaints of duplication of official agencies and of Commonwealth intrusion on State responsibilities. And then, it appears, J T Lang reached the end of his tolerance of the Scullin Ministry.

In the House of Representatives on 13 November 1931, the Lang Labor group accused E G Theodore of political graft. The group claimed that Theodore had secured political support in his electorate of Dalley by providing foreknowledge of Commonwealth-funded relief work and the means to secure it for Cockatoo Island Dockyard, which adjoined his electorate.

J A Beasley introduced a motion to investigate the matter and Scullin accepted it as a question of confidence in his Ministry. When the vote was taken, Lang Labor, under the leadership of 'Stabber Jack' Beasley, voted with the conservative Opposition and Scullin's Labor Government was defeated. An election for both Houses held on 19 December 1931 proved a sweeping victory for the forces of conservatism. Lyons, leading the United Australia Party, emerged as the new Prime Minister. Scullin led his party in Opposition and Theodore departed the political scene, never to return.

When addressing the assembled State premiers in February 1931, Prime Minister Scullin stated that the main burden of economic depression was being borne by the unemployed and by the primary producers. When, on 21 December 1931, he tendered his resignation to the Governor-General, Australia had already some reason for hope. National income had not improved, but there was some indication that the deterioration of the economy was slowing. Then, too, financial crises both internal and external had been negotiated, however precariously. But the number of people out of work continued to increase. For the unemployed, the nadir of the Great Depression was yet to be plumbed.

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1899–1939
Canberra
This series was described in Chapter 1
Series: A458
Quantity: 49.77 metres
Recorded by: 1923–34 Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Unemployment relief grants – awards, conditions and rates of pay, 1931
This item describes some of the problems encountered in the allocation of relief work to the unemployed in Queensland. Included in this item is a letter from the Brisbane City Branch of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners calling on the Commonwealth to ensure that relief workers received award rates of pay and conditions.

The society complained that in Queensland, regardless of the type of work performed, relief workers were paid at a flat rate of £3 per week with no margin for skill. This, the society claimed, was a conspiracy to break down award conditions.

A458, AQ502/3
Unemployment Secretariat Committee – report to Premiers' Conference, 1928–31
This item contains an employment and production report advocating the adoption of 'drastic and perhaps unprecedented measures' to relieve unemployment and prevent a breakdown of the nation's social structure.
A458, AR502/3 part 4
Unemployment relief – provision of money by banks for public works, 1931–32
This item deals with the provision of funding for relief work. It includes Hansard extracts about delays in organising relief work and the approaches made by the Government to the banks.

The item contains correspondence between the Prime Minister and Sir Robert Gibson about the necessity of £5 000 000 to provide more public works for the relief of the unemployed. Sir Robert believed this would endanger the financial fabric of Australia but eventually agreed to provide a much smaller amount.

The provision of these funds, however, depended on local government bodies submitting 'reproductive' and sound proposals for relief work to the Commonwealth Bank Board. By 'reproductive' the Board meant that relief works should be capable of generating immediate financial returns sufficient to service both loan interest and sinking fund charges.

A458, AS502/3
£500 000 unemployment relief grant to States – representations regarding method of distribution of amount allocated to New South Wales, 1930–31
This item illustrates the difficulties of equitably distributing the Commonwealth's unemployment relief grant in New South Wales. It details the degree of suffering experienced in various rural areas. In Tamworth and its surrounding district, for example, around 1 600 people were unemployed and becoming destitute.
A458, B502/6
Unemployment relief – general, 1931–32
This item deals with competing claims for Commonwealth relief funds from various bodies and communities. It contains reports of economic distress and suffering in rural communities.

It also contains a suggestion put forward by a conference of the Associated Chambers of Commerce in March 1931, that the urban unemployed should be relocated to rural small holdings. The response of the NSW Unemployed Workers' Union to this suggestion is also included in the file.

