What did you do in the Dark Ages, Mummy? Mandy Sayer

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The ge­n­e­sis of this book be­gan with anec­dotes about the 1960s and 70s that the au­thor shared with his in­cred­u­lous and dis­be­liev­ing sons.

Yes, in the once-upon-a-time of just 40 or 50 years ago banks wouldn’t lend money to women, indige­nous Aus­tralians weren’t al­lowed to vote and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was a crim­i­nal of­fence that could carry a jail sen­tence of 14 years.

As a na­tion formed on the backs of re­bel­lious con­victs, Aus­tralia was uniquely po­si­tioned to create a fairer and more demo­cratic so­ci­ety than that of Mother Eng­land but failed to do so, the au­thor tells his kids, un­til the ground­break­ing elec­tion of Gough Whit­lam in 1972.

Richard Glover is the au­thor of 12 books for adults, most re­cently the hi­lar­i­ous mem­oir Flesh Wounds. He is a weekly colum­nist for Fair­fax news­pa­pers and presents the com­edy pro­gram Thank God It’s Fri­day on ABC ra­dio.

It is the ra­dio gig that seems to have pro­vided Glover with fur­ther mo­ti­va­tion to write

The Land Be­fore Avo­cado: Jour­neys in a Lost Aus­tralia is a bit­ter­sweet let­ter to the re­cent past: many of his baby-boomer lis­ten­ers call in The Land Be­fore Avo­cado: Jour­neys in a Lost Aus­tralia By Richard Glover ABC Books, 288pp, $29.99 to wax lyri­cal about a time of date nights at drive-ins, live mu­sic in pubs and trans­ac­tions al­ways made in cash.

Sure, with­out the com­plex­i­ties of so­cial me­dia, sky­rock­et­ing house prices and the econ­omy of ca­sual em­ploy­ment, it was a sim­pler and less con­fus­ing time for some. But for oth­ers such as im­mi­grants, gays, women and indige­nous peo­ple it was an era of suf­fo­cat­ing xeno­pho­bia.

It was also a dan­ger­ous time to be a child. Par­ents were free to drink in pubs for hours while their off­spring were babysat in the back seat of the Holden by a packet of crisps and a pink le­mon­ade. Seat belts and breathal­y­sers didn’t ex­ist, so when Mum and Dad fi­nally rolled out of the ho­tel in­evitably there’d be a ver­tig­i­nous and white-knuck­led with no RBT to in­ter­vene.

Moth­ers chain-smoked while cook­ing din­ner, cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was meted out to trans­gress­ing schoolkids, and mis­be­hav­ing boys were rou­tinely hu­mil­i­ated by be­ing forced to dress in girls’ uniforms. Kids from im­mi­grant or indige­nous back­grounds had it even worse, the for­mer ha­rassed by An­glo schoolkids about their salami sand­wiches and greasy olives, the lat­ter be­ing banned from pub­lic swim­ming pools.

In the 60s it was il­le­gal for indige­nous adults to own prop­erty, buy al­co­hol or have sex with whites.

As Glover points out, how­ever, there were many pos­i­tive as­pects of mid-cen­tury Aus­tralia to be en­joyed by the main­stream pop­u­la­tion. In 1966, for ex­am­ple, 73 per cent of (white) house­holds owned their own homes and con­sumers de­ferred the in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion of credit cards, and their re­sul­tant and crip­pling in­ter­est rates, by pur­chas­ing items on “lay-by”.

The prover­bial sub­ur­ban back door could be left open, day and night, with­out fear of rag­ing drive home, ice ad­dicts or prowl­ing thieves. Restau­rants were un­apolo­get­i­cally max­i­mal­ist: floors were car­peted, chairs were up­hol­stered, walls were pa­pered, en­sur­ing an acous­ti­cally soft and invit­ing at­mos­phere, as op­posed to to­day’s white min­i­mal­ist eateries that look more like pri­vate hos­pi­tal wait­ing rooms with liquor li­cences.

Which brings us to Aus­tralia’s con­tem­po­rary ob­ses­sion: food. Mil­len­ni­als who thrill at In­sta­gram­ming plates of truf­fle-in­fused pork belly, salted grapes and kan­ga­roo tartare will be star­tled by the fact, in the 60s and 70s, restau­rants and home chefs alike were un­able to cook with sour cream, fresh herbs or olive oil be­cause such “for­eign” in­gre­di­ents were unavail­able.

Most housewives — in­clud­ing my own mother — kept an enamel bowl of an­i­mal lard near their stoves for cook­ing meat and eggs, which would be promptly re­turned to the bowl, post-fry­ing, to har­den un­til it was used once again. This re­cy­cling of the same lard could go on for years and, in the process, would col­lect and in­cor­po­rate into its gelati­nous mass flecks of an­cient ba­con and bac­te­rial gris­tle.

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