From the end of the Second World War until the 1970s Victoria shared in what came to be known as the ‘long boom’. It was a period of near full employment, much of it in full-time work (for men), while increasing numbers of women also chose to work at least part-time. Strong industrial unions saw safety and other conditions improve in the factories, while Australian workers were able to command relatively high wages. Union membership peaked in the late 1940s when 65 per cent of male workers were unionised, and it continued to be high throughout the 1950s. Conditions for women in the workforce also improved. In 1950 a minimum wage was set for women workers for the first time. Those campaigning for equal pay were disappointed with the decision, which awarded women 75 per cent of the male rate, but it was a vast improvement on the 50 per cent that had prevailed before. In 1972 the Arbitration Commission ruled in favour of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. It was a landmark decision, but still excluded many women working in so-called women’s jobs at lower pay. Wage equality remains an elusive goal even now.
In the buoyant economic conditions of the 1950s and sixties many Victorians were able to pursue a goal of home ownership. By 1961 more than 75 per cent of Victorian families either owned or were buying their own homes — one of the highest rates in the world. Almost all owned at least one car and increasingly, many families owned two or more. But this prosperity was more fragile than many realised. Industry in particular was dependent on protective tariffs and on cheap energy. With tariffs in place, industry was slow to innovate, and many plants were outdated and inefficient. When the crunch came, they were ill prepared to weather the storm.