Title: The Land Before Avocado
Author: Richard Glover
Richard Glover really knows how to pick his topics. From a global, nay, any perspective, if you were living in Australia in the 1970s, you might as well have been living on Mars. It was a land, and time, of boundless contradictions and peculiarities – magnificent fodder for writers.
In The Land Before Avocado, Richard takes almost indecent pride in reminding the now swanky noughties-and-beyond baby boomers of their humble origins. And they were humble, as any boomer foolish enough to get into an argument about housing affordability with a millennial, will tell them.
The cars never worked, families only had one car, there were no mobile phones, no internet and, as Richard told his son, there was no avocado! Work colleagues could sit next to you and blow cigarette smoke in your face – all day! Corporal punishment was rife in schools, the death penalty still existed; crime rates were high; getting a divorce was like pulling hen’s teeth; and you could still find people without televisions.
And let’s not mention the food! Anyone who survived the 1970s will remember the food – not because it was so good but because it was so awful!
Richard devotes an entire chapter to the subject in ‘Let’s Eat’, making The Land Before Avocado perfect fodder for Word of Mouth TV, so we will delve into this section in greater depth than might usually appear seemly for a book review.
For starters, it was the era of the incinerated steak; obliterated vegetables and highly doubtful food combinations: “most people believed vegetables had to be cooked to a state of disintegration”; and “The rule seemed to be: when in doubt, toss in a can of pineapple.”
Torturing food became a national pastime:
“In most ’70s kitchens, the phrase ‘My chicken looks like chicken’ would cause untold heartbreak. As a result, a lemon might be given toothpick legs, plus eyes and ears made of cloves, so that it resembled a fat piglet. A boiled egg might be served upright with a halved-tomato on top, as if it were a plump white man wearing a red hat. Cheese might be formed into the shape of a tree. It was like a witness protection scheme for food.”
It’s hard to believe now that it took a decade of experimentation to ascertain that disguising food did not make it taste any better – to the contrary.
Richard reminds us that many ingredients that we take for granted weren’t readily available in the 1970s. For example, there was no sour cream and very few herbs. You could forget tarragon, which is why dishes like steak with Bearnaise sauce were only available in very fancy restaurants.
And let’s not get started on avocado, the subject of the book’s title. As a child, I remember the arrival of my aunt flourishing what looked like an emu egg. With an air of great sophistication that one can only cultivate by being reared in a beach town of 1,000 people four hours from a small colonial capital city, she declared it an ‘advocado’. Dame Edna would have been proud.
The 1970s also proved a great era for innovation in beverages. Boomers were the “first generation of coffee drinkers” (the 70s marked the ascendancy of coffee over tea). And the killer punch – it was the decade that invented cask wine.
Zooming out to the book in its entirety, Richard is determined not to let 70s nostalgia get the better of us. His humour is relentless, as is his examination of 70s life in its minutiae. And in true journalistic fashion, it’s all brutally true.
The era had its underbelly.
Censorship was rife. Literature that was freely available in Europe and even in that bastion of conservatism, the United States, was considered too corrupting for the feeble Australian intellect.
It was acceptable for men to rape women pre-1970s, but only if the woman happened to be the man’s wife and silly enough to get married in the first place.
Misogyny was the order of the day. Many women didn’t work and a career path was virtually non-existent as most were forced to quit when they fell pregnant.
But it was also an era of incredible hope and massive change – a tipping point for women’s rights, healthcare and human rights, and a tipping point for the nation. The Whitlam Government shook Australia to its core, helping it shed its small-town skin and emerge timidly onto the world stage.
Richard Glover’s The Land Before Avocado is not only a damn good read, it’s also an excellent reference book for the era, and simply hilarious! I am writing a novel set in the 1970s, and I’ve been dipping into it with impunity, for both inspiration and fact, and have found myself laughing out loud at the same lines over and over again.
Richard has served up a fantastic book on so many levels. He reminds us that Australia in the 1970s was a truly strange place to be. It may have had its peculiarities but, appropriating the language of the period, “you wouldn’t miss it for quids”.
I can say the same for The Land Before Avocado.