Music and entertainment
Entertainment in the 1950s
With a renewed economic optimism and willingness to spend, Australians in then 1950s could afford more entertainment products than ever before. Women were freed from time-consuming household tasks with the advent of many labour-saving home appliances and increased car ownership meant less travel time and more leisure time.
Radio in the 1950s
Prior to the introduction of television, radio was the most popular form of entertainment in Australia. In 1955, it was estimated that 97 percent of Australian households owned a radio set. Families gathered together in the evenings and listened to music shows, drama serials, light entertainment and quiz programmes.
When television began broadcasting into homes in 1956, however, radio stations were forced to alter their programming. It soon became clear that the medium of television was better suited to many kinds of programming and Australian audiences quickly turned to television for programmes like drama, quiz shows, and comedies. In turn, music, sport and news became the domain of radio.
Radio successfully weathered the staunch competition of television. By the end of the 1950s, new, convenient portable transistor radios made it possible for people to take their radios outdoors. Some cars even had radios installed.
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Cinema in the 1950s
Like all other entertainment mediums, cinema was greatly affected by the advent of television. Rather than going out for a night at the movies, many families stayed at home and watched television instead. As a result, cinema attendance declined markedly.
In an attempt to win back lost audiences, cinemas offered innovative new features. Technicolour, wide screens, stereo sound and 3D movies became common in theatres around Australia.
Despite the challenge posed by television, cinema remained the leisure activity of choice for people spending a night out. Drive-in cinemas became a popular way of watching movies in the 1950s. The first drive-in cinema in Australia opened in Melbourne in 1954 and within two years, another 23 had sprung up across Australia. The popularity of the drive-in can be attributed to the rapid increase in car ownership and the growing number of young families who found drive-ins a more convenient way to take small children to the cinema.
Films in the 1950s
Locally-made Australian films were in short supply throughout the 1950s and 1960s and this period is widely considered to be a low point in Australian film-making. A few Australian films were shown, notably The Glenrowan Affair (1951) and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959).
In 1955, Charles Chauvel's groundbreaking film Jedda was the first Australian movie to be released in colour. It also tackled controversial Indigenous/colonial themes and was the first Australian film to star Indigenous actors.
Throughout the 1950s, many film makers were unwilling to risk using little-known Australian actors. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, for example, cast overseas actors in each of its four lead roles.
Throughout the 1950s, most films screened in Australian cinemas were American or British, paving the way for foreign cultural influences to easily infiltrate Australian popular culture.
Television in the 1950s
Television was first introduced in Australia in September 1956, just in time for the Melbourne Olympics. Within a few short years it had become the nation's most popular form of entertainment. By 1959, it was estimated that over 50 percent of families in Sydney owned a television set.
In the early days of its release, television screened in grainy black and white and broadcasts were limited to just a few hours each night. As a result, television viewing was treated as a 'special event' and did not have the powerful sway over everyday lives and schedules that it would in later decades.
Early Australian television broadcast news, quiz programmes, movies, music programmes and sport. Many Australian-made programmes were essentially visual broadcasts of existing radio shows, or 'radio with pictures'. Many popular TV hosts, like Brian Henderson, were former radio presenters.
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A large proportion of television programmes were imported from overseas and Australians were exposed to foreign cultures like never before. American productions like Perry Mason and I Love Lucy soon became the nation's favourites.
One of the best-loved Australian programmes in the early days of television was the variety programme In Melbourne Tonight, which began its 12-year run in 1957. Hosted by local comedy-talents Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton, In Melbourne Tonight was one of the first popular programmes ever to feature Australian humour, rather than American or British. As a result, In Melbourne Tonight marked an important first step in the formation of Australia's national identity, providing a format for Australian actors, themes and humour to be played out in front of a national audience.
Opposition to television in the 1950s
While television was greeted with excitement by most Australians in the 1950s, a small proportion of society were opposed to it. Some people believed that television would allow Australia to become over-run by American culture, thus threatening the development of the Australian identity. Others believed that television content was superficial and unsophisticated and contained no educational or cultural benefits. Some people were concerned that television would encourage people to become passive and less active in the community.
Music in the 1950s
The release of the vinyl LP (Long Playing) record in the early 1950s made it possible for people to play continuous music for much longer than before. With this new technology came rock 'n' roll, an exciting new American musical style.
Rock 'n' roll swept onto Australian shores in 1955 with the release of Bill Haley's hit song Rock Around the Clock. Originating in America, this new style fused black American rhythm and blues music with the white-dominated country and western genre.
Rock 'n' roll was fast, rhythmic and exciting, and audiences loved it. Young Australians gathered in dance halls dressed in the latest rock 'n' roll fashions and performed dances like the jitterbug and the boogie-woogie.
Elvis Presley was known the world over as the king of rock 'n' roll. During the 1940s, singers like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra had been popular, but their fans were mostly young adults. Elvis Presley, however, tapped into the young teen market and thrilled audiences with his original style of music and hip-gyrating 'bad boy' image.
By the end of the decade, the airwaves were dominated by rock 'n' roll and Australian rock 'n' roll artists like Johnny O'Keefe and Col Joye were also achieving considerable chart success.
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Other entertainment in the 1950s
Comic books were extremely popular in the 1950s and American toys like hula hoops became all the rage. Swimming at beaches was a popular new pastime, as more people learned how to swim and surf, lifesavers began to patrol beaches and swimsuits adopted a more comfortable and practical design.
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