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Onion planting for National Service, 1942

On a Sunday in November 1942, sixteen young women from the Perth fashion salon John Lawley’s made their way to Spearwood to plant over 50,000 onions for a struggling market gardener.

Feeding the forces

Market gardens played a vital role in keeping the nation and the armed forces fed during World War II. With trade between many nations suspended and ships being sunk by the enemy, Australia had to rely primarily on its own producers for food. Yet despite this, farmers of all sizes struggled to keep up with demand, especially during planting and harvesting. Even though market gardeners were often exempted from military service, their sons and employees were not, and gardens were left without enough hands to get the work done.
National service onion planting in Spearwood, 1942
National service onion planting in Spearwood, 1942

National Service

The National Service Office connected able civilians with spare time, many of them women not already working in wartime roles, to struggling producers and manufacturers, sending out groups on weekends to pick fruit, plough fields, or in this case, plant onions.

The sixteen women from the fashion house, with the help of the Spearwood gardener (whose name is never mentioned), planted over 50,000 onions in less than six hours, and returned with more of their colleagues the next week to finish the job.


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City of Cockburn
Whadjuk Boodja
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Cockburn Nyungar moort Beeliar boodja-k kaadadjiny. Koora, yeyi, benang baalap nidja boodja-k kaaradjiny.
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We acknowledge a continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to the Elders, past, present and emerging.