Back in my day...[slideshow]

George Herriman, �Hard Work�, Sunday, 24 November 1907.

My grandfather�s career began with the princely sum of a few shillings in the pocket each day. Sound ok? Well that was his pay for taking part in World War II and suffice to say, it wasn�t the easiest first job.

Happily, my entry to the workforce was via a doughnut shop called Sweet Sips at the local shopping centre, so, as you can imagine, I don�t have much in the way of comebacks when Pa starts on about how much harder things were in �his� day.

We�ve all heard it before, and this Father�s Day I�m sure we�ll all hear it again. But before we�re tempted to roll eyes and make for the door, let�s take a look at who�s had to work the hardest when bringing home the bacon.

Farm workers cherry picking, New South Wales, c. 1925. National Library of Australia, pic-vn6192070.

When war ended in 1945 half a million Australians had to go back to work.

Battle-weary men were desperate to return to the land and start manufacturing � after all, when war broke out Australia couldn�t make its own cars, let alone aircraft, and even petrol was rationed up to 1949.

Australia dove into �reconstruction� mode and breadwinners became the new national heroes.

The official dias at the opening of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric project, Adaminaby, 1949. Left to right; Mr J B Chifley, Mr W J Mckell and Mr Nelson Lemmon. National Archives of Australia, 11171142.

Immigration and a baby boom were quickly eating up all the housing so the new government stepped in with a perfectly shaken 5-o�clock cocktail of social services and reliable employment in nation-building schemes.

The low-cost, pre-fab housing boom soon took hold.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-47890-0001 / CC-BY-SA.

Home technologies edged out the iceman, the woodman and the rabbit-o.

Australia�s car production increased ten-fold between 1948 and 1951, meaning that by 1960, one in four Australians could drive to work. Workers started to look beyond small business.

Bob Arbuthnot Junior, railway worker, with his rail trolley, 1949. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Memories of the Depression and wartime restrictions were soon forgotten with regular toasts to the �lucky country�. But working life in the 50s and 60s wasn�t all martinis, tea ladies and smoking in the office.

Our grandfathers supported their family on one wage and it was considered shameful for their wives to contribute (with no childcare and lower wages paid to women when they did work). Men were exposed to workplace hazards like asbestos, worked manually and retired later.

Tetra Pak Hosewife at the dairy counter, c. 1950s. CC BY-SA

There was a sense of solidarity, though: almost all workers were unionised and by 1963 three weeks� annual leave was standardised nationally.

It was a period of relative industrial peace and simple pleasures. After war, everyone was embracing set hours, daily packed lunches and a simple drive up the highway at Christmas.

Builder on Karl-Marx-Stadt, building Grosse Stadthall, Bauarbeiter, 1970. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J0724-0020-001 / CC-BY-SA.

By the time the revolution of the 60s had swung its way down to Australia, it was practically the 70s. By then my Dad was one of the majority of men working in the secondary industries including construction, electricity, gas and water provision.

SWTP 6800 Computer, c. 1980s. CC BY-SA

Dad�s generation was the first to see floppy disks and dial-up Internet enter the workplace but technology wasn�t always welcome.

Computerisation made a lot of physical roles redundant, and by the economic boom of the 80s blue shirts were out and white were in � the yuppie was born.

The first 8� x 8� angles rolled for the Bridge at BHP Works, Newcastle, 1 February 1926. State Records NSW.

Unfortunately, like the pants of the 70s and the hair of the 80s, the economy was at first riding high and then out of control. The bubble burst and three big recessions in the 20 years to 1991 saw a million workers walking their loafers into retirement from their early sixties.

In 1993 unemployment hit the highest level since the Great Depression and when BHP closed its steel works in Newcastle, retrenching 1,500 workers, no one felt safe. Dad eventually kicked the work boots for the council clipboard, but re-skilling at the right time meant he was never a day out of work.

Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, 1988.

There were some positive developments in the twilight of the 20th century: by 1993 half the workforce held post-school qualifications and as the male-dominated industries of manufacturing and mining experienced decline, the scene was set for women to plump their shoulder pads and cement professional positions (albeit under the glass ceiling).

�Typical Chinese factory lunch break activity� by Robert S. Donovan, 2011. CC BY-SA

I�m sure my elders think my working life is all iPads by the beach and skyping from my lounge room. And we do have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the industrialised world.

But since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis �flexibility� has started to sound a lot like �uncertainty�. Underemployment is at 30 per cent � that�s a lot of people left wanting a few more slices of bacon.

Full-timers made up 89 per cent of the workforce in 1971, but by 2001 it was just 69 per cent. Flexible work can promote better life balance and even be a gender leveller, but many workers are in the service sector, which now employs 75 per cent of the nation and often operates outside of traditional hours � 33 per cent work six or seven days each week.

'The Four Yorkshiremen' sketch from At Last, 1948. John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brook-Taylor and Marty Feldman perform the original version of the sketch.

Full-timers now average 45 hours a week and union membership is at 15 per cent. Higher debt has moved retirement back to where it was in Pa�s day, moving closer to 70 each year. But we are living longer, having children later and going through more career changes, too. So are we really worse off than our fathers?

Women make up over half the workforce; our Indigenous workforce tripled in the last 20 years and over half of us now have tertiary qualifications. But while we�re more diverse, we are also competing globally � it�s every man or woman for themselves.

Who has had it the hardest? I may not have had to put my body on the line or be out-dated by technology, but if there�s one thing that�s common to all generations, it�s that we all work to high expectations � and thankfully they are never on the decline.

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