Summers Past

Golden Days in the Australian Sun 1950–1970

Spectators watch Corrimal Beach surf carnival (1969)National Archives of Australia

At the beach

In the 1950s and 1960s, Christmas heralded the start of annual summer holidays for many Australian families. Those who didn’t already live near the coast usually headed towards it, mostly in Holdens and sometimes hauling a caravan. They made tracks to seaside places such as the Gold Coast, Manly, Byron Bay and Sorrento, plonking their bodies on the warm sand, transistors to their ears, to bake in the summer sun. Back then most people seemed unconcerned about sunburn and, as the images show, even beach umbrellas were in short supply.

Bathing beauty (1955)National Archives of Australia

Spectators at the New South Wales Surf Championships (1969)National Archives of Australia

Sydney beach scene (1969)National Archives of Australia

The Big Island (1970) by Commonwealth Film Unit, AustraliaNational Archives of Australia

Office girls relaxing in gardens opposite Parliament House (1970)National Archives of Australia

Cooling off

It’s no secret that Australia can be very hot, especially in summer. As the song says, we are girt by sea, and for 85 per cent of Australians a blissful dip in the ocean has always been less that two hours’ drive away. For those living further inland, sanctuary was found in a nearby river or lake, or the town’s public swimming pool.

Waves breaking into the pool (1945)National Archives of Australia

Harbour swimming pool (1960)National Archives of Australia

Preparing canoes (1948) by Cliff BottomleyNational Archives of Australia

Sunbathers relax on the lawn at the Olympic Pool (1966)National Archives of Australia

Life in Australia: Sydney (1966) by Commonwealth Film Unit, AustraliaNational Archives of Australia

1952 Miss Pacific finalists, Mary Clifton, Pamela Jansen and Judy Worrad, stand in front of surfboards (1952)National Archives of Australia

Cossies, togs and bathers

Until the 1940s, Australian women wore decidedly modest, albeit colourful, one-piece swimsuits. But the bikini was already in vogue overseas and by the early 1950s Australian women were daring to wear it. Discover the many fashion statements that could be made by wearing a favourite pair of cossies, togs or bathers!

Sunbathing (1955)National Archives of Australia

Beachgoers (1955)National Archives of Australia

Beach types (1956)National Archives of Australia

Christmas party (1959)National Archives of Australia

Line up of contestants, Coral Queen competition, Great Barrier Reef Islands Festival (1970)National Archives of Australia

Santa Claus visits a Sydney beach (1969)National Archives of Australia

Swimming coach (1963)National Archives of Australia

Nice one, sport!

Between 1950 and 1970, Australia was triumphant in all the sports we loved. We dominated in the pool, won the Davis Cup a remarkable 15 times, and boasted an impressive record against every Test cricket nation. As these images show, Australian youngsters were keen to play the game, and on most summer Saturdays all around the country, boys and girls would play tennis or cricket, or swim like champions.

Boys with kites (1965)National Archives of Australia

Surf carnival (1966)National Archives of Australia

Children learning to swim (1945)National Archives of Australia

Children from Far West Home play cricket on the beach (1964)National Archives of Australia

Mass tennis class (1967)National Archives of Australia

Surfboard riders (1967)National Archives of Australia

Boxing Day picnic (1959)National Archives of Australia

Out and about

Australians have always been fairly laid back and never more so than in summer. Looking at these images from the 1950s and 1960s, it’s plain that sophistication was seldom a consideration when choosing what to wear. On holidays, most people preferred to be comfortable rather than trendy, and bare feet were common on coastal streets, as were unbuttoned shirts and even swimwear.

Snack bar (1971)National Archives of Australia

Holiday makers gather around a car on a hot summer's day (1964)National Archives of Australia

Christmas party on the beach (1969)National Archives of Australia

Holiday makers at Surfers Paradise (1959)National Archives of Australia

Credits: Story

This exhibit is from 'Summers Past', a larger exhibition developed by the National Archives of Australia in 2005. Many of the photographs were taken by the Australian News and Information Bureau. A sample of favourites from the exhibition are featured here. The exhibition toured Australia from 2005 to 2012.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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