Rosie in the Empire: Gender in British and Australian Film Propaganda during the Second World War

“Peaches of the Beaches”: The Lifeguards of Terrigal Beach

Across the British Empire, as men slung rifles across their shoulders and shipped off to war, women replaced them in the jobs they left behind. Women workers took men’s jobs in factories and on farms, in bars and garages and shops. And at the popular Terrigal Beach on the east coast of Australia, female lifeguards replaced the male ones who had left the beach for the frontlines. These new lifeguards underwent rigorous training, learning how to surveil patrons, steer surfboats, and resuscitate swimmers—all the while wearing skimpy, white swimsuits. Under the supervision of a single male worker, they ran Terrigal Beach during the war.

Two films show identical footage of these female lifeguards but have different voice-overs and intended audiences. While one version is intended for an Australian audience, the other is meant for a British one. The Australian version emphasizes the female lifeguards’ femininity and sex appeal, both mocking and objectifying them. In contrast, the British version compares the female lifeguards favorably to the male ones they had replaced and praises them for their stereotypically masculine traits.

What do these vastly different depictions of female lifeguards suggest about societal attitudes toward women workers in wartime Britain and Australia?

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