A458, C502/3 part 2
£500 000 unemployment relief grant to States – representations regarding method of distribution of amount allocated to Victoria, 1931
This item deals with the provision of relief work in Victoria which was funded by the Commonwealth's £500 000 grant.

It contains a report from the Premier of Victoria stating that the grant had largely been spent on municipal works such as repairs to jetties, harbours and bridges; drainage improvements; coal boring; clearing and improving Crown land; and foreshore improvements around Port Phillip Bay. An estimated 1 500 men were provided with employment. These included stone masons, bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plumbers, plasterers, bridge carpenters, ordinary labourers, drill hands and builders' labourers.

A458, C502/6
£250 000 grant, 1931 – method of engaging labour for unemployment relief works, 1931–32
This item deals with long-term unemployment, the preferences made in the allocation of relief work, accusations of favouritism and the confusion caused by the creation of Commonwealth employment bureaus, which duplicated functions performed by State agencies.
A458, C502/7
£500 000 unemployment relief grant to States – representations regarding method of distribution of amount allocated to Queensland, 1930–31
This item deals with the problem of equitably distributing the Commonwealth unemployment relief grant in Queensland. Difficulties arose when local authorities persisted in using their share of the funding to continue to employ their own workers, who would otherwise be dismissed, rather than to provide relief for the unemployed.

The Town Clerk of the Brisbane City Council justified this action by observing that it was better to retain experienced men rather than making them redundant to employ less competent workers:

…I can see no distinction in principle, when the grant is utilised to obtain employment for men who would otherwise have been added to the list of unemployed, than by engaging a fresh lot of workers who are already out of work. Moreover, to engage entirely new men would add to the difficulties and responsibilities of the Council in organising and supervising the work, as keener supervision would be required with greater expense to the Council.

The file contains further documentation on this matter, which clearly reveals that the Commonwealth Government's intentions for the use of the grant had been thwarted.

A458, D502/6
£500 000 unemployment relief grant to States, representations regarding method of distribution of amount allocated to South Australia, 1931
This item deals with the provision of work relief in SA and the difficulties it sometimes caused. For example, the file contains a letter sent to the Prime Minister by the South Australian Branch of the Communist-influenced Unemployed Workers' Movement, complaining that the provision of relief work reduced the entitlement of the unemployed to sustenance food rations.

This item also contains a detailed schedule of the relief work projects on which the Commonwealth allocation of funds to SA were spent. These works included road construction; sand levelling to improve foreshores; dam and drain construction; grubbing and clearing back country roads; raising stone for roads and paving gutters; removing sand drifts; constructing crossings over creeks; strengthening and repairing bridges; floodwater schemes; and levelling and improving parklands.

A458, E502/6
£500 000 unemployment relief grant to the States – Western Australia, 1930–31
This item deals with the provision of relief work in WA, which was funded by the Commonwealth's grant of £500 000 to the States. It contains a report from the Premier of WA, Sir James Mitchell, to the Prime Minister stating that WA's share of the grant had provided work for long-term 'destitute' unemployed. The funds were allocated through local government bodies and used for roadwork and forestry operations (eg clearing pine plantations). Those engaged on each occasion, the Premier reported, were the 'destitute unemployed.'
A458, F502/6
Unemployment and business stability, 1927–30 A458, N502/3 part A
Unemployment and business stability, 1929–32
Correspondence in this two-part file details the piecemeal distribution of relief funds by the States. It indicates clearly that the Federal Government's intention to provide relief work for the unemployed immediately prior to Christmas 1930 was thwarted by bureaucratic delays by the States themselves.
A458, N502/3 part B
CORRESPONDENCE SERIES, ALPHABETICAL PREFIX, 1899–1983
In addition to covering the governing, administration and development of external territories such as New Guinea, Nauru and Norfolk Island, records in this series also cover some aspects of the administration of the Northern Territory – eg prisons and prisoners and the employment of Government officers. The records are concerned with a diverse range of subjects, including agriculture; fishing and fisheries; forestry; public works; communications; employment; and the Public Service.
Series: A518
Quantity: 241.57 metres
Recorded by: 1928–41 Territories Branch, Prime Minister's Department (CA 822); 1941–51 Department of External Territories [I], Central Office (CA 42); 1951–56 Department of Territories [I], Central Office (CA 60)
Territories – information re numbers of unemployed in Territories, 1932–33 A518, CB112/1
FOLDERS OF CABINET PAPERS, 1901–41
Canberra; smaller quantities in each State office; microfilm in all offices
This series is more fully described in Chapter 1. It was created by the National Archives of Australia (formerly the Australian Archives) to make access to Cabinet documents easier. It contains Cabinet papers, submissions and other material originally copied from departmental files.

