Saturday 9 April 2016

How We Amused Ourselves in the 50s and 60s

As I was looking through childhood photos last night, I was fascinated with some of the toys my sister and I had, so I thought you might like to have a look at some of them, too. 

Toys from the 50s and 60s. How we amused ourselves without electronic gadgets ~ Threading My Way

I'm the elder of the two of us, so that's me in the wooden rocker. My sister, on the other hand, looks like she's sitting in some kind of a wooden box. Age has some advantages at that stage of life! Maybe it was a dolls' bed - I really have no idea. 

Behind me, on its side, is a wooden wheelbarrow. I have no recollection of these toys, but I'm not surprised they were made from wood. Were they passed on from another family, or did Dad make them? They most certainly would have been passed onto other kids after we finished with them. Mum, I hope you read this, because I have lots of questions.

It wasn't all wooden toys, though, as hanging from the wooden rocker is some sort of bear with a painted face. I'm guessing it's made from plastic, which became common place after World War 11. My sister's doll looks like it was made from some sort of soft material. Was it knitted, or maybe sewn by Mum?

Don't you love my stripy overalls? Either Mum or her sister would have sewn the overalls. The jumpers would have been knitted by Mum or Nana and most probably required hand washing.

Ha, ha... my sister progresses to the rocker that moves, while I read to her. Don't think I was quite up to actually reading the Readers Digest I was holding. We were, however, extremely fortunate to grow up in a household where reading was valued. There was no shortage of books in our house, both for us kids, and for Mum and Dad. We were also encouraged, and indeed both loved visiting and borrowing books from the local library, as well as school libraries.

Thought this photo may give you a laugh. Don't think I was impressed at the time, though, and obviously didn't know how to pull up my cloth nappy (diaper). My cousin doesn't look at all concerned.

We didn't have toy trucks or cars, but our male cousins did. There were some toys that were definitely meant for boys only, and vice a versa. If only I could have pulled that nappy up, I could have played with that truck, if my cousin had let me, that is.

Another wooden horse, but not a rocking horse as it has wheels. It would have been hard going getting it to move on the grass. Mustn't have worried me, though, as I look happy enough. Obviously I hadn't looked in the mirror to see that haircut. It's diablolical - a bad bowl cut!!! Sorry, Mum, but you have to agree.

Toys from the 50s and 60s. How we amused ourselves without electronic gadgets ~ Threading My Way

Our cousins were our playmates. Mum took us over to their place all the time. My cousin - the one bawling his eyes out - would have wished we hadn't come over that day. We were the same age and it seems I won the coveted driver position that day.

How cool is that car? No wonder I wanted to be driver!!! Judging by the position of my legs, I'd say it was a pedal car, where you pushed the pedals back and forth to make the wheels turn. The body of the car was probably painted metal.

Poor little sis - she gets to tag behind in the stroller, depending on the oldest cousin to move her along.

That wooden contraption is the end of the clothesline. Moving the wooden parts enabled the lines to be brought down or up - down to peg the clothes and up to dry them. It would be unusual to find a house in Australia today that doesn't have a clotheslines, although they look a little different to the ones in the photo. I believe there's now some controversy, in various parts of the world, about clotheslines. 

Again at our cousins, this time riding a tricycle. I'm sure we had tricycles of our own at home, but I can't remember them. I know we didn't get two wheeler bikes. I so badly wanted one, but our parents said that living in the city, there was nowhere to ride one. I suppose they were right, but that didn't stop me wanting one.

To this day I have difficulty riding a pushbike. Motor bike, no problems, but I find it hard to balance a push bike to get it going.

We didn't live especially close to a beach, but we still went often enough. Most of our time was spent in the outdoors, with one activity or another. Plastic buckets and spades were around then, and thankfully, they're still used by kids today - a simple toy which has been loved across generations.

Don't you love this cute swimsuit. It looks more like a playsuit. My history of swimwear post shows more pics of costumes that I wore back in the 50s and 60s.

We didn't need a lot of toys. Simple things kept us amused. Here I am on a family holiday playing with my Dad's binoculars. I obviously hadn't cottoned on to the concept that binoculars made it easy to see things in the distance.

The lady in the background is my Mum's sister. Luckily for us, she was a dressmaker. Every Christmas and birthday we would be given the most beautiful clothes. Mum sewed the everyday clothes, while our Aunty spoilt us with stunning creations twice a year. Sorry, Mum, but Helen's are the clothes I most remember.

Every backyard had a wooden swing. Here we are at our cousins', wearing our red and white playsuits. Wish I had a colour photo. Love, love, loved those outfits. Did you make these, Mum?

