The 1950's

As is often the case, after a major war, the end of World War II brought a baby boom to many countries, notably those in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australasia.
With the end of the war in 1945 Australia's servicemen and women returned after almost six years of wartime conflict. Nine months later saw the start of a Population Revolution as childbirth rates soared. In Australia alone, approximately four million Australians were born between those years.

A lot of women got married and had children after the war, and they generally stopped working after that. The marriage age dropped dramatically, young people were rushing into marriage and a larger percentage of people married than ever before. People began having children at a younger age and nearly everybody got married and had children.

The baby boomers childhood was the childhood of billycarts, box pleated tunics, Smokey Dawson, cubbies and musk sticks. It was the childhood of the two parent families and three bedroom houses and Mum cooking ANZAC biscuits in the afternoon. The baby boomers generation grew up listening to The Beatles, although the parents may not have liked this.


Much of the civil unrest of the 1960s stemmed from social changes that occurred during the previous decades. Because every hand was needed for the war effort, during World War II (1939-1945) women and people of color were offered a wider range of opportunities and independence than previously. Once the war ended, however, those in power attempted to restore society to its original shape, with white men on top, Blacks on the bottom, and women in the kitchen.

The repression of the 1950s acted like a pressure cooker on rage and frustration. Unwilling to return submissively to second-class status, African Americans began to demand equal rights. The civil rights movement they started became an inspiration for other movements.

The pressure cooker of the 1950s was especially stifling for women. During the war, with many men in military service, women had been actively sought for employment at more interesting jobs for higher wages than they had ever known before. Once the war ended they were fired and their jobs given to men returning from the war.

Societal pressure urged women to become dependent and "feminine," and to stay home to take care of husband and family. Many women worked for the same reasons they had always worked, to support themselves and their families. But society's image of the 1950s woman was the aproned housewife. Women who did have jobs outside the home were usually relegated to dead-end "pink collar" jobs and paid far less than men.

In addition, the 1950s brought the creation of the housing development and the nuclear family. Millions of houses were built in suburbs, and middle class families moved in. Rather than the sprawling extended families that had been common on farms and in urban tenements, the "typical" suburban family included husband, wife, and a couple of children.

Within suburban developments, families were often isolated, each in its own house surrounded by its own yard. Most isolated of all were the women. While husbands left for work and children for school, wives stayed home, planning and preparing meals and doing housework. Doctors prescribed tranquilizers, barbiturates, and even lobotomies to help women accept their stifling roles serenely.


Before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the USSR was considered feasible. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest. Other potential starts have included the following (see External links below for further examples):

  • 1950–1953 – Korean War. General MacArthur planned to invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in eastern Asia.
  • July 26, 1956 – March, 1957 – Suez Crisis: The conflict pitted Egypt against an alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Israel. When the USSR threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and persuaded the British and French to withdraw. The Eisenhower administration, also fearing a wider war, had applied pressure to the United Kingdom to withdraw, including a threat to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt. Lester B. Pearson later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts towards peace.

In 1956, television brought the moving picture into people's homes. The uptake of television was enthusiastic and by the end of the decade it was estimated that over two-thirds of families in Sydney and Melbourne owned a television set. Over the next five years, television had spread to most other States.

Television transformed the way Australians received information. It soon became Australia's dominant form of mass communication, taking over from radio and cinema and posing a challenge to print media.

Television transmitted ideas into Australia faster than ever before. Australia's awareness and experience of the rest of the world changed rapidly. Television exposed people to other cultures and world views and provided information that would play a major role in shaping popular public opinion.

By the mid-1960s, television had truly taken hold as the most popular form of communication. Television was available in all but the most remote areas of Australia and it was estimated that by 1965, nine in ten Australian families owned a television set.

Perhaps the most far reaching change in communications worldwide was the advancement in the area of television broadcasting. During the 1950's, television became the dominant mass media as people brought television into their homes in greater numbers of hours per week than ever before. In the early fifties, young people watched TV more hours than they went to school, a trend which has not changed greatly since that time. What was portrayed on television became accepted as normal. The ideal family, the ideal schools and neighborhoods, the world, were all seen in a way which had only partial basis in reality. People began to accept what was heard and seen on television because they were "eye witnesses" to events as never before (live TV) . Programs such as You Are There brought historical events into the living rooms of many Americans. The affect on print news media and entertainment media was felt in lower attendance at movies and greater reliance on TV news sources for information. And then, in 1954, black and white broadcasts became color broadcasts. Shows called " sitcoms " like The Honeymooners , Lassie, Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet , and I Love Lucy featured popular characters whose lives thousands of viewers watched and copied. Families enjoyed variety shows like Disneyland and The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings. Daytime programs like Guiding Light, "soap operas" were popular and helped advertisers sell many products to the homemakers of America. News broadcasting changed from newsmen simply reading the news to shows which included videotaped pictures of events which had occurred anywhere in the world, and then to more and more live broadcasts of events happening at the time of viewing. This was made possible in 1951 with the development of coaxial cable and microwave relays coast to coast. When Edward R. Murrow began offering his weekly radio program (called "Hear It Now") on TV as "See It Now," the world of news broadcasting was irrevocably changed (eyewitness recounts the change)

Melbourne won the right to host the 1956 Olympics by one vote over Buenos Aires. In 1956 Melbourne staged the first Olympic Games to be held in the southern hemisphere.

The 1956 Games were held in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which crowded with more than 100 000 people for the opening ceremony on 22 November 1956. In all nearly 3200 competitors from 67 nations competed in the Games. Australia chose its largest team ever for the Melbourne Olympics. The 314 athletes (only 44 were women), competed in athltics, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, diving, equestrian events, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, rowing, soccer, swimming, water polo, weight lifting, wrestling and yachting.

The final tally of 13 gold medals, eight silver and 14 bronze was the best of an Australian team at an Olympics until Atlanta 1996, where 41 medals were won. However the 13 gold medals won in Melbourne remains the greatest number of gold won by Australia.
In the swimming, Dawn Fraser and Lorraine Crapp won two gold medals each, and Murray Rose won three. Fraser’s time in the 100 metres freestyle was a world record. In athletics, the srinter Betty Cuthbert wond gold medals in 100 metres, 200 metres and the 4x100 metres realy. The Australian team came third in the medal count behind the Soviet Union and the United States.