The Years That Made Us: The Roaring 20s

The Years That Made Us


1 hour

Monday 12 December at 9.30am EST/ NZ

This program was written by and is presented by author and journalist Chris Masters. It is a personal history, featuring his family, but it is also a broader story because it is told within a national context. A number of significant themes, such as post WW1 trauma, industrial unrest, “White” Australia, the “new” America and the role of women are woven into the narrative.

There are quite a number of well-known historians and social commentators providing commentary throughout. The use of the members of the Masters family provides a personal, perhaps tangible aspect as well.

This is not a straight chronological narrative of the 1920s, there isn’t a lot of “Roaring”, but it raises a number of very significant issues that will inform an overview of the period and could easily be the starting point for Studies in Depth based on these issues.

Dr Denis Mootz


Stop the video programs at the end of each section.
Allow students to share and discuss answers to the questions below.


Why do Australians travel to Gallipoli?
What struggles faced people after WW1? Result? Implications?
Note what the series aims to investigate.

Part 1.

Note the background of Australian Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce.
What do the terms a “British born” Australian and “south British” imply? Result?
Note the background of General Harold “Pompey” Elliott.
What did he earn a reputation for after WW1? Result?
Note the background of James “Judy” Masters.
Why was he famous before WW1?
Why were ties between Australia and Britain “knotted” and “strained” post WW1?
Why did Prime Minister Bill Hughes invite the Prince of Wales to tour Australia?
Why did Australians feel “isolated” post WW1? Implications? Result?
How was the Prince received in Australia?
How did the Prince react to his reception?
Note his “complaints” about Australia.
Note Billy Hughes’s prediction about Australia. Implications?
Why had Australia become distrustful of the “outside world”? Result?
What had Australians hoped for at the time of “Federation”?
Why did Australia attract many visitors from Britain and the USA? Implications?
Note the social experiment conducted at Sunshine in 1912. Result? Implications?
Note how “a living” wage was calculated? Result?
Why were the minimum wage and the 40 hour week no guarantee of survival for families?
What was the main problem? Result?

Part 2.

What was a “Scab”? Implications? Result?
Note the talk of “capitalists” and the “red flag”. Implications?
Note the fear of “bolshevism”. Implications? Result?
Note the concerns about Sinn Fein. Implications?
How were the emergence of extremism and Fascism reflected in Australia?
What was the “secret army”? Implications?
Who was “Kangaroo”?
What was D.H Lawrence’s inspiration for this character? Implications?
What was the “confusion” about loyalty and good citizenship? Implications? Result?
Note the background of Norman Strachan.
Why were voters “apathetic” in 1922? Result? Implications?
Note the origins of the coalition between the Nationalists and the Country Party. Result?
Note Stanley Bruce’s “image”.
What was Bruce’s vision for Australia’s “destiny”? Result?
How were children “conditioned” at school in the 1920s? Implications?

Part 3.

How were dress standards different in the 1920s? Result? Implications?
Why did public order “disintegrate” in Melbourne in 1923? Result? Implications?
How did Senator General “Pompey” Elliott restore order?
What “formula” did the Bruce/Page government find to generate prosperity and stability?
Where would the “men”, “money” and “markets” be found? Result? Implications?
Why was Australia sometimes called the “new America”? Implications? Result?
What “doubts” were raised about this concept? Result?
Note the migration “scheme” of 1925.
Note the reference to “White” Australia.
Why did it need to be filled up “Before too late”?
Note the “eugenicist” belief about life on the land. Implications? Result?
What errors were made with this “scheme”? Result?
What contradictions did women face in this “scheme”? Result?
What “old settlers” were moved on? How?
How did the “ancient race” of Australia respond?
What policies were directed at Aboriginal Australians? Result?
What indicated that the “vision” of a “White” British Australia was working?
How did ordinary workers become home owners?
How did Judy Masters accumulate the deposit for a house?
What debt did Australia owe Britain as a result of WW1? Result?
What internal migration was occurring? Result?
Why was home ownership good for society? Implications?
Note the developments in the cities. Result?
What indicated that living standards were rising?
In what sense were the classes merging?
Note the influence of America. Implications? Result?
Why did young women “shock” their elders?
Why was there an anti-Semitic and anti-Black “backlash”?
Why were Black American musicians arrested in Melbourne? Result? Implications?

