What it used to cost

Provides prices for groceries, houses and wages for Victoria, spanning the 19th to the 20th century.

Wages in Victoria

Early Victorian year books (VYBs) divide wage groups into two industries: Agricultural and Factory, providing specific earnings according to occupation, i.e. milkers, stockmen, managers.

The VYBs list wages and earnings from the late 1800s. For wage specifics, it is advised that you consult the VYB according to the year you are interested in and look under ‘wages' in the index. Average weekly earnings from 1967- 2020 are available online with thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Later VYBs provide figures for average weekly earnings for males and females. The VYBs are available online  from 1903 or can be found in the La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria, at call number LT 319.45 V66Y.

Below is a table compiled from various VYBs for factory workers and managers and clerks.

Average yearly wage factory workers  Male Female
1910 £157 16s 8d £70 17s 5d    
1920 £204 15s 9d £99 1s 6d
1940 £248 5s 8d £123 1s 3d 
1950 £296 3s 7d £146 18s 4d
Average yearly wage managers and clerks  Male Female
1910-11  £264 8s 1d  £118 6s 9d
1930 £364 9s 2d £145 13s 9d
1940 £376 1s £146 13s 6d
1950 £433 1s 4d £162 10s 6d

Source : Victorian year book. From 1873 they are available online

£=pound, s= shilling, d= pence

£1 in 1901 was worth $119 in 2007

Source: Reserve Bank of Australia inflation calculator

The book Black and white data book on the Australian motor industry contains a listing of approximate average male weekly wage earnings from 1928-2009, (pg 109-111).

 A good source for more detailed postage rates is Bradshaw's guide to Victoria contains Labor Market Reports which details rates for occupations.

Age pension rates

  $ per annum $per annum
From: Single Married
Sept 1966 676.00 1222.00
Oct 1970 806.00 1430.00
May 1976 2145.00 3562.00
Nov 1979 3010.80 5018.00


Source: Australian year books


In the Victorian Year Book (VYB), earnings are listed for specific occupations according to industry (factory or agriculture). Below is a sample of the type of information available. For details, The VYBs are available online  from 1903 or can be found in the La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria, at call number LT 319.45 V66Y.  

Average weekly earnings by trade


Bread making

£ 2 2s 10d


£ 1 2s 5d


£1 8s 3d


£1 19s 6d


   49s 10d


£1 16s 10d

Wages in 1851

Occupation  £   s.    d.  per diem
Carpenters   0   10   0   "       "
Smiths   0    9    4   "       "
Wheelwrights   0   10   8   "       "
Bricklayers   0   10   0   "       "
Masons   0   9    4    "       "
Farm labourers 38    0   0 per annum
Shepherds 42    0   0    "       "
Cooks 27     0    0  "       "
Housemaids 21     0    0   "       "
Laundresses 26    10   0   "       "
Nursemaids 19     0    0   "       "
Farm servants 23     0    0   "       "
House servants 24   10  10   "       "

Source: Immigration: report from the Immigration Agent upon immigration; 1851 (pg 5)

Per diem: the amount of money that someone is given to cover their daily expenses while they are working.

South Australia

The online pamphlet An account of the colony of South Australia includes a detailed listing of the prices of food and the average wage rates for the the years 1852 to 1861.

Jobs of the past

  • bootcatcher: someone employed at an inn to pull off and clean patrons' boots
  • pinder: originally the person in a manor responsible for impounding stray animals
  • duffer: a pedlar who sold women's clothes
  • tarboy: a boy applying tar to cuts on sheep being shorn

Source: Job jamboree: some early occupations and their meanings

Decades of change

The book Decades of change includes detailed figures on wages, groceries and real estate as well as many other areas, organized by the decades of the twentieth century (1900-1988). Each chapter gives the weekly wage for that year according to chosen occupations, i.e. the weekly wage of a coachman in 1929 was $10 (figures are converted), the price of milk in 1929 was 7c per litre.

The book is also divided into a series of junior books, according to decade.


Sometimes wages and labour costing figures were listed in the newspapers, like the below report from The Argus June 23, 1851, p2.

Catalogue searches

You can browse the broader subjects headings by entering the below terms into the Library catalogue, and then use the links on the left hand side of the page to narrow your search.

  • Wages--Victoria.
  • Wages and labor productivity--Victoria
  • Wages--Australia
  • Wages--Cost of living adjustments Australia

Enter: ‘Wages’, then the industry you are interested in. For example:

  • Wages flour Industry
  • Wages Hotels

Historical records of Victoria

The Historical records of Victoria series consists of eight volumes. Volume four details average wages in Melbourne during 1837, (p.257) and 1839, (p.276).

An occupational index can be found in volume eight, titled, 'Cumulative indexes', under 'Salaries and allowances' (p.155).

All eight volumes are available in the La Trobe Reading Room at call number LT 994.5 F82.

Victorian historical awards

Awards set out the minimum wages and conditions to which an employee is entitled in particular industries and occupations.

Prior to 1959 awards were published in the Victoria government gazette.  To further refine your search you can add a key word to the search box relating to the relevant occupation, eg. wage determinations engineers.

Listed below are the Victorian historical awards held at the State Library of Victoria.

[Wage determinations] (1930-1982)

Consists of a collection of determinations of various wages boards and other industrial tribunals.

Awards of the Industrial Relations Commission of Victoria (1983-1995)

Victorian Employers' Federation awards.  There are a number of major awards listed on the catalogue that were published by the Victorian Employers' Federation during the 1980s and early 1990s.

To see if there is a Victorian Employers' Federation award for a specific industry, type in the industry with the terms Victorian Employers' Federation award. For example Victorian Employers Federation award pastrycooks