Australian History/1960s

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Australia’s Social and Cultural History in the Post-War Period

1960s Decade Study


The 1960s were a time of great social change in Australian Society. New ideas of the way modern families should live, as well as an influx of culture from other countries helped shape the way Australians lived. The major cultural changes can be seen across the fields of fashion, entertainment, sport and technology. This section will explain and analyse what effect these changes had on Australian society.


The 1960s are known to be the decade in which fashion changed from being simple and conservative to carefree and relaxed. This reflected a change in social and political ideology, as the role of women in society slowly began to be challenged. London was one of the major influences on the changing fashions in the early 1960s, and Carnaby Street, … is popularly referenced as being the beating heart of the “Swinging Sixties”. ‘Mod’ fashions reached the height of their popularity in the 1960s. ‘Mods’ were young men who rode on mopeds, wore tailored clothing, and played Jazz music. The ‘Mod’ movement died out after a riot on Brighton beach between the ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’. After the riots had long ended, fashion designers in London gave the word a whole new meaning. By 1965, ‘Mod’ fashions, which included miniskirts and hotpants, were being worn across the entire world. The miniskirt rapidly gained popularity in Australia after the British Supermodel Jean Shrimpton wore one to the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1965. Many people were shocked by the dress that ended well above her knees and in editorials all around Australia people were writing in to express their disgust. By the end of the 1960s however, people all over Australia were wearing miniskirts and shift dresses. The Hippie Movement also began just as miniskirts were becoming more widely accepted. The movement tried to shift from the current western fashion ideas, to try and embrace clothing made from natural fabrics dyed with bright colours. Clothing from India and Africa were also popular among the Hippies. Hippies also enjoyed listening to a variety of different music.

Music and Entertainment

In the 1960s the major forms of entertainment were television, movies and listening to the radio. The introduction of television in the late 1950s and 1960s greatly decreased the audience of radio programs, and radio was forced to pursue new angles to try and keep listeners. The invention of smaller transistors and car radios is one of the major reasons radio did not die out completely. Younger people began using the radio to listen to the hits of their favourite artists, and it wasn’t until the 1980s, when music videos started appearing on television, that the younger generations began turning away from the radio. The Rock and Roll phenomenon hit Australia in the 1950’s and 1960s. Dance parties were extremely popular where dances like the twist, the stomp and the boogaloo were often performed. This was greatly helped along by some of the major rock bands from Britain and America touring Australia. Although tickets were not often cheap, teenagers and adults alike would queue for hours to see the likes of The Beach boys, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles.

In the early 1960s, Folk music artists like Bob Dylan were pushing the message of social change through their music. Unlike pop music, people listened to the lyrics of folk rather than just dancing along. Bob Dylan, however, did not stay in the folk genre for long, and by 1964 was singing more rock-orientated songs. Although this greatly increased his popularity, his social messages were often lost. In 1963, a man from Detroit, Berry Gordon quit his job on the assembly line to become a full time songwriter. Gordy wrote the song "Got A Job" which became a minor hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. The poor financial return Gordy received for the record sales of "Got A Job" persuaded him to secure a loan of $800 to start his own record company in Detroit. His success came from signing African American artists who were not only popular with the black population, but were also rapidly gaining respect with white audiences. This new genre of music was named after Berry’s record company ‘Motown’.


Australia enjoyed much international sporting success in the 1960s. Although our population is tiny compared to countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, Australia dominated in tennis, swimming and boxing.

Margaret Court, arguably Australia’s best tennis player ever, is a great example of this domination. She won 72 major titles, including 12 Australian Opens, and is one of only three women to complete the famous Grand Slam. It was her prowess, that later inspired other Australians like Evonne Goolagong and Pat Cash to become world-beaters in tennis.

Australia is known for being a top performer in the Olympics, particularly swimming, and athletes like Dawn Fraser have helped secure this title. Over three Olympic games, she won eight medals, which included four gold. Other great Olympians during the 1960s include Murray Rose and Betty Cuthbert.

The football codes also took some major steps in the 1960s. At the beginning of the decade, there were very few professional players. Television allowed the broadcast of games, and this increased fan awareness about their teams’ performance. This in turn increased gate attendance and soon advertising and sponsorship deals were on the horizon.

Australia’s sporting success was driving the image of a fit and healthy country. This however was not the case, as many critics like to point out. The opening of the first fast food franchises in 1968 and the sale of increasingly fattier and oilier foods greatly increased the rates of obesity. The popularity of cigarettes was also rapidly on the rise throughout the decade, and with it came an increase in smoking-related diseases.


There were many technological advance in the 1960s. New ways of living saw the invention of countless gizmos and appliances to help people with their modern lifestyles. Some of these inventions also improved already existing inventions like television and radio. With the expansion to the suburbs, people needed fast and reliable ways to travel into the city. Two car families were becoming exceedingly common, and motoring car companies like ford and Chrysler also had factories in Australia. This provided many Australians with jobs, as well as reducing the price of cars as they no longer needed to be shipped from around the world. In 1940 the jet engine was invented. Jet power greatly increased the speed of aircraft, as well as allowing them to stay in the air for prolonged periods of time. By the 1960s, fewer people were travelling overseas by ship, instead opting to fly in airplanes. This was understandable, as it took 4 weeks to travel to England by ship, whereas by plane it took 20 hours. Household appliances were also greatly improved in the 1960s. At the end of World War II, there was a manufacturing boom, which made products more affordable and accessible. The idea of a housewife was also beginning to catch on, and women were encouraged to stay home and use all the new appliances that were meant to make their day easier.

British Influence on Popular Culture

The British rock sensation ‘The Beatles’ left a lasting impression on all countries they toured. When they toured Australia in 1964, what could only be described as “Beatlemania” occurred. Australian Teenagers from across the entire country wanting to imitate their idols, mimicked their dress and hairstyles, and the latest Beatle hits could always be heard on the radio or gramophone. The Rolling Stones had a similar affect on the Australian population as The Beatles, although widely different in not only their style of dress. Their lyrics were often thought to be too suggestive and were censored, yet Australia still loved them.

American Influence on Popular Culture

During the 1960s, American culture could easily be found in music, cinema and radio. It was the globalisation of the world that greatly increased the availability of these forms of media to the general population of Australia. Although Australia has always had a small but well respected film industry, from the 1960s onwards, it has struggled to compete against the American Film Industry. Not only did Hollywood have superior equipment and resources, but the high budgets could always pay for the best actors and directors. The first twenty years of Australian television consisted almost completely of American and British TV shows. The commercial stations tended to use American comedies and dramas, while the ABC tried to model itself on its big brother the BBC, and a large percentage of its broadcasts was made up of British programs. To try and stop this from completely destroying the Australian television industry, the Australian Government imposed restrictions on how much American and British content commercial stations could broadcast. In the 1960s, new American style supermarkets and fast food joints began taking shape all over Australia. At first, they were mainly located in the major built up centres, but soon they began spreading into the suburbs. This would have also had a major effect on the shopping and eating habits of Australians.


In conclusion, as you can see, Australian Society changed dramatically in the 1960s. American culture had a massive impact on Australians and the way the lived their daily lives. It would have been an interesting period to grow up in due to the changes in values and ideas.