Part 4.

Why did the Bruce/Page government “take on” the Trade Unions? Result?
Why was there industrial unrest?
How did the government react to the threat of Bolshevism?
What was the “colossus” of the new age? Implications?
What was the “grandest gift” to the empty country? Result?
Why has Canberra been called the “ironic city”? Implications?
When did parliament first meet in Canberra?
Why do we have a “split personality” on all things “regal”? Implications? Result?
How did some lampoon the 1927 ceremony?
In what sense was nation building backward looking? Result?
What place do war memorials play in Australian society? Implications? Result?
What role did mothers and widows play in politics? Result?
Note the continuing “cost” of WW1. Implications?
Why did people “dob in” widows and veterans? Implications?
Why did the Australian economy begin to contract? Result?
Why were British banks “nervous”?
Note “Pompey” Elliott’s comments on a “whirlpool”. Implications? Result?
Note the condition with which General “Pompey” Elliott was diagnosed.
Note the comment on the “nation”. Implications?
Note the fate of General “Pompey” Elliott?

Part 5.

Why did the Melbourne/Page government “take on” the living wage? Implications? Result?
What decided elections in the 1920s? Implications? Result?
Note the new Prime Minister and party in power.
What errors had Stanley Bruce made?
Note his advice to Scullin. Implications?
What was James Scullin’s background? Implications?
How did families survive tough times?
What happened in 1929? Result?


Useful, interesting, challenging, materials can be found at the websites below.
These sites are not recommended as definitive sources.
They need to be read critically and evaluated before being used for note making.
The evidence collected here should supplement and complement the notes made during the video program. Both should be used in the notemaking exercise that follows.

The “Working Man’s Paradise”:

Impact of WW1:

Stanley Bruce:

General Harold “Pompey” Elliott:

James Scullin:

British “White Australia”:

Migration Scheme 1925:

Aboriginal “activism” 1920s:

Soldier’s settlers:

The “Black Bottom”:

Sydney Harbour Bridge:


War Widows:

James “Judy” Masters:


Secret Army:

Police Strike 1923:

1929 “crash”:


This is the collation stage of the activity.
Encourage students to compose the suggested summaries and to organise the field of information and begin to explore its context.
This activity could be done in teams, groups, or by individuals, or as a class with teacher direction.

1. Draw up a timeline / chronological chart of the events described and discussed in this program.

2. Note details of the impact of WW1 on Australian society and economy.

3. Note details of what inspired visitors to describe Australia as the “Working Man’s Paradise”.

4. Note details of the attempts to create a “new” America in Australia.

5. Note details of the rise in living standards in the 1920s.

6. Note details of the Masters family.

7. Note details of the activities of workers and Trade Unions during the 1920s.

8. Note details of the various changes that were occurring in Australian society in the 1920s.

9. Note details of the response of the conservative establishment to social change in the 1920s.

10. Note details of the economic consequences of “men, money and faith in business”.


Address and discuss the key issues and questions that have been raised by the video at this stage.
Some are suggested below. Students will probably raise others.

1. What provisions were made for the repatriation of veterans and their families after WW1? Result?

2. What impact did the attempt to populate empty Australia have on the “First Australians”?


It is necessary always to address questions of reliability and validity of the perspectives, evidence and sources presented in the documentary and other sources. These need to be considered, tested and researched. Some are suggested below. Students will probably raise others.

1. What does the personal history of the Masters family add to this documentary?

2. Why did the Bruce/Page coalition lose the support of the Australian electorate?

3. Why was there such a fear of Bolshevism in the 1920s? Implications? Result?


Use the key issues and inquiry questions as topics for debate, essay writing, reports, historical recount and explanation.

Be imaginative. A report, or debate notes, could be a digital “essay” of slides and text…or any other IT application available.

1. Write a REPORT on the Australian Aboriginal Progress Association.

2. Prepare notes (both sides) for a DEBATE of the proposition that British “White” Australia was male dominated, racist and elitist.

3. Why did the conservative politicians of the 1920s attempt to dismantle the “Working Man’s Paradise”?

Download & Print