Details of parent files are provided at the foot of the entries for each paper.

Series: A6006
Quantity: 9.18 metres
Recorded by: 1976–81 Australian Archives, Central Office (CA 1720); 1981–94 Australian Archives, ACT Regional Office (CA 3196); 1994 National Archives of Australia, National Office (CA 7970)
Disturbance at Darwin, 1931
This item contains a report presented to Cabinet into a disturbance that occurred in Darwin in January 1931. Unemployed workers in Darwin, who had been receiving one day's relief work per week, demanded two days' work. When informed that funds were not available for this, 50 unemployed men occupied Government offices in Darwin. When police attempted to move them, a riot ensued. Four policemen were injured, two seriously, and 10 arrests were made.
A6006, 1931/01/31
Darwin Disturbances 1931 A1, 1931/4202 (Parent item)
Unemployment relief works, 1931
This item deals with the allocation of funds from a £250 000 Commonwealth grant to provide relief work for the unemployed.
A6006, 1931/10/29
Unemployment. 0250,000 Grant A458, AT502/3 (Parent item)
Unemployment relief - Canberra artisans, 1931 A6006, 1931/11/06
Reproductive Works for the absorption of unemployed A1, 1933/222 (Parent item)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1901–50
Canberra
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 metres
Recorded by: 1934–35 Department of External Affairs [II], Central Office (CA 18); 1934–50 Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Sales tax – materials purchased for unemployed relief work, 1932–33 A461, C344/4/6
Federal coal for relief of unemployed, part 2, 1931–34 A461, D321/1/1 part 2
Federal coal for relief of unemployed, part 3, 1934–39 A461, D321/1/1 part 3
Unemployment relief – Federal Capital Territory, 1930–34
This item includes minutes from a meeting of Prime Minister Scullin with a deputation of unemployed 'travellers' who had arrived in the FCT. Itinerant unemployed were forced to keep moving and were unable to stay in one place for the six weeks it took to register for unemployment relief.

The item also includes a letter from Mrs Kelly from Molonglo settlement who wrote to the Prime Minister enclosing her household bills. The Minister for Home Affairs responded that he was '…unable to see his way clear to approve of the payment of the amount of your indebtedness from public funds'. The bills were returned to her.

A461, F351/1/7
Image 6: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - page 1

Image 6: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - page 1
NAA: A458, C502/3 part 2
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Image 7: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - page 2

