Author Talk with Noeline Brown
Living in the 60's
Talks / Lecture
The sixties: a decade of safari suits and droopy moustaches? Living the 1960s guides you through the landscapes of 1960s Australia, from the smoke-filled bars and cafes to the pastel lounge rooms and boardrooms.
*Speakers: Susan Hall (S), David Kilby (D), Hugh Mckay (H), Noeline Brown (N)
*Location: National Library of Australia
S: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I am Susan Hall, the publisher at NLA Publishing. As we begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. I thank their Elders past and present for caring for this land that we are now privileged to call home.
I'm very pleased that you've joined us tonight to hear from Noeline Brown as she talks about her new book, Living in the 1960s, proudly published by NLA Publishing. We were delighted when Noeline agreed to write this book for us.
The 1960s were a significant decade for the National Library. The National Library, ACT, formerly establishing the library, was enacted in the first year of the decade and in 1968 this beautiful building was first opened to the public. It will be celebrating it's 50th birthday next year and our exhibition, 1968 Changing Times, will open in March as part of those celebrations.
Not surprisingly, the National Library holds an astounding and diverse collection of material relating to this period, from music and fashion to politics and protests and Noeline's book tells a story of the decade through these items. It's hard to believe that Noeline Brown has been gracing the nation's screens, stages and airwaves since 1959. She appeared in much loved shows including the Mavis Bramston show, the Naked Vicar show and Graham Kennedy's Blankety Blanks.
The Mavis Bramston show was synonymous with the 1960s, premiering in 1964. It demonstrated both that it was possible to make satirical TV comedy in Australia featuring Australian issues and characters and it would find a significant audience. As the first Australian produced TV comedy series, it became a national success with both critics and viewers. Mavis is therefore considered a milestone in the development of Australian TV. Who better to write Living in the 1960s than one of the stars of the show, Noeline Brown. Joining Noeline in conversation this evening is Hugh Mackay, researcher and author of 16 books, 10 of these in the field of social psychology and ethics, and six novels, the most recent of which is a novel Selling the Dream.
But before we hear from Noeline and Hugh, I would like to introduce David Kilby. Long time listeners of ABC Radio Canberra will know David well as he presented the weekend breakfast and afternoon shifts on radio for many years. He is well known as a music aficionado and trivia king and his interest in the lesser travelled tracks of Australian popular music result in the radio national program, Rare Collections in collaboration with his son, Geordie Kilby. Please join me in welcoming David Kilby as he introduces Living the 1960s.
D: Thanks very much, Susan, for that introduction. I can hardly wait to hear what I've got to say. But Susan asked me one of the ingredients in this terrific book of Living in the '60s is a section on music, music in the '60s because it was really an important decade for that. Now for my sins, I'm an associate member of ARROWS. ARROWS stands for Australian Rock and Roll Old Wankers Society and it's a group of performers who were in the business prior to 1962. And they meet every three months in Sydney and up at the Gold Coast and we have lunch and talk about old times. But meeting so many of those performers has given me a really first hand idea of what it was like in the pioneering era of the '50s as a park ball rock 'n' roll singer. Rock 'n' roll of course emerging in the mid-'50s. and people like Johnny O'Keefe, Johnny Devon and Col Joye, Dig Richards, Alan Dale, The Delltones, all those, I mean they really forge what was to become the pop scene in the '60s.
It was harder then because they had - the recording studios were pretty primitive, the producers were old school, they longed for times past, they couldn't handle rock 'n' roll. The instruments, some of the pop stars of the time in the '50s made their own instruments. Col Joye did, he made his own guitar from watching Rock Around the Clock. That sort of thing, when on it was hard to buy equipment and the sound of course was pretty primitive. The recording studios were primitive. So they were pioneering times. But changed in the '60s. It changed dramatically and there's not been - if you think about the decades in music, there's not been a decade since that had so many different genres of music, if you like. Look, I'll a couple of minutes to just go through them with you.
The thing with the '50s artists and the '60s artists and the '70 artists in Australia, is that they came through at the ground level. In the early days it was the dancers, there were dancers several nights a week and they'd be a thousand people attending these dances. And of course they started off on a primitive fashion but as they kept doing gigs they got better and better. And of course then TV came to fruition and you had shows like Bandstand which pretty much ruled the waves as far as pop music was concerned at the end of the '50s and into the '60s and of course others like Six O'clock Rock and the Johnny O'Keefe Show and others followed on.
But the new decade brought new equipment. You could buy decent instruments. They had hip, younger producers producing the records and the confidence was gained in the '60s. Confidence to have records released by Australian artists overseas, almost not unheard of but not common earlier on the '60s saw that Virgin. And also led the '60s artists trying and having the confidence to tackle the overseas markets. We'd always suffered from the cultural cringe and thought no we're not good - and we weren't either in those early pop days. The records were pretty terrible when you listen to them now. But they got a lot better in the '60s.
Writing became important too, but artists started to write their own materials. I think it was Timothy Leery who said, you can always pick up your needle and move to another groove. And so that's what happened in the '60s, it moved to a lot of different grooves. At the start, as I said, Bandstand was a major player and it was also the rise - instrument in the rise - I think bands now, I think it would be fair to say that the rise of the female singer as well. Male dominated in the '50s the rock 'n' roll scene, in the '60s lesser because you had people like Little Pattie, Noeleen Batley, Laurel Lea, Olivia Newton-John, of course, Dinah Lee, Judy Cannon, Pattie [inaudible 8:14], Diana Tresk, they all became stars on TV and on the circuit.
