LIFE IN 1954

          B Stett

(Investigator 112, 2007 January)


In 1954, did they have reasonable prices? Crime? The paranormal? Good medicine? War? Television?

A 64-page newspaper found in my shed has the answers — The S.A. Sunday Mail, June 19, 1954.


The paranormal in 1954, like today, was newsworthy. For example, a Rev. Broomhead complained about not seeing any flying saucers:

Why me? My friends have seen them, my small daughter talks of taking a flying saucer into town but as far as I am concerned the skies are empty. It's the obscurity that hurts. After all, nobody likes to be overlooked. (p. 54)

And Singapore had a ghost:

A naked ghost, covered in oil, which dances across the city rooftops at night, has the Singapore police puzzled. Whenever police or local vigilantes try to trap the ghost, it suddenly disappears.

The other night the ghost danced a hula-hula on a rooftop in Zion road, then pelted watchers and police with stones. Some superstitious natives and Chinese are so terrified of the ghost that they stay at home at night behind locked doors and windows.

A Siamese priest says the ghost is the "agent" of a dying Chinese youth ... (p. 51)


The front page had the following report:


Anti-Communist rebels invaded Guatemala by land, sea, and air yesterday, and today were reported to be locked in bloody combat with defending Government forces in four important cities.

There were also reports of internal uprisings throughout the embattled country.

The "liberation" troops are attempting to unseat the Leftist-tinged Government of President Jacobo Arbenz Gutzman.

The history of the Guatemala invasion is: Arbenz was a socialist who expropriated an American fruit company, whereupon the CIA arranged a coup which placed a military regime in power. A "dirty war" with left-wing guerillas continued until 1986 when a civilian government took over.

Other front-page news were traffic accidents and football results: "Victoria defeated SA by 127 points today
one of the biggest football drubbings we have ever had."


Why the great promotion today of credit cards? Because in 1954 researchers discovered that:

A woman who can operate on a credit account spends more than one who has to pay cash.

This was discovered by an American research organization which interviewed 8,000 women.

The recently conducted study revealed that a woman with a credit account in a particular store spends 3.8 times as much as a cash customer, and that 57 out of every 100 with a credit account buy something when they go into a shop, against 43 out of every 100 cash customers. (p. 63)

The 1954 Sunday Mail had ads — small ads, large ads and groups of ads. But how pleasing were the prices?

Australia changed from pounds and shillings to dollars in 1966, so I'll convert the ads to the new currency. In 1954 the usual adult weekly wage was $30.

Shoes so comfortable that "you'll never take them off, not even to swap for house slippers" cost $3.50. The most expensive washing machine was a "Pope" which "Fills, Washes, Wrings and Empties" and cost $171. A "radiogram", a furniture piece that combined radio with record player, cost a whopping $190 — over six weeks income! And refrigerators cost 1/5 of a man's yearly income! That's why most people in 1954 still used ice chests in which food was kept cool by a block of ice delivered weekly.

Car advertisements (p. 60) were mainly for second-hand cars. Prices for cars built between 1950 and 1952 varied from about $800 to $1,600.

A radio — "Australia's lowest-priced 5-valve mantel radio" — cost $44! (p. 54) That's 1½ weeks wages for a cheap radio, equivalent today to $1,000! And television sets didn't exist because TV carme to Adelaide in 1959.

More prices:
•    Four chairs: $8
•    Men's Shirts: $2.00
•    Working Shirts: $1.30
•    Canned soup: $0.19
•    Tea Towels: $0.20
•    Carpet: $0.82 per yard
•    Refrigerators: $150 to $190
•    Vacuum cleaners (sale): $1 to $15
•    Washing machines (sale) : $10 to $70
•    Kerosene Room Warmer: $30
•    Inner suburb 4-room brick house: $3,000
•    Inner suburb building site: c.$300

Other than canned tomato soup no food or bathroom items were advertised because in 1954 Adelaide had no supermarkets — they started about 1959. Most shopping was done at local delicatessens or the central market.

Recent years have seen much political bickering on how to prevent drink-cans and bottles from littering the streets. The SA Government introduced a scheme in 1975 whereby buyers of canned drinks paid a refundable deposit of 5 cents per can. Later the scheme widened to include milk and juice containers and alcoholic-drink bottles. But 31 years later the refund is still only 5 cents, an amount now so trivial that many people don't pick up the coin if accidentally dropped!

Back in 1954 bottled-drink companies had the answer. A Coca-Cola ad (p. 30) priced a small coke, "contents only", at 5 cents. To "take away" the bottle cost another 5 cents which was refunded upon its return. Notice, for small bottles the take-away price was double the content price! Applied today and averaged out it would add $1.50 to $2 to the cost of a canned or bottled drink! If empty bottles or cans were worth $2 the streets would surely stay clean!


In 1954 people hoped for peace:


GENEVA, Saturday: Hopes of peace in Indo-China were raised further yesterday, when the Communists pledged the immediate withdrawal of any Vietminh forces in Laos and Cambodia. (p. 2)

Well, we know how that turned out.

Worries over nuclear energy are nothing new; read this from page 2:


LONDON, Saturday: Radio-active rain began to fall in Birmingham five weeks after the first hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific on March 1.


Should adopted children be permitted to contact their natural parents? This big issue of today seemed settled in 1954:

Twenty-year-old Joan Fry will never be allowed to see her eighteen-month-old daughter, now the adopted child of a Warrak couple.

Mr Francis Lewin the farmer who adopted ... Wendy ... said at Warrak today: "We'll never let Wendy [the daughter] know about all this ... it's finished." (p. 3)

What about capital punishment?

OTTAWA, Saturday: A parliamentary committee has recommended painless injection of morphine to replace hanging as a method of execution.

