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Was Life Better in Adelaide in the 1950s?

Just recently I came across a newspaper article (from a website called “Johnny’s Pages”), which was written and published in the early 90s. It posed the question; “Was life better in Adelaide in the 50s”?

It got me thinking about the way we live today, how hectic and complicated life can be with all the new technology and the different pressures we face in these modern times, so let’s ask the question today in 2014…..Was life better in Adelaide in the 50s?

The writer of the original article, who was not named, had written the piece as a tribute to his Uncle Bill who had just died at the age of 91. Most of us probably had an uncle just like Bill, a true gentleman, courteous, kind, old fashioned, a little sad and perhaps a little weary.

Uncle Bill had lived when times were simple and the values that were held were different, values that many younger people of today would not recognise but which a baby boomer may well remember. Like Uncle Bill most of our parents, aunts and uncles had lived through a depression and a world war and those two events shaped their lives, opinions and those values which they tried hard to instil in us, their children.

Uncle Bill had been married for 45 years to the same woman, Auntie Phil, who died in the 80s. He then lived alone for the rest of his life. The most important issues for him were, doing the right thing for his wife, for his neighbours, the Empire and King (later Queen), the Liberal Government, for rural industries, he was concerned about Communism, remained staunchly faithful to his religion and always displayed impeccable manners. A living museum from a different era.

Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street in the early 1950s

Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street in the early 1950s

When Uncle Bill and Aunty Phil went to town (the city) they travelled on public transport, he always wore a hat and she would be dressed in her Sunday best, including hat and gloves. They would have lunch at Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street, shop at John Martins, he bought his trousers at Fletcher Jones and drank Southwark Bitter, all banking was done at the Savings Bank of South Australia and any meagre savings were carefully invested in the Adelaide Steamship Company. They drank Woodroffe’s Lemonade and ate Amscol Ice Cream.

He attended the Anzac march every year and played two-up with his mates, went to Johnnies Christmas Pageant, swam at Glenelg beach during an Adelaide summer, remembered the great heatwave of 1939 and drank at the South Australian Hotel on North Terrace.

He and Aunty Phil lived in a simple two bedroom house in Lockleys, sadly, never had any children, knew all their neighbours but never socialised with them, went to church every Sunday, became members of the Good Neighbour’s Council, spoke to people with respect and accepted their place in the society in which they lived.

He was not street smart but was generous, courteous, good humoured and loved a good laugh, provided it wasn’t at the expense of someone else. He also believed the world was a happier place in the 50s

Ken Taylor sent me this photo his father took showing Adelaide skyline in 1958

Often on the Adelaide Remember When FB page or blog people will make the comment, “bring back the good old days”.

Remember the 50s also had its dark moments. There was the cold war, a polio epidemic, medicine was not as advanced and many died in circumstances that would not exist today. Safety standards weren’t enforced, women were not given the same opportunities and racial discrimination was accepted as the norm.

Certainly the 50s were a more innocent time, people seemed to be in less of a hurry and have a lot more time and actually spoke to each other. There was respect but it was also far more restrictive and there was less freedom than what we demand of our society today.

But what do you think, was life better in Adelaide in the 1950s?


10 Responses to Was Life Better in Adelaide in the 1950s?

  1. Steve Kiely November 14, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Does anyone remember the wonder medicine of the years gone by it was called Zac
    think it ceased to be somewhere during the 1980s i think it was around for a big part
    of the 1900s it came in a screw top medicine bottle
    may have been called Zac Cough Medicine ???

  2. Des November 14, 2014 at 8:07 pm #


  3. Marie November 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    I was not born in the 50s but this was a wonderful piece ~ if only we could see that this way of life ~ it’s values and what they stand for is so lacking in our society today. We chase our tales searching for the contentment this couple had ~ in simple and moderate living ~ not taking more than they give and accepting life as it is.

  4. Ralph Brew November 14, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    Clearly for many it was a simpler time with less expectations and demands and complications than now, but also more strictures and ways to make other people’s choices very limited. We had enforced institutionalisation of people with disabilities, wives and mothers often stuck at home for years and isolated, homosexuality was both criminalised and a mental illness, there was virtually no contraception and condoms were hard to get, single women had their babies routinely removed and adopted out, fewer women were in academia and racism was rampant. Innocent? Hardly. Perhaps ignorant? I am the youngest child of a large family and my mother is 94,. So whilst I am 51 and don’t quite qualify as a baby boomer, and never saw the 1950s, I grew up with cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents of the era described in the article above. Impeccable manners and a strong ethic of careful economy, reusing and recycling everything where possible. I thought my own post 50 time would be like their’s, a low key semi retirement with vegetable gardening, fruit preserving, community activity, craftwork, chooks, cooking and swimming in the sea as normal pass-times. But it’s a far cry. Lemonade, chocolate and icecream were treats, not an endless parade of glossy wrappers and plastic bottles filled with coloured sodas. Bobo Cordial was totally artificial but a small bottle made a week’s worth of drink, into which you would probably have squeezed some lemon or orange juice anyway, without the piles of refuse plastic now routinely left lying around everywhere. Alcohol was occasional or rare. TV was not about. Radio was where you learned stuff. If people worked near home they often came home for lunch and maybe a short siesta. I miss Saturday mornings; shops closed at 11.30, so it meant people got up early and socialised in the shops, street or the post office before the rest of the weekend. Sundays were quiet with community events the focus. People being together or just resting, never shopping. I miss the slower pace even though I never lived in the 1950s..

