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 Australia in the 1980s


1980s - The 'me decade'


The 1980s was a decade of contrasts. The Australian economy was booming - property values skyrocketed and many businesses made large profits. Many people became pre-occupied with making money and of course, spending it. Fashion, music and television from the decade was glitzy, showy and glamorous. For this reason, the 1980s is sometimes called the 'me decade'- a reference to the prevailing climate of economic greed and consumption.

In October 1987, however, everything changed. All over the world, stock markets crashed and Australia went into economic recession. Businesses were forced to close, and many people lost their livelihoods.

Inflation skyrocketed in the 1980s, resulting in higher prices and an increased cost of living. Unemployment was also high - early in the decade, it was estimated that one in ten jobseekers could not find work. Various factors contributed to the high rate of unemployment. Leaps in technology had meant that many jobs had been replaced by computers, particularly in the manufacturing industry. Wage increases also meant that some employers could not afford to keep as many staff.


Defining the 80s


Decades cannot easily be categorised. They are mathematically arbitrary and have become a clichéd journalistic convention. But I suspect that our audience will latch on to the notion of an exhibition about the 80s as an idea that has legs.

Other decades are defined by slogans – the roaring twenties, the boring fifties, the swinging sixties. What defines the eighties? The greed decade? The mean decade? One big party?

The 1980s have been characterised as a period of consumerist excess, riding on the back of an economic and industrial boom, expressed in a contemptuous flaunting of wealth through expensive homes, cars and designer label fashion. A superficial and frivolous decade.

The ‘greed is good’ thing is a stereotype, there is something to it. Business and finance seemed to be dominated by tycoons like Alan Bond, Christopher Skase, Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer. In many ways it was a period when conservatism was re-asserted. After all, this was the era of Thatcher and Reagan, monetarism and economic rationalism.

However there is another side to the 1980s. Paradoxically, it was also a period of change. There were significant developments in the roles of women in society. This is represented through Asta Cadell in Shame were her character  is independent, assertive and holds a high profile professional position  as a city barrister.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in most Australian states. Environmental issues came to public attention, especially with the aftermath of 1979’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident and 1986’s Chernobyl disaster. Cigarette advertising in cinemas was banned, smoking decreased, cocaine apparently became fashionable. The personal computer appeared, and video games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man became popular. The Walkman and video cassette recorders took off. AIDS appeared and safe sex followed. Cities were redeveloped. Australia celebrated the Bicentennial of European settlement. Brisbane held World Expo ’88. The late 80s saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War, a monumental shift.


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The environment in the 1980s

Amid the glamour and indulgence of the 1980s, many environmental causes came to the forefront of public debate.

In the early 1980s, the Franklin River campaign helped gather support for the conservation movement in Australia. The Tasmanian Government proposed to build a dam to produce cheap hydroelectricity, which would have involved flooding the picturesque Franklin River. A fiercely-fought campaign ensued, as thousands of people from all over Australia objected to the plans. In 1983, the newly elected Labor Government stepped in to prevent the dam from being built.

Throughout the 1980s, more Australians began to realise that the environment was suffering under the weight of ever-increasing industrialisation and consumerism. Air pollution levels were high and decades of deforestation had led to major land erosion and salinity. Initiatives, like mass tree-planting and Clean Up Australia Day, were established in an attempt to address these issues.


Immigration in the 1980s

By the 1980s, migrants from all over the world had settled in Australia. Immigration rates peaked in 1988, when 254 000 people arrived in Australia. The nation's approach to new migrants since the 1970s had been one of 'multiculturalism'. This meant that Australian society embraced various cultural groups, with their distinct languages, religions and traditions and granted them equal status. This was in contrast to the previous policy of 'assimilation', which stipulated that migrants should abandon their cultures and languages and 'blend in' to the existing population.

Multiculturalism challenged traditional ideas about what it meant to be an Australian. Large numbers of migrants from places like Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South America and Africa filtered into Australia. Most people found that migrants enriched the Australian experience, enabling people to share cultural traditions like music, food and religion. Racial tolerance improved in Australia throughout the decade.

Interest in foods from other cultures increased in the 1980s and more people began eating out at restaurants. Foreign foods, such as rice and pasta, soon became staples of the Australian diet.


Land rights in the 1980s

The Aboriginal Land Rights movement gained momentum throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, Indigenous peoples began to make some gains in their land rights struggle.