Despite this being a colour photo, it's not more recent than the others. In the 1950s, black and white snapshots were still the norm, mainly due to the cost of colour film. Even in the 60s, colour film was usually reserved for special occasions. We are lucky that Dad enjoyed photography and often used colour film.

My sister and I are sporting the latest swimming aids of the time - simple blow up rings. I'm assuming we could actually touch the bottom.

Pogo sticks - oh, how I loved ours. We shared one between the two of us. Made from metal, it was red and provided hours and hours of fun, as we jumped up and down. There was quite an art to balancing and jumping.

Dress ups was played by most young girls. No Disney character costumes back then. We were lucky enough to have Mum's glamorous ball gowns. We must have ruined those beautiful dresses, running around the backyard in them.

I can't see who is in this photo, or what they were doing, but we spent the vast majority of our time outdoors. Next to our swing is a netball hoop and in the background, a bird aviary.

Ha, ha...I was not, and never will be an artist, but I imagine I enjoyed playing schools. Drawing on a blackboard with chalk would only have been done outside. This is another activity that has changed little over the years. Even IKEA have a blackboard - a little more elaborate and with a whiteboard on a two sided easel together with a blackboard. Whiteboards hadn't been invented back then.

Amusement rides were fairly simple. I used to love merry-go-rounds, with music blaring and horses that moved up and down. Pretty tame for now-a-days.

They don't make scooters like this now. The tyres are pump up and boy, did it quickly gather speed as we rode down the hill on the footpaths alongside the road. Again, we shared the one.

We both had Annie Oakley outfits - skirt, vest, gun and holster. We used to run around the backyard pretending to shoot each other. Even back then Australia was copying America. I suppose the vast majority of TV shows were from the U.S., but I don't even know if we had a TV at that stage.

Chasings, hide and seek, and piggy back rides were played outside. No props were needed and lots of active running around. Every now and then, if we had guests and it was night time, we'd be allowed to play hide and seek inside the house, but this was not often.

I doubt that boys played skipping, but all the girls did, both at home and at school. No plastic handles on our skipping ropes. They were just pieces of rope of varying lengths.

You can see from the photos, that we often went around in the warmer months in either bare feet, or thongs (flip flops). Not name branded thongs, but plain, cheap rubber footwear.

Skipping has always been around, but a new craze happened in my youth - elastics. All that was required was a long piece of elastic, so we could easily take it to school. Another game just for the girls. Till I was about twelve, boys and girls had separate playgrounds at school, but we had co-ed classes. I have no idea what games the boys were playing in their section of the playground. Do kids still play elastics?

My sister was lucky enough to have a hoola hoop which I borrowed. I can still use a hoola hoop, although not as adeptly as back then.

Jacks, or knucklebones, was another game we enjoyed and this one we did both inside and outside. Older generations played this with animal bones, but we used plastic shaped as bones. A simple game, the objective was to throw the jacks in the air and catch them with the back of the hand.

Today's parents must spend a fortune on batteries, for the myriad of toys that are available. And there are some wonderful toys around now. However, there are a lot of toys that require the owner to do absolutely nothing. We had to use our imaginations. We had to make the toys do what we wanted and I believe that is a valuable thing.

From the photos above, you might think we never played inside. The vast majority of our time was spent outdoors, but we did play inside - board games such as Monopoly, Pick Up Sticks, Snakes and my favourite, Chess. We also played games that only needed paper and pencil - dots and boxes, or noughts and crosses (tic tac toe). Simple card games are another thing that occupied our time.

All girls had a couple of dolls, but not so the boys. They may have had a teddy bear. My sister had both. My doll, Margaret, had eyes that opened and closed, and with eyelashes. No dolls that cried or peed. Again, that's where our imaginations came in.

I can't remember painting or doing paper crafts at home, although we did lots at school. I do, however, remember French knitting with a wooden Knitting Nancy, a weaving loom that had beads and of course, knitting. We all learnt to knit - well, the girls did.

We didn't acquire a TV, (black and white), till I was about ten. Parents were not worried about limiting screen time! Most of us were only allowed to watch TV for very limited amounts of time and there were no other screens to look at, unless you count slides projected onto a bare wall when visitors came over. Ha, ha... we tried to get out of that if we possibly could.

There are a lot of wonderful, educational toys that are available now for kids, but I do think that as kids, we were better equipped to amuse ourselves. I'm bored, was never a part of our vocabulary.

How does your childhood compare to that of young children now? 

... Pam


  1. sounds so much like my growing up years here in the usa.

  2. Complete opposite, I believe. Kids today are mostly inside (eating bad food and sitting in front of a screen) and as you say, we were outdoors most of the time playing. Children today don't understand the concept of unstructured playtime.