Image 7: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - page 2
NAA: A458, C502/3 part 2
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CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1901–
Canberra (Sydney)
This is the main file series of the Attorney-General's Department. The series began in 1929, replacing existing systems, and contains material dating from 1901
Series: A432
Quantity: 2 098.17 metres (352.62 metres)
Recorded by: 1929– Attorney-General's Department, Central Office (CA 5)
The Workers' Weekly, 27/12/29 – seditious article – 'Workers' Defence Force', 1930 A432, 1930/77
Appropriation (Unemployment Relief Works) Act 1931
This item contains a copy of the Commonwealth's Appropriation (Unemployment Relief Works) Act 1931, enacted to provide £250 000 from the Consolidated Revenue Fund relief work projects for the unemployed.
A432, 1931/02006
Australian Postal Workers' Union, Broken Hill – payment of State unemployment taxation by Commonwealth officers, 1931 A432, 1931/2064
Labour Daily, 1932 A432, 1932/751
Central Unemployed Committee – deputation to the Attorney-General, 1932 A432, 1932/1251
J T Jennings, MP – socialistic meetings, 1932 A432, 1932/1569
Proposed interception of consignments of Workers' Weekly and Red Leader, 1933 A432, 1933/302
Communist Party – general, 1928–51 A432, 1955/4422 part 1
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1903–38
Canberra
This series was described in Chapter 1.
Series: A1
Quantity: 454.65 metres
Recorded by: 1903–16 Department of External Affairs [I], Melb (CA 7); 1916–28 Department of Home and Territories, Central Office (CA 15); 1928–32 Department of Home Affairs [II], (Central Office) (CA 24); 1932–38 Department of the Interior [I], Central Administration (CA 27)
Unemployment relief – rates etc payable in States and the Northern Territory, 1931 A1, 1931/3121
Communist meetings in Darwin streets, 1930–32
This file details rates of relief, food scales, and the manner in which relief was distributed to the unemployed in the various States and Territories of the Commonwealth. In Queensland, for example, relief work rates of pay were £2 10s per week for single men and £3 per week for married men with work being rotated in periods of approximately 12 weeks. In Darwin, though the period of rotation is not recorded, unemployed single men received work to the value of £1 per week, and married men £1/10/- per week.
A1, 1932/183
Vegetable farms for the unemployed – Federal Capital Territory, 1932 A1, 1932/2139
Reproductive works for the absorption of unemployed, 1931–32 A1, 1933/222
Unemployment relief work – Northern Territory – special grant, 1931–34 A1, 1933/264
Unemployment – utilisation of unemployed by contractors, 1933 A1, 1933/3906
Peanut growing for unemployed in North Australia, 1930–34 A1, 1934/5886
Unemployment and relief work, Canberra, 1931–35
This item details the provision of food rations and relief work to unemployed residents of Canberra between June 1930 and June 1931.
A1, 1935/2405
CORRESPONDENCE SERIES, 1903–44
Canberra
Records in this series cover a wide variety of subjects.
Series: A1606
Quantity: 5.85 metres
Recorded by: 1926–c1927 Department of External Affairs [II], Central Office (CA 18); 1926–39 Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Publications – revolutionary socialist, 1927–38 A1606, B33/1
SPECIAL FILES, SF SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1905–51
Canberra
Records in this series deal with miscellaneous and diverse subjects. They include records extracted from other correspondence series, transcripts of evidence from commissions of inquiry and legal cases, and printed material such as pamphlets and statutes.
Series: A467
Quantity: 32.04 metres
Darwin Unemployed Workers – protest re seizure of typewriters, duplicator, etc – the property of the Communistic Party of Australia, 1935 A467, bundle 20/SF7/63
Confidential report by Defence Department – Communists and other organisations, 1933 A467, bundle 89/SF42/2
Fitzroy general unemployed – protest re prohibition and importation of communistic propaganda by Messrs Collins, Goodman and Hutchin, 1934 A467, bundle 94/SF42/12 34/1622
MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS, 1905–69
Canberra
This series contains miscellaneous papers about the functions and responsibilities of the Prime Minister's Department. It also includes papers from a number of Commonwealth and State consultative committees.
Series: AA1972/341
Quantity: 3.15 metres
Recorded by: 1950–71 Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Australia's reconstruction plans – a policy for unemployment relief, and future development, 1931
This item deals with the Commonwealth Government's policy on relief works and reconstruction, and includes a policy paper entitled Australia's Reconstruction Plans: A Policy for Unemployment Relief and Future Development.
AA1972/341, 271
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'G' (GENERAL) PREFIX, 1913–39
Canberra
This series is described in Chapter 1.
Series: A430
Quantity: 4.14 metres
Recorded by: 1930–32 Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Branch, Department of Home Affairs [II] (CA 756); 1932–39 Civic (ACT) Administration Branch, Department of the Interior [I] (CA 757); 1939–51 Civic (ACT) Administration Branch, Department of the Interior [II] (CA 757)
Canberra Unemployment Relief Committee – general matters, 1930
The material contained in this item is wide-ranging. It deals in some detail with the funding, cost and type of employment relief work projects undertaken in the FCT.