In 1981, Indigenous people in South Australia were handed back ownership of more than 10 percent of the State's land and had the right to claim royalties from mining companies operating on their land. Other States like Queensland and NSW soon followed suit. On 26 October 1985, the Commonwealth Government granted land rights over Uluru, or Ayers Rock, back to its Aboriginal owners, under the condition that it would be leased back to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for 99 years.

Despite these gains, however, the living conditions of Indigenous people remained poor. The life expectancy of Aboriginal people was 20 years less than the Australian average and many suffered major health problems. A high number of Aboriginal people were unemployed and lived in sub-standard housing.

Bicentenary celebrations - 1988

The Bicentenary of Australia was celebrated in 1988, marking 200 years of European settlement. Throughout the year, many Australians participated in events that celebrated the nation's European heritage and culture.

In 1988, the World Expo trade show was held in Brisbane. Exploring the theme 'Leisure in the age of technology', the show was attended by around 14 million local and international visitors. Other Bicentenary celebrations throughout the year included an Australia Day re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Harbour and the opening of the new Federal Parliament House in Canberra.

Indigenous peoples, however, considered the Bicentenary as a time for mourning, not celebration. Many Indigenous people had suffered enormously throughout the two hundred years of European settlement. For them, the Bicentenary marked two centuries of misery and degradation.

Federal politics in the 1980s

Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser served as Prime Minister until 1983, when he was defeated by Bob Hawke's Labor Party. A former trade union leader, Bob Hawke was a popular, charismatic Prime Minister. Among his most notable achievements while in office, Hawke created a consensus between trade unions, businesses and the government in order to keep wage growth in check and promote economic growth. He would remain in power until 1991.

Ash Wednesday - 1983

On Wednesday 16 February 1983, following a period of extreme drought, Australia suffered its worst ever bushfire disaster. The day is now known as Ash Wednesday. High wind gusts and very hot temperatures fuelled the fires, which destroyed 520 000 hectares of land in Victoria and South Australia and burnt over two thousand homes to the ground. Seventy-two people were killed.



Music went electronic in the 1980s, with the introduction of new synthesisers that produced electronically-generated sounds. Music technology also changed the way people listened to music. The boom box, or ghetto blaster, became popular in the 1980s. It was a portable device containing a cassette player and radio that allowed music to be played anywhere, at high volume.

Personal stereos enabled people to play music on cassette tapes and listen to it through headphones wherever they went. As their popularity increased, concerns were raised about the safety and social consequences of personal stereos. Oblivious to traffic noises around them, many personal stereo users were injured by cars while walking. Personal stereos were also criticised by some as being anti-social and in some cases, a demonstration of poor etiquette.

In the late 1980s, compact discs (CDs) began to replace vinyl records and cassette tapes. CDs were small, light and offered much higher sound quality than records and cassettes. In 1986, it was estimated that 4 percent of Australians owned a CD player. By 1993, this figure had increased to 33 percent.


Television in the 1980s


The Australian television industry had matured by the 1980s, as the number of Australian programmes screened by commercial stations reached a peak. Local programmes were generally high-quality and fared well amongst the mass of imported programmes. In 1980, it was estimated that eight of the ten most popular programmes screening on Australian television were produced in Australia.

The surge in popularity of Australian programmes in the 1980s can partly be attributed to the climate of nationalism created by events like the Brisbane Commonwealth Games, the America's Cup victory and the Bicentenary. Government funding injected into Australia's film and television industries since the 1970s also continued to spur the production of quality Australian content, particularly in the first half of the decade.

Many new Australian programmes were launched in the 1980s and continued to flourish throughout the decade. The drama series A Country Practice was a popular drama series set in a medical practice in a small country town. It debuted in 1981 and would run for 12 years. In 1987, the ABC began screening the late-night music programme Rage.

Two evening soap operas were also launched in the 1980s: Neighbours in 1985 and Home and Away in 1988. Both went on to achieve major overseas success, particularly in Britain. The successful comedy programme The Comedy Company began in 1988 and ran for two years, sparking a new era in home-grown comedy.


Sport and television in the 1980s


Coverage of sport on television advanced in leaps and bounds during the 1980s. Many sporting telecasts featured multi-camera set-ups, slow-motion action replays, special effects and computer graphics.

In 1984, the Los Angeles Olympics were broadcast directly to Australia via satellite.

Launch of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)

In 1980, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) launched. It was a new multicultural television station that gave Australians access to a range of foreign-language and special interest programmes, as well as screening minority sports and independent films and documentaries.


