Imagining the Fifties: Private Sentiment and Political Culture in Menzies' Australia

By John Murphy | Go to book overview

2
Manhood

In focusing on how manhood, womanhood and sexuality were discussed in the post-war years, it is worth first recollecting the echoes of the war. Over half a million men had been in the armed forces, and some 40,000 had been killed, while the same number returned injured or ill. Legacies of loss and grief, of damaged men and the women who shared or suffered the consequences, echoed through the immediate post-war years. In her memoirs Ruth Park described the war as 'the Time without Fathers', and sketched her neighbours in Petersham, a family that included a troubled four-year-old boy who played at pyromania. Social workers assured the family he would settle once his father returned from the war, but the father came back as 'a skeleton yellow of skin, with a face like a Gothic effigy'. A gaunt prisoner of war, he came home to encounter a new baby fathered by someone else. Expressionless, he never spoke, and spent his days lying in the backyard on a long chair. He was, I think, a dead man, aged twenty-eight. Before very long he disappeared from our view, perhaps to hospital or the grave.'2

Recovering after the war included recovering manhood and, while it was not often such a Gothic experience, hopes of happiness in the private realm involved finding peace, and it involved men and women adjusting to each other. In historian John Barrett's survey of male veterans, many recalled the difficulties of readjustment to civilian life. Some claimed it took seven to ten years 'to really return to civilian life'. Some never recovered, broken in spirit or body for the rest of their lives, while others only slowly left behind the traumas of war. One in seven of Barrett's sample had found it 'extremely hard to adjust'; another third recalled 'real difficulties'. But over half claimed to have made the transition easily enough, often simply picking up where

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Imagining the Fifties: Private Sentiment and Political Culture in Menzies' Australia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Part III - Discontents *
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations viii
  • List of Figures and Tables ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Interiors 11
  • 1 - The Pursuit Of Private Happiness 13
  • 2 - Manhood 31
  • 3 - Womanhood 42
  • 4 - Intimacy 55
  • 5 - The Australian Way of Life 66
  • Part II - P0litics 79
  • 6 - The Rewards Of the Good Citizen 81
  • 7 - 'A War-Haunted World' 91
  • 8 - An Unreliable Boom 105
  • 9 - The Petrov Election 121
  • 10 - The Meanings of Home 136
  • Part III - Discontents 147
  • 11 - Immigration and Assimilation 149
  • 12 - 'Dog Licences' And Indigenous Citizens 168
  • 13 - 'Pledging the Future' 185
  • 14 - The Housewife and the Man In the Grey Flannel Suit 199
  • Conclusion 217
  • Notes 223
  • Index 256
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