And early on in the '60s we had the Folk revival with people like Gary Shearston and John Dengate, Judy Small. Noeline will remember a lot of these names, even though she was a musical snob. The Seekers, of course, and co-existing with that folk, was also the healthy Jazz scene. Remember there was a bit of a Jazz revival and also the ordinary Jazz with people like Don Burrows and Judy Bailey, Johnny Sangster and both Folk and Jazz had TV shows devoted to that form of music. And alongside of that was country which also had its own TV shows with people like Reg Lindsay and of course Slim Dusty.
So from those early days then, we moved to the pop star stage of people like Normie Rowe and Johnny Farnham, who started off doing an airline commercial, I think was his first actual recording. Normie Rowe was enormous, you had the influence of the Beetles coming through then and a lot of Australian groups who wanted to be Beetles. Groups like the Rajahs, groups like the Easybeats, groups like the Sakatas. There were so many of them. Masters Apprentices, the Twilights, all had that Beetles sound and we went through that for several years. Remember Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds which - yeah, every aspiring group wanted to win the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds. It started off being sponsored by Everybody's, the magazine and the Crickets won the first year, not Buddy Holly's Crickets, an Australian group called the Crickets. Who remembers them? But the next wins, I think, were the Twilights won the first of the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds and anyone who came up through the '60s will probably remember how important that was.
We had the sounds that got a little bit heavier, probably as a result of the drug culture and sounds got a little heavier towards the end and various Australian groups - oh the Loved Ones, I forgot to mention them too, what a fabulous group they were. And a lot of these came out of Jazz. Certainly the Loved Ones came out of the Jazz scene and a lot of the earlier players behind the lead singers and so on and the pop stars had a Jazz background. So they moved into pop as they saw, well that was the way you were going to earn a quid.
And so towards the end of the '60s, we had that heavier sound, singles became longer. I started to tune out then. I had a brain that only could follow a song for two minutes 30, three minutes saw me out and I've never really changed, you know. I remember James Valentine saying as soon as there's a chord change, time to finish the song and I couldn't agree more. So there's a pencil sketch of the way music happened in the '60s. And with all that - all those scenes and more, I don't think it's repeated. If you look at the 2000s and look at how many different styles of music is given popular airtime I don’t think you'll come near that number. So it was a really important era as far as music was concerned.
Now if somebody asked me who should write a satirical novel about advertising, someone with inside knowledge, someone who could write well, was extremely clever and amusing, I'd say see if Hugh Mackay was available. Now that - not my words, those words were spoken by another famous Australian who was also able to write well and was very clever and amusing, no person less than John Clarke of Dawe fame. And I've no doubt that the National Library's own publisher and author, Susan Hall, had not dissimilar thoughts when she was considering who she should ask to compile a book about aspects of life in Australia in the '60s, someone with inside knowledge, someone who actually lived through that period, someone who could write well and was extremely clever and amusing and gorgeous - sorry, Hugh, she must have thought, I wonder if Noeline Brown is available. And aren't we lucky to have both of them here this evening to engage in conversation about this cool, fab, far out book, Living in the '60s. Of course for people like me it brings back so many memories and not a few forgets.
One of the best things about the book, apart from the cover, the pictures, the presentation, the scope and the script is - hang on, what's left, well the fact that Noeline was there. It's quite subtle in the book, as you will find out. She doesn't put herself forward all the time, she's done the job, the research thoroughly, wrote the script then had the pictures mashed up from the National Library here from the fabulous collection here to match up, but she - in an non‑intrusive way, you know she was there and nothing gripes me more than people who write about the pastimes who weren't there. It really annoys me, particularly about music, of course, which is a passion of mine and you think, no, they weren't there. It wasn't like that at all. They've Googled something and had regurgitated somebody else's but that's not true with this book. She met Jimmy Carruthers, the famous boxer and also drank at his fruit juice store in George Street, I think it was, wasn't it Noeline, that you did when - in his afterlife as - in the health food. She met Germaine Greer in Melbourne at the Dean's restaurant and had memories of her, it's hard to get your head around this, isn't it, as Germaine Greer in an early uni review dressed as a tube of toothpaste. I mean, Google insides like that. The fact that Noeline tried marijuana and inhaled. And family, her family lunch on Sundays. A lot of us will remember Sunday lunches were really important for families. And guess what she had I her family, she had lamb roast, gravy, mint with the peas, crunchy potatoes and scorched pumpkin, possibly followed by apple pie. Dad had a beer, mum may treat herself to a shandy after she'd done all the serving. And then afterwards it would be the family were to get together and do the washing up, complete with the flicking of the tea towels, which a lot of us remember. In fact, in our family we started off with a dishwasher when our kids were young and then we got rid of the dishwasher because we wanted the kids to know what it was like to have to wash and wipe up and to flick one another with tea towels. And when I read that in the book I thought, oh God, that's right, we did too.
For clothes we learn that Noeline owned - this is worse than my shoes, she had a safari suit. I didn't know women had safari suits, I thought they were a male thing. And a little pair of black satin shorts, and a floor length cardy over the top. All right, that was the look. So there was all these little - there's a whole stack of them, these little insights and you know, well Noeline was really there.
