Memories of growing up in the 1970s: The rise of retro and Australia’s ‘Golden Years’

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By Kathy Karageorgiou

The popularity of things retro and vintage has been increasing over the years, yet many may merely shrug this off as another fashion trend.

As a Greek-Australian living in Greece for many years (including a few trips back to Australia), I have noted with curiosity, a rise in ‘retro/vintage’ shops and associated memorabilia in both countries. Furniture, vinyl records, and clothing with a 50’s, 60’s and 70’s look, for example, seem to be in demand. Now, even the 80’s and 90’s are considered ‘retro’ eras.

‘Retro’, comes from the word retrospective. A dictionary meaning of retro, cites it as “similar to styles, fashions, etc. from the past.” Vintage though, refers to the time something was made, whereas retro is about the appearance of an object or style, regardless of its date of actual construction.

Apart from clever marketing campaigns perhaps, what is this current appreciation of retro (and vintage) due to? Could this retro emergence attest to something beyond a consumer fad, and be privy to a deeper, psychological yearning? Does the popularity of retro style, of essentially nostalgically looking back, refer to something that is perhaps lacking in our lives today?

My love of retro does admittedly symbolise a perhaps romanticised yearning for the past. Memories … of my childhood, of growing up in Australia in the 70’s which I truly do consider a ‘Golden Age’.

Retro objects of that era which come to mind, are deeply interlinked with fond memories; the above ground, backyard pool, the garden sprinkler that robustly spun around, while we as kids robustly ran around and into it, squealing with delight. The retro-loving link here is those shimmering, hot Aussie summer days, when one was a carefree child; when one’s parents were younger, … when everything seemed so bright!

And bright, things certainly were back then! Even our kitchen was bright – an almost blindingly bright orange. Cars too (especially those known as ‘muscle cars’) would come in bold orange, or lime green and even unabashed purple.

I remember the cool guys on the block that possessed these mean machines, whereas my dear bαbά (dad) drove us around – to Greek school, and to the Greek yiortes (parties), etc. in his beige Valiant Chrysler. I remember wishing it was a Charger instead! Nowadays such 70’s cars are quite expensive and much sought after.

The car back then, also brings to mind their radios (with knobs), that often blared out loud, rock music. Great Australian bands of the 70’s – like Skyhooks and Sherbet and so many more, found their way into our hearts, homes, and cars. If Dad were to get too hot and bothered (from my insisting on turning the music up), I’d open the little, triangular ‘wing window’ to let air in.

There was also the car’s glove box. When you flipped open the lid, it exposed drink (aka beer can) holders designed into it! Speaking of alcohol, how retro our parents parties seem, with the happy (and sometimes ‘respectably’ tipsy) Theies (aunts) and Thious (Uncles)!

At these parties, there was that monumental booze tub! The bathtub of the ‘Yiorti house’, filled with ice and loaded with ‘liquor all sorts’ – my play on the words ‘Licorice Allsorts’, one of the many varieties of sweets back then.

That brings me to the glorious milk bars, that sold our 5 cents worth of little, white paper bags of mixed lollies like Snakes Alive, and Freckles and Teeth and Musk Sticks … the list can go on and on. Not to mention the local milk bars’ savoury treats, like 20 cent Sausage Rolls and teeny tins of soft drink.

I almost forgot the big, glass, soft drink bottles with bright and beautiful lime, pineapple, raspberry, etc. that came to our door in crates via an open back truck once a week. We didn’t seem to obsess about the sugar or artificial colourings and flavourings back then. After all, we had Weight Watchers, or Limits biscuits to fall back on! And always at hand were those friendly dentists who tended to over insist that we needed more fillings.

Οur parents didn’t seem to obsess about as much back then, as we tend to today, We ate to our hearts content. When we, Greek families and friends got together, our tables were laden with food. A table, or even two were pushed together, loaded with glorious Greek foods like pastichio made by Thia Eleni (Aunt Helen), or the daintily hand-rolled, little dolmadakia that Thia Effie contributed to the trapezi (dinner table or buffet).

Most Thies and Thious were incidentally not blood relatives, but we referred to them as if they were. This symbolised the sense of community we had back then: real community – bonding, familiarity, with deep cultural and social, as well as strong one-on-one personal ties. A world in which the only ‘hi-tech’ gadget seemed to be a record or cassette player!

And then there were the phones – in a world before mobiles! I recently purchased one with a dial and beautiful curved handset like we had back home when I was growing up. Ours was a kind of olive green colour. This one is also olive green. Which reminds me … I better call my parents to see how they are. I guess the greatest things in life – retro or not, never change.

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