The crowd at the Adelaide Myer summer sale in 1960.
The crowd at the Adelaide Myer summer sale in 1960. News Corp

What we shopped for in 1960

THE 1960s were a simpler time.

Shoppers would pop down to the corner store for a pound of mutton, a girdle and some indigestion powder, and as far as the Australian Bureau of Statistics was concerned, beer only came in two varieties - bottled or draught.

This year marks nearly six decades since the ABS released the first edition of the consumer price index (CPI), an ongoing measure of the prices of a selected basket of goods and services used to calculate the change in cost of living.

As the composition of Australia's economy evolves and consumer habits change over time, the basket of goods is updated, with some things removed and others added in. The last major review of the CPI took place in 2010, but the ABS says there are "regular reviews" in which "minor changes made to reflect changes in the consumer economy".

Recently, the UK's statistics agency sparked headlines when it dropped nightclub entry fees from its CPI basket, reflecting a decline in Britain's once-vibrant clubbing scene.

Also removed were CD-ROMs and rewriteable DVDs, replaced with computer game downloads via online stores such as Steam. Women's leggings, nail polish, lemons and cream liqueur were also added to the UK's inflation basket for 2016.

Australia's CPI was introduced as a replacement to the Interim Retail Price Index.

King William Street, Adelaide in 1960.
King William Street, Adelaide in 1960. Supplied

Among the key changes to the CPI from its predecessor were the inclusion of home ownership via the price of a new house, rates, charges and maintenance costs. State housing payments were also added in, as were household appliances such as refrigerators, private motoring and "beer and other additional items".

Looking back at some of the items in Australia's national shopping basket 57 years ago compared with today shows how much more complex society has become.

At just three pages, the 1960 list encompasses all of the broad categories but is also oddly specific: mutton and lamb, befitting their distinct place on the kitchen table, each got a separate entry, broken out into leg, forequarter, loin chop and loin leg. Today, the ABS only lists lamb and goat - although that could change if Prince Charles' Mutton Renaissance Campaign ever gains traction.

The 1960 list also includes staples incluing bread, flour, flaked oats, canned spaghetti and honey while clothing items that are less popular today include raincoats and overalls. There were three types of milk on the list, but rather than the endless selection you'll find in Australian stores in 2017 (almond, coconut, camel, rice etc), the options then were fresh, powdered and condensed.

TV sets, radio sets and radio valves got their own separate entries under household appliances, alongside electric globes, irons, toasters, refrigerators and washing machines.

Today, audio, visual and computing equipment gets its own entire subcategory under recreation and culture, containing TV sets, video recorders, DVD players, home theatre systems, radios, CD players, portable sound and vision devices, e-book readers, cameras, optical instruments, desktop and laptop computers, printers and calculators.

The CPS super food market in Adelaide’s Goodwood in 1960.
The CPS super food market in Adelaide’s Goodwood in 1960. News Corp Australia

Other additions to our national spending notably absent in the 1960 CPI include pets, pet products and veterinary services, school and childcare fees, restaurant meals, takeaway and fast food.

And in the days before cheap flights to Bali, family holidays consisted of a trip to the local beach. Today, the ABS tracks prices for domestic and international holiday travel and accommodation - also absent from the 1960 CPI.

The ABS doesn't, and never has, revealed specific brands or products used in its basket, however. "The first reason is that the CPI data has an impact on financial markets, and that disclosing the granular details of the basket could encourage unintended stockmarket speculation," a spokesman said.

"A second key reason is that we place high importance on the privacy of the businesses who provide their sales data to us. We don't want their willingness to support the ABS to have the side-effect of allowing their competitors to undermine them.

"Respecting the privacy of people and organisations which provide information to us is such an important part of the ABS' reputation, and our ongoing ability to provide quality insights to the nation."


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