Now just to finish off, I think the book provides a tremendous introduction to a decade. It intimated in so many ways things that were to come. I say an introduction because as I read it, I constantly found myself consulting Google to find out more about things that Noeline talks about or eludes to. For instance, I had no idea Mick Jagger's mother was born in Sydney and - yeah and lived in Petersham which was only a stone's throw really from where Noeline grew up. And as soon as I read that I thought, stone me, and so I hit Google and read Chris Jagger, Mick's brother, account of the family life as they - it's well worth reading actually, Chris Jagger's report because it almost brings a tear to your eye.
And when I read about Sigrid Thornton's mum chaining herself to the bar at the regatta pub up in Brisbane protesting against women not being allowed in the public bar, I sort of remembered that but once again I went to the internet and read up about that again. In fact only two years ago - 50 years since it happened in 2015, I think - 50 years she went back to the pub and had a beer in the bar at the same time the blokes said don't drink too much. And what is she now, she's the adjunct associate professor of historical and philosophical inquiry, so what an amazing person. So curious mind it's an excellent kick starter or it's equally useful as a source in itself for the wide range of life that it depicts in the era; politics, arts, music, fashion, family life, our town and women in sport. So with those few words, I hope, I will - I was going to bring a little bottle of champagne and smash it over the floor but I thought, that's cheating then I thought I'm cheating, I could do that but I didn't. So I thoroughly recommend the book, you'll thoroughly enjoy it and you'll thoroughly enjoy Hugh Mackay and Noeline Brown as they have a conversation about it and get your questions ready afterwards. So Noeline and Hugh, welcome.
H: Thank you.
N: Thank you for that.
N: Can I just ask my husband, have I got enough light, darling? Where is he? Because he'll be the first to just say, move into the light. Thank you.
H: I'll stay in the shadows, I think. Thank you very much, David, for that wonderfully entertaining introduction to our conversation and let me endorse - first of all let me congratulate you on the book.
H: And endorse what David has said about it. It's an absolute goldmine. If you were there it's a fascinating journey down that lane of memories and if you weren't there, you'll scarcely believe what it was like for those who were. I read the book on the train going to Sydney so if you're taking that trip that's pretty much exactly how long it takes to read the book.
N: There and back.
H: And the - sorry?
N: There and back.
H: No, well I -
N: Oh, you're a fast reader.
H: Yes. But the conductor was checking the tickets as I began reading the book, not far out of Canberra, and he saw the title and he said, oh, Living in the '60s, what a great title, it was better back then, I reckon. Well, we're going to talk about whether it really was better back then. And one of the - it certainly was different.
N: It was different.
H: Whatever else you want to say about the '60s it was very different from now. And here's one significant point of difference that may not dawn on people until you start talking about it and that's the role of the phone.
N: Oh the phone. Now, in the '60s we didn't have a phone, Hugh. Our family lived without one, there was a booth up the street, up the top of Douglas Street and you could go up there and make a phone call.
H: With your two pennies.
N: With two pennies, that's right.
H: [inaudible 21:22].
N: Absolutely. That's cheap, isn't it.
N: But we did get the phone around about the beginning of the '60s and it had a whole piece of furniture to itself. It lived in the hall and there was a piece of furniture that was shaped like that and the phone was on that side of - you could sit, the phone was there, phone book and a shelf underneath. So the phone was - it was such a wonderful thing, we'd just pop in and have a look at it from time to time. Sometimes it even rang. And the woman next door didn't have the phone on so we would tap on the wall if somebody had a message for her and we'd bring her in to use the phone because she was a woman living on her own and we didn't like her to go up to the phone box in the dark.
H: Well our experience was almost the same. We acquired a phone, our neighbours on both sides did not have a phone and they would come in and - they would bring their -
H: - two pennies -
N: Oh, two pennies. You could have charged more.
H: - to pay for the call. It was a little neighbourhood ritual -
H: - using the phone of the person who was lucky enough to have a phone. Well now, of course, not only has every home got a phone, but pretty well every pocket has got a phone.
N: Well home phones are practically non-existent.
H: Almost gone, yes.
N: That's right, but of course there was a time in the '60s where the phone not only changed shape, it used to be the phone that sat on the table but the headpiece went over the top. Then they had all of these amazing looking 21st century looking phones that were shaped like that and then they had an earpiece on the top of them, they were very space like, and they were all -
H: Yes, a form of sculpture.
N: They were and they were in very many different colours, but not only that, the phone went into the kitchen on the wall. That was really posh, if you had a phone in the kitchen.
N: So the phone was a very important thing for dating as well because the phone in the hall that we had, my brothers conducted all their relationships on the phone. They'd lie on the ground with their legs upon the wall and they'd talk to their girlfriends for hours. I was always quick on the phone. Yes I'll be there soon. That was it.
H: No, well if I wanted to talk to my girlfriend on the phone I used to go to the phone box at the end of the street.
N: What was that, Hugh.
H: Well why do you think? <Laughter> The phone was in a very public place, any word uttered on the phone was heard by the entire household.
N: Yes. No, we were lucky, you should have had a hall <laughter>.
H: Yes. No such luxury. Well that's phones. Protests, it was a great decade of protests, the '60s.
N: Well it was a decade of change and protest. I think the protesting probably happened towards the end of the '60s when there were things to protest against.
H: Most particularly the Vietnam War, of course.
N: Vietnam. Of course that was so, but don't forget that at that time the baby boomers were coming of age, they were the students who - and they had a voice because there were so many of them, almost 50 percent of the population was under 25 or whatever. So the boomers changed the '60s, in my view. And at the end they protested against all sorts of important things, some of them frivolous but a lot of them important and certainly Vietnam was a biggy and I was part of that protest movement.
