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Beam Me Back To That Place, Please

Beam Me Back To That Place, Please
February 26, 2024 Propertyology Head of Research and REIA Hall of Famer, Simon Pressley

March 10 commemorates the 65th anniversary of Australia’s population reaching the significant milestone of 10 million people.

Coincidentally, the nation’s population clicked over to 27 million just a few weeks ago, on 24 January 2024.

I find it very interesting to compare the current Australia to the 1950’s. The contrasting challenges, the opportunities, policies and the attitudes are thought provoking.

As an avid lover of Australian history, particularly through the lens of real estate, the 1950’s was a period made famous for having the single biggest influence in shaping Modern Australia, which it is now globally admired for.

There are approximately 4.4 million current Australians who were alive in 1959, the year that the population reached 10 million.

1959 is the year when rugby league legend, Wally Lewis, and actor Sigrid Thornton were born.

Richie Benaud was our test cricket captain in 1959. And Norm’s Smith’s Melbourne FC defeated Dick Reynold’s Essendon FC in the VFL grand final.

Sydney’s population back then (2.08 million) was just short of what Brisbane is now (2.6 million).

The nation’s northern capital, Townsville, was a quarter of its current 200,000 population. And the iconic central Victorian city of Bendigo had a population of 39,000 (today it is Australia’s 19th largest city, population 123,000).


A quick reflection

In the years leading up to Australia reaching the 10 million population milestone, World War 1 (1914-1918) rolled into the Great Depression (1930’s) and World War 2 (1939-45). It was three incredibly miserable decades.

At the end of WW2, there were serious concerns that tensions between the USA and Russia and in Korea could boil over into a third world war and that the Land Down Under might be obliterated.

Our enormous land mass was so sparsely populated that, for every person, there were 15-sheep and 93-rabbits.

So, Australia’s national security plan centred around a very important “Populate or Perish” policy.

Only 1 in 2 Australian households lived in their own home back then.

Most people couldn’t even allow themselves to dream of owning a home.

For those who had aspirations, the supply of credit was so scarce that banks generally only lent for new-builds, 30 percent upfront deposit (or equity through land ownership) was standard and loan funds were rationed to a maximum of £2,500 ($5,000) per household.

In the same year that sailing hero, John Bertrand, was born, and Orange NSW was officially proclaimed a city (1946), living standards in large parts of Australia were impoverish.

4 or 5 people crammed into a modest 2-bedroom cottage was ‘normal’.

Half of Australian families still did not own a car, a refrigerator or washing machine.

The rationing of many essential commodities such as petrol, butter and tea did not stop until circa 1950.

Trams existed, but the most common method of transport to work was bicycle and walking.

The national housing strategy throughout the 1940’s centred around using taxpayer funds to build more government-owned social housing for low-income families.

If anything, the 1940’s government regime actively downplayed the importance of people owning their home.

When the war ended in 1945, Federal Minister John Dedman extraordinarily said the government was “…not concerned with making workers into little capitalists.

It is little wonder that 50 percent of Australia’s 1.9 million households in 1945 were rented.


Change of attitude

The underlying drive for the incredible foundational development which occurred during the 1950’s was a very powerful human spirit coming out of 3-decades of despair.

A strong leader with a big dream successfully harnessed the prolonged adversity into a we-can-be-much-better-than-this driving force.

It is the same underdog spirit which Australia is still fondly regarded for today in the global sporting arena.

Instead of pity, blame and victim mentality, the nation became united to chase an important national (and personal) dream.

At the very heart of the powerful vision was the family home and longer-term financial independence.

Over the 15-years from the end of the war to the end of the 1950’s, living standards had improved significantly, Australia’s homeownership rate had soared from 50 to 70 percent, and the earlier impoverished country was globally admired.

The concept of homeownership was described by the government as a product of hard work: “Owning one’s home provided safety and security to the family.”

Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, referred to the home as an Englishman’s ‘castle’ (a philosophy played out 55-years later by the Kerrigan family in the iconic Australian movie, The Castle).


Vision and Core Values

Menzies was instrumental in selling an aspirational vision to Australians.

The Nation’s leader spoke of home ownership… representing independence… the ability to look after oneself… an accomplishment which provides the freedom to make independent choices… indicative of a healthy democracy.

The big-picture thinker and eloquent orator actively fostered a culture wherein the broader community set their sights on saving a deposit, buying (or building) a home, being proud of having their own piece of terra firma, diligently paying off their home loan and then enjoying retirement from about age 50.

Financial discipline (saving the deposit and repaying the loan ASAP) became a cornerstone behaviour.

Discretionary expenses were a secondary consideration.

In one of several famous addresses to the nation, Menzies said:

“The material home represents the concrete expression of the habits of frugality and saving ‘for a home of our own.’ Your advanced socialist may rave against private property even while he acquires it; but one of the best instincts in us is that which induces us to have one little piece of earth with a house and a garden which is ours; to which we can withdraw, in which we can be among our friends, into which no stranger may come against our will.”

My home is where my wife and children are. The instinct to be with them is the great instinct of civilized man; the instinct to give them a chance in life – to make them not leaners, but lifters – is a noble instinct.

If awards were given for the decade that boasted the most powerful vision, the strongest national unity and the most progress made by this country, it is my opinion that the 1950’s would win by a country mile.

The 1950’s decade fostered a culture of accomplishment and what you could do, as opposed to blaming others for what you did not have.

“To discourage ambition, to envy success, to hate achieved superiority, to distrust independent thought… these are the maladies [disease] of modern democracy,” said Menzies in his famous speech, ‘The Forgotten People’ [May 1942].

