Living in the 70s, when men were men and women could almost earn a living

Sally Hopman 24 December 2021 53
Living in the 70s cover

“The men are over there.” Canberra was a top spot to nab a bonza bloke in the 1970s (apparently). Image: Supplied.

Back in the 1970s, Canberra – for women – was the place to go. Great job opportunities. You could be a secretary, a stenographer, or even a typist. You could work for the government, close to where all the important men worked. You could even earn money. Not a lot, but probably enough to keep you in perms.

At least that’s what the brochures said. Like the one entitled, Hi! Come and join us in Canberra – a week in the life of three young women.

It’s straight out of the 70s, encouraging young women to move to Canberra by featuring a week in the life of women who had done it. And lived to tell the tale.

But we know it was all a ruse.

Canberra was the place to go in the 1970s because that’s where you could nab a husband. All its talk about being the seat of power, having a lake, two TV stations. Today we’d say, LOL. Then it was just a joke.

Young women went to Canberra because there were way more blokes than women there. It was a place where men were men and women were, well, not men.


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No, you couldn’t tell from the cover, but clearly the brochure-makers were men, and clever. Almost subtle, even.

On the cover, they shot two women. Usually with a cover, you try to grab the potential reader’s attention. Not so much with this one. Instead, they opted for one woman in an attractive ensemble of patterned pants, a little orange number over a white shirt with, naturally matching orange shoes pointing at something in the distance. A stylist perhaps?

Her friend is seated nearby, in a pretty light blue outfit, complete with white beret, looking confused. But there was no need because, in the fuzzy distance, you can see Old Parliament House so you know where they were. Even if they didn’t.

Living in the 70s

Are you having lunch with a co-worker or a long-lost Beatle? Image: Supplied.

But now for the bad news. One of the women looks to be getting up close and personal with a bloke called Ian who looks suspiciously like someone who was a regular on Australia’s Most Wanted. It’s the sideburns – even his face looks scared of them.

The stenographer/typist/secretary/brain surgeon (just kidding about the last one) gazes at him with her trusting eyes as she introduces him to the reader.

“This is Ian,” she says helpfully. “He’s very nice but a bit shy.”

Shy? Seriously. He looks like a sociopathic axe murderer with a penchant for drowning three-legged kittens in vats of hot oil every second Tuesday …


READ ALSO: Sydney and Melbourne buildings – a unique part of Canberra


Unfortunately, she continues. “Ian works in my department … so we see quite a bit of each other.” Thankfully, there are no pictures.

If Ian didn’t fit the bill, there’s always the bloke with the shiny basin-cut hair. So shiny he could get a job as a star. In the sky. The girls seem to lunch with him most days and again later for dinner. Perhaps he’s at it a little too often as he looks to be barely containing himself within his paisley shirt. If his public service career failed, he could have got a job as the fifth Beatle. Or, with that moustache, well, you can guess …

According to the brochure, there were lots of opportunities for women to meet their intended in the fun city that was Canberra in the 1970s.

“The social life in Canberra is good. There are two television channels, three radio stations, and soon there’ll be nine movie theatres including two drive-ins.”

And because in Canberra in the 1970s everything was near everything else, and you never worked past 5 pm, people did stuff after work.

“Our evenings are free,” one of the women said, adding the best bit, “and the shops are open on Friday night AND Saturday morning.”

Then there are the clothes. It was all clunky shoes, wide pants and wild shirts. The women’s fashion was pretty out there, too.

“We think the shops in Canberra are as good as Sydney and Melbourne,” the women say. “Canberra keeps up with ‘in’ fashions like the other capital cities, with good boutiques, hairdressing salons and record shops.”

Record shops? Perhaps that’s where they got their vinyl frocks.

Want more? Read on.


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53 Responses to Living in the 70s, when men were men and women could almost earn a living
Savitha Lakshmi Savitha Lakshmi 7:16 pm 05 Jan 22

Sidd apparently Canberra is the place to nab a husband

Vivienne Ortega Vivienne Ortega 9:48 am 05 Jan 22

Wages were enough to even buy a house!

