History in the making: More Aussies turn 50 in 2021 than in any previous year

More Australians turn 50 in 2021 than in previous years, Australian Bureau of Statistics' data show

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ANU family demography researcher Professor Ann Evans at the university's Research School of Social Sciences. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

ANU family demography researcher Professor Ann Evans at the university's Research School of Social Sciences. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

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This year marks a milestone in Australia's history as more Aussies turn 50 this year than any previous year.

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This year marks a lesser known milestone in Australia's history.

More Aussies will turn 50 than in any previous year, thanks to an uptick in births during 1971, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows.

That cohort was the largest ever, until it was eclipsed in 2007 with 292,152 registered births.

Those born in 1971 were associated with many other milestones that year, including the first Australian McDonald's opening in Sydney, Dame Rankin becoming the first female high commissioner to New Zealand and Neville Bonner being elected the first Aboriginal member of an Australian parliament.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s

Among those celebrating the milestone is one of the most successful doubles tennis players of all time - Todd Woodbridge.

The always-smiling Sport Australia Hall of Famer reached his half-century on April 2.

Todd Woodbridge, one of the most successful doubles tennis players of all time. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Todd Woodbridge, one of the most successful doubles tennis players of all time. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Recalling his early life, Mr Woodbridge said technology and travel were key differences back in the day.

"If we wanted photos, we only had a Kodak point and shoot. We didn't have iPhones and that instant gratification," the former world No.1 said.

"It's either a news service or a professional photographer who could show us what happened in those days.

"When I started to travel, my first laptop was given to me by IBM as a tour gift, but it had no programs. I used it as a typing machine."

If we wanted photos, we only had a Kodak point and shoot. We didn't have iPhones and that instant gratification. - Todd Woodbridge

Mr Woodbridge said travelling needed months of preparations to avoid the pain of rescheduling.

"You had to make sure that your itinerary was so perfect, because if you had to change that ticket, it was a nightmare," he said.

"It would take hours and hours for them to rewrite the physical ticket."

Mr Woodbridge said one memory from age 11 that "still blows my mind" about travelling was smoking inside planes.

"The whole plane was basically smelling of cigarette smoke. There were clouds across the roof and in between the seats, there were spaces for where people put the ashes," he recalled.

As for the sporting world, Mr Woodbridge said he was part of the first generation at the Australian Institute of Sport to experience the use of video and technology in sports science.

He said The Police, Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel were some of the rock bands that left a mark on him in the early days.

"Also my brother's tape deck in his car," he said.

As for global events, the tennis ace said he remembered the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) vividly and for a different reason than most people.

"One year after it fell, I made the Grand Slam Cup (in Germany) for a singles match. Then the government changed their laws retrospectively about four years later and decided there was a unification tax - that made me remember very much the two Germanys joining up," he said.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Picture: Getty Images

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Picture: Getty Images

Mr Woodbridge, who is now a media ambassador for Tennis Australia, said being part of the cohort meant celebrating a milestone with friends also turning 50.

"I'm into my second career and I'm still quite driven," he said.

"It's psychological. I don't feel like 50 but more 35, so I'm going to consider bluffing my mind as I move forward."

Demographer mixing it with the stars

ANU professor Ann Evans, who will turn 50 this August, just so happens to also be a family demography researcher at the university.

Ms Evans said looking back on life during the 70s and 80s, it made her realise how safe she felt in Australia.

The iconic 'Tank Man' photo during the Tiananmen Square protests. Picture: Getty Images

The iconic 'Tank Man' photo during the Tiananmen Square protests. Picture: Getty Images

"We were quite protected as a community during those periods despite what was happening worldwide with wars and conflicts," Ms Evans said.

"The only avenues for information were print, radio and TV - even then, there were very few channels.

"The images we were exposed to were the same for everyone - images of war and famine, for example, were things that raised awareness of global issues."

Ms Evans said the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square (1989) protests were two events that "brought home the notion that we were in a safe place in Australia".

Nationally, she said the civic rights of women and First Nations people were still in their early days during the 1970s.

"More tragically was the Lindy Chamberlain case - that whole experience was learning about how people can be treated under the law," she said.

More tragically was the Lindy Chamberlain case - that whole experience was learning about how people can be treated under the law. - Ann Evans, ANU

As for entertainment and pop culture, the Canberra-born woman said any kind of consumption - entertainment or otherwise - was not the same as it was today with its global accessibility.