Menzies insisted that people were of equal worth, but that nevertheless the free action of individuals had to be allowed to play out, even if that produces unequal outcomes.

Housing solutions

In addition to acknowledging that the taxpayer purse could not sustain the expense of large-scale housing, the regime of the 1950’s wanted to inspire and empower the nation to pursue independence.

The Great Australian Dream.

Many established properties that were originally government-owned were progressively sold to tenants on a no deposit, instalment arrangement.

This was one initiative which helped increase homeownership rates while also addressing the challenge of governments not having sufficient capital to keep funding new homes, and the maintenance cost of existing homes.

Whether the first home, a home grade or investing in the provision of rental accommodation, realising housing dreams will always depend heavily on the availability of credit.

The government was proactive in helping financial institutions (particularly building societies) to have access to more capital for home lending, in actively encouraging Australians to save, and with credit policy innovation which reduced deposit hurdles.

The size (and quality) of homes also improved significantly – from poky, primitive cottages to spacious solid structures.

A bridge across the Derwent River created a pathway for significant residential development on Hobart’s easter shore during the 1950’s.

Development of new communities in Canberra were on the drawing board (Woden, Weston Creek, Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin).



Over the 10-years to 1959, our national security was improved through attracting 1.25 million overseas migrants to settle in Australia. The highest volume of emigrants came from United Kingdom (33 percent), Italy (16 percent) and Germany (13 percent).

Those migrants, along with approximately 1 million Australian soldiers that returned from war, needed homes.

The government was proactive by enhancing Australia’s alliance with the American powerhouse. It actively attracted foreign capital. And it initiated early stages of economic ties with various Asian countries, particularly Japan.

From the end of the war in 1945 to the end of the 1950’s, Australia’s housing stock boomed from 1.9 million to 3 million.

And this was achieved at a time when supply of skilled labour and construction materials were very tight.

In 1959, just as Aussie fashion icon, Maggie Tabberer began to take the world by storm, Darwin NT was declared a city with a population of 10,000 people.

During the 1950’s decade, the combined Australian capital city house value doubled, from $4,000 to $8,000.

In the late 1940’s, manufacturing and farming accounted for almost 50 percent of jobs across the country.

Australia has always been the world’s biggest playground full of rocks and crops (otherwise known as lead, gold, coal, wool, textiles, wheat, vegetables, diary and more).

Expanding the manufacturing and, to a lesser extent, agriculture and mining sectors provided large volumes of new jobs, enhanced our skill set and was instrumental in developing a Modern Australia.


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The conscious effort to encourage aspirational attitudes was directly reflected in more Australians becoming car owners.

To be able to supply the fast-rising demand, Ford and Holden completed major factory expansions (creating more jobs) in Geelong, Melbourne and Adelaide.

It seemed that everyone who wanted a job had one. The national unemployment rate hovered around 2 percent for many years.

Rapid advancements with human mobility were complimented by major investment in transport infrastructure.

And regional development took off.

Previously sleepy villages swiftly became exciting holiday spots, including the development of the Gold Coast QLD.


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The aspiration and positivity… oh, it snow-balled! There was an infectious energy.

Families were planning holidays like never before.

Via car, they’d explore amazing communities, coastal and inland, that they had never experienced before. The motel and caravan park trade took off.

It was the start of the Consumer Age – a new era of factory innovations resulting in the development of all sorts of kitchen appliances, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, stereo systems and lawnmowers.

The 1950’s was also the beginning of the packaged food evolution.

New retail chains opened up. Walton and HG Palmer became overnight household names.

Australia’s factory production blossomed from £489 million ($1 billion) at the start of the decade to £1843 million ($3.6 billion) at the end of the decade.


Major projects in 1950’s:

  • 1950: Snowy River Scheme, Australia’s biggest ever engineering project. Over a 25-year period, the project employed 100,000 workers (mostly new migrants from 30x European countries).
  • 1951: Townsville and Cairns were beneficiaries of major hospital openings
  • 1952: Melbourne to Adelaide express train
  • 1952: Pilbara WA discovery of the world’s largest reserve of iron ore
  • 1953: Brisbane’s development of a major university precinct at St Lucia was taking shape
  • 1954: Adelaide opened the Queen Elizabeth hospital, the state’s best heath care facility
  • 1956: Hobart airport opened, paving the way for a significant increase in Tasmania’s tourism trade
  • 1956: Australia’s first ever TV stations (Sydney and Melbourne)
  • 1956: Melbourne Olympic Games
  • 1958: Perth’s rapid growth led to retirement of its tram network, replaced by major investment in buses
  • 1958: Canberra, with a population of just 45,000, was planning the development of the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament House
  • 1958: Melbourne’s Monash University opened
  • 1959: Sydney Opera House construction commenced
  • 1959: the first ever Westfield shopping centre opened in Blacktown

Beam us back there, please.

The 15-year period ending 1959 produced this nation’s highest ever population growth rate (30 percent). Extraordinary.

But whether 10 million, 27 million or 50 million… the size of the population for such a large land mass is far from Australia’s biggest challenge.

The most important takeaway from this nostalgic turnback to the 1950’s is the sheer scale and diversity of great things that were achieved through sharing a great vision.

Fostering aspirational attitudes, supporting dream chasers and a free-market economy is what really enables the highest number of humans to realise their full potential.

On reflection, it is little wonder that Sir Robert Menzies is well and truly the longest serving Prime Minister in Australia’s history.

Modern Australia is largely a legacy of the 1950’s decade.

Unfortunately, throughout the last decade, Australia has (increasingly) lost its way.

The current 27 million people who call this country ‘home’ (and especially our so-called ‘leaders’) would be wise to channel the aspirational attitude from the 1950’s.


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