Më Batterbury Më Batterbury 9:45 pm 04 Jan 22

Mother worked for the navy sending coded messages to submarines in the 60s .., she loved her time there

Hilary Huggan Hilary Huggan 4:19 pm 04 Jan 22

I guess it depends on individual experiences. Many of us appreciated being home with our kids, on a single income, (even with 20+% interest rates on home loans) without the stress of having to find childcare (in Canberra). Childcare is the unspoken element in all these type of stereotypical remarks. As a single woman — I understand the barriers of the time — I worked in a shop while I studied. But I loved having the opportunity to be with my kids. I feel sorry for young mothers nowadays where the financial stress is so high they don't have a choice.

Melissa Anne Melissa Anne 7:44 pm 03 Jan 22

I got a degree. There was NO WAY on this planet i was going to be a typist/stenographer/secretary. The 70s ...... ughhh. Awful decade.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:17 pm 03 Jan 22

Yes, that does look a bit like something that might have been a Cleo insert, just before the centrefold and facing an advert for Virginia Slims.

On the other hand, change was stirring –

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/brazen-hussies

Quite a bit in that about Liz Reid, and some footage of a lively mid-70s episode of Monday Conference held in Canberra.

Michael Watson Michael Watson 6:03 pm 03 Jan 22

When women could afford to stop working when they got married because a man on the minimum wage could support his family.

Coral De Britt Coral De Britt 1:23 pm 03 Jan 22

I ended up in Canberra in early 1970s. I came from Young. I was doing a Secretarial Course at TAFE when nearing the end of the year some people arrived from Canberra to recruit young ladies to work in Canberra. All that was needed was a typing test, if you passed and you wanted to work in Canberra you were offered a choice of Hostels and Departments to work in.

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 8:16 pm 04 Jan 22

    Coral De Britt I can also remember if you typed in Govt u were required to produce A PERFECT letter.

    One day it took 2 hours of retyping without any corrections even a FULL stop.

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 8:17 pm 04 Jan 22

    Then I was transferred out of Head Office to my Suburb.

Bruce Ronning Bruce Ronning 8:13 pm 02 Jan 22

Don't knock the 70s unless you were there . They were awesome.

    Peter Chapman Peter Chapman 9:16 pm 03 Jan 22

    Bruce Ronning exactly. Met my wife at Gowrie Hostel. New house in Giralang. Both had Govt jobs. It was a wonderful life. Skiing in winter, coast in summer. We still married.

Andrea Anderson Andrea Anderson 6:29 pm 02 Jan 22

Well this article was written only a few years after women employed by the Australian public service were able to remain employed full-time after marrying. How far we've come from this...

https://insidestory.org.au/the-long-slow-demise-of-the-marriage-bar/

    Shirley Byrne Shirley Byrne 11:06 am 03 Jan 22

    Andrea Anderson but you still couldnt get a loan off a bank without a mans guarantee.

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 8:14 pm 04 Jan 22

    Andrea Anderson I began in the Fed Public Service in 1969.

    I can remember females being granted Equal pay for equal positions.

    The Public Service was good to me

    I have had a varied career over more than 50 years however between Govt jobs I also worked for almost 15 private businesses.

    In NSW Adelaide and Northern Territory. 😁

Timothy Bailey Timothy Bailey 4:26 pm 02 Jan 22

Here's Spike Milligan's version of that. 'Join the Army. Travel to far-off exotic lands. Meet new interesting people, and kill them.' This view did not discourage me from doing 8 yrs - mostly part time! Full-time was for courses with the Regular Army. Marksmanship and Coaching. Battalion Intelligence Section.

Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 1:40 pm 02 Jan 22

The ACT houses are on Leasehold title 99 year lease

    Aldyth Mackay Aldyth Mackay 1:41 pm 03 Jan 22

    Not so. The 99 lease system was abandoned some time in the late 80s or early 90s. House blocks are for all intents and purpose freehold.

    Christine Doran Christine Doran 8:39 am 04 Jan 22

    Aldyth Mackay Canberra still has 99 year lease system

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 1:11 pm 06 Jan 22

    Aldyth Mackay ok if u say so.

    It's news to me.

    However how did the ACT govt force the householders that had a Positive test for Mr Fluffy force them to sell their houses to them

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 1:12 pm 06 Jan 22

    Back to them.

    Then according to Canberra Times the original householders due to inflation could not afford to buy their own house position back?

Tim Mak Tim Mak 1:02 pm 02 Jan 22

Imagine the house prices in the 70s. Times were different (and affordable).

