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From Baby Boomers to Big Busts

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The Barracks Arch was saved from demolition. Image Courtesy The West Australian
The Barrack's Arch was saved from demolition. Image Courtesy The West Australian.

The 50s saw the transition from war to peace on a national scale, heralding a decade of 'baby boomers'. Western Australia's population exploded to reach 726,489 - a 45 per cent increase. Wool and wheat provided the bulk of the State's export income, and Britain and Europe were our main trading partners.

Three premiers served during the 50s - Ross McLarty, Bert Hawke and David Brand. In sport, Herb Elliott and Shirley Strickland brought Olympic medals home to Perth.

It was a decade with a difference, the suburban home, fashion, food and families took on new dimensions in the pursuit of leisure and pleasure. It saw the unveiling of the family car, the Holden; the infiltration of American influences with blondwood furniture, built-in fittings and venetian blinds.

Women were 'released from the kitchen' with new products to 'make it easy' so they could 'take it easy'. The new wave of consumerism included packet soups, tinned fruits, TV sets, radiograms, the 'President' refrigerator hailed as Australia's finest, the nation's first jersey shirt by Country Club, and 'propelling' lipsticks with brand names such as Starlet Regal Rose.

But the country was still British to its bootstraps when it came to loyalty to the Royal family, and Western Australians reflected this when they mourned the death of King George VI in 1952.

Queen Elizabeth made her first visit to Australia as a reigning sovereign in March 1954. The day she set foot on WA soil in Kalgoorlie it was 93 degrees. The media proclaimed: 'Only the sun was warmer than The Queen of Australia's smile'.

Late in 1956, the first Australian TV station began broadcasting from Sydney, and West Australians joined the rush to buy television sets for their homes. The following year, the basic wage in Perth was increased to 12 pounds 16 shillings.

1959 saw a 100-year-old dream come true when Governor Sir Charles Gairdner opened a bridge linking the narrows across the Swan River. The Narrows Bridge was then Australia's longest bridge, constructed from prestressed concrete and costing 1,325,000 million pounds to build.

In 1963, Parliament approved the statutory plan known as the Metropolitan Region Scheme, designed to govern the main lines of development of the Perth region. A year later, it passed legislation to give full adult suffrage and compulsory voting for the Legislative Council.

Iron Ore Train - Mt Tom Price Courtesy Battye Library
Iron Ore Train - Mt Tom Price Courtesy Battye Library.

The 1960s also heralded the beginning of the State's great mineral boom with the opening up of the northwest's massive iron ore deposits. This was aided by the Federal Government's decision in December 1960 to lift the embargo on the export of iron ore that had been put in place during the Second World War.

The boom began with legislation in 1961 allowing bauxite mining in WA's jarrah forests, though the area mined was not expected to exceed 12 hectares. Five years later, groundbreaking industrial agreements were signed heralding the start of iron ore exploration in the Pilbara.

In the decades to come, WA would become one of the world's leading ore exporters, and the massive industrial development in the North West and along the Kwinana strip propelled the State into a powerful national economic position.

As well this time, and into the 70s, saw the development of nickel fields, bauxite on the Darling Scarp, oil at Barrow Island, natural gas from the Dongara fields, mineral sands at Bunbury and Eneabba, solar salt at Shark Bay, Port Hedland, Dampier, Cape Culvier and Lake Lefroy, potash and langbernite at Lake McLeod, and talc at Mount Seabrook.

The nickel boom of the 1960s and 70s left its mark on the State's cultural landscape. South of Kalgoorlie the town of Kambalda was built where mining and treatment took place. To the north, Leonora and Laverton doubled their populations almost overnight as speculators and prospectors laid out a forest of miner's pegs.

175th TRIVIA

The Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Perth in November 1962 to officially open the Commonwealth Games at Perry Lakes Stadium.
Sign at the site of the fault line of the Meckering Earthquake.  Image Courtesy of Battye Library
Sign at the site of the fault line of the Meckering Earthquake. Image Courtesy of Battye Library.

In 1966, after much controversy, a motion to remove the Barracks Arch was defeated in Parliament much to the relief of the Save the Arch campaigners. In the same year, West Australians - along with the nation - started converting to decimal currency with the dollar replacing the pound.

WA's first shipment of crude oil left Barrow Island in April, 1967. That same year, an important and historic national referendum gave Aboriginal people citizenship rights.

Disaster struck in 1968 when an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale destroyed Meckering. It was then the biggest earthquake recorded in Australia. Fortunately, no one was killed.

1969 OTC Tracking Station Carnarvon was opened. Image Courtesy of Battye Library
1969 OTC Tracking Station Carnarvon was opened. Image Courtesy of Battye Library.

A year later, WA was instrumental - via the joint Australian-American Carnarvon Space Tracking Station - in the successful landing by the US of men on the moon.

175th TRIVIA

Voting in the Legislative Council elections was restricted until 1964 to people who owned property.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.