The item also covers issues such as the equitable distribution of work, the number of married and single men unemployed in the FCT and the continuation of voluntary subscriptions to Canberra's unemployment relief fund by officers of the Commonwealth Public Service. The item also deals with the amount of work received by unemployed single men (three days' worth in six weeks), the food rations they received and the conditions under which they lived.

A430, G180
Unemployment relief – schedule of reproductive works for (as submitted to Premiers' Conference, 1931), 1931–32
This item contains the schedule of proposed relief works for the FCT. The relief works had to meet the Commonwealth Bank's definition of 'reproductive' as well as being beneficial to the community. Proposed projects included destroying noxious weeds, ringbarking trees, fencing and roadworks, and reservoir construction.
A430, G1260
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'E' PREFIX, 1914–34
Canberra
This series was described in Chapter 1.
Series: A6272
Quantity: 1.44 metres
Recorded by: 1930–32 Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Branch, Department of Home Affairs [II] (CA 756); 1932–39 Civic (ACT) Administration Branch, Department of the Interior [I] (CA 757); 1939–51 Civic (ACT) Administration Branch, Department of the Interior [I] (CA 757)
Unemployment relief work – Canberra Swimming Pool – parking area and access, 1930–31
This item contains interdepartmental correspondence about problems encountered in providing relief work for the unemployed in the FCT.
A6272, E137
Unemployment relief work – Canberra Swimming Pool – parking area and access, 1930–31
This item contains interdepartmental correspondence about problems encountered in providing relief work for the unemployed in the FCT.
A6272, E137
Special relief measures for unemployed persons in the Federal Capital Territory prior to Christmas, 1930–31 A6272, E175
Canberra unemployment relief work – Federal Highway and Northbourne Avenue, city – extended tree planting, 1931
This item contains correspondence about possible schemes to provide relief work for Canberra's unemployed, including a tree-planting project along the Federal Highway and along Northbourne Avenue and the Federal Highway. It was estimated that planting one mile of trees at 25-foot intervals would employ 16 men for eight days and that planting 31/3 miles would employ 16 men for 27 days.
A6272, E180
Unemployment relief works – allocation of funds for surveys
This item contains a review of possible relief projects for the Federal Capital Territory. The list included activities such as tree planting, stormwater drainage, improvements to sporting facilities, and the establishment of footpaths.
A6272, E194
Blankets for unemployed from Commissariat Stores, 1929–31 A6272, E202
Firewood supplies for unemployed, 1930–34 A6272, E227
Unemployed workmen – miscellaneous matters, including accommodation and various general complaints, criticisms and demonstrations, 1930–31 A6272, E301
Unemployment relief work – road construction from Franklin Street along southern arc of Manuka Circle, 1931
This item contains correspondence about the practicality of road improvements within the FCT to provide relief work at a time when some 410 Canberra residents were registered as unemployed.
A6272, E376
Unemployment relief works – reconstruction of portion between Canberra Avenue and State Circuit, 1931–32
This item includes correspondence between the Civic Administrator and the heads of the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Works about unemployment relief work on Canberra roads.
A6272, E434
Unemployment relief special grant of £12 000, November 1931 (reproductive works schedules submitted to Premiers' Conference, 1931, vide E556), 1931–32 A6272, E677
CORRESPONDENCE SERIES – COMMONWEALTH INVESTIGATION SERVICE, 1916–60
Canberra
This is an artificial series comprising Commonwealth Investigation Service records transferred to the National Archives by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.
Series: A8911
Quantity: 3.6 metres
Recorded by: 1916–19 Special Intelligence Bureau, Central Office, Melbourne (CA 746); 1919–46 Investigation Branch, Central Office, Melbourne and Canberra (CA 747); 1946–60 Commonwealth Investigation Service, Central Office (CA 650)
General (Communist Party, 'White Australia', Federal elections, trade union movement), 1928–35 A8911, 48
CPA industrial department (Unemployed Workers' Movement, timber strike, pastoral and mining matters, ACTU and minority movements), 1930–32 A8911, 67
Image 8: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - Digging trenches, FCT, 1929.

