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Introduction - The impact of changing technology on transport

In a country as vast as Australia, the development of an efficient, affordable transport system has been vital to the progress of the nation.

Transport systems provide jobs and allow the delivery of materials needed to build cities and towns. Transport also services the needs of the people who live in those towns - providing a means to deliver food and carrying citizens to work and social activities. In recent decades, transport has also become a major determinant (defining factor) of our quality of life, taking up many hours of our day. Transport systems also make trade possible and enable industries all over the country - from retail and tourism to mining and agriculture - to operate effectively.

In short, transport helps makes daily life possible.

Developments in Australia's transport technology, however, also have negative social consequences, like road deaths, overcrowding and aircraft noise. Hours spent in traffic congestion can have a considerable impact of people's quality of life and exhaust emissions can pose a major threat to public health.

New transport systems also throw up difficult challenges to maintaining a healthy environment. Many systems of transport are powered by fuels that pollute the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. The enormous rate of car ownership enables urban sprawl to creep further and further, resulting in habitat loss. Governments, companies and individuals must work hard to find solutions to these problems.

Technology has led to both the growth and decline of many different types of transport in Australia. In the following two chapters, we shall examine the major post-war transport developments. This chapter looks at the 1950s and 1960s.

Transport and the 1950s building boom

Transport in the 1950s was crucial to post-war reconstruction efforts. The baby boom and immigration influx had prompted a rapid expansion of Australian towns and cities and trains and automobiles were needed to transport people and building supplies to the new suburbs. Road trains, which are large trucks consisting of many trailers, were used to service areas lacking in rail transport.

The motor car

The first Australian-made car, the FX Holden, was manufactured in 1948. Initially, the Holden factory could only roll 10 cars off its production line per day, but by 1951 production had accelerated to 100 cars per day. In 1953, Holden released the FJ Holden. It cost 1,074 - the equivalent of 68 times the average weekly wage.

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By 1955, it was estimated that there were 1 850 000 cars in Australia.

The huge growth in car ownership changed the look of Australian suburbs. Houses were built with garages and carports, for example, and many new roads were built. Supermarkets were also built with car parks attached.

The motor car also changed the Australian way of life. Australians could now travel wherever they wanted, whenever they liked. People drove to the beach, to sporting fields and shops and could maintain friendships with people in far-away suburbs. The car also became a symbol of affluence for many families.

By the 1960s, the car had become an essential part of everyday life for many Australians. In 1963, around 35 percent of Australians owned a car.

Throughout the 1960s, the rate of road development increased to accommodate the increased numbers of cars. Australia's first freeway was completed in 1961 and many major state highways were sealed. In 1966, the final unsealed stretch of the Princes Highway was completed, allowing a fast, smooth, paved car journey all the way from Melbourne to Sydney.

A new type of car came into service in Australia in 1961 - the Mini. Up until this time, cars had been much bigger and used a comparatively high amount of petrol. The Mini was small, fast, easy to park, reasonably priced and well-suited to city life. It held particular appeal to young women, who had begun to establish themselves in the workforce and for the first time, had the financial means to buy their own cars.

Air travel: 1950s

Air travel was not a common form of transport in the early 1950s. Aircraft were powered by propellers and their cabins were un-pressurised. As a result, plane trips were bumpy and noisy and aircraft could not fly at very high altitudes. Aeroplane trips were also long, with frequent stops to refuel. In the late 1950s, however, Qantas purchased a new Boeing 707 jet-powered aircraft that could fly faster and carry more passengers. The new Boeing jets could also reach higher altitudes and fly above turbulent weather.

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In 1958, Qantas became the first airline in the world to introduce a regular round-the-world service. In 1959, Qantas also offered regular flights to America, London via New York and London via India.

Air travel: 1960s

By the 1960s, propeller-driven aircraft were less common in Australia, as jet aircraft dominated the skies. International and domestic air travel became cheaper and more comfortable and hours were continually being shaved off travel times. As a result, air travel posed a real threat to rail networks for travel between State capitals.

In the 1960s, more and more Australians began to travel internationally, particularly to America, Europe and Britain. This greater movement of people between Australia and the rest of the world had a significant impact on Australian cultural life. For the first time, people from all walks of Australian life began to gain first-hand experience of the cultures of other countries. As a result, ideas, fashions, trends and technology from overseas flowed more easily into Australian society.

Rail travel: 1950s - 1960s

During the 1950s, most Australians took long distance journeys by steam train. In 1950, however, diesel locomotive trains began running in Australia. They were much faster and cleaner than the old steam engines and could carry much greater loads. Diesel trains also eliminated the heavy rocking motion of steam trains, causing less wear-and-tear on rail tracks and providing a smoother ride for passengers.

In Sydney and Melbourne, electric trains had been operating since the 1920s. In 1964, the electric system was developed further when the world's first double-decker electric trains began operating in Sydney.

A national rail gauge

Throughout Australia's history, the development of a national rail system had been made difficult because some States had different railway gauges, or widths. This meant that freight trains had to stop at State borders, where their cargo was loaded onto another train.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, however, the government established a program of standardising railway gauges throughout the country. In 1962, railway lines between NSW and Victoria were standardised, making it possible to travel directly from Sydney to Melbourne. In 1969, Australia's east and west coasts were directly linked by the Indian Pacific rail line.

Sea travel: 1950s - 1960s

In 1950, nine out of ten migrants arrived in Australia by ship. By the end of the decade, however, more migrants were arriving on aeroplanes than by sea.

Historically, ships had been a common mode of transport for Australians travelling on holiday to Britain and Europe. A return voyage, however, required two months travel time. By the 1960s, air travel was offering a cheaper, faster method of travelling to and from Australia. In an effort to entice travellers back to sea travel, passenger ships offered luxury restaurants, lounges, cinemas and a smoother, more comfortable journey. The popularity of sea travel, however, would continue to decline.

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