    Aldyth Mackay Aldyth Mackay 1:44 pm 03 Jan 22

    I bought my first house in 1975 for $29,500. 3 bedroom separate dining - one loo.

    James Forge James Forge 9:14 pm 03 Jan 22

    You didn't need to worry about house prices as you could pretty much rent a govvy as soon as you moved here. After 5 or 6 years you could buy your house for a reasonable sum of money.

    Now if the ACT government had not sold off most of the government housing stock rents would still be cheap in Canberra and so would house prices.

Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 11:27 am 02 Jan 22

And yr neighbours didnt have BARKING DOGS eh Chris

Louise Frodyma Louise Frodyma 11:07 am 02 Jan 22

But then sometimes if you wanted more fashion choice, you did a 4 hr treck to Sydney, up through Razorback Mnt, stop at Bargo for a hamburger, then wind your way up through Liverpool into Oxford St. All the while hoping you didn't meet peak hour traffic. The shops were a dream, the trip a nightmare. 🛻

Angela Hunter Angela Hunter 10:22 am 02 Jan 22

Ahhh the 70s. When you could buy a house and support a family on one wage.

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 1:43 pm 02 Jan 22

    Angela Hunter There is a Correlation between total household income and price of accommodation.

    The key part of your comment is ONEwage

    Ampliss Kinkaide Ampliss Kinkaide 5:51 pm 02 Jan 22

    Angela Hunter also 1 car per family, 1 phone per family, 1 TV per family and the parents slept in a double bed, not a king size ... the kids slept in single beds, not queen size, and there would be two or three to a bedroom ... we went to the movies once or twice a year and we rarely ate out ... we went on holidays in a caravan or tent and never thought about seeing Disneyland for real

    Bridie Sylvester Bridie Sylvester 6:12 pm 02 Jan 22

    Angela Hunter when you could leave your door unlocked and walk the streets safely (in Canberra). You respected your elders, didn’t pay for health care….

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:18 pm 02 Jan 22

    Ampliss Kinkaide Houses were smaller too, with one bathroom, and likely the shower would be over the bath.

    My first house, bought in the 1980s, was 99 sq.metres, with no plumbed hot water.

    Jennie Smith Jennie Smith 2:39 pm 03 Jan 22

    My mother (rest her soul) always said that when there are two wages coming into a household the cost of housing would increase. And how right she was.

Ruth Rooney Ruth Rooney 9:20 am 02 Jan 22

That's a bit sexist. Especially if a lady wasn't interested in a man, but only wanted a new fresh start. And start the adoption process for cat's. Did Anyone think of that back in the 70's ?? 🙂🤣

    Shirley Byrne Shirley Byrne 1:08 pm 02 Jan 22

    Ruth Rooney sexist wasnt even a word then

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 1:41 pm 02 Jan 22

    Ruth Rooney my mother was a Feminist She died recently age 99

    Jennifer Close Jennifer Close 1:44 pm 02 Jan 22

    Shirley Byrne it sure.

    ANU offered Women's Studies in 1982

    Lucetta Thomas Lucetta Thomas 3:36 pm 02 Jan 22

    Agree. Its a very sexist article.

    Ampliss Kinkaide Ampliss Kinkaide 5:56 pm 02 Jan 22

    Ruth Rooney there were five standard career options for females in the 1970s : secretary, teacher, nurse, airline hostess, model ... or you could be a sales assistant or waitress or barmaid or prostitute, but they weren't considered careers

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 7:52 pm 02 Jan 22

    Ampliss Kinkaide Untrue! Woman could apply for almost any job. My first job in Canberra was printing and processing film; plus helping look after some scientific equipment. Under instruction, as I was the junior, straight from high school. Plus other work as required; pulling equipment apart, etc. There were secretaries there, but most women that I knew who worked, were not secretaries.

John Mungoven John Mungoven 8:44 am 02 Jan 22

So many happy Ken Behrens however we started here

Juz Hawke Juz Hawke 8:09 am 02 Jan 22

I have a printed copy of this that I pull out and read every now and then for a laugh! My how times have changed!!!

Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 7:05 am 02 Jan 22

I found a

copy of this or a similar brochure, on a file in one of my workplaces. I think it was in the Public Service Commission or it might have been in the National Archives.

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