But they also protested against racism and they took that student bus that went west of New South Wales to Moree and towns like that. They showed just the problems that Aboriginal people had in places like Moree where the children were not allowed to use - black children were not allowed to use the local swimming pool. And Charlie Perkins of course led that bus trip and they just stayed there until the mayor said well all right, you can swim. But also on that tour, there was a truck that tried to run the bus off the road, not at Moree but another town, so it was really a difficult time. So the protests that was really worth something, but there was some fun in the protests as well. When certain badges were printed, one that I loved when - to protest against young people being conscripted was draught beer, not students.
H: Yes. The thing that I either had forgotten or never knew, was that during the height of all the Vietnam protests, LBJ, the American president, came to Australia and you should tell us about the slogan that was devised by the local politicians to mark that visit.
N: Oh yes. There was some fantastic slogans because we all know that we cringed a bit with the - all the way with LBJ and I might tell you one story that you might have missed. There were placards with the people protesting because LBJs wife was called Ladybird and one of the placards said, all the way with LBJ and the next one said, drop a turd on Ladybird <laughter>. But - sorry, Hugh, what - tell me again.
H: It was the politicians -
N: Oh yes.
N: Yes, because they wanted to make Sydney nice for LBJs tour. There was a group, of management committee, to devise various signage and so on to welcome LBJ. So the brief was, make Sydney gay for LBJ <laughter>. And of course the procession was going up Oxford Street.
H: Well of course it was the decade of decimal currency and we acquired the dollar.
N: Decimal currency. Oh yes. Oh it was - there were people who used to ring up radio announces and say, can't they wait until all the old people are dead. But if you ever hear a dollar bill singing that song it's actually Ross Higgins and Kev Golsby doing those voices and I worked with them in the Naked Vicar show of course.
H: Yes, there was huge national debate about what the unit of the currency would be called.
N: Absolutely right, and there were -
H: Robert Menzies of course wanted it to be called The Royal.
N: The Royal, as he would, he was British to his bootstraps, as he said. But he loved The Royals. And there were other people who said, you could call it the Ming after Robert, of course, Mingus. And I forget, there were a few others and I think you're going to remind me.
H: Well one was the Austral.
N: And why didn't they call it the Austral?
H: Well they decided - they tried it out and in fact Austral was very popular, Austral instead of dollar until people realised if someone said, how much is it, and you'd say oh it's an Austral <laughter>, it wouldn't have sounded so good.
Now television didn't arrive in Australia in the '60s, it arrived in 1956, of course, but it was still very new in the '60s and people made appointments to go in to their neighbour's place to watch particular shows, the family would gather with the program guide out, watching their favourite programs by appointment. There was no accidental viewing in the '60s.
N: No, well I think that was on television before we got a television set -
N: - into our house.
N: I think my brother was still at school and my parents were afraid that it would take too much of his time when he should be doing his homework. So when I lived at home we didn't have it, I left home in 1962 to a flat at Kings Cross and that's when I first started in television, but Kings Cross wasn't like it is now. It was a lovely old European village in those days.
N: But television was something that only a few people had at that end of the '50s. It became popular because, as you say, people would line up outside the stores and some people would take a chair [inaudible 30:13] and watch it from outside the store. So in 1962 it was very - it was black and white, hard to believe, and it was pretty - we made it up as went along but most of the shows we saw were either English or American. And 1962 and thereabouts it started to change. Change before that with people like Graham Kennedy being the wonderful - in Melbourne tonight, but it didn't really - in those days it wasn't Australia-wide, each state chose what programs they wanted to put on. So Graham really didn't make it big in Australia, really until he made Blankety Blanks, but so we were really making it up as we went along.
The Mavis Branston show was supposed to be a satirical take on Australia politics and hard hitting, and it started off to be that in the early days, and it was supposed to be about a woman called Mavis Branston and she didn't exist, it was supposed to be because Australia had this chip on its shoulder -
H: The cultural cringe.
N: The cultural cringe, we always had to have someone from overseas to head the shows so they'd say the writers decided we'd have a really bad performer from overseas to head the show, she wouldn't be able to sing, dance, tell a joke or anything else, and her name would be Mavis Branston. And I went to a party where they were launching the show, which had Carol Ray, Barry Creyton and Gordon Chater in it. I went along as Barry Creyton's handbag. So at the party they discussed the woman, Mavis Branston, and her failings and how they were going to deal with it, in and out the first show, and they said, but we don't know who's going to play Mavis. And then they all looked at me, and I said, oh what, thank you very much. And they said, oh we're not talking about your lack of abilities, you're very new to the business, nobody knows you, we'll disguise you and then you can do the first show and then just go back to your normal life because we're going to flick Mavis after the first show.
Well that's not what happened, of course, Mavis stayed in the show, but not with me because I decided I didn't want to do commercials, I wanted to go to London and prove myself as an actor. So that's what I did but the reason she was called Mavis Branston, I spoke to the head writer about it and this is my story, other people have got different ones. He said, well, I was on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney and this airhostess was rude to me and her name was Mavis Branston. So it was a writer getting his own back.
H: But it was the beginning of your sparkling television career.
N: It was, I didn't know what to do, Hugh, when I - I had to do a song and dance. First of all there was an interview like we're doing now and I could do that because that was an actor's job. Then I was supposed to sing really really badly. Now I can sing really really badly, having played Florence Foster-Jenkins in the last couple of years, but I didn't want to sing badly but I had to for the character. Anyway it's really quite amusing, so I did that. But I didn't know which camera to look at and they said, if a light's on look at it, so - like a rabbit in the headlights.
