Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

Australia in the 1930s


Summary of the decade

The Great Depression severely affected Australia. The Wall Street stock market in New York had crashed in the previous year. The collapse of international commodity prices, including wheat and wool in the late 1920s, meant that the heavy debts run up by federal, state and territory governments were almost impossible to pay off at the previously agreed rate.

Some politicians argued that the loan repayments shouldn't be made as the money would be better used creating local jobs. Other politicians said that the most important thing was Australia's financial standing and the debts had to be repaid or else the nation would be declared insolvent.

While the politicians were proving ill-equipped to come to an agreed solution, the Australian people showed themselves to be extraordinarily good at devising their own solutions to the problems of economic crisis and mass unemployment. They became more self-reliant, tilling backyard gardens to grow food, and devising cheap ways of entertaining themselves. Many relied on family or charity support to survive. Due to severe unemployment, there were many families who could no longer pay their rent and were evicted from their homes by the banks and forced to live in camps, which dotted the outskirts of the major cities.

A snapshot of 1938

  • January
    • The first national conference of Indigenous Australians was held at the Australian Hall, Sydney, to mark a 'Day of Mourning' and protest during the 150th Australia Day anniversary of colonial settlement. The conference was initiated by William Cooper, founder of the Australian Aborigines League (AAL), and The Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), led by William Ferguson, and Jack Patten. Participants called for Aboriginal land and citizenship rights.

  • March
    • Xavier Herbert won the Commonwealth sesquicentennial (150 years) literary prize for his novel Capricornia.
    • Daisy Bates (1863-1951), a social worker in Aboriginal communities and an anthropologist, published her book The Passing of the Aborigines.
    • Many of Bates's views and stories were sensationalist and incorrect, and many Aboriginal people indicated ambivalence about her and her work.

  • July
    • All exports of iron ore from Australia to Japan were suspended as Japan was seen as militaristic.

  • December
    • The federal government announced that refugees from (Nazi) Germany were to be relocated in Australia.
    • A direct radio–telephone link was set up between Canberra and Washington as a sign of closer US–Australian government cooperation.
    • Albert Namatjira, an Indigenous artist, held his first exhibition of paintings in Melbourne. All 41 pieces sold within three days of the opening.


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