The mini-series


The mini-series also proved to be a popular Australian television programme format in the 1980s. Typically running for several episodes, a miniseries combines elements of both film and television drama, and features high production values and aggressive promotional campaigns. Successful miniseries' from the 1980s include A Town Like Alice (1981), The Dismissal (1983)and Bangkok Hilton (1989).

Mini-series' often depicted significant historical Australian events and were considered to be an important contribution to the national identity debate in the 1980s. For the Term of His Natural Life portrayed life as an early settler, while Women of the Sun addressed the treatment of Aboriginal people. Many Australian mini-series' found success with overseas audiences and were important in the communication of an 'Australian' image to a global audience.

Non-Australian television programmes in the 1980s

American soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty were popular in Australia in the 1980s. Sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Family Ties rated highly, along with crime dramas like Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice


Radio in the 1980s


In 1980, many new commercial radio stations began broadcasting on the new FM band. FM stations employed sophisticated methods of audience research to appeal to specific groups of people. Some of these stations primarily played rock and pop music targeted towards young people, while others played hits from the 1960s and 1970s in a bid to appeal to more mature listeners.


Computer and video games in the 1980s

Personal computers became more affordable in the 1980s and a wide range of computer games provided a new source of entertainment. Handheld consoles for home computers were introduced in the late 1980s.

Young people could also gather in video arcades and play video games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong.


Video cassette recorders (VCRs)

Video cassette recorders (VCRs) became a common fixture in Australian homes in the 1980s. The device allowed people to record programmes from their television sets onto a video tape and watch them later. The VCR gave people much more control over their viewing habits, allowing them to watch whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

In 1981, 3 percent of Australian households owned a VCR. By 1993, this figure had risen to 80 percent.

VCRs also allowed people to hire videos of movies that had previously screened at the cinema. In 1978, just two film titles were available on video. By 1993, 33 000 films were available.


Cinema in the 1980s

Cinema box office sales declined sharply after the introduction of the VCR, as many people chose to watch films at home. It has been argued, however, that home videos were responsible for an upsurge in the popularity of cinema in the late 1980s. As the novelty of the VCR began to wear off in the late 1990s, people who had become accustomed to watching feature-length movies, returned to the cinema.

When crowds did return, they watched films at a multiplex cinema. Multiplexes are large buildings that contain many separate cinemas. They are often built in suburban areas, and are easy to reach by car. The first multiplex was opened in 1986 in Chadstone, Victoria. As they spread across the country, multiplexes forced many small cinemas to close down.


Australian film in the 1980s

Film finance

The 1980s were a busy time in Australian film-making. In 1981, the Commonwealth Government introduced a tax incentive scheme that encouraged private interests to invest in Australian films, in return for tax benefits. Investment flooded into the industry - the number of feature films produced in Australia rapidly increased and their budgets skyrocketed.

Local films addressed a wide array of themes during this period. While Australian's have often explored issues of national identity through historical films, many contemporary issues came to the fore of Australian film in the early 1980s. These included adolescence (Puberty Blues), urban redevelopment (Heatwave) and drugs (Winter of our Dreams). During this period, Australian films also explored genres such as thrillers and action films.


In the mid 1980s, the tax incentive scheme for financing films was replaced by the Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC).

Australian films for an international market

As private investment became a crucial source of finance for Australian films in the mid 1980s, the industry began to change. Many films became more commercially-oriented, ie, designed to maximise profit and appeal to viewers in other countries, particularly America. The Man from Snowy River (1982), for example,starred American actor Kirk Douglas - even though its story was quintessentially Australian.

Other Australian films that achieved international success throughout the 1980s included Mad Max 2 (1981) and Gallipoli (1981).

In 1986, Crocodile Dundee was released. It went on to become the highest grossing non-American film in history and the most financially successful Australian film of all time. Although scripted and produced by Australians, the film was also designed to appeal to a mainstream American audience. Crocodile Dundee's storyline, for example, is essentially a revised version of a typical Hollywood comic narrative.

The success of Australian film in the international market had several kickbacks - it enabled the construction of a national identity on the world stage, increased awareness of Australia and promoted tourism. The star of Crocodile Dundee, Paul Hogan, also appeared in television advertisements that encouraged Americans to travel to Australia.

Hollywood influence in the 1980s

Throughout the 1980s, many Australian films achieved local and international success. American films, however, still retained their dominance at the Australian box office. American comedies and big-budget action movies were especially popular (refer to the Topic 5, Chapter 5).

