Strap in for a half-century jolt


Australia has changed dramatically over the years but the slow page-by-page turning of history means we're often blind to progress.

So, I'm going to strap you into a time machine and clang-clang you back 50 years to a different Australia.

The year? 1963. I was 10 years old.

It was the year JFK was shot. But American author Charles Murray argues that America was poised to change anyway. Bob Dylan wrote The Times they are a-Changin'.

Murray's America of '63 could be Australia.

Like Americans, we left our doors unlocked. Children roamed. Crime rates were low. Drugs weren't a problem.

In Oz, new houses were simple but affordable at $12,650, twice the average wage. Today, the average house is eight times the medium wage, but with two incomes now.

A new car was about half the average wage in pounds. The Aussie dollar currency was three years off. You paid cash. No credit cards then. Cars are cheap today.

Aussie food was plain. Meat and three veg. No pizza - our first pizza shop opened in 1969 and the first McDonald's opened two years later.

Eighty four per cent of Aussies were religious, and 10 per cent weren't sure. Marriage rates peaked at 62 per cent of adults in 1961, the year the pill arrived in Australia.

Divorce was difficult and required a guilty party.

We sat glued to the rabbit-eared TV set watching My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Andy Griffith Show in black and white.

Our own cop show, Homicide, began the following year. There were no VCRs, DVDs or HDs.

In '63, American Tommy Hanlon was one of our highest-paid TV presenters.

He won a Logie for his show It Could Be You. Craven "A" won the Logie for Best Ad. We kids sang the Light up a Viscount jingle and "smoked" lollie fags.

Women weren't welcome in the workforce. In '63, married women could not work in the Commonwealth Public Service. That didn't change until 1966. Women were paid less until equal pay was ratified in 1974. But times, they were a-changin'.

In '63, American Betty Friedan wrote the first feminist manifesto, The Feminine Mystique. Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch came out in 1970.

In '63, Martin Luther King jnr gave his "I have a dream" speech to thousands of civil rights marchers.

Ralph Nader wrote his first critique of the car industry.

The previous year, Rachel Carson had published The Silent Spring. And indigenous Australians won the right to vote.

So feminism, civil rights, environmental protection, consumer rights and indigenous rights were born at this time.

In 63, The Beatles released their first album, Please, Please Me and toured Australia a year later.

But the country was conservative. More people turned up to listen to American evangelist Billy Graham than to The Beatles.

Less than 1 per cent of Aussies had a degree, except in Canberra where over 5 per cent had been to uni.

At the end of '63, my family moved to the country. I went to the local convent in year 8. The nuns didn't teach maths to girls - just arithmetic.

My parents let me leave the convent.

If they hadn't, I wouldn't be writing this because maths led me to a university education.

For a girl in that era, education changed everything. 

US president John F Kennedy with his wife, Jackie Kennedy, ride through Dallas moments before JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963 .

US president John F Kennedy with his wife, Jackie Kennedy, ride through Dallas moments before JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963 .


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