1950s in context

After decades of suffering through the Great Depression and World War II, the 1950s were prosperous, vibrant years for Australians. Employment was high and people were encouraged to spend their money freely.

Technology advanced rapidly after the war and soon transformed the lives of many Australians. Televisions provided a link to the rest of the world and cars gave people a new mobility that would change the nation's patterns of leisure and living.

In 1956, Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games. This fostered a great sense of national pride and cast the international spotlight onto Australia like never before.

The role of women in the 1950s

For women in the 1950s, life was centred on the family and domestic duties. Women who had held wartime jobs were expected to abandon their careers in order to provide employment for men returning from war. Women were encouraged to stay at home, raise children and care for their husbands. To assist in the homemaking task, shiny new home appliances promised to transform housekeeping into a delight.

Some women, however, challenged traditional values and remained in the paid workforce. They were usually paid less than men for performing the same work and were often employed in routine, low-status positions. The women's rights movement was still a decade away.

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Australia's ties to Britain in the 1950s

Thousands of people queued to welcome Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Australian shores in 1954. Many Australians still considered Britain to be their homeland and proclaimed unwavering loyalty to British culture and values.

Australia's cultural ties to Britain, however, would be challenged by an influx of American culture through cinema, radio and television. Technological innovation spurred these changes, breaking down geographical barriers and allowing new, exciting forms of popular culture like rock 'n' roll to penetrate Australian life.

Immigration in the 1950s

Throughout the 1950s, a flood of migrants transformed the shape of Australian society. Australia suffered a huge shortage of workers for the nation's reconstruction efforts and the nation embarked on a programme to boost its population. In 1950, it was estimated that 170 000 migrants arrived in Australia. By the end of the decade, this figure would reach one million.

Most migrants hailed from Britain, or European countries, such as Greece and Italy. They had a major impact on the make-up of the Australian population and introduced new food, music, religion and traditions to Australian cultural life.

Many new European migrants worked on construction projects like the Snowy River Mountains Scheme, a huge project that diverted water from the Australian Alps for irrigation and the generation of hydro-electric power.

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Not all people, however, were welcome in Australia during the 1950s. Since 1901, the White Australia Policy had prevented non-white people from migrating to Australia - promoting white, European immigration instead. It would not be abolished until 1974.

The 1950s was the era of 'assimilation'. This meant that migrants were expected to abandon their distinct culture and language and 'blend in' to the existing population.

Politics in the 1950s

Despite the optimism of the decade, Australians lived in the shadow of the Cold War. The Cold War was a bitter political struggle that had emerged after World War II, between America and her Western allies and Communist countries like the Soviet Union and China. As tension mounted between nations, many people feared the outbreak of nuclear war.

Throughout the decade, Australia was led by Liberal leader Sir Robert Menzies. He came to power on 10 December 1949 and would go on to become Australia's longest serving Prime Minister.

Along with many other Australians, Menzies believed that Australia was seriously under threat from Communist regimes. In 1950, he sent Australian soldiers to fight Communist North Korea after it invaded South Korea.

Robert Menzies was renowned for his public speaking prowess. He was also known as a staunch monarchist and once famously called himself 'British to his bootstraps'. Nonetheless, he actively maintained Australia's military alliance with America after World War II.

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