Image 8: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - Digging trenches, FCT, 1929.
NAA: 3560, 5440
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CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 'G' SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1918–74
Canberra
This series mainly consists of correspondence about the administration of departmental functions in areas such as institutions, benefits, committees, staff, stores and equipment.
Series: A2421
Quantity: 110.25 metres
Recorded by: 1929–52 Repatriation Commission [II], Registry (CA 225)
Unemployment relief grant, 1931–33
This item contains correspondence between the Repatriation Commission, the Prime Minister's Department, and the Commonwealth Department of Works about the commission's application for unemployment relief funds.
A2421, G854 part 1
HQ MISCELLANEOUS FILES – INVESTIGATION BRANCH, COMMONWEALTH INVESTIGATION SERVICE AND ASIO, 1920–67
Canberra
This series consists of microfilmed security intelligence files of diverse origin and content, most created the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) and many inherited from its predecessors, including the Investigation Branch and the Commonwealth Investigation Service.

The records cover a wide range of subjects and persons investigated between 1920 and 1967, and are representative of several series of records created during this time, both by ASIO and pre-ASIO agencies.

Series: A9108
Quantity: 24.48 metres (microfilm)
Recorded by: 1968 Australian Security Intelligence Organization, Central Office (CA 1297)
Australian Communist Party – direct action, demonstrations and tactics, 1925–42 A9108, roll 19/9
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER (MELBOURNE) SERIES, 1922–60
Canberra
This is the main correspondence file series used by the Royal Australian Air Force from 1922 until 1960. The series covers general administration; technical and specialist matters; the procurement and disposal of equipment; personnel matters; and the leasing of land and buildings.
Series: A705
Quantity: 665.82 metres
Recorded by: 1922–39 Air Services Branch (CA 778)
Unemployment relief scheme (works), 1931 A705, 221/1/88
Loan Appropriation (Unemployment Relief) Act 1934, 1934–35 A705, 7/101/8
Civil aviation – unemployment relief funds – proposals re Commonwealth-State loan, June, 1932 A705, 7/101/39
Unemployment – relief work on aerodromes in WA, 1935 A705, 7/112/75
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1922–97
Perth
Records in this series deal with a diverse range of activities undertaken by the Public Works Branch and its successors in Western Australia. The records contain correspondence, design drawings, contracts, minutes and press releases.

Matters dealt with include administrative, finance, tender and quotation procedures; contract conditions; material specifications; instructions on the engagement of consultants; fire protection policy and standards; standard specifications and requirements of State and Commonwealth instrumentalities; and project files on various construction projects (including War Service Homes).

Series: K279
Quantity: 175 metres
Recorded by: 1922–32 Public Works Branch, Western Australia (CA 760); 1932–46 Works and Services Branch, Western Australia (CA 971)
Financial Relief Act, 1934 K279, 1934/119
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 'V' (VICTORIA) PREFIX, 1924–64
Melbourne
Records in this series deal with the investigation of all criminal offences committed against the Commonwealth; the contravention of Commonwealth or State Acts committed on Commonwealth property; the pursuit of recalcitrant debtors to the Commonwealth; and inquiries into the whereabouts of individuals requested by Government departments, private persons or organisations such as the Red Cross and the International Tracing Service, or by diplomatic or consular representation.

Investigations carried out at the request of Government departments include matters such as narcotics trafficking, impersonation, bribery, 'forge and utter', ships' deserters, enemy aliens in wartime, prohibited immigrants, naturalisation, and sexual assault occurring on Commonwealth property. A separate file was generally raised for each case under investigation.