Other entertainment in the 1980s

Active pursuits like trampolining and skateboarding became popular in the 1980s. Specially-built ramps allowed skateboarders to perfect their skills. Roller skating was also all the rage - young people could meet at roller-skating rinks, dressed in the latest fashions and skate to the latest music.

Many different toys and games were popular in the 1980s, including the Trivial Pursuit board game, Cabbage Patch Kid dolls and the Rubik's Cube puzzle.




The 1980s power suit

Stiff, sharply-cut suits with wide shoulders were popular with businessmen and women in the 1980s. Power suits were designed to make the wearer look successful and authoritative.

Women had been awarded equal pay to men in 1972. By the 1980s, many women felt a greater sense of authority and control in the workplace and were keen to work their way into senior positions. For some, wearing a masculine, wide-shouldered suit was a way of expressing their new-found sense of power and asserting their equality with men. Suits were usually teamed with conservative blouses in plain colours.


Accessories in the 1980s

Throughout the 1980s, the emphasis on flashy, expensive dressing extended to fashion accessories. Women expressed an image of wealth and success through shiny costume jewellery like large faux-gold earrings, pearl necklaces and clothing covered with sequins and diamantes. Buttons, belts, bags and shoes were also often metallic and showy.

Princess Diana - a 1980s fashion icon

In 1981, Prince Charles of Wales married Diana Spencer, a young English nanny. Throughout the 1980s, Diana was transformed from a shy princess into a fashion icon - closely followed by the press and frequently appearing on the covers of women's magazines. All over the world, women copied Diana's ever-changing clothing and hair styles. In the 1980s, Diana often wore lace collars, blazers, pearl necklaces and hats.


The fitness craze in the 1980s

Exercise played an important part in the lives of many Australians throughout the 1980s. In a bid to increase their fitness and improve their looks, people began jogging, going to the gym, playing tennis and doing yoga, dance and aerobics classes.

A huge range of specially-designed sportswear soon emerged, in bright colours like royal blue, fuchsia and emerald green. These clothes were made from stretchy, synthetic fabrics, like lycra, that were easy to care for. Headbands and legwarmers completed the look.

The comfort and convenience of gym wear provided great inspiration to mainstream fashion and sporting clothes were soon transformed into everyday fashion. Australian singer Olivia Newton-John also helped popularise the style with her hit song Let's Get Physical.


Hairstyles in the 1980s

Hair in the 1980s was generally bouffant and heavily styled. This was in contrast to the long, straight, natural styles worn in the 1970s. Curly hair was all the rage - those who were not naturally endowed with curls could go to the hairdresser and get a permanent wave, or perm. Some people spent a great amount of time taming their hair into the latest style, with the help of styling products like mousse and hairspray.


Punk in the 1980s

Punk fashion was a non-conformist, rebellious style that emerged in the late 1970s and gained momentum throughout the 1980s. Punk was a reaction against the idealistic peace-loving hippie era, as well as a rejection of the consumerist, money-obsessed culture of the 1980s.

Inspired by rebellious English bands like the Sex Pistols, punk fashion was loud, angry, aggressive and designed to shock. Typical punk fashion included tight black jeans, a ripped, tattered T-shirt held together with safety pins and heavy Doc Martens boots. Punk hair was traditionally cut short for both men and women - a reaction against the long, sleek hairstyles of the hippie era. Punk hair was often dyed a vibrant colour, or styled into a spiky Mohawk.

Punk fashion also featured a range of silver metal jewellery like studded belts, spiked collars and studs worn in the ear or nose.



British influence on the Australian culture


British settlers arrived in Australia in 1788 and the extent of the British influence is still evident today. The British Union Jack features predominantly on our national flag, and the Queen is Australia's Head of State. British models also form the basis of Australia's legal and political systems, as well providing our national language.

Up until World War II, Britain remained the dominating cultural influence in Australia. Britons also dominated the make-up of Australian society - most of Australia's citizens were either born in Britain, or had British descendants. In the years following the war, British subjects were encouraged to migrate to Australia under an 'assisted package' scheme, which helped with the cost of migrating to Australia and provided housing and employment options upon arrival. Between 1945 and 1972, over one million British migrants settled in Australia.

Before 1945, many people, including Australians themselves, considered Australia to be nothing more than a British colony; a nation whose national identity was relatively indistinct from the British. During this period of Australia's history, our modes of entertainment, food, fashion, sporting culture and our social values and attitudes were largely dictated by British culture.


