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