Australia in the 1950s


Summary of the decade

The 1950s was the decade that saw the birth of the 'suburban dream'. It was an era dominated by full employment, a good standard of living, family- focused values and the 'suburban dream' of a house of one's own with the latest labour-saving appliances. New suburbs were developed with detached houses on large blocks. The US influence increased with the introduction of 'pop' music and television (1956). Robert Menzies (1894–1978) was returned to power in 1949 and became the longest-serving Australian prime minister.

These boom economic conditions allowed for the continued growth of the Australian economy and an ambitious new migration program that included incentives for non-British settlers to migrate to Australia. Post-war refugees from Greece, Italy, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands established significant communities. They assimilated into Australian society, learning the language, establishing new businesses and contributing their own cultural practices to enrich life for many future generations of Australians.

Yet simultaneously with this material progress and cultural optimism, there was fear and uncertainty. The first decade of the Cold War experienced the polaristion of Western democratic societies and those of the Eastern communist block. The ensuing Cold War was dominated by the relationship between the USA and the USSR. Tensions arose due ideology, economics, military power and territorial disputes, as well as the division of Germany into East and West zones. In Australia, anti-communist fears led indirectly to the split of the Australian Labor Party into extreme right and left factions, and the longest term in power by a conservative government. During this decade, compulsory military service for 18-year-old males was introduced as a security measure in readiness for another war.

A snapshot of 1958

  • January
    • The first Opera House lottery is held in NSW to raise money for its construction.

  • February
    • The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals (FCAA) is established and later included Torres Strait Islanders.
    • Among its leaders are Faith Bandler and Chicka Dixon, and the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).

  • August
    • Herb Elliott sets a world record in the mile distance race (3:54.5) at Morton Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

  • September
    • The ANZAC Day Act 1958 receives Royal Assent, making Anzac Day (25 April) a national public holiday in Australia.

  • October
    • Sir Douglas Mawson, Antarctic explorer and geologist, dies at the age of 76.

  • November
    • The first television episode of Bandstand, hosted by Brian Henderson, goes to air on TCN-9.


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