American influence on the Australian culture


One of the most significant changes to have taken place in Australian society since the end of WWII, has been its drift towards American, rather than British culture. As the American way of life was projected further into Australia via popular culture, it would rapidly alter the ways we spent our money, entertained ourselves, dressed and socialised. Eventually, many of our British cultural legacies would give way to new American ideals.

In the decades since World War II, however, the penetration of American popular culture into Australian society has raised ongoing concerns about Australia's ability to carve out its own national identity. Local cultural products like films and music are an important way for people of a country to explore and share their common culture and heritage. Australian characters, themes and issues, however, are often outweighed by representations of the American way of life.

American films and television programmes depict American people in American settings and American music deals with American, not Australian concerns. Many people have feared that if Australians are starved of distinctly Australian cultural products, the national identity will be at risk.

American and British influence in the 1980s


Australia in the 1980s was a fusion of many cultural flavours. As well as the obvious British and American influences, European, Asian and Indigenous Australian culture all contributed to the shape of Australian society. In the 1980s, America still proved to be the dominant foreign cultural influence. As Australia enjoyed an economic boom, the nation warmly embraced the American consumerist ideal.


American and British influence on music in the 1980s


American music artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson swept the Australian music charts in the 1980s. British acts like The Cure and Duran Duran also achieved commercial success in Australia.

American rap and hip hop music began filtering into Australia during the 1980s. This influence would eventually lead to the creation of a small but thriving Australian hip hop scene. American hip hop culture also crossed over into the field of fashion and many Australian youths adopted the baggy pants and baseball caps of their favourite hip hop stars.

While American and British acts dominated the Australian music charts in the 1980s, local music was gaining confidence. Many Australian acts, such as Men at Work and INXS, enjoyed international success.



Imported music and the music video


The success of imported music in Australia in the 1980s can largely be attributed to the rise of the music video. Advances in video technology meant that promotional music videos could now be produced quickly and cheaply. These videos were screened on music programmes like Rage and Countdown and soon become equally as important as the music itself. By the mid-1980s, releasing a video clip to accompany a song was standard practice in the music industry.


The era of the video clip gave well-financed overseas artists a distinct advantage over Australian performers. In order to gain a commercial edge, large overseas record companies allocated huge budgets to producing slick, lavish video clips. These clips enabled overseas artists to gain greater airtime on music television and Australians soon developed a taste for expensively-produced imported music.




oint to our British heritage, modern sports like basketball demonstrate the penetration of American influence into our culture. At the same time, local sports like Australian Rules football continue to thrive.


Sport in the 1980s


Australian sporting achievements were excitedly celebrated by the whole nation in the 1980s. Thousands of Australians gathered to cheer the home team at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and the nation was brought together when Australia II won the America's Cup yacht race.

Paralleling this rise in national spirit was the increasing reach of commercialism into the sporting realm. Corporate interests took control of many Australian sports in the 1980s, injecting millions of dollars into competitions and changing the way sports were played.

Australian sport came head-to-head with world politics in the 1980s, when several countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Some Australian athletes chose to compete at the Games against the wishes of the Australian Government.

Brisbane Commonwealth Games - 1982

National pride surged in 1982 when Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games. Forty-five nations took part in the event and Australia topped the medal tally with 107 medals, 39 of them gold.

The Commonwealth Games also served to spur participation in some sports. Long-distance running, for example, became popular after Robert de Castella won a gold medal in the Marathon event.


The Olympics


Throughout the 1980s, the Olympic Games were marked by political controversy. In 1980, America boycotted the Moscow Olympics in protest over Russia's invasion of Afghanistan. The Fraser Government supported the boycott and wanted Australian athletes to follow suit. Some athletes ignored the government's wishes and chose to compete, marching under the Olympic, rather than the national flag. Australians saw little success at the Moscow Games, winning just nine medals, two of them gold.

In 1984, the USSR and many of its allies retaliated to the boycott, by refusing to attend the Los Angeles Olympics. Australia won nine medals at the Games, including four gold.


1983 America's Cup win


In 1983, the yacht Australia II won the America's Cup in a thrilling finish, ending America's 132-year domination of the race. The victory inspired an emotional celebration all around Australia and boosted national pride.

To this day, the America's Cup win is considered to be one of the most important events in the nation's sporting history. The victory prompted the declaration of an unofficial public holiday, with Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously announcing on national television that 'any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum'.

Corporate sponsorship was considered to have played a large role in Australia's victory, with entrepreneur Alan Bond injecting millions of dollars into Australia's America's Cup campaign.


