Was life better in the '70s?
Jad Capelja as Sue and Nell Schofield as Debbie in the film. Ashleigh Cummings (Debbie) and Brenna Harding in the new series.
I am in raptures over the seventies nostalgia currently on television. Though I’m finding it hard to follow the Puberty Blues and Howzat plotlines as I’m too busy singing along to the soundtracks and exclaiming “Oh my God body shirts!", "Fat ties!" and "I had that aqua tracksuit top!"
As a pre-tween, cricket was as summer to me as chlorine and cicadas. I grew up watching the gods of the game: Dennis Lillee’s smirking moustache, Pascoe’s necklace nestled in his chest hair and Rod Marsh’s beer belly bouncing as he lurched for a catch. As a teenager I squirmed while sharing dog-eared copies of Puberty Blues. While thankfully too young and innocent for the Vaseline sex, I too sunbaked in a coffee coloured crochet bikini (once even putting a sticker on my thigh that branded me with the Lee jeans in sunburn). I too sat in front of Countdown with a cassette player (akin to today’s illegal download we would race to press ‘record’ but always missed the first few bars of the song). I too wore a lot of brown; which for some inexplicable reason was the colour of the decade.
The new series of Puberty Blues.
But all this brown-toned nostalgia has got me wondering about the old clichés bemoaning the time as ‘the good old days.’ A time when life was simpler, easier and better. I'm not so sure. I also question those parents who tell their kids ‘you guys have it easy it was much harder in my day’. The truth is both sides are right and wrong.
There’s no doubt the seventies was a more culturally simple era. We lived in one TV households and watched the same shows (Countdown, Paul Hogan, and Gilligan’s Island). We listened to the same music (2SM – that’s my station). This meant there was a strong, albeit homogenous, cultural glue that held society together. Yet, this homogeny meant less choice. If you didn’t fit in, or wanted more, there was no internet or multitude of channels offering alternatives.
A scene from Howzat! Kerry Packer's War
There’s no doubt that there was more freedom for kids in the ‘70s. I’ll never forget my first concert; a 2SM, Moove Flavoured Milk outdoor freebie featuring INXS, the Angels and Split Enz. As Dragon sang, “Are you old enough,” I knew I really wasn’t; the crush of bodies and the beer cans flying over my pigtails both thrilled and terrified me. There’s no way I’d let a 12 year-old go to a similar gig.
Abe Forsythe as John Cornell, Cariba Heine as Delvene Delaney and Travis Mcmahon as Paul Hogan in Howzat!. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
With four children in my family and a more relaxed attitude to parenting we grew up rather wild. My kids don’t roam the bush and parks for hours on end like I did at their age; missing out on a freedom I cherished. But they are still slipping in and out of neighbours’ houses like butter, playing cricket and riding their bikes on the road. My kids don’t go to school solo; the roads are more dangerous to cross. But while we worry life is less safe, we need to remember the dangerously wonderful playground equipment and the shocking lack of seatbelts and air bags of that era.
I remember school as rather fun and pretty easy going. There’s no doubt it’s harder now. The standardising testing, homework, and a far stricter curriculum means more pressure; yet I’m glad they learn the grammar we skipped. I also love the fact it’s now cool to do well at school. My high school was a touch Puberty Blues – the cool kids mucked up and the ‘dags’ worked hard. I think that’s changed a lot. Especially with girls.
Much has been made of the children of today being over scheduled. I agree with the concern, believing boredom is important for imagination and brain development and wonder if kids need more ‘hanging out’ time together. Yet I remember endless weekends listlessly roaming our house with eyes half numbed to old Elvis movies. I would have loved the jazz ballet, tap, hip-hop and guitar lessons kids enjoy today.
We like to shake our heads about all the screen time our children have. The endless hours they engage in computer games, iPad, iTouch, Wii, DS and Play Station. Sure it’s too much, yet I watched so much television I can still recite entire episodes of The Brady Bunch.
Social media is a real issue. I worry about it already despite the fact my children are too young to be engaged. Yet on the other hand, I’m glad kids are better informed and aware of bullying issues. Those ‘bitches’ in Puberty Blues seem unusually cruel by today’s standard. Perhaps it’s just a shift in location of the abuse. A Sunny Boy ice block on the back of the head may actually do less lasting damage than a demoralising campaign on Facebook. Kids can be cruel in all eras.
While climate change is making our country hotter I recall the seventies as scorching with few cars, homes and schools having air conditioning. A trip to the beach took an hour and we’d return slick with sweat and stuck to the poo-brown veneer back seat. It took us six hours to drive to the coastal camping spot that I now visit in three. And there were no videos in the car; just two cassettes (Bob Dylan and Hair), endless fighting and my sister lifting the listlessness by sticking the back of her head out the window pretending to be Cousin It.
The hairiness of the age may look rather gross but with the current obsession with hair removal I’m beginning to look back at it with fondness. As with the fashion. I would argue our clothing were better – I’m still a big fan of flares, tank tops, maxi dresses and terry toweling. Remember the brouhaha over the tiny Target shorts last week? We need to remember how miniscule our shorts were and how skimpy the bikinis. My kids are far more covered up with cancer proof swimming tops and pants.
While much is made of the sexualised nature of society these days even the pubescent child of the time noticed the sexual swagger of our cricketers. Yet I concede ABBA’s t-shirt dresses with pussycat print were preferable to the ubiquitous pussy grind in a rapper’s crotch that graces current music videos. Playboy magazines found in cubby houses were far more modest than the horror and graphic porn children can find on the web. This area definitely favors the past.
Of course the seventies were also a more sexist time. Women had far less economic power and less right to a career. Mothers may have been frustrated, fathers more absent. I’m glad my kids see their mothers less, but their father far more, as roles begin to be better shared. But let’s not pretend misogyny is done and dusted. Our girls grow up to be just as objectified as the Chiko Roll girl but with added airbrushing and digital enhancement. I’m glad I grew up seeing real bodies.
Obesity is a real concern of today. Yet let’s not forget what we ate – bags of mixed lollies, endless Sunny Boys, Maccas, KFC and burnt meat. Today’s kids are raised on Master Chef so are starting to eat better food along with the more highly processed rubbish.
The era that Puberty Blues and Howzat depicts was a time of significant change in terms of social policy, music and sport. Our children are coming of age in another period of rapid change. They live in a global society and they are better traveled, more culturally aware and more vulnerable to global shifts. Yet that world offers them enormous opportunities and excitement.
I’ve gone out of my way to give my children the fun and freedom of my seventies childhood, minus the brown clothes and decor. But I also encourage them to pursue the opportunities the naughties offer. The verdict of what era is better – now and then? Well I’ll have to leave that to the video umpire. Or to you …..
What do you think? What are the pros and cons of your childhood verses the life of kids today?