As a Sydney-sider born and bred I have more than a token soft spot for the harbour city, even after the modernisation has has robbed it of so much of its charm. My super sister-in-law, Joan, spotted a classic film from 1966 on life in Sydney, part of a series called Life in Australia. Without having tried to research the series yet, it strikes me as being aimed at potential immigrants. Those were still the days Australia almost begged for immigrants, even going to the lengths for some time of paying Britons to come over – the “ten-pound Pom“. Now, of course, the payments flow in the other direction… though I suspect the nation might consider paying Britons to leave now!
Being a child of 1968, I missed a good deal of what is shown in the film, but not all by any means. For example, the various vehicles of public transport lingered on into my teen years, not least the “red rattler” trains which first came into service in the 1960s. The style of life portrayed we might envy now, even taking into account the rose-tinted glasses the viewer is made to look through. Shown as normal are going to church on Sunday is included, and families all together in the lounge room on a Sunday night, the eldest daughter’s boyfriend included… how times have changed.
Barry Humphries, in what may well be one of his most brilliant works, produced a 4-part series in the late 1990s, entitled Flashbacks, which is a social history of Australia, from the 1950s to the 1980s. He uses his characters (Dame Edna, Sir Les Patterson, Sandy Stone) as “eyewitnesses” being interviewed for the documentary. Humphries is not afraid to take the mick out of his homeland, but it is clear that even as he satirises the nation’s relatively provincial mindset back then, still he regrets what Australia lost as it desperately tried to modernise, socially and culturally, and feel more a part of the big wide world. The process destroyed many of the very things that gave Australia its attraction and charm: architecture is one area that Humphries focuses on; national innocence is another. It is available on DVD, thank heavens!
Anyhow, if you have 20 minutes to spare, do watch. I defy you not to be charmed. Probably Sydney was better back then. In fact, I suspect Sydney really rocked in the 1960s!