From forced to coerced labour: displaced mothers and teen girls in post-World War II Australia

Karen Agutter, Catherine Kevin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


At the end of World War Two 1.2 million people were officially labelled Displaced Persons (DPs). Stateless, or refusing to return home, the majority were resettled in other countries including Australia which, like most receiving nations, saw these refugees primarily as a labour force for post-war economic recovery and expansion. However, unlike other nations, DPs destined for Australia signed a work contract which committed them to two years of assigned labour after arrival. This paper considers two specific subsets of these DPs, the ‘unsupported mothers’ (single, widowed, and divorced mothers with young children) and female unaccompanied teenagers. It illuminates the intersections of gender and displacement on the labour status of female DPs in post-war Australia and traces the continuities of coerced labour in their experiences of war and migration. We argue that the early life of female DPs in Australia provides an example of a continuum of forced and coerced labour which had begun under the shadow of war in Nazi Germany and continued after migration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-268
Number of pages13
JournalLabor History
Issue number3
Early online date30 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • coerced labour
  • displaced persons (DPs)
  • domestic service
  • Forced labour
  • gendered coercion
  • unaccompanied teenage DPs
  • unsupported mothers


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