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

By John Murphy | Go to book overview

5
The Australian way of life

In the early 1950s a group of academics fanned out from the University of Melbourne to interview ordinary people, exploring their ideas about 'social structure' and 'personality'. They found that all of the employers they interviewed, and one of every three workers, considered themselves to be middle class, and that seeing oneself as 'middle class' was less a matter of occupational position than of attitude. Being middle class was a self-conception of being independent, sturdily individual, self-reliant; the middle class had no real boundaries, and any who shared its values could belong. What demonstrated those values, what marked out class boundaries, was the 'way of life' of citizens in their private realm.

This middle class, at least since Menzies' 'forgotten people' speeches of the 1940s, had been represented as caught between the millstones of capital and labour, which were seen as 'sectional' interests, intent upon serving themselves. By contrast, Menzies represented the middle class as the 'backbone of the community', connected to neither capital nor labour, business nor unions, and existing simply as the aggregate of those individuals who lived the values of independence and self-reliance. It was the class that was not a class. Hence, in the survey, what marked out membership of the middle class was simply the attachment to these values, and their demonstration in a 'way of life'--the material trappings of home ownership, responsible acquisition, provision for children, and the inner virtues of self-reliance and autonomy. It was a formula for the good life, and a definition of solid citizenship.1

The idea of an Australian way of life was another element in the structure of sentiments of the middle class, and was a way of conceiving of the

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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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