Remembering Australia as the Queen first knew it for her Diamond Jubilee
In an age without tweets, texts, TVs or transportable telephones, Australians relied on word of mouth to help spread the news of Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne 60 years ago.
IN AN age without tweets, texts, TVs or transportable telephones, Australians relied on word of mouth to help spread the news of Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne 60 years ago.
Radio stations broadcast the grave tidings of the death of her father, King George VI, but many of Australia’s 8.5 million people wouldn’t have been listening at the rather late hour of 9.30pm.
In big cities some cinemas flashed the momentous message across their screens, and promptly ended their programs.
But it was left to tram conductors and taxi drivers to spread the word, newspapers reported.
When the next day’s Sydney Morning Herald proclaimed “The King Is Dead” it could only have been referring to one man. A teenage Elvis Presley was still four years away from singing his first hit, Heartbreak Hotel, Graham Kennedy was five years away from his first TV broadcast and Wally Lewis hadn’t even been thought of.
Australia was an unimaginably different place when the Queen’s 60-year reign began in 1952.
It was a young, optimistic country with a post-war baby boom in full swing. Yet it was still unsure of its place in the world and geographically isolated, six weeks away from England by ship, with the advent of mass air travel yet to arrive.
Despite the end of World War II, Australia was still at war – in Korea, where more than 250 Aussies would die.
In the Queen’s first year as monarch Australia did something that would be unthinkable today – it allowed Britain to explode a nuclear bomb on its territory, in the Monte Bello Islands off WA.
And for those who doubt mankind’s climate impact, a four-day “pea souper” smog caused by coal fires and car fumes killed up to 12,000 people in London in Britain’s worst environmental disaster.
Robert Menzies was in the early years of his 17-year reign as prime minister, soon to get the chance to indulge his heartfelt love of royalty. The word “republic” would scarcely have been thought of, let alone uttered.
The big leaders on the world stage were Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao.
“Our Joan” Sutherland made her debut at Covent Garden and Frank Sedgman won Wimbledon.
At the Helsinki Olympics, Marjorie Jackson, the “Lithgow flash”, won gold medals in the 100m and 200m sprints.
Humphrey Bogart starred in The African Queen, and Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain.
Sydneysiders could have gone to the Esquire in George St to catch a B grade actor called Ronald Reagan in King’s Row.
In November of that year another unknown, Lang Hancock, discovered iron ore in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, a development which led this year to his daughter Gina Rinehart becoming the world’s richest woman.
The newspapers all carried cigarette ads and, by today’s standards, scores of politically incorrect employment notices seeking office “girls”.
They were also full of shipping news, wool prices, cookery tips, gossip pages and cartoons like The Potts.
You could buy a lounge suite for 30 pounds and, despite a housing shortage, a two bedroom brick bungalow at Ashfield in Sydney’s inner west, “with telephone and sewer”, for just 3,750 pounds.
That was less than the prime minister earned (4,900 pounds). You couldn’t do that now.
The world got its first roll-on deodorant in 1952 as well as its first KFC outlet, and the big thing in New York city was the first “Dont Walk” sign.
It took more than a year for the British empire to grieve for King George VI and to formally crown his daughter Elizabeth II in 1953.
A year after that she made the first of 16 visits to her far flung colony amid scenes of adulation bordering on hysteria.
Menzies, the prime minister of the day, was soon reciting love poetry to her.
The present incumbent doesn’t even need to curtsey. – AAP
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