1969-2019: fifty years in Australia

Fifty years ago today, on Wednesday 15 October 1969, my family wearily disembarked from a Qantas plane at Perth airport. The flight from London had made stop-overs in Frankfurt, Athens, Bahrain, Delhi and Singapore, so we were no longer awed or excited by airports. But the smell of eucalyptus in the night air told us that we’d finally arrived in our new home.

Perth airport terminal in the 1960s
Perth’s only airport terminal in the 1960s

As a moody twelve year old, I wasn’t much interested in what was going on around me. I just wanted to sleep. Now I look back and wonder at the courage of my parents. They had sold up their home in England and were taking six school-aged children to a country half way around the world as “ten pound poms”.

Many things have changed

A look at the newspapers from 15 October 1969 shows how many things have changed in the fifty years since we arrived. The Vietnam War was in full swing. On 15 October in the USA, hundreds of thousands of people took part in a moratorium against the war. In London, Australians opposed to the war were handing out leaflets warning would-be migrants that boys would be eligible for conscription. One of the difficult choices my parents had faced was to bring two sons to a country involved in Vietnam.

In Britain, troops were being deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland to deal with ‘the troubles‘. Ironically, the British government was negotiating with Brussels to get into the EEC, the forerunner of the EU.

Canberra Times report on UK entry to the EEC

In Australia, with an election looming, wheat growers were facing their worst year for thirty five years. But the rest of the country was faring pretty well. Shopping centres were springing up in the cities. Prices for groceries look tiny compared to today’s costs: rump steak 79c per pound, whole chickens for $1.25, baked beans for 14c per tin, two bars of soap for 29c. The minimum wage was $1.30 per hour and the average weekly wage was about $70 per week for men in Australia.

Some things change slowly

But some news items from 15 October 1969 look surprisingly familiar. There were riots in Paris, friction over racism in the US, tensions between China and the other superpowers.

In Australia, writers of letters to the editor were pushing for reforms to abortion laws. A visiting doctor was warning that women were facing stress and ill health from doing two jobs at once (at work and at home). In Canberra there were investigations into shoddy building construction.

With the bicentenary of Captain Cook’s landing in Australia looming, the country was gearing up for a visit by some of the ‘glamor royals‘, including Princess Anne in her ‘gay hats’!

Australian Women's Weekly 15 Oct 1969
The cover of the Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 Oct 1969.

Australia still looked up to its white male heroes of the past, but the Tribune in Sydney (a radical left newspaper) had this item on 15 October:

HEARD a story last week that tells a lot about the meaning of the “black power” concept and the way it is catching on.
Teacher (to class) : “Who discovered the River Murray?”
Part- Aboriginal boy: “My grandfather!”

This country has a long way to go in some areas, but I’m grateful that we were welcomed to Australia as migrants. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world as an adult, but I gladly call Australia ‘home’.

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