H: Yes. Well television, phones, cars. Again, it's hard to imagine now, particularly if you're in Sydney sitting in a traffic jam, it's hard to imagine that there was a time when you could cross the road quite easily in Sydney because there were so few cars. And really mass car ownership only happened in the '60s.
N: It did.
H: It begin in the '50s but it really did change the Australian way of life.
N: I was watching a bit of footage about - it was actually ASIO footage of actors going to Canberra, going to Parliament House, Old Parliament House picketing for more Australian content on television, that's how - we're still doing, all those years ago. And there was a convoy of cars coming from Sydney and they all looked ancient and I was talking about them to my husband and he said why were they such old cars and I said, they were so expensive, these cars were probably from the '40s and they would have kept them forever. But then in the '60s there was more money, everyone was employed and then of course we had our own Holden.
H: Holden, yes.
N: Yes, so the Holden came off the assembly line and people really took to it, Holdens and of course the Fords, there was a bit of an argument which certainly came out in a show that my husband, Tony Settler did, the Kingswood Country Show, which people might remember. But yes, car ownership, they became very big American cars instead of the rather squat English cars and of course that changed a lot of things, Hugh, because people could go in those cars to the drive-ins.
H: Yes, the drive-ins.
N: And it's probably the reason everyone got married so early <laughter>. But people would go to the drive-in in their pyjamas and they'd watch the movies and sometimes have to put the windscreen wipers on if there was a locusts plague, and I'm sure everyone in this room would have driven away from - with the speaker in the car, yeah.
N: But yes it did change everything, I think especially for dating, groups of young people going out and snogging in those cars. War must have worrying for their parents.
H: Yes and there's been no real replacement for that, unfortunately.
N: It used to be the gas box in my mother's day <laughter>. Sit on the gas box.
H: Well it did make the drive-in possible. Of course it also made motels possible.
N: It did.
H: Motels arrived in the '60s.
N: It did and of course before motels people would have had to stay in not particularly great - this is in suburbs and so on, not particularly great hotels.
H: Hotels, yes.
N: There were some quite posh ones in Sydney but in the suburbs around it, but when the motel came, with a swimming pool, with television, it was black and white, of course, in the beginning. Sometimes heating.
H: And your own bathroom.
N: Heating, your own bathroom and the little hole where your breakfast came in. Fantastic. So we all loved the motel. And of course that was another thing where people could go and pretend they were married, I suppose.
N: Yes, because we're talking about a time when the pill became available.
N: And I'm sure there are a lot of people signing in a Mr and Mrs, who weren't really but I think, Hugh, that's one of the big things that happened in the '60s, was the pill came in quite early and it was front page of the newspapers. The pill, capital T capital P, as if it was going to be the end of the world, men were going to be irrelevant and women were going to all turn into nymphomaniacs and all sorts of terrible things were happening.
When in fact what happened was people were in charge of their own sexuality, they decided when they were going to have their children, how many they were going to have, if a wife could continue working, it made everything so much better for everybody. And I as a young person, I might have inhaled as well but as a young person I went on the pill before marriage, shockingly, but I thought this was a really good idea. I didn't speak to my mother about it, I spoke to my girlfriend, Gwenda, and we both went along to the doctor and said, we're going to get married and it's true, we were, not necessarily immediately. We got the pill, we had to make sure that the religion of the doctor would allow this, so he wrote the prescriptions for us and then we had to go to some suburb a long way away where no-one knew us to get the prescription written down. But before that, it was really difficult for a married couple, you'd either had abstinence or the rather catchy rhythm method, which wasn't really making love to music.
H: No, nor was it really a contraceptive method.
N: It wasn't at all, no.
N: So it did change everything and it was probably - women weren't allowed to keep their jobs at the beginning of the '60s if they worked as a teacher, for example.
H: Public service. Anything in the public service, yes.
N: That's right. They would have to resign once they married. So the pill probably changed that and women were eventually allowed to keep their jobs. At one stage they could keep their jobs but they would lose all their benefits, holiday pay and so on.
H: Yes, that's right. It's only the '60s -
N: It is.
H: - not that long ago.
N: It isn't.
H: And for woman - if a married woman wanted to travel overseas in the '60s, she had to get her husband's permission.
N: She did indeed.
H: But if a married man wanted to travel overseas -
N: He could go anytime.
H: - he did not have to get his wife's permission, yes.
H: But the advent of the pill, as you say, it did change a lot of features of Australian life, but of course primarily the birth rate. At the beginning of the '60s we had a birth rate of 3.5 babies per woman.
H: Today we have a birth rate of 1.7 -
H: - babies per woman. We get little blips every now and then and people say, oh it's a baby boom, well it's not a baby boom.
H: That was a baby boom, which ended in 1961 or begin to taper off in 1961. But I think then with the advent of the pill, no-one could have foreseen what a dramatic effect that would have on the birth rate and on the liberation of women more broadly than just sexually and in the end on our patterns of marriage and divorce. I think that was the catalyst for absolutely fundamental social change.
N: Well I also think the '70s changed the divorce rate as well, because you had that no guilt -
H: Yes, the new Marriage Act, that's right.
N: - because in the '60s and '50s, people had to be - had to arrange to be caught in one of those motels with a -
H: Being photographed by a private investigator.
N: Being photographed, and sometimes those photographs would appear on the front of a terrible newspaper called The Truth, do you remember that?
N: So it was really really difficult.
N: People had to stay married and they didn't want to and it was miserable.