Series: B741
Quantity: 29.7 metres
Recorded by: 1927–46 Investigation Branch, Vic (CA 907); 1946–60 Commonwealth Investigation Service, Victoria (CA 916); 1960–62 Commonwealth Police Force [II], District Office, Victoria (CA 955)
Joseph Shelley (includes newspaper clipping of communist march in Cessnock), 1928–31 B741, V/2166
Unemployed Workers' Movement – demonstrations and interviews with Premier of Victoria, 1931 B741, V/8304
Relief workers' propaganda, 1932 B741, V/10022
CORRESPONDENCE FILE, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'C' (COMMONWEALTH DEPARTMENTS) PREFIX, 1929–50
Canberra
This series was described in Chapter 1.
Series: A292
Quantity: 25.02 metres
Recorded by: 1930–32 Department of Works and Railways [Central Office] (CA 14); 1932–38 Works and Services Branch [I], Canberra (CA 740); 1938–39 Department of Works [I], Central Office (CA 30); 1939–46 Works and Services Branch [II], Canberra (CA 742); 1946–49 Works Director, ACT (CA 743)
Unemployment relief works, 1931
This item consists of a memorandum from the Civic Administrator, FCT, to the Secretary, Department of Works requesting that the issue of food rations to the unemployed be replaced by the provision of relief work.
A292, C1348
Unemployment relief scheme – road of access to Westlake settlement, 1930–31
This item indicates the level of bureaucratic delay in the provision of relief work in the FCT. In this case, it took over a year to organise relief work for 12 men for six weeks.
A292, C1728
Unemployment relief – Jervis Bay, 1931–32
This item contains correspondence about the refurbishment of the Naval College at Jervis Bay by relief workers. Although £3 000 was allocated to the project from the Commonwealth unemployment relief grant of £250 000, the college was built on land ceded to the FCT and it was decided to spend the money by employing only Canberra artisans. An unemployed Jervis Bay carpenter who had formerly been employed at the college was refused work on the project in favour of a tradesman brought in from Canberra.
A292, C1795
Unemployed relief works, 1932–33 A292, C2832
Unemployed relief – use of skilled men, 1933 A292, C4937
Industrial – unemployment relief workers – allocation for work for the financial year, 1934 A292, C6118
CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO STAFF, 'GA' PREFIX, 1913–40
Melbourne
This series contains files recording all staff matters except appointments and promotions. It includes a number of individual special cases. The files were culled by the Postmaster-General's Department before they were transferred to Archives custody.
Series: MP304/1
Quantity: 5 metres
Recorded by: 1931–40 General Post Office (also known as the Postmaster-General's Department, State Administration, 1901–75), Melbourne (CA 1034)
Financial Relief Act 1933 – adjustment of allowances, 1931–34 MP304/1, 1934/1946
'TEL' (TELEGRAPH?) REGISTER FILES, 1932–52
Melbourne
This series was culled by the creating agency prior to its transfer to the National Archives. It consists of records created by the Postmaster-General's Department, Victoria.
Series: MP304/2
Quantity: 5 metres
Recorded by: 1932–40 General Post Office (also known as the Postmaster-General's Department, State Administration, 1901–75), Melbourne (CA 1034)
Image 9: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - An unhappy union man expresses his thoughts to Labor Prime Minister Scullin.

Image 9: Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression - An unhappy union man expresses his thoughts to Labor Prime Minister Scullin.
NAA: A458, C502/3 part 2
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Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

8 L J Louis and I Turner, The Depression of the 1930s, Cassell, Melbourne, 1968, p. 77.

9 Schedvin, op cit, p. 212.

10 J Robertson, J H Scullin: A Political Biography, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1974, p. 306.

11 G C Bolton, A Fine Country to Starve in, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1972, p. 150.

12 L Richardson, The Bitter Years: Wollongong During the Great Depression, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1984, pp. 86–87.


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