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  Issue No 94 Official Organ of LaborNet 04 May 2001  

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Review

The Tremulous Hopes of the Fifties

Review by Harry Knowles

Behind the the good times mythology of the 1950s was a desperate quest for the ordinary.

 
 

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As someone who grew up during the Fifties, I tend to remember it as a time when I surfed with my mates at unpolluted city beaches on balmy sunny days and always had enough pocket money for a Coke or milkshake and entry to the 'pictures' on Saturday afternoon. The country seemed to run itself. I was always outfitted neatly for each school year and I don't remember my parents wringing their hands over the prospect of rising interest rates, high inflation, unemployment or an imminent Communist invasion. My lower middle-class parents were not 'well off' but I cannot remember ever wanting for much.

This is a false impression of what Australia was like in the 1950s. It is in many ways a mythical depiction of middle-class Australian society as John Murphy reveals in his absorbing account of the period. I don't remember Barbara Porritt or her husband, Dennis. Barbara 'was' our one-millionth migrant to arrive since the War. She and her husband, a young couple from Yorkshire, arrived on the liner Oronsay in Port Phillip Bay on 8 November 1955.

Once docked, some 60 journalists and cameramen representing newspapers, radio and newsreels boarded the ship for interviews and photographs. Harold Holt, the Minister for Immigration was there to officially welcome the couple.

Over the next few days, Barbara was presented to a 'Pageant of Nations' in the Myer department store, greeted by Scottish pipers and a guard of honour of women in the national dress of some twenty representative countries. There was an official welcome by the National Council of Women and attendance at special church services marking Immigration Week. Yet as Murphy tells us it was not coincidence that Barbara was British, a nation which accounted for a mere quarter of net migration. She had in fact been pre-selected by the Immigration Advisory Council who determined that the millionth migrant should be "pre-selected from within Great Britain" and should ideally be "a Scotsman and his family". This latter criterion Murphy ascribes to 'a knee bent to Menzies' own Scottish heritage' although it was later altered to permit anyone from Britain. Barbara was chosen by the chief migration officer in London. As Murphy observes, the manner of stage-management was "part of a broader pattern of managing public acceptance of social and cultural change".

Murphy uncovers some fascinating debates in women's magazines of the time on matters which we've more or less been led to believe were taboo for the period - questions of sexuality within marriage and the career-woman versus the homemaker. So too in the realm of economics. Murphy exposes the economic crises of the early fifties: high inflation (18% in 1951), a 'horror' budget, a recession and a balance of payments crisis saw Labor take a 16% lead over the Menzies' Government in a mid-year opinion poll in 1952. The lead was a satisfying 9% a year later and most of the dissatisfaction was amongst conservative voters. So much for the fifties 'boom'.

Imagining the Fifties is about a generation shaped by the experiences of the Depression and a world war who invested "in domesticity and responsible citizenship with tremulous hopes of security and prosperity. This generation was then moulded into a "constituency for liberal conservatism among the middle class". Murphy ably demonstrates the extent to which its private sentiments influenced the political culture.

John Murphy, Imagining the Fifties.

Private Sentiment and Political Culture in Menzies' Australia, (UNSW Press, 2000)


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*   Issue 94 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Global Action
The CFMEU has been a world leader in fighting the war on global corporations. John Maitland has been one of the generals.
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*  Unions: Sisters United
In her May Day address, Bus Union state president Pat Ryan looks at the role women have played in the labour movement.
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*  Politics: M1 and the Trade Unions
Phil Davey was one of the forces behind S11 but chose to sit out M1. He looks at this week's action.
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*  History: Il Duce Roberto?
His modern-day fan club might not like it, but Rowan Cahill argues wartime PM Robert Menzies sailed close to the winds of Fascism.
*
*  International: Cuban Call for Global Labour Rights
An international meeting of union representatives in Cuba has vowed to start a campaign to defend workers rights from the effects of globalisation.
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*  Economics: The G-Word
ACTU President Sharan Burrow asks if there's a better way forward for global trade.
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*  Media: Birth Of A Nation
East Timor's young journalists are struggling with language barriers and technical difficulties most Australian media professionals wouldn't be able to comprehend. But they're keen and eager to learn.
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*  Review: The Tremulous Hopes of the Fifties
Behind the the good times mythology of the 1950s was a desperate quest for the ordinary.
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*  Satire: Teen Angst Poems a “Danger”
The Teen Angst Gun Massacre Affair has broadened, with staff at the NSW Department of Education revealing that “gangs of conspirators” have been found operating out of high school poetry competitions.
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News
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»  Qantas Takeover No Impulse Buy
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»  Sick Chicks Win Privacy Rights
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»  Arnotts Workers Seek More than Crumbs
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»  Jageth Backs Jakarta Hotel Workers
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»  Equity Members Send a Dear John Letter
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»  New Theatre Under Threat
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»  A Toast to May Day
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»  Activist Notebook
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  The Locker Room
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  And Macca Replies to Lee ...
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»  What About the Workers?
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