The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS)


The Commonwealth Government committed millions of dollars into sporting schemes throughout the decade, in an effort to improve Australia's international performances, as well as to promote health and fitness in the wider community.

In 1981, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) opened in Canberra. The AIS aims to help talented athletes reach their potential. It provides specialised education, training, expert coaches, science and sports medicine services and state-of-the-art facilities across many different sports.


1980s - The era of sports science


The discipline of sports science advanced rapidly in the 1980s and became a popular subject choice at Australian universities. Sports science applies scientific principles to the human body, in an attempt to better the performance of athletes.

New knowledge in areas like nutrition, psychology and bio-mechanics were applied to Australian sportspeople and new technology was used to analyse their technique. As a result, the performance of many athletes improved markedly in the 1980s.


Television and corporate sponsorship in the 1980s


Money flowed freely into sport during the 1980s, as big businesses realised that they could gain huge television exposure by sponsoring a sporting competition, team, or individual sportsperson. As a result, television coverage and corporate sponsorship became a major source of finance for many Australian sports.

Corporate sponsors did not just display their logos on players' jerseys - they changed the way some sports were played and marketed.

Television stations paid such large sums of money to broadcast matches, so they began to dictate the time of day that games were played. One-day cricket, for example, was played at night to maximise the potential television audience. Many football matches in the 1980s were also rescheduled to evening time slots.

While such scheduling of matches may have satisfied the needs of television stations and sponsors, some people argued that playing at night was not in the best interests of the players themselves.


Australian Rules Football in the 1980s


Television provided the motivation for the national expansion of Australian Rules football. Prior to the 1980s, Australian Rules was not a national competition, with each State holding their own league. In 1980, however, the Victorian Football League (VFL) began broadcasting their match of the day on national television. As interest in the game increased around the country, new teams from other States joined the Victorian league.

In 1982, for example, the South Melbourne club moved to Sydney and became Sydney Swans. In 1987, the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears also joined the competition. In 1990, the VFL was renamed the Australian Football League (AFL).

This transformation of Australian Rules was largely driven by business groups, who provided the millions of dollars needed to turn the game into a national competition.


Rugby league in the 1980s


Rugby league in Australia was re-invigorated in the 1980s, when teams from Canberra, Brisbane, Newcastle and the Gold Coast joined the New South Wales based competition. This expansion of the league created new markets for the broadcast of football games. Television stations were charged millions of dollars for the right to broadcast matches and businesses signed huge deals to sponsor the sport.

In 1989, the Winfield cigarette company was reported to have paid around $13 million dollars to become the official sponsors of the national rugby league competition.

Effect of commercialisation on local sport in the 1980s

Commercialisation had a mixed effect on Australian sport in the 1980s. While many national and international competitions flourished, local competitions did not fare as well.

International cricket, for example, entered an exciting new era. Kickstarted in the 1970s by businessman Kerry Packer's World Series cricket, international Test matches and one-day cricket enjoyed massive crowds and huge television audiences. Subsequently, though, the more traditional State-level Sheffield Shield competition suffered a marked decline in interest.

This effect was echoed in both rugby league and Australian Rules football, whereby the inclusion of regional and interstate teams into the national leagues led to a dwindling public interest in local competitions.


Tennis in the 1980s


Australians made a notable impact on the national tennis scene in the 1980s. Evonne Goolagong-Cawley won the Wimbledon women's singles title in 1980, and Pat Cash took out the Wimbledon men's final in 1987.

Sports participation in the 1980s

Sports participation remained high throughout the 1980s. Soccer, AFL, league, union and cricket were played widely in the 1980s, while netball was by far the most popular women's sport.

In the latter half of the decade, the popularity of basketball skyrocketed and many young Australians began to idolise American basketball stars like Michael Jordan.


Women and sport in the 1980s


The study of sport can yield valuable information on the status and roles of particular groups in society as a whole. Traditionally, groups like Indigenous people, ethnic minorities and women have been discriminated against, or treated unequally in relation to sports participation. This treatment is thought to reflect the prevailing cultural attitudes towards these groups.

In the 1960s and 1970s, women had demanded equal status to men in many areas of social, political and cultural life, including the sporting sphere. Some women challenged society's expectations by taking up sports like golf, cricket, football, long-distance running and even weight lifting.

In the 1980s, equal opportunity laws made it illegal to discriminate against a person on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy. As a result, women in the 1980s were entitled to full membership and unrestricted access to sporting clubs.

