Critics’ Picks review – The Land Before Avocado

Critics' Picks

There are over 2,000 new books to browse and read in our Critics’ Picks collection, in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Every book has been reviewed by top critics, including the Australian Book Review, New York Review of books, the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books.

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Cover of book - The Land Before Avocado: Journeys in a Lost Australia by Richard Glover
Glover, Richard, and Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Land before Avocado : Journeys in a Lost Australia / Richard Glover. 2018. Print.
Richard Glover’s book The Land Before Avocado will have you laughing out loud on the bus - if people still read books on the bus anymore.

They almost certainly did in the Australia of the 60s and 70s, the subject of Glover’s book, at least before catching up on Game of Thrones on your iPhone became more commonplace.

The stories Glover tells about that time seem too crazy to be true. Trove newspapers made it possible for Glover to fact-check these stories, along with good old-fashioned browsing of the Women’s Weekly in the Library, which are now digitised in colour onto Trove as well.

Glover says the Australia of his youth had many virtues: “Houses were cheaper. A lot cheaper.” He added there was “No ‘gig economy’ that phrase people use when they are trying to create a hip feel around the destruction of workers’ rights.” Yet the era also had many vices, according to Glover: “Banks by and large wouldn’t lend money to women unless they had a male guarantor” and “if you were a child no one would take your side.”

Glover goes on a quest to discover whether the 60s and 70s were a golden time compared with today, where children roamed the neighbourhood until dusk having adventures because their parents wanted to build their resilience. Or whether their parents were just too busy and preoccupied to care. He looks at parenting, the school room, cars, gender inequality, food, smoking and many other things. Each story is more incredulous than the last, and what was considered “normal” might now considered outrageous.

Before “no fault divorce” was passed in 1975, a “whole industry existed of private investigators who would supply photos of people caught in the act” and newspapers and magazines like the Australian Women’s Weekly featured ads for firms such as Dykes Investigations (“All types carried out with discretion.”) The Women’s Weekly was also full of ads for diet pills that contained speed and laxatives, and headache powders such as Bex and Vincent’s could be used for “relief from mental strain, over-excitement and nervous tension.”

Glover’s chapter about food in the 60s and 70s was particularly hilarious “the rule seemed to be when in doubt toss in a can of pineapple” and “we didn’t even have iceberg lettuce, well we did but it wasn’t called iceberg lettuce, it was just called lettuce”

It's not all nostalgia though: Glover finishes with a list of ways in which things have changed for the better. After all, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post in the 60s or 70s.

Reviewer: Kathi Spinks, Librarian, Information & Access