Australia in the 1950s


In 1951, prime minister Robert Menzies held a referendum to ban the Communist Party of Australia. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Dr Herbert Vere 'Doc' Evatt (1894–1965) a strong advocate for the 'rights of the individual' campaigned against it. The referendum was narrowly defeated but the fear of communism did not disappear from federal politics.

In 1954, Vladimir Petrov, a Canberra-based Soviet diplomat, defected to Australia. At the next election, Menzies campaigned on a strong anti-communist platform, narrowly winning when the ALP was expected to win. Dr Evatt later accused the (largely Catholic) right wing of his own party of a conspiracy against him due to its anti-communist sentiment. Subsequently, the ALP split in 1955, the right wing creating the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), which was strongly anti-ALP and directed all its preferences to the conservative Liberal-Country Party coalition. This division helped ensure that Labor remained out of power until 1972.

Prime minister Robert Menzies, 1953

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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