Women performed well in many previously male dominated sports throughout the decade. In international women's cricket, Australia won the World Cup in 1981/2 and 1988/9 and produced many outstanding individual performances. In 1987, for example, Denise Annetts scored 193 against England, breaking the world record for runs scored in a women's Test cricket match.


While women were gradually accepted into almost all kinds of sport, history has shown that they would continue to struggle to achieve true sporting equality with men, particularly in the areas of funding and media coverage.

According to some critics, this discrimination and marginalisation of certain groups within sport goes against fundamental Australian values like 'egalitarianism', or equality for all.


American and British influence on cinema in the 1980s


While many Australian films achieved local and international success in the 1980s, American films cemented their dominance at the Australian box office. Throughout the decade, successful Hollywood films adhered to a seemingly winning formula: expensive special effects, high-profile actors and massive promotional budgets. Combined, these elements generally pulled huge audience numbers all over the world, including in Australia.

As special effects technology advanced, the 1980s became the era of the big-budget action film; a trend that would continue into the 1990s. The Terminator (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987)and Die Hard (1988) were successful examples from this genre and were instrumental in launching the global careers of actors like Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The American film Ghostbusters (1984) was the most popular comedy of the decade in Australia. Big-budget Hollywood science fiction also proved popular, including The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). In 1982, Steven Spielberg's E.T. became one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

American influence on television in the 1980s

American soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty were popular in Australia in the 1980s. Sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Family Ties rated highly, along with crime dramas like Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice.


Throughout the 1970s, however, the overwhelming dominance of foreign, mostly American programmes on Australian television had met with mounting public opposition, and Australian television stations began to give local programmes a greater platform. As a result, the number of Australian programmes shown on television increased in the 1980s.

The tax breaks and funding assistance given to the Australian film industry during the 1970s began to filter through to television in the 1980s. Many high-quality, locally-made feature films, mini-series and documentaries were screened on Australian television during the decade, which helped to counter the flood of imported television programmes.

Reasons for American dominance of Australian television

Television plays a significant role in forming the culture, beliefs and values of a nation. A strong television industry, therefore, is important to the development of a strong national identity.

Since the advent of television, America has been able to produce television programmes much more cheaply than they can be produced in Australia. This is largely due to America's large population, strong economy and huge entertainment industry.

American television companies can then afford to sell these programmes to Australian TV networks at an extremely low price. This discouraged the production of much more expensive locally-made television programmes and led to a flooding of the domestic market by less expensive, imported content.


American influence on food and shopping in the 1980s


American fast food chains had rapidly extended their reach across Australia during the 1970s. In 1971, for example, McDonald's opened their first restaurant in Australia. By 1980, there were 105 stores throughout the country.

These outlets offered fast, affordable food that could be consumed in-store or at home. This convenience, combined with greater numbers of stores and aggressive promotional campaigns, meant that fast food quickly became an established part of the diets of many Australians.

The trend towards convenient, time-saving American-style foods was echoed in the supermarket sector. The introduction of microwave ovens in the 1980s changed the time Australians spent in food preparation and increased the range of American-style pre-packaged and frozen foods available.


Impact of changing food habits


American influences shifted Australia's eating habits away from its British roots. By the 1980s, lunches, snacks and drinks consumed by Australians were, more often than not, American in origin. Interest in European and Asian food was also strong throughout the decade. British staples like meat and vegetables, remained a common dinner choice in Australia.

As well as changing the types of foods Australians consumed, the trend towards American convenience foods also affected the amount of time people spent preparing food. During the 1940s, it was estimated that Australians spent around six hours per day purchasing and preparing food. By the 1970s, this had dropped to two hours and by the end of the 1990s, Australians were estimated to spend just 30 minutes per day in food preparation.


Sport and our British heritage/

Since the early days of the Australian colony, sport has been a fundamental aspect of Australian cultural life. Sport is one area of Australian society that, for decades, resisted American influence and retained a strong British influence.

Popular contemporary sports like cricket, horse racing, and rugby union, were all originally transferred to Australia from Britain. Australia and Britain also share many great sporting traditions like rugby internationals and The Ashes cricket matches. Australians still relish beating England 'at her own game'.


Sport and the American influence in the 1980s


By the 1980s, American culture had changed the nature of Australian sport. This was accelerated by advances in communications technology, which enabled more widespread, frequent and up-to-date broadcasts of American sport into Australian homes.