A highlight for her was the wedding of the century between Neighbours' Scott Robinson and Charlene Mitchell, played by Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue.

"There was also the rise of pop stars like Tina Arena," Ms Evans said.

The 'unlucky cohort'

As for the ABS data, she said the impact of having such a large cohort born in one year, and the few years before and after, was more competition for resources such as jobs.

ANU family demography researcher Professor Ann Evans at the university's Research School of Social Sciences. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

ANU family demography researcher Professor Ann Evans at the university's Research School of Social Sciences. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

"This is often referred to as being an unlucky cohort. The 1971 cohort was impacted by two recessions during our formative teenage years," she said.

"As the 1971 cohort entered high school, their parents were impacted by the recession of the early 1980s and as they were leaving high school another recession was experienced in the early 1990s.

"In the years that this cohort finished high school, youth unemployment was between 18 and 20 per cent compared with 12-14 per cent in recent years."

Ms Evans said the lack of job opportunities corresponded with an increase in demand for higher education with women outnumbering men as a proportion of enrolments.

This was set against the backdrop of the Cold War and fear of nuclear war, the researcher said.

Family still prevailed

The ABS says the 1971 births occurred as the cohort of women born in 1947 reached the peak of their reproductive years.

"In the years 1970 to 1973 inclusive, the most common age of mothers giving birth - 23, 24, 25 and 26 years - coincided with the age of the 1947 cohort. The size of this cohort had also been increased by immigration," it says.

"Like the baby boom, the first echo began during a period of strong economic growth and relatively high levels of immigration.

"While young women in the late 1960s and early 1970s were better educated and more likely to pursue a career than their mothers' generation, the traditional model of family life still prevailed."

Key Australian events in 1971

  • Evonne Goolagong becomes Wimbledon champion after beating fellow Australian Margaret Court.
  • Neville Bonner, an elder of the Jagera people, became the first Aboriginal member of an Australian parliament (Queensland).
  • Top selling single: Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool.
  • The first Australian McDonald's opens in Yagoona, Sydney.
  • Actor Chips Rafferty dies at 62. He served with RAAF before his service was interrupted when he was seconded to act in a number of films, including some famous Australian war classics.
  • The first Australian political delegation to communist China was led by opposition leader Gough Whitlam.
  • Qantas pays out $500,000 ransom in mid-air bomb hoax.
  • The Springboks arrive in Australia for a six-week match tour, sparking anti-apartheid protests around the country. Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen declared a month-long state of emergency.
  • Australia's combat role ends in Vietnam where 1100 men of the 4th Battalion withdrew from Nui Dat - the main Australian base in the country for five years.
  • Prime Minister John Gorton votes himself out of office. The Liberal Party elected William McMahon as the replacement.
  • Dame Annabelle Rankin becomes first woman High Commissioner to New Zealand. Her promotion of Australia's interests included negotiations regarding Australian-New Zealand trade following Britain's entry into the European Economic Community.

Famous Aussies born in 1971

  • Matthew Hayden
  • Adam Gilchrist
  • Lisa McCune
  • Danni Minogue
  • Todd Woodbridge
  • Stuart Appleby
  • Julian Assange
  • Andrew O'Keefe
  • John Barilaro
  • Kyle Sandilands

Key world events in 1971

  • Legendary rock bands formed, including the Eagles, Queen, Foghat, New York Dolls and Roxy Music.
  • The first ever email was sent by computer programmer Roy Tomlinson.
  • India wins the war against Pakistan that resulted in the birth of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).
  • Apollo 14 landed on the moon.
  • The New York Times started publishing the Pentagon Papers.
  • China was admitted to the General Assembly at the United Nations.
  • Starbucks opened its first store.
  • Walt Disney World opens in Florida.
  • The Soviet Union launched the first space station into orbit.
  • United Arab Emirates established.
  • Imagine by John Lennon is released.
  • The premiere of A Clockwork Orange, the film by Stanley Kubrick based on the book by Anthony Burgess, takes place.
  • In Seoul, the worst hotel fire in history happens at the Taeyokale Hotel, resulting in the deaths of 163 people.

The story History in the making: More Aussies turn 50 in 2021 than in any previous year first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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