Jun
23
2010

What were Australians discussing during the late 1950s?

1955 Junior Farmers' Picnic, with newfangled transistor radio (photo from State Library of Queensland - NKCR)

Johnnie Ray’s music was somewhere between jazz and what was about to become rock’n’roll. He also made metaphorical waves with his “animated stage persona”, so it’s not surprising that a lively debate about Johnnie Ray was one of those held in the late 1950s by the Mosman Debating Society.

  • That we would tear the pants off Johnny Ray (carried)
  • That marriages should expire by the effluxion of time (defeated)
  • That we are too serious-minded (carried)
  • That hire purchase is beneficial to the community (carried)
  • That immorality is an illusion (defeated)
  • That Christianity is the hope of mankind (carried)
  • That we do not know right from wrong (defeated)
  • That the white man has had his day (carried)
  • That religion is the opium of the people (carried)
  • That the cult of the humanities is a hoax (carried)
  • That the human soul is immortal (defeated)
  • That modern youth is abusing its freedom (defeated)
  • That we favour divorce by consent (carried)
  • That we should uphold Billy Graham (carried)
  • That social scientists talk nonsense (defeated)
  • That oratory is preferable to debating (carried)
  • That we would wear the sack (carried)

I’m not sure whether “wearing the sack” (above) refers to wearing sackcloth as a humble gesture of repentance (as in biblical references), or whether it alludes to a shift in fashion from the hourglass figure of a decade previously to a “sack silhouette” that conceals the shape of its wearer and hides their individuality. Or perhaps, as is often the case in friendly debates, the meaning of the topic is ambiguous in order to see what the debaters can make of it.

Reflecting the optimism of the 1950s, there are relatively few debates about world affairs:

  • That we support Menzies in sending troops to Malaya (defeated)
  • That we would write to Molotov
  • That there can be peace (tied)
  • That America has failed to provide inspiring leadership to the nations of the free world (defeated)

Discussion of domestic politics covered a wide range of issues. As you can see, Australia was not one of the “early adopters” of television broadcasting.

  • That we would welcome television (defeated)
  • That Australian troops should not be conscripted for overseas service (tied)
  • That the waterside strike is justified (carried)
  • That the death penalty should be reintroduced (defeated)
  • That we would join the Democratic Labour Party (carried)
  • That Australia has failed the aborigine (carried)
  • That the testing of nuclear weapons should be abolished (carried)
  • That we would welcome a woman prime minister (carried)
  • That acceptance of evolution is overdue in our schools (defeated)

Nowadays, evolution is accepted in Australian schools, but Australians are still waiting to welcome their first woman prime minister.

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