Rose-coloured glasses removed

Child of the 1980's
May 29, 2009
I was a child of the 1980's. Some of you readers were not even born around this time. Technically I was born in the 1970's but I became aware of the world I was in from around 1981 onwards when I moved to a new suburb and school.

Computers entered our lives in a big way. I recall when one classmate got a computer. Could he hack into the US defence system like in War Games? Would it come to life and fall in love like in Electric Dreams? People today know this is all very implausible but we didn't know it then because anything was possible! The computer age was new and shiny and who cared that you're home PC still operated from a cassette-drive and characters on screen were coloured blocks! The computer was the way of the future and was going to be in our futures. Our parents thought they were designed to suck money out of wallets for constant upgrades but we were perhaps the first generation to accept the idea computing was going to be necessary in later life and it was nothing to fear.

But the era held an undercurrent of fear for us too. Ronald Regan's politics placed nuclear annihilation into our minds. In 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew up in spectacular fashion and suddenly nuclear destruction was a very real possibility. But long before this, whenever military jets flew overhead, we would wonder aloud, "Maybe they're going to drop bombs on us?" The French government attempted to destroy Greenpeace's ship the Rainbow Warrior because they were blatantly anti-nuclear. And of course the French tested nuclear bombs right on our Australian doorsteps in their Atolls. Australia had already been used as a nuclear testing ground in the 1950's and the results of this became public in the 1980's when secret files were released under Freedom of Information. Exposed military servicemen went public with their health problems in the 1980's and we knew that nuclear war and weapons was perhaps the worst thing in the world to happen to us.

So what made lasting impacts on us? Rubik's Cubes sent us mad- I never did crack the secret. Strawberry Shortcake dolls were a must for girls along with Barbies. We had to have the campervan! Madonna's dubious fashion sense created a generation of emulators who wore faded lace, rubber bracelets and clothing from second-hand shops. Transformers were immensely popular but the only trouble was boys with the action figures never wanted to let us girls play with them. Everyone had at least one hand-held game. Mine was Galaga while a friend had Donkey Kong and we would swap over once a week. They had an Atari system and I had a C64 so we eventually stopped playing sport outside and took up gaming. Some of us never stopped. I was one of the first people in Melbourne to buy a Playstation so the gaming bug continued through to adulthood.
One rainy afternoon at school a teacher rented the video of the movie Breakdance and we loved it. Breakdancing was popular for all kids of any racial background- not that any of us were any good. Only the Phillipino kids were any good because they seemed to be a lot groovier than the rest of us. They didn't hold it against anyone though and were gracious enough to teach us some basic moves. They wore those white mesh t-shirts and baggy pants and looked like miniature Turbos. I remember when the news got out Turbo in Breakdance injured his neck while dancing: we were devastated!

My older sister was a Duran Duran junkie while my older brother dressed like a member of Spandau Ballet. Guys wore tailored suits with deck shoes and no socks- thanks a lot Don Johnson! Girls wanted to look like either Madonna or Molly Ringwald and experimented with red, orange, blonde and purple hair. Michael Jackson was also popular and even my sister had a leather jacket identical to one Jackson wore in a photoshoot.

Music videos were called film clips and mobile phones were the size of bricks. Credit cards… how those have changed the world! My mother had the first one in our suburb and to use it, the store check-out chicks had to ring the bank prior to accepting the transaction, and then the card would be cross-checked on a large logbook of all known credit card numbers in Australia. My dad had the first batch of our new currency, the $100 bill. It was grey in colour and he also had a B&W photocopier, and managed to fool the supermarket with a fake photocopied one. The supermarket girls had never seen one and accepted the fake one without question because my father was well known to be a good person. He owned up to the deception and they thought it was funny and put the photocopy in their tea-break room. Today counterfeiting will get you a hard look and prison time.

The financial boom of the 1980's went on and on and even my 17 year old brother bought home $800 a week in 1985 from being a carpenter. It all came to a crashing halt in 1989 when Australia entered a recession and suddenly no-one had money for new computers, toys, tailored clothing and even their mortgages. My formerly rich brother lost his house and never financially recovered. My dad didn't work as a builder for 3 years, and people stopped being happy. That was the end of the 1980's for me.

Was it a better era like some people suggest? Not really. My niece and nephew have a pretty easy life now. The 1990's fashions were awful and so was the music. People think our nuclear paranoia is quaint and the idea of having to live off savings from your rainy day fund is alien to people today who are accustomed to credit. I saved for 19 years for my first car. Today you don't have to save for a car or a house, you can get one on credit. There is a perception that it was a great era for kids but I say you should look to your own time and live in the moment now, not ponder how life could have been back then. Life moves forward and changes. Make sure you do too.
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