America exerted an influence over Australian sport in several different ways. Firstly, it changed the types of sports that we played. The uptake of traditional American sports like basketball and baseball boomed in Australia. In the 1980s, for example, basketball was the fastest-growing sport in the country and teenage boys idolised American NBA stars like Michael Jordan.


These changes in sports participation also crossed over into Australian fashion and popular culture. American sports clothing like trainers and baseball caps became extremely popular with young people and both amateur and professional sportspeople began to use high-tech sporting equipment developed in America.

During the 1980s, Australian sport also followed the American trend towards increased corporate involvement. Companies injected millions of dollars into sports or individual teams, in exchange for sponsorship rights and television coverage. This in turn meant that many Australian sports were altered to appeal to television viewers. Rugby league and AFL matches, for example, were played in the evening to maximise the potential television audience. Some sporting matches featured American-style glitz and glamour, such as football games where players and the crowd were boosted by cheerleaders and mascots.


The quest for an Australian identity


While the British and American influence has played a major role in defining the shape of Australia that we know today, a number of other influences have contributed to the development of the Australian identity.

As new settlers in a harsh, unforgiving land, the Australian identity was long bound to the stereotype of the tough, heroic bushman who fought to tame a difficult landscape. Australian values like 'mateship', 'fair go' and the 'Aussie battler' emerged as a result of this myth. Throughout the prosperous post-war years, however, a new Australian ideal emerged. Typical Australians were no longer stoic bushmen, but laidback, pleasure-seeking suburbanites who owned a ¼ acre block of land and enjoyed 'the good life'.

As migrants poured into Australia over the decades, they introduced new stories, traditions and perspectives to Australian culture. The traditional concepts of an Australia as a white British colony, or a land of struggling bush-dwellers, no longer seemed to fit with the diverse new reality of society. Also, as Aboriginal people were finally acknowledged as the original owners of the land, the role of Indigenous values in the construction of a true Australian identity became apparent.


Australian society has absorbed many cultural influences across the decades - not just British and American, but Indigenous, Asian, European and many more. As such, the Indigenous and migrant influence has intervened in the American and British effect on Australian culture.

In the face of globalisation, the future of Australia's unique national identity was increasingly challenged by the development of a global culture.

Globalisation, Americanisation and Australian culture

American influence had pervaded almost all areas of Australian cultural life in the 1980s. This process, however, was not unique to this country. It was part of the broader process of globalisation, whereby the cultural, political, economic and social spheres of individual countries were becoming increasingly mixed and interdependent. This process was largely driven by communications technology like the internet.

As America was influential in many fields, particularly that of economics and the diffusion of cultural products, the process of globalisation was often considered a process of Americanisation.


Globalisation of culture - good or bad?


Debate rages over whether or not this interdependence of cultures, and the pervasion of foreign, mostly American influences, will have a positive or negative effect on Australian society.

Globalisation's critics believe that it promotes a bland, homogenous global culture, dictated by American consumerist ideals. It is feared that the world will end up wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods, listening to the same music and watching the same TV shows.

Opponents to globalisation also foresee serious social and cultural consequences. Australian people may find it increasingly difficult to form a collective identity or sense of community, for example. Our long-held traditions, social values and unique way of life may also be at risk.

Champions of globalisation, however, believe that it will lead to a breakdown of cultural barriers like religion, language and economic status and will help foster a greater understanding of cultural differences.


Looking to the future

Whether or not Australia can continue to carve out a distinct national identity in the face of Americanisation remains to be seen. Australians, however, continue to enjoy seeing their own stories represented on television, in film and in music despite the saturation of American products. Furthermore, many people believe that throughout its history, Australian society has continually absorbed a range of foreign cultural influences and transformed them into a distinctly Australian culture.See Image 3

Major international events in the 1980s

The Chernobyl disaster - 1986

On 26 April 1986, the world's worst nuclear power accident occurred at Chernobyl, in the former USSR. A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station exploded, releasing a cloud of toxic radiation into the atmosphere. Many people died or suffered from radiation-related illnesses and toxic radioactive material was dispersed over a vast area. Suddenly, nuclear power and the impact of human activity on the environment became a pressing international issue.

The fall of the Berlin Wall - 1989

The year 1989 saw the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, which had created a barrier between East and West Germany since 1961. The wall was 155 kilometres long, built of concrete and barbed wire and watched over by gunmen. It had been constructed at the height of the Cold War, in order to stop the defection of people from communist East Germany into democratic West Germany.

In 1989, sweeping democratisation of much of Eastern Europe saw the wall dismantled. This was one of the events that marked the end of the Cold War.


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