Australia in the 1950s

Fear of 'reds'

During the 1950s, many Australians stopped supporting a socialist ideology for fear of being 'named' as a communist and losing their job. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was taking advantage of its powers and watching people and politicians, tapping phones and confiscating passports from suspected communists.

The attempt by Menzies to ban the Communist Party became a watershed in Australian society. The Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 (Cth), the subsequent High Court case and referendum campaign after the Bill was thrown out by the High Court polarised the Australian population, particularly blue-collar workers and employers.

The Communist Party played a major role in the campaign for workers' rights. In the 1950s, the party had to form an alliance with progressive factions of the Australian Labor Party and the trade unions against the Liberal-Country Party government, the employers and the right wing of the labour movement.

A map showing the expansion of communism between 1920 and 1970

A snapshot of 1958

  • January
    • The first Opera House lottery is held in NSW to raise money for its construction.

  • February
    • The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals (FCAA) is established and later included Torres Strait Islanders.
    • Among its leaders are Faith Bandler and Chicka Dixon, and the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).

  • August
    • Herb Elliott sets a world record in the mile distance race (3:54.5) at Morton Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

  • September
    • The ANZAC Day Act 1958 receives Royal Assent, making Anzac Day (25 April) a national public holiday in Australia.

  • October
    • Sir Douglas Mawson, Antarctic explorer and geologist, dies at the age of 76.

  • November
    • The first television episode of Bandstand, hosted by Brian Henderson, goes to air on TCN-9.


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