Australia in the 1920s


Summary of the decade

The end of the First World War brought a period of great optimism and progress for many in Australia. Due to the successful exploits of Australian servicemen during the war and in international politics, 'the digger' was enshrined as an Australian icon and legend. The 1920s saw a higher level of material prosperity for non-Indigenous people than ever before. Many non-Indigenous returned soldiers received advantageous financial loans to build houses, typically Californian bungalows, on suburban blocks of land. New inventions such as radios and automobiles became common acquisitions for the ordinary family and going to the cinema was a popular form of entertainment.

At the same time, Indigenous people were being forcibly removed from their lands onto mission reserves and experienced immense hardship through the application of government 'assimilation' policies. Indigenous soldiers returning from the war were ineligible for any of the programs or benefits that were available to non-Indigenous soldiers. They had no access to medical treatment and were ineligible for the soldier settlement program.

The end of the war also saw Australia enter a period of political unrest and strikes. Unions became more militant in order to protect workers' rights. The conservative alliance, led by ex-ALP renegade and former prime minister Billy Hughes and prime minister Stanley Bruce, was quick to seize on socialist ALP factions and Irish militancy as evidence of 'Bolshevik Communism'.

The 1920s was known as the Jazz era. Women had greater freedom of expression and found work outside of the home. This was reflected in new fashions, short hair, smoking, dancing and improved access to jobs and education. Younger women were sometimes referred to as 'flappers' or 'modern' women.

In October 1929, the world experienced a stock market crash on Wall Street in New York that plunged the world into the Great Depression (1929–34).

A snapshot of 1928

  • February
    • Bert Hinkler landed in Darwin after taking about 15 days for the first solo flight from Britain to Australia.

  • May
    • Charles Kingsford Smith flew across the Pacific Ocean from Oakland, California to Brisbane in 10 days.
    • Reverend John Flynn started flying doctors and nurses to the outback as a precursor to the first Royal Flying Doctor Service, which would be established in 1942.

  • June
    • The Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia was established as a separate entity.

  • August
    • Australian Iron and Steel began production with a blast furnace in Port Kembla.

  • December
    • Speedo produced its first swimsuit and Aeroplane Jelly was launched.