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“The Land Before Avocado”: a truly bittersweet look at Australia’s past


When I saw The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover I knew I had to read it. Not only am I missing Australia a little bit these days, but I also felt drawn to the title, which I assume is a not so subtle reference to millionaire real estate mogul Tim Gurner and his ‘advice’ for millennials in Australia. If you’re not familiar with Gurner’s advice, he told millennials that the housing crisis and their inability to buy property was because of our high consumption of smashed avocado breakfasts and artisan coffee…

Baby boomers look down on millennials with a contempt that seems to replay itself with every generation. One generation thinks they had it better, that they worked harder, and did more with their lives than the newer generation. It is an argument as old as time. If you don’t believe me, check out Amanda Ruggeri’s article. So when I saw Glover’s unconventional history of Australia, I wanted to see what he had to say. Surely there is a better way to talk about inter-generational differences than slinging smashed avocado toast at each other?

This is everything wrong with millennials today. Have we no shame?

Glover dives into Australia’s complicated, hilarious, and deeply troubling past. As it turns out, not everything was all roses back in the 1960s and 1970s. First things first, Australian food has improved a lot. Thank god for decent coffee and avocados is all I have to say after learning about ‘the meat ring’ or ‘deconstructed fish’. It took Australia a long time to embrace immigrant foods, but all I can say is thank god I didn’t have to live through a 1970s dinner party.

Australia also had questionable lollies. As a child I remember going to the store with my parents and begging them to get me some fags. We grew up in a pretty houso neighbourhood so you might be thinking I was a child-smoker. On the contrary, I was asking for a packet of these:

Actual lollies for children.

These were lollies named after a slang word for cigarettes. They had a dark red/brown coloured end, which I thought was to mimic the red burning smoke, and the rest of the cigarette-lengthed lolly was white. In the 1990s the company changed the name to FADS and just made them long white sugary sticks with no reference to cigarettes. But those my friend, where some dark days.

However, the Golden Gaytime ice cream released in 1959 was and remains amazing. And I cannot wait to try the sanga version! This is definitely a highlight from Australia’s past.

Golden Gaytime ice cream: “It’s hard to have a gaytime on your own.”

Much like food, Australia has also improved when it comes to women’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, and indigenous rights (although we still have a REALLY long way to go!). From it being illegal to be gay in Australia (up until the 1990s), from women not being able to open a bank account without their husbands permission, or indigenous children being taken from their parents (or really any of the 100s of horrible things white Australia did to them), I would say that things have changed for the good. Seat belts were made mandatory in 1972 and we banned smoking on planes in 1987. Win and Win, if you ask me.

To my surprise, I learnt that many books were also banned throughout the 1960s and 1970s including Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In fact, when you landed in Australia, customs officials would ask if you had any books with you and would inspect your reading to make sure you weren’t bringing in anything on the banned list. As someone who travels with at least three to seven books on any given holiday, customs would have hated me in the 1970s. Even the statue of David was removed from a Melbourne bookstore because you could see a bit too much of David’s pasta.

All of these funny and down right terrifying aspects of Australian history made me proud of how far we have come and hopeful that things do change for the better. 33% of Australians are born overseas and 30-40% of Australians in Sydney and Melbourne don’t speak English at home. There is so much we can still learn as Australians. We need to treat indigenous people better and respect our environment. In fact, I think we should look to and implement the advice of indigenous leaders when it comes to human and environmental rights. Marriage was finally legalised for same-sex couples, but the backlash that I still see in the media about ‘the homosexuals’ ruining everything still shows me that even though we have laws in place, it will take a while before everyone else catches up. Women are still treated badly in Australia. Just look at the rates at which women are murdered, attacked, and assaulted by family members every year. Not to mention our unhealthy obsession with excessive alcohol and rapist football players.

Glover’s Australian history doesn’t pit generations against on another, in fact it is a fairly measured and at times a self-deprecating look at the 1960s and 1970s. This is a must read for any Australian. I guarantee you will find yourself laughing. If you are a millennial like me, you might even think to yourself more than once that Glover is describing your Dad, or your uncles and aunties. For older generations reading Glover’s book, all I have to say is I am sorry you had to live a land before avocado.

Do you think Australia has changed for the better? Are there any dodgy things you remember from your childhood that you look back on and think, ‘Oh My!’ As always, share the reading love.

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