Australia’s Great Depression by Joan Beaumont

How a nation shattered by the Great War survived the worst economic crisis it has ever faced.

Some generations are born unlucky. Australians who survived the horrors of the Great War and the Spanish flu epidemic that followed were soon faced with the shock of the Great Depression. Today we remember long dole queues, shanty towns and destitute men roaming the country in search of work. With over a third of the workforce unemployed in 1932, Australia was one of the hardest hit countries in the world. Yet this is not the complete story.

In this wide-ranging account of the Great Depression in Australia, Joan Beaumont shows how high levels of debt and the collapse of wool and wheat prices left Australia particularly exposed in the world’s worst depression. Threatened with national insolvency, and with little room for policy innovation, governments resorted to austerity and deflation. Violent protests erupted in the streets and paramilitary movements threatened the political order.

It might have ended very differently, but Australia’s democratic institutions survived the ordeal. Australia’s people, too, survived. While many endured great hardship, anger, anxiety and despair, most ‘made do’ and helped each other. Some even found something positive in the memory of this personal and communal struggle. Australia’s Great Depression details this most impressive narrative of resilience in the nation’s history.


‘A magisterial account of an immense tragedy, told with authority, poignancy and drama.’ – Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, The Australian National University

‘Beaumont’s brilliant study is the comprehensive history of the Great Depression that we have been waiting for.’ – Stephen Garton AM, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, The University of Sydney


 JOAN BEAUMONT is Professor Emerita at the ANU and Honorary Professor with the Contemporary Histories Research Group. She is an internationally recognised historian of Australia in the two world wars, Australian defence and foreign policy, the history of prisoners of war and the memory and heritage of war. Her publications include the critically acclaimed Broken Nation: Australians and the Great War, joint winner of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in Australian History.


Joan Beaumont will present the RAHS Day Lecture in June, titled Australia’s Great Depression. For bookings and to find out more, visit the RAHS Events Calendar.