Australia in the 1960s


Summary of the decade

The 1960s was a decade in which the children of the post-war era began reaching maturity and exerting their influences and ideologies onto the Australian cultural landscape. These influences were reflected by large-scale protests and public demonstrations against conscription, the Vietnam War and established rules and restrictive morals. They campaigned for independence and equality of women in the workplace, fairer wages, a free accessible system of education, and the recognition of and a struggle for rights of Indigenous Australians.

This was the era of extraordinary popularity for the US singing star Elvis Presley and the British band the Beatles, which toured Australia in 1964. The youth generation evolved as a strong market to determine the direction of popular culture. Television and radio shortened the 'tyranny of distance' for Australians and the people emulated the latest fashions, fads and fancies of their European and United States counterparts. The Australian public embraced president JF Kennedy and mourned his death, they followed the latest fashions from Carnaby Street, London, and supported every effort to modernise their lives.

The year 1966 saw the first visit to Australia by a US president Lyndon Baines Johnston. He came to boost support for the USA's military presence in Vietnam. The catchcry heralded by prime minister Harold Holt (1908–67) during Johnson's visit was 'all the way with LBJ'. Young men who won the conscription lottery of birthdays (the draft) were trained and transported to Vietnam to fight in a foreign land.

A snapshot of 1968

  • January
    • Senator John Gorton becomes prime minister after the disappearance of Harold Holt, presumed drowned off Portsea, Victoria.
    • The Tet Offensive is launched during the Vietnam War. North Vietnamese troops attempt to take significant South Vietnamese strongholds in the one offensive action.

  • February
    • The Draft Resistance Movement is formed. They declare that the group not only opposes conscription, but intends to destroy it.
    • WC Wentworth is appointed the first minister for Aboriginal Affairs, although he has no department under his control.

  • May
    • A mineral investment boom begins on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).
    • The Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi visits Australia.

  • December
    • The breathalyser test for drink-driving is introduced in NSW.


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