H: Yes. Oh yeah, that's right. By the way, when I hear people talking about today as the post-truth era, I always think back to the Truth newspaper. That was the post-truth <laughter> back then. We should say a word about politics while we're talking about the changes to the Marriage Act. We're used to a revolving door of prime minsters. The '60s on a much smaller scale but was a bit like that, we did have some nasty accidents involving prime minsters.
N: We did. We had Robert Menzies for a long, long time. At one stage I thought, oh Robert Menzies has been prime minister for my entire life. And when I was 21 I voted for the first time, hoping that I might get rid of Robert Menzies. I know he may have still a few fans, there are a lot of people say - who mightn't have voted for him but they'd all say he has such a nice speaking voice. But anyway he decided he'd been in too long too and I think he realised he wasn't as popular as before.
N: So he decided to resign and then of course we got Harold Holt who was quite a larrikin which we didn't really know.
H: I think flamboyant is probably the polite word.
N: He was flamboyant. We didn't know until after his death and how we could lose a prime minister is remarkable, isn't it. I mean, look in America, if he'd gone swimming there would have been thousands of people with him. He wasn't alone, it is a remarkable thing that he actually did disappear and there are all sorts of rumours that he committed suicide, one that was taken by the Chinese -
H: The Chinese submarine.
N: - submarine.
N: And later on when his wife, Zara, was interviewed about this, she said oh don't be ridiculous, he didn't even like Chinese food <laughter>.
H: Yeah, but it is remarkable, as you say. To lose a prime minister is fairly remarkable.
H: And it was the '60s of course where the tasteless, a particular municipal council, fickly tasteless municipal council in Victoria named the municipal pool the Harold Holt swimming pool.
N: They did, they did <laughter>. I think it might still be called that.
H: Yes. Well he was replaced by John Gorton, of course.
N: He was.
H: The only prime minister in our history to have voted himself out of office.
N: Himself out, that's right. He was also a flamboyant character, of course.
N: And had a relationship with his assistant which was, again, put him under a cloud which may have been one of the reasons he voted himself out. But I do remember, he got into a bit of strife because he was a bit like an emperor. I think he was - he ruled it a bit like an emperor.
N: And he didn't really consult and that's why he was unpopular.
H: But no-one ever said politics was boring -
N: It wasn't boring, no.
H: - in the '60s, no.
N: And at least we hung onto them for a bit longer.
H: There wasn't the same sense of despair or disillusionment that there is now.
N: I also think there was a - people looked up to their leaders and they just went along with what the leaders - I think that's the difference. I think they led.
H: Well now it's almost time for the audience to have a say, but before we surrender to the audience - fashion, we haven't said anything about fashion. You've made some extreme level - there are wonderful fashion shops in the book, including some of Noeline, but you've made a really interesting point that in the '60s we really saw the beginning of androgyny in fashion, perhaps led by blue denim jeans or flares.
N: At the end of the '60s - the beginning of the '60s we all dressed like characters from Mad Men, the series, beautiful skinny skirts, pencil skirts, cardigans, twin sets, high heels. We'd run for the bus in our high heels, we'd go to town in gloves and matching bags and shoes and all of that stuff. And girdles, we had to wear girdles, whether we needed them or not. I've had to explain to people what steppings and roll-ons and things were because they've no idea. I said, well if you don't know what they are, have a look at the football players because they all wear them under their shorts these days. So the corset makers are still making a living, evidently. But fashion changed so much, Hugh, from those early days to the end of the '60s when we just let it all hang out.
N: No more girdles, we'd thrown them away, we'd had the shift, we'd had Shrimpton that -
H: The male observer discovered by the end of the '60s for the first time that women had two buttocks.
H: The girdle had kept this disguised for all that.
N: And now, of course, you can buy a buttock or a couple of buttocks if you're a bit flat there, they're available.
N: Anyway, at the end of a decade people were heavily into denim, as you say, but tie‑dying their own stuff and living off the smell of an oily rag and wearing it as well. Big shoes, not a lot of leather because I think we're - a lot of us were vegetarian then.
N: And we didn't like to harm animals. All our furs had to disappear. Of course, who'd have a fur. But there were lots of floppy hats, flairs. As you say, denim and double denim and love beads and men and women look the same. So I often say men could get into your pants.
H: Yes <laughter>. Well it certainly was a decade that changed Australia. You could pick on any decade and say how significant it was. The '70s was significant in a lot of different ways, but perhaps the '60s uniquely, really did change Australia. It certainly changed you and it changed me. The whole research business exploded in the 1960s so I feel enormous affection for the decade and it was a great pleasure to be taken back courtesy of your book.
N: Thank you for sharing it with me, Hugh,
H: Thank you, Noeline.
D: And the book's just as entertaining as that, even more so perhaps. So, and of course it will be available in the foyer afterwards with Noeline doing the signing. Are you going to sign it too, Hugh?
H: No, I'm not going to sign this book, but I notice they've got some of my books in there.
D: How strange you should mention that.
H: And I'm not allowed to - It's Noeline's night.
D: Look, as Hugh said, it's over to you now. If anyone would like to ask a question please raise your hand and we'll organise for a microphone to be placed near you. Any questions of Noeline or Hugh?
N: They're always shy.
D: They are, aren't they.
N: Too shy. There's one.
A: What were your experiences like with public transport when you were going [inaudible 49:15-49:22 break in recording].