  5. Geoff Wilson November 14, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

    Absolutely. I arrived in Adelaide from England with my parents as an 11-year-old in December 1957. Despite being often parodied for my “Pommie” accent, Aussie kids soon accepted me – partly because I was a pretty good cricketer! My parents, who went through the Depression and then suffered WWII, especially the Blitz in London, migrated for the benefit of my brother and myself – and I hope we did them proud. As you say, they were more innocent times. Talking frequently with my compatriots about those days, we are unanimous the post-war era was a time of more genteel attitudes, significant courtesy and far less societal violence (“it was the crystal meth wot made me do it, Your Honour). Can people remember the times you went to the back door when you visited and called out “cooee”? If nobody answered, you went in the unlocked flyscreen door and took the basket of home-grown apricots or other fruit left for you. Great days.

  6. LG November 15, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    Life was OK in the 50s on the condition that you stayed within the boundaries of society, whose rules were very explicit and well understood by most.
    Those who were ‘well-bred’ did not produce daughters who became pregnant out of wedlock, and who would do almost anything to prevent such shame happening to the family. Such a girl would be summarily ostracized and sent interstate, either to have an abortion or to give birth and then be forced to give the baby up for adoption. Girls generally fell into two categories: those who ‘played around’ and those who didn’t. But as for marriage, which was understood to be a lifetime commitment, a prospective groom belonging to the ‘upper class’ would never consider marrying the former.
    Many well respected families also had other dark secrets, such as pedophile fathers whose victims – often their own daughters – were groomed to keep ‘their little secret.’
    Prior to the discovery of penicillin, deaths occurred from illnesses such as peritonitis caused by a burst appendix.
    Racial prejudice amongst rural communities was universal, the fear being that their farms would one day be given back to Aboriginal people. This distrust still lingers with many.
    All of these things occurred in my own family.


  7. Helen Loveridge (nee Wingate July 1, 2015 at 11:42 am #

    I was born in Mile End, lived in Torrensville and went the Thebarton School from kindergarten to Hight School. After leaving school I worked with accountants in the city. Every Saturday night my girlfriend and I went to Burnside Town to the very popular dance, always crowded and one had to be there early. After playing tennis all afternoon coming home to catch public transport to the other side of town was always a rush. Summer saw me with a very sunburnt face as I attend these dances. Life was casual. Christmas with carols at Elder Park by the beautiful Rotunda. I married in 1960 then in 1966 my husband and I with a 2 year old daughter left for Sydney. My husband had been transferred for work. This was a big change in this era! We returned regularly when then there was a 2nd child a boy to visit the grandparents and other family members occasionally catching up with old friends, always wonderful. I recently returned for a visit to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday and had great joy driving past the renovated Adelaide oval, the Rotunda had been repainted, it is still a wonderful city, lovely scenery, the Adelaide Hills and the beautiful Southern Beaches. My husband was unable to travel because of immobility, the children are grown up of course and their families range from 17 – 23 a different life totally. I am glad to have found this website and my love of history can be relived. Helen Loveridge (nee Wingate)

  8. Karl Horvat May 7, 2022 at 8:34 am #

    What I liked about those times was the sense of space. We’ve lost that over the decades. I lived in Campbelltown as a child, and there were still market gardens around Paradise. Some street were still unpaved. Nice green lawns in peoples front yards, and we played in the streets. A lot of the old houses are gone now, and they have been replaced by 3 or 4 townhouses with no yards.

  9. Steve Wray November 28, 2022 at 12:32 pm #

    The lemonade company was Woodroof’s. Their lemonade was colorless and excellent, and no nasty artificial sweeteners back in those days.

  10. Jessie Polson November 18, 2023 at 3:37 pm #

    I was born in the nineteen fifties. To a homosexual Dad, and an abandoning Mum. We live in a condemned terrace house in SE Adelaide.
    It was great.
    Wheelbarrow loads of wood off cuts from the demotion company across the road to heat the house and cook dinner ( no gas or electricity for 2 years because we could not afford it). Veggie garden. Fruit trees. Chooks.
    Tram to the beach.
    Sleeping on the balcony when it was hot.
    Central market on Friday nights.
    Walking to the State Library, visiting the Museum and Art Gallery. Playing ‘Pooh Sticks’ in the Botanic Gardens.
    Onkaparinga Blankets.
    Later the State Cinema. And Metro, East, Regent and that wonderful cinema at the end of Semaphore Rd.
    Drive In with the Morris Major. Ice Skating in Hindley Street, the Buttery at John Martin’s, 50c worth of fuel at Eagle on the Hill.
    Kappy’s, The Beatles, Her Majesty’s, Fiddler on the Roof, The City Baths, Mary Martin’s, The Banana Room.
    Fishing off the warf at Outer Harbour, Little Red Hens, conductors on the buses and the trains and the trams. Black and White Cabs. Driving round to see the Christmas lights. The Museum of Economic Botany.
    Cycling without a helmet.
    School milk, after services breakfast at St John’s, policemen without guns.
    And almost all of it free.

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