Life in the glorious fifties 0



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I don’t know about you, but I like to remember life in the fifties sometimes. A time when everything moved at a slower pace and we didn’t rush around eating fast food all the time, as so many of us appear to do now. In fact true ‘fast food’ hadn’t been invented yet, apart from a couple of  ‘old school’ exceptions as you’ll see below!


When I was in my late teens I remember that olive oil was something kept in the medicine cabinet for the relief of blocked ear canals. My mother considered it ‘much too oily’ to use in cooking – she did all her’s with home-made beef dripping or lard. She wouldn’t have dreamt of adding spices to a meal, they were something slightly weird they used in the middle east to embalm dead bodies, not to eat!

Bananas and oranges were fruit that was bought, at considerable expense, for consumption at Christmas time, as was chicken. And turkey wasn’t seen in our household at all, even during the festive season, only rich people, most of them in America, ate turkey. Sunday roast during the rest of the year, (there was always a roast on Sundays), usually contained either beef, lamb or occasionally pork and included any three combinations of  potatoes, peas, carrots and cabbage – Mum wouldn’t dream of serving up a meal with four vegetables in it, it was always meat and three veg.

The only crisps available in those days, (sometimes known as ‘chips’ here in Australia), were made by Smith’s and they came in only one flavour, what we would now know as ‘plain’. They also contained, inside the pack, a little sachet of salt so that you could add your own, to taste, or leave it out altogether. Crisps were about the only ‘fast food’ available in the fifties, apart from the ubiquitous fish and chips, which had to be wrapped in old newspaper or else it wouldn’t taste right.

As for having a savoury meal served with rice! Well, whoever heard of such a silly thing; rice was something you cooked with milk and sugar to serve as pudding after the meal. By the way, you’ll notice the final dish was called ‘pudding’, nobody had thought of the word ‘dessert’ in those days.

Microwaves, mini ovens, toasters, liquidizers and food processors had either not been invented yet, except in science fiction, or were much too expensive for the ordinary household, as were electric irons, electric kettles and dish-washing machines. Even a refrigerator was something not found in many homes. I remember my mother kept food fresh by storing it in a small wooden cabinet with wire mesh on all four sides, over which she draped a damp towel so that it cooled the air inside by the simple use of evaporation.

Milk was purchased from the dairy up the road. The milkman, who also owned the business, had the milk delivered to him in large milk-churns and he then ladled it, by hand, into bottles which he capped with special cardboard discs. If Mum ever ran out of milk, (normally delivered to our doorstep every day), she could send me up to his place with sixpence in my hand, and he would fill a bottle for me, on the spot! Leaving the bottle to stand for a while resulted in the top third turning to glorious cream that my mother could skim off for separate use, if she wished.

No one would have recognised seaweed as a food, nor would they know what you meant if you mentioned ‘kebab’, ‘chicken korma’, ‘egg foo yung’, ‘sushi’ or ‘barbecue’. Add to these, such concepts as ‘boil-in-the-bag’ or ‘oven chips’ or ‘croissants’, and you have some idea of the simple lives we used to live in the fifties.

I wonder sometimes if we are any better off today, with all the technology, things pre-prepared and even pre-cooked for us. But we seem to have little or no knowledge of the basics of living, which stood us in good stead just after the war.

Brian Lee

  1. I was born in Melbourne in 1952, I remember much of the ’50s and ’60s. One standout was the advent of sliced, packaged bread. ‘Gawth’s New Bread’ was the first I remember, it came in a horrible wax paper wrap, and tasted soapy. I drank gallons of Rivella, the Swedish favourite drink, then it dissappeared. Now almost 50 years later, I still get a taste for it. Mint Patties were huge, and MacRobertson’s Chocolates were a staple diet, along with the newly released Cheese Twisties, which were a lot cheesier than they are now, also the packet was a darker red. For 2 bob you could but a family feed of Fish’n’Chips, and I sold papers on the corner, held in a leather strap over my shoulder. One Saturday arvo a drunk wanted the Herald and the Sporting Globe, handed me 20 pounds …I rushed home and told dad !!

    1 REPLY
    • Yes Janine, as I said in my article, an enormous amount of change has taken place during the past fifty years! I think I’d go so far as to say it’s the greatest period of change EVER. As you can no doubt tell from my article, I was brought up originally in England, so a lot of the products you mention aren’t familiar to me, but I’m sure the same things were happening here as in the UK. I wonder what will happen in the NEXT fifty years – exciting isn’t it, I only wish I could live long enough to experience it! Thank you for your comments.

  2. I was born in 1942 so the 50s were my teenage years and I remember Penny’s in Queen Street Brisbane used to have these Ham and Chicken Pasties I don’t know what was in them but the outside was a brown crummy type of coating, they were delicious, Iwould go back to those days they were great, we have gained in technology but I think we have lost a lot more than we have gained.

  3. sent my comment re Brian Lee’s a article, to ‘starts at 60’ …. please pass it on to Brian. thanks.

  4. I was born in England in the early 40’s. Your article took me down memory lane, I can relate to every word that you have written. As the song goes, Thanks for the memories.

  5. I realise that this is meant to be feel good piece but it is as well to remember that John Howard’s glorious fifties meant domestic violence unpunished, babies taken from young mothers, a sectarian divide especially in country towns, no support for many of the helpless in society and what amounted to a class divide where tertiary education was concerned, etc. etc. Also no Internet yikes!

  6. I was born and raised in the 50s and 60s on the site where Indooroopilly Shoppingtown stands today. Looking back and remembering growing up in that little community of those few suburban blocks, now mostly high rise apartments, seems like I came from another planet.
    Mum was home, and everything from bread and milk to the drycleaning was delivered to the back door. We kids roamed the streets and back yards from daylight to dusk, creating our own adventures inspired by the Saturday afternoon cowboy and indian pictures at the Eldorado. I never really got my head around how the goodies always rode white horses and the baddys wore black.
    Those were the days of the dunny man (cripes he’s coming and I don’t have time to finish), and I blame him for my toileting problems.
    I’ve written a memoir about my Indooroopilly early days. It’s pretty boring and needs some scandal to liven it up a bit, but can’t come up with anything. Life was very ordinary.

    1 REPLY
    • Hey Desley, My family lived right where indooroopilly was too – right on the corner where the Westpac is… do you remember the Philbricks?

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