N: Yes I've got - I think I've got a bit in my book. I wrote a lot of stuff that got cut. So we used to catch the train, of course, and change at Albury. But I was lucky enough to be one of early people to fly. As a young kid I went flying, I really lik-e that. I was lucky in that respect. But as - we were talking about cars and I - our family never owned a car, like the phone. I had a bike and I used to walk everywhere, and the fitness I think that comes from all those years of walking and I'm talking walking miles and miles, kilometres. But I would depend on a male friend to drive me. Sometimes they drove you places you didn't want to go.
H: Yes, but the train thing was interesting. Changing the train between Sydney and Melbourne, changing the train at Albury, that all changed during the '60s of course with the single gauge track -
N: That's right.
H: - and the launch of the Southern Aurora -
H: - which was our most sensational tram.
N: It was, sleeping overnight. Nice.
H: Yeah, wonderful.
N: I like a bit of train travel, like you.
H: Absolutely. Yes?
A: The book is about living in the Cross in the '60s, it wasn't - sorry, it wasn't sleazy, was it, it was a village, it was beautiful.
N: The Cross in the '60s was absolutely delightful. In the early part of the '60s it was - when it was first - of course, when the first - the Cross was first inhabited by white people, quite wealthy people built houses there, beautiful houses. And a lot of those big beautiful houses were turned into rooming houses in the '50s. So a lot of artistic people went there to live and they'd live there and a room with a gas ring and live very modestly.
But in the '60s they'd moved on a bit from that and there were small apartments, but mostly the people who lived around where I lived in Kings Cross, Potts Point area, were elderly European people who lived quietly and just went from shop to shop to buy their delicatessen items. Now that's the first time I met a shop called a delicatessen, it was in the '60s and you'd buy - you'd go to your fishmonger, fruit and veg, it was just like a little village. And people looked after each other. There were of course a few ladies of the night once the hotels came in, probably the Hilton attracted them, and they would look after you as well. It was a lovely place to live. The only time I ever had a difficult moment was when somebody broke into my apartment which was on the ground floor, but that was during the R&R period where Kings Cross changed forever.
H: The American servicemen.
N: Yes, that's right. But I do remember it well. We were talking about music, when the Beetles came and they wanted to go to the Hilton and stay in the Hilton. Management said oh no, we can't have the Beetles here, all our other patrons will be disrupted. So they put them in the hotel across the road from there, which wasn't nearly as flash but of course all the people went to the Hilton to have a look at the hotel across the road. So they were all - it didn't work.
H: I have to say, my experience of Kings Cross in the early '60s was that's where I worked, the ABC at that time -
N: Yes of course.
H: - had offices in 23 buildings around Sydney and the audience research department was located in a space on top of the Woolworths supermarket -
N: I know it well, yeah.
H: - in Kings Cross.
H: So it was a very ordinary kind of place to -
N: It was, with proper shops.
H: - live and work. That's right.
D: Well, we've a few minutes left. Any other questions? Yes?
A: I am a high school principal and there is a lot of talk about disconnectedness with adolescents these days, technology, privacy, depression, those kinds of things. What do you think the '60s offers adolescents today were they to look back at that time and what might they see then that maybe they don't have now?
N: I think the family unit was probably tighter in those days. I think we were brought up quite strictly and yet we were allowed our freedom so it was, for instance, very - my parents supported everything that I wanted to do. But we still had to live by their rules and we'd been brought up with those. So I don't know if - I don't have children so I can't say how kids are brought up today. And you as a high school principal would know more about that than I do but all I can say is, in the '60s we knew that we had to behave.
H: Mmm. Yes, can I just add a comment to that.
H: I think the information technology revolution - a combination of the information technology revolution and the sustained high divorce rate means that the current crop of adolescents actually having a much - mentally, emotionally, they're having a much tougher life than the kids of the '60s had. Partly, as Noeline said, because families were much more stable than they are now. Ten percent of marriages ended in divorce in the '60s, between 35 and 40 percent of contemporary marriages will end in divorce. So a lot of kids are part of the fallout from that. But the information technology revolution, the great paradox of the contemporary world, that appears to be connecting us but is actually making it easier than ever to stay apart, means a lot of these kids, though they're online all the time, are actually very lonely, very isolated. The fact that we're talking about an epidemic of depression among adolescent Australians is something that in the '60s if someone had said that's what it's going to be like in the 21st century, we couldn't have imagined a society like that and yet it's the central reality of contemporary Australia.
A: Just making a comment -
D: Sorry, just hang on because Sharon's on her way. Thanks.
A: Looking back on it now, it seems to be a decade when there was all of sudden a much greater opportunities for women opening up in areas like your own success, for example. Just as a woman going back into industry and things like that at that time, I'd like you to comment on whether the '60s was the start of a much greater opportunity for women to - in so many areas of life.
N: Of course it was a time of greater opportunities for women because at the beginning of the decade most women and men married very young. Their expectations were marriage, children and then grandchildren.
H: Can I just inject a statistic there?
H: Twenty-five percent of women in the '60s were married by the age of 20.
N: Yes, that's right.
H: Tell that to today's 20 year old women and they turn white with fright.
N: Well that's right because a 20 year old now, I mean, it's - they're babies now because they live at home until they're 42 <laughter>.
H: That's right.
N: It's certainly changed everything. There are photographs in this book about - of young couples going to the alter and they look like babies, absolute babies. And you think - this is why I said the pill was such a game changer, because that's a very long time to stay married to somebody. And if a couple were in love and they wanted to marry, the wanted to have a relationship - a proper relationship, they didn't actually have to get married and they didn't have to start so young, they'd have time to prepare, time to think about a career and time to think about saving for the quarter acre block or whatever they wanted to build their house on. So I think it was more than just sexual liberation, it was many other liberations.
