Aboriginal women and girls knitting for the war effort, 1941

Aboriginal women and girls knitting for the war effort, 1941

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This posed black-and-white photograph shows Aboriginal women and girls from Cumeroogunga Reserve in New South Wales knitting for Australian personnel serving overseas in the Second World War. Some of the socks, jumpers, scarves and balaclavas they have made are displayed in front of them. The women and girls are seated on benches or standing and some of them look or smile at the camera. They are dressed in the usual female fashion of 1941 - cardigans, blouses, skirts or dresses. The photograph was published in Pix magazine on 29 November 1941.

Educational value

  • This photograph testifies to the contribution of Indigenous women and girls, in particular those at Cumeroogunga Reserve, to Australia's war effort in the Second World War (1939-45). The women and girls at Cumeroogunga Reserve worked with the Echuca branch of the Australian Comforts Fund and by 1941 had knitted 59 caps, 41 balaclavas, 27 pullovers and 77 pairs of mittens, some of which can be seen in the photograph.
  • These woman and girls are almost certainly Yorta Yorta people whose country encompasses parts of northern Victoria and southern NSW. In the 1880s the people were moved to Cumeroogunga, 32 km from Echuca on the NSW side of the Murray River. By the 1940s the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, which owned the Reserve, had leased almost all of the land to non-Indigenous farmers. The Yorta Yorta people were forced to work for rations and pocket money.
  • Pix, then one of Australia's most widely read magazines, published this photograph at least partly to show the determination of Aboriginal people on the Reserve to contribute to the war effort. Pix reported that this was reflected in the number of men from the Reserve who had enlisted in the armed forces and in the voluntary work done by the women and girls - knitting, as seen here, and singing in the Reserve church choir to raise funds for the war effort.
  • The efforts of the Cumeroogunga women and girls formed part of the Australia-wide efforts of female volunteers who were active in the Australian Comforts Fund. The Fund, an organisation that had its origins in the First World War, provided food, clothing, cigarettes and other 'comforts' to Australians serving overseas. During the Second World War, the Fund's volunteers knitted more than 3 million socks as well as large quantities of other clothing.
  • This photograph and several others were published to present a positive view of the work of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, which aimed to 'assimilate' the people into white society. However, two years before this photograph was taken conditions were so harsh on the Reserve that many of the Aboriginal people forced to live there walked off in protest. The walk-off failed, and with no means of survival the people had nowhere else to go except back to the Reserve.