School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    A culture of speed: the dilemma of being modern in 1930s Australia
    Andrewes, Frazer ( 2003)
    This thesis explores the reaction of Australians living in Melbourne in the 1930s, to changes in technology, social organisation, and personal attitudes that together constituted what they saw as innovations in modern life. Taking the Victorian Centenary of 1934 as a starting point, it analyses the anxieties and excitements of a society selfconsciously defining itself as part of a progressive potion of the western world. They reflected on the place of the city as locus of modernity; they analysed what appeared to be the quickening pace of human communications. They knew increasing leisure but deprecated the concomitant condition of boredom. They were concerned whether modernity was disease. They faced the ambiguities of the racial exclusivity of Australian modernity, centred in part on their ambivalence about Aborigines as Australians, but also incorporating long-held fears of populous Asian neighbours. They were not Britons, but their concerns for “men, money and markets”—and defence—kept the British connection uppermost. They participated in competing visions of the meanings of the past, and the directions of the future. Modern life, it seemed, was accused of overturning fundamental, and natural, race and gender norms, sapping the vital force of white Australia. Spurred by the increasing likelihood of a major conflict at the decade’s end, and drawing on much older and deepseated anxieties in Australia’s past, pessimists predicted a future where the technologies of modernity would make Australia vulnerable to attack. Australians in Melbourne, however, were excited about modernity and not just anxious. People were prepared to take risks, to seek novel experiences, and the reasons for this probably stemmed from the same causes that made other people turn away from the new to find comfort in the familiar. Modernity, in terms of changing mental processes as much as in its technological dimension, offered the chance for Melburnians to escape the often grim realities of life in the 1930s. Despite clearly expressed uncertainties, interwar Australians had committed themselves to a project of modernity.