Reading the newspaper from 1940… 79



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I found a few pages of ‘The Age’ yesterday – old pages, dated September 11th, 1940… What an eye opener!

The Invisible Man’, starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke was on at the ‘State’, there was a special showing of ‘Gone With The Wind’ at the Liberty, with prices ranging from 1/10 (one shilling and ten pence) for the morning showing, to 4/11 (four shillings and eleven pence) on a Saturday night. That’s about ten cents in the cheap seats, and fifty cents for the ‘posh’ Saturday night show, in ‘modern’ money!

An amazing number of films were ‘X’ rated in those days too, films which would surely be classified for general distribution now – I wonder if this was done simply to keep children out of the cinema, whatever the story being told, so that adults could enjoy the show without the interruption of shouts, jeers and things being thrown at the screen!

It’s interesting to read the names of so many famous artists too. Names like international stars Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor, Vincent Price and Merle Oberon. There are a few local names there too, like ‘Dad and Dave’ stars, Bert Bailey and Fred McDonald so the Australian cinema was obviously alive and well even then.

Apart from the movies, dancing was obviously very popular in 1940, with numerous venues advertising their Halls. You could be part of the ‘gay happy crowd’ any night at the ‘Palais Royale’ (imagine advertising that these days!) while ‘Leggetts’ announced a Springtime Festival with dancing until 1:00am for a charge of one shilling and seven and a half pence, including refreshments, tax, etc. Bear in mind too, that the Second World War in Europe, had already been going on for almost exactly one year, though apparently life in Australia had not been affected too much as yet.

The classified section of the paper makes very interesting reading too, with a billiards table being offered for twelve pounds (twenty four dollars) a three-piece suite for twenty pounds and a Hoffman piano for sale at nineteen pounds, or two shillings and sixpence a week. I’m not sure if the second sum means hire-purchase or rental, the ad doesn’t say. The ‘Great Southern Hotel’, in Spencer Street, Melbourne has double rooms available at seven shillings a night, while you could rent a fully self-contained flat in Daylesford for just one pound a week!

Reading down to the real estate section, I find a new house in Oakleigh, with five rooms, garage, hot water system, blinds and electrical fittings complete, all for the price of one thousand and seventy five pounds, that’s two thousand, one hundred and fifty dollars! A fifty-nine foot by one hundred and twenty foot plot in Brighton would set you back eight pounds per foot; eighteen and a half acres in Sunshine, with planning permission – two hundred and fifty pounds per acre; and twin solid brick (detached) villas in Hawthorne, each with eight rooms, garage and full electric services would cost you one thousand, eight hundred and fifty pounds the lot!

It all looks so silly, by today’s standards and prices, doesn’t it. That last item alone – you could pay more than that for a good push-bike today, and the price of a hotel room wouldn’t even get you a bottle of wine now.

Of course, the image is actually false, because I don’t suppose the average man was earning more than about ten dollars a week at that time, (in our money), in fact, if you relate costs to the time a man has to work to pay for anything, rather than the actual cash value, the experts say virtually everything is cheaper now than it was then.

The scary bit is, all the figures listed above are well within my lifetime, if not yours – what a difference a few years can make, when inflation is switched on!

What is your earliest memory? Have you ever read or received a paper printed from your birth date or an earlier time in your life? Tell us in the comments below… 

Brian Lee

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