You are in site section: Exhibitions

Suburbia

Suburbia

Suburbia

Nation opens the front door of the 'Great Australian Dream' otherwise known as home ownership and takes a good look inside. It examines the way urban development in Australia has followed a distinctive pattern. It also looks at how home ownership has been influenced by economic and social trends.

Nation peeps over the back fence, past the Hills hoist (invented by a Melbourne blacksmith), showing us that by the 1920s, the promise of peace, security and space made the suburbs the place to be. It explores the way we embraced a lifestyle surrounded by white picket fences and the aroma of baking scones even though sometimes, behind closed doors, things weren't so perfect.

Take a fun and thought-provoking trip down memory lane.

Surburban boom

Kitchen
Kitchen. Photo: Brendan Bell.

Australia faced a severe housing shortage after the Second World War. About 300,000 homes were needed quickly for returned servicemen and women, and for migrants arriving from war-torn Europe. Governments built public housing, but most people wanted to buy their own home. People borrowed and saved as never before to realise their dream. The suburban boom, and the urban sprawl, had begun.

Do-it-yourself

Materials and labour shortages made new houses extremely expensive after the Second World War, so many Australians cut costs by building their own homes. Thousands of bachelors and young couples spent evenings and weekends working at their house sites, scrounging and saving to make their dream home. In the 1950s, over one-third of all new houses were built by their owners.

The history of Hills hoists

Hills hoist display model. Used in a window display in Eastern suburbs Lime & Cement Store, Rose Bay. Given to Jim Jackson as a toy around 1955 by the store's owner.
Hills hoist display model. Used in a window display in Eastern suburbs Lime & Cement Store, Rose Bay. Given to Jim Jackson as a toy around 1955 by the store's owner.
Photo: George Serras.

Melbourne blacksmith Gilbert Toyne made his own rotary clothes line in 1904. Although these clothes lines were made by several companies, everyone calls them Hills hoists. From a fortune built on drying sheets, Hills Industries has grown into a multinational manufacturer of steel consumer items.

Small model hoists were produced both as toys and for shop window displays. They were appealing and very expensive. The smaller versions cost almost twice as much to buy as full-sized hoists.

Living in a material world

Victa lawnmower
Victa lawnmower.
Photo: George Serras.

After war-time restraint, Australians were encouraged to spend. In advertisements, labour-saving appliances such as vacuum cleaners promised women that their domestic drudgery was over. Owning these things also showed that you were successful and 'modern'. As their disposable income increased, people needed little persuasion. They bought more than six times as many washing machines in 1960 as they had in 1950.

The Sunbeam Mixmaster, released in 1948, was the first motor-driven small kitchen appliance. It was hugely successful, popular both with busy mums making cakes and with kids who begged, 'Can I lick the beaters pleeeease?'