Australia in the 1950s


After the Second World War and as a result of the war refugee crisis, the Australian Labor government launched an ambitious new immigration program, which meant that for the first time Australia would accept non-British European immigrants. This new policy received bipartisan support and was continued even after the December 1949 election of Robert Menzies as prime minister.

During 1951 and 1952, the Australian government signed agreements to accept Dutch, Italian, Austrian, Belgian, Greek, Spanish and West German immigrants. Some Australians used the offensive term 'wog' to describe non-British immigrants. The term 'wog' is an ethnic slur used to denote immigrants of predominately Middle Eastern and eastern or southern European origin.

Through this open-door immigration policy between 1947 and 1961, the Greek community grew from 12,300 to 77,300, making it Australia's fifth-largest migrant group. Other prominent new migrant groups included the Italian community (33,600 to 228,000), the Dutch community (2,200 to 102,100) and the German community (14,600 to 109,300).

In 1955, Australia recorded its 1 millionth 'New Australian'. It was 21-year-old newly wed Barbara Porritt from Yorkshire, England.

Migrants arriving in Australia, 1954

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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