    Question - your reference to "elastics"... was that where you had participants at opposite ends, standing with the elastic looped around their ankles, knees and then thighs while a middle person stepped on and over said elastic? I remember playing that!

  3. I was born in the 60's. My poor younger sister got stuck in that pageboy haircut for years and years. I had curly hair which generally was a mess and much easier to keep long. I have been fortunate to live on my airpark and raise my kids the same way you and I were raised. Our general rule was if you were home, there were chores to be done. The more adept you got at disappearing all day, the less chores could be handed out. At the time I was raising my kids, they were already in the small minority of having to use their imaginations (and learn common sense). My kids could only play video games at other peoples houses. All of our clothes were handsewn and handed down. My kids clothes were either handsewn or thrifted as we could buy better quality clothes at the thrift store than we could get for new.
    One common way to spot foreigners at our Oregon beaches is if they are wearing shoes. Oregonians need to touch the bare sand and surf.
    I enjoyed your look back. Have you ever read Bill Brysons' "The Thunderbolt Kid"?

  4. Those pictures could of been from my childhood. Love seeing them! No IPods no phones for texting and the smiles on the faces said it all.

    1. My transistor radio I had as a teenager was the only gadget I owned, Patti. Life for kids is very different with all the electronic gadgets they own.

  5. Oh, Pam, I so very much enjoyed your wonderful post. It looks as though play things were much the same. I don't remember ever hearing of the game you refer to as "elastics." We certainly played a lot of "jump rope" and "hop-scotch" which, I think, is probably what you refer to as "skipping." We didn't have a television until I was probably a pre-teen. My mother sewed many of our clothes. My only sister was about 12 years older than me and my eldest brother was 9 years older. The younger of my two brothers was about 18 months older than me. Consequently, the two of us spent most of our play time together and, therefore, I played lots of cowboy games and the like, with toy six-shooters. I suppose my parents would have been considered unfit by some of today's standards for promoting violence (lol). It is amazing how so many of we kids from the 50's and 60's grew up to be quite normal and non-violent in spite of it all, including the triple feature cowboy and indian movies we sat through at the movie theater back then. We didn't know the meaning of being "bored" and using our imaginations came naturally. We did not have a vast collection of toys but we made the best of what we had. Styles in clothing were much the same as those in your photos and I remember having a swimsuit made of pink eyelet fabric and styled much like your two piece with what I think we called "boy legs" at the time. Thanks for sharing your wonderful childhood photos!

  6. Love looking at your photos Pam, you are lucky to have so many. Your toy may have been similar to the vinyl squeaker toys that we had over here in England, not sure if they were made here even then!
    My Mum made all our clothes too and usually of necessity out of other garments, it looks as though one of your sunsuits had smocking on the bib which I always thought was very clever. Did anyone in your family have a knitting machine? One of the jumpers reminds me of a knitmaster pattern. Have you any more photos to post, very interesting! - Maureen

    1. That's a good thought about the squeaker toy, Maureen. It could well have been. I have always loved smocking, but never done any. I'm sure my Aunty made us lots of outfits with smocking. We were very lucky! No one had a knitting machine - all hand done. I'm going to do another post showing some of the clothes we wore. That's actually how this post started, but after seeing the toys, I changed tack.

  7. OMG did this post bring back memories. I loved all these pictures!

  8. Thank you for sharing these photos Pam. So nice to look at! I grew up with a communal play ground where up to 20 kids would come and play. NO shortage of play mates. If needed we would just rock up under our mates balconies and yell out to them to come out and play. This must sound weird here in Oz. I wish there were more public playgrounds in newer subdivisions. A common place where kids can come and play and make friends and for adults to meet and get to know their neighbours.

  9. What a fabulous post, I just loved it. The skipping picture is my favourite, I'm just a tiny bit jealous that you were allowed to mark a target on the brick wall behind for chucking things at. My parents wouldn't let us draw, even with chalk, on the walls! xx

    1. Thanks, Josie. I enjoyed writing this post and looking back through old photos. Looking back at that skipping photo, I'm surprised we were allowed to draw a bull's eye on the wall so close to a window. I don't ever remember us breaking the window, though. At some stage after that photo was taken, Dad attached a darts board to the wall for us.

  10. What a lot of amazing old photos you have, must be wonderful to be able to look back on them all. And some great outfits in there! It's funny, I never remember the 'I'm bored' phrase either, perhaps I'm remembering through rose tinted glasses, but how sad if it's developed purely for the generation which has the most 'entertainment'laid on for them.


Thanks for stopping by! I love reading your comments and try to reply to all of them via email. If you don't receive an email reply from me, check back here.