The committee, set up to study the controversial question of capital punishment, decided death by drugs was more humane. (p. 4)

Listening to the radio for free was a crime in 1954 — because listening required a license! "Radio license inspector" was an actual occupation and their job was to search houses and hunt for "licence dodgers":

South Australian radio licence inspectors have just finished one of the biggest country blitzes ever in a check on licence dodgers ...

One inspector said: "In one small West Coast town 25 new radio licences were taken out in one day while we were still 150 miles away."

They found radios hidden in wardrobes. Some householders kept the inspector talking while another member took the radio out to a shed ... (p. 16)

Oil and uranium are today much in the news — as they were in 1954:

Scenes at three SA uranium fields

This week an official party, including the premier, Mr. Playford, inspected the Radium Hill and newly-discovered uranium fields in the north. (p. 3)

Today, over 50 years later, the world's largest deposits of uranium are in South Australia! No such luck, however, with oil:  "CANBERRA, Saturday: Scientists hope that data collected in the Eucla Basin survey will enable them to decide if the search for oil in SA should be continued." (p. 3)

For decades, political debate in Australia included hotel closing times. In 1954 they also argued about counter lunches and showing movies in pubs:

Sydney's uncivilised "six O' clock swill" has been universally condemned, yet any changes by individual publicans to alter the pattern of established hotel drinking habits inevitably produce fierce opposition ...

A year ago the controversy raged about free counter lunches; now it is the screening of films in bars.

And soon it will be the question of extended trading hours... (p. 49)

Do you sometimes feel that people no longer spell correctly? Well, read this:

Recently a Sydney branch of the Bank of New South Wales sent an enclosure envelope to its head office, marked Draught Department.

Back came this reply:

"Please note that we still spell our name 'Draft' Department, although sometimes we think we work like 'draught' horses, and on many occasions our office is very 'draughty.'

"Some of us are partial to 'draught beer,' but we really deal in 'drafts'." (p. 63)


Women's ordination, a hot topic in some denominations in the '90s, wasn't a problem in 1954:

The Rev. Gwen Hewett has been appointed by the governors of Parkin Congregational Mission to succeed the Rev. R. S. Woods at Encounter Bay and district churches ... She was with the London Missionary Society in Amoy, China, for 10 years.

Since returning to Australia, she has been the minister in many Congregational churches. (p. 52)


Human interest stories included:
•    A former Northern Territory policeman who used to patrol 8,000 miles per year had come to Adelaide for treatment for encroaching blindness.

•    A woman bedridden for 53 years who had undergone 51 operations.

•    Two women pen friends of 17 years who were about to meet.

An extensive "Country Section" filled pages 27 to 40 with news about jobs, church extensions, clubs, luncheons, money-raising events, carnivals, and sports events in various country towns of SA.


On page 9 we learn: "FANATICISM — that's the word for the essential difference between SA and Victorian league football. All Victorian footballers are fanatics." Clearly some things haven't changed.

The "Sports Section", pages 23 to 26, had the horse racing results for Gawler, Murray Bridge, Melbourne and Sydney.

More sports news appeared on p. 64 where it's reported that 19 people were injured in Adelaide that Sunday from playing sports and treated in hospital — football 14 injured, soccer 3, basketball 2.

Page 55 had the Sunday radio programs for Adelaide's five radio stations. Only one, 5KA, went all night. The others all closed by 11.30 p.m.

Page 57 listed the movies playing in eight movie theatres that Sunday night. The "York", for example, featured Androcles And The Lion with Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. Adelaide had 38 movie theatres but most did not open Sundays. And there were no drive-in theatres in 1954. (The first was under construction, and in 1956 the sixth was completed.)


In London a man gained entry by posing as an electricity inspector and stole jewellery; in Adelaide the 17th pet dog in a week died from poisoned strychnine bait; in Sydney a 21-year old woman was charged for the abduction of a six-year-old girl. (pp 2-3)

There was no Viagra in 1954, that came almost 50 years later, but some people tried alternatives:

LONDON, Sat.: An office manager who poisoned two girl typists was yesterday gaoled for five years.

He gave them coconut ice containing the poison cantharidin ...

Athur Kendrik Ford, a 44-year-old office manager, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Betty Margaret Grant, 27, and June Florence Malins, 19.

Lord Goddard [Chief Justice] told Ford, "Miss Grant was not apparently willing to submit to your desires, but you were determined to administer to her an aphrodisiac or what you perceived to be an aphrodisiac ...

Mr. R. E. Seaton, prosecutor, said ... "Both Miss Grant and Miss Malins died in most intense agony ... The poison literally burns your inside." (p. 7)


Cigarettes, now known to be dangerous, were marketed with large ads in 1954. "Craven A" for example is: "so different, smooth, yet satisfying". (p. 9) No price is given but, I'm informed, a packet of twenty cost 25 cents compared to $10 for thirty now.

Health products were plentiful in 1954. Girls with "young skin problems" such as oily skin, flakiness and blackheads could buy Pond's Vanishing Cream and "control nature's ill will."

Cream of Yeast, containing yeast and chlorophyll, was a "reviver of bodily tissue" and "Gives you energy when you need it most". It made the partaker, "Look Good, Feel Good, With No Breath or Body Odour."

And: "thousands who coughed and coughed, sneezed, gasped and wheezed with Asthma and Bronchitis give thanks for ... Mendaco."

Seemingly every other common  complaint could, in 1954, be fixed with Cystex:

...Rheumatism, Sleepless Nights, Leg Pains, Backaches, Lumbago, Nervousness, Headaches and Colds, Dizziness, Circles under eyes, Swollen Ankles, Loss of Appetite or Energy...

I, for one, could do with some Cystex but it's now unavailable!