H: It was the decade in which Betty Friedan's book, the Feminine Mystique, was published and that was an absolute mind-blowing read -
H: - for women who were trapped at home, bored out of their minds, living on APC -
N: Yes, of course.
H: - powders and Vincent's and so on to try and relieve this vague -
N: Absolute boredom.
H: - sense that something was wrong with their lives, vague headache, vague lassitude. Suddenly the idea that a woman is a person too -
N: Yes, with a life of her own.
H: - is entitled to have her own life, her own identity, et cetera. That really, in Australia, only became a mass movement in the '60s.
N: It did and that's probably towards the end of the '60s as well. So it isn't all that long ago.
H: No, it's not.
N: And the sky hasn't fallen in. Mind you, it's still a glass ceiling.
H: I know. Yes your book reminds us that the very first female bank teller appeared in the 1960s too.
N: Yes that's right, a woman obviously couldn't handle money.
N: But during my research I was astonished to find that bank tellers, I don't know if this lady bank teller had to do it. You had to go to shooting practice because there was a gun underneath. Imagine if they had started shooting, oh <laughter>.
D: But we might have time for just one - oh yes, way up the back. Thanks Susan. Last question.
A: Thanks for your talk. I certainly wasn't there but it looks like it was great fun. I'm interested in what you think the influence of the cold war and the spectre of the bomb and the tide of communism coming down as you might have had a little impact on the day-to-day life in the '60s, if at all.
N: I only heard a bit of the question. We're talking about the cold war?
N: Well of course that was Menzies' favourite thing, wasn't it, the reds under the beds and commos and whatever. And that was - the funny thing about that demonstration in 1956 that I was talking about, that the actors going to Parliament House were all accused, the reason ASIO was taking a film of them, they were all accused of being communists because the communist party supported their bid for more Australian content. That was enough. There was an ASIO mole planted in the ABC. I was working at Channel 2, working for the ABC in a show called Would You Believe. And after the show we used to go to the 729 Club which was the three television stations, Seven, Two and Nine before Channel 10. And two men came in while we were having a drink after the show with the cast and crew and they were wearing suits, possibly hats, which was most unusual in that club at that time. And one of them called me over, I must have been buying a drink or something and said, is that Frank Hardy with you? And I said, yes, Frank Hardy's in the show with me. And they said, oh, can you tell us about Frank Hardy? And I said, well, he's in the show with us, and he's a writer and he's written this and he's written that. What they were trying - there were two ASIO operatives and they were trying to find out what I knew about Frank Hardy because he was accused of being a communist and at one stage he possibly was, I'm not sure. But because of that we were all - Russians under the beds everywhere in those days, it was a fascinating time,
H: Yes, can I just add a comment to that. I think Noeline mentioned earlier the swathe cut through Australian society by the baby boomers, which is very true, they changed everything and they're still changing everything. Our attitudes to the elderly are rapidly changing under the influence of the reds.
N: Because we're the elderly.
H: That's right. But the - I think the central feature of the baby boomers which has been so influential on them and therefore on the rest of us, is the dual influence of the cold war that you've reminded us about, they lived permanently with the possibility of nuclear annihilation. MAD, M-A-D, Mutually Assured Destruction, this was the buzz word. That was in the - lodged in the psyche of the baby boom generation and it coexisted with this extraordinary explosion in material prosperity in the '50s and '60s. So this was the - they were living in a paradox. On the one hand we've got this escalator carrying us upwards into endless prosperity and material comfort and so on, one the other hand we could all be blown to smithereens in the nuclear holocaust at any minute. So as a generation they become generationally impatient. Partly why they were marrying so young, et cetera, but also why they were in a rush to do everything. Their generational catch cry was, we're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time. And that's still characteristic. They've become - Paul Keating had to invent compulsory superannuation because baby boomers refused to save because buried in their brain somewhere was this thought -
N: We won't be here forever.
H: - we'll all be history.
N: I guess we've all got -
D: Can I just add a - sorry.
N: We’ve all got it again now with Mr Trump <laughter>.
H: Yes, well -
D: I was just about to say that, but I - that in view of Mr Trump and North Korea, I dug out a record the other day and it's called when the bomb falls. And it came out at the end - in 1959 but it comes complete with a booklet of instructions as to what you should do. It's a real hoot to read. Two booklets inside. I don't know what you were supposed to do when the bomb was falling. You'd race to your record player, put the record on and give it a quick listen so you knew what to do, but it really is a - it's a hoot. So that sort of thing ties in really well. Look, unfortunately we've - we're on a time limit so I'll invite Susan back to the microphone.
S: Thank you. Thank you, David, and thank you Hugh and Noeline for a fascinating discussion and I'd like to extend my personal thanks to Noeline for writing the book for us because she is such a delightful author to work with, thank you very much. So unfortunately we've run out of time but I hope you can join us for refreshments upstairs and Noeline's kindly agreed to sign copies of the book which is available at a 10 percent discount tonight. And I just have a little bit of 1960s trivia for you to conclude the evening. 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. And to celebrate this, the Library's going to be hosting a special event on Saturday the 28th of October, examining the creating of the book and the legacy it has left for future generations and we're going to have a dramatised reading, so I do hope you can join us. And a final thank you to all of you for coming along this evening and we look forward to seeing you upstairs in the foyer. Thank you.
End of recording