The REAL 1980s

Me with a cool perm and a trendy Mango t-shirt circa 1982

Someone asked me why I had set my book Cassandra in the 1980s. It was a no-brainer really, first of all, I was a teenager in the 1980’s so I figured I could pull that off. Secondly, Cassandra can predict the future. I could have her predict things the reader knows will happen.

Also, Cassandra is a naive teenager, isolated from the rest of the world, and I couldn’t allow her access to people and information that modern young people have, with their fancy smartphones and exhaustive internet.  Giving Cassandra access to information would have been too helpful!

Meanwhile, the 1980s are a bit cool and retro now. I guess it had to happen eventually. But, the 1980s were not just big hair, shoulder pads and pop music. I was there and I can tell you about the real 1980s.

We wrote letters. I wrote letters to my aunt and my grandmother and my pen pal Josephine who lived in Buenos Aires. When I went to boarding school, I wrote letters to my parents and when I was on holidays I wrote letters to my friends.  We wrote letters and we waited. We waited and waited for a letter to come back. It takes way longer than a text message. Also, you have to buy stamps and go to the post office. It is a right hassle.

The upside – I have a box of letters. I still recognise my friends’ handwriting.


Why didn’t we use the telephone you ask? Sometimes we did, on special occasions but it was expensive. Local calls were 20 cents but STD calls! There were those dreaded STD beeps every 3 minutes to tell you the call costs were mounting. As a child, our house did not have a telephone. We would go next door to make a phone call. When I left home, some of the houses I rented just never had a phone.

All this meant I lost track of people. Friends I went to school with moved house and we never saw each other again until Zuckerberg invented Facebook.

To try and find someone you could try ‘directory’. I don’t even know if you can call the directory anymore. You would call the directory and a real person would answer the phone. You would say, I am looking for S Brown and I think they live in Woopydoo. They would say there is no number listed under that name and then you had an actual conversation. Well, maybe the phone is in this person’s name, can you try that, and maybe they actually live in this suburb, not that one. You and the ‘directory’ (a real person not a machine!) formed a little detective agency for the length of the call.

Of course, there were no mobile phones. Hard to believe but true. I always kept a twenty-cent piece secreted away in my wallet just in case I was out and needed to make a phone call. I knew where all the best, most quiet phone boxes in the city were. When I told my children this little piece of history my daughter, then aged five, said – ‘That’s cruel.’

If you wanted to meet someone you had to arrange the time and place beforehand. In Brisbane we usually met outside of Hungry Jacks – now a police beat I think – but then it was raised seating area where the punks with their giant mohawks spent their day. If your friend did not turn up you gave them half an hour on the assumption that they missed their bus or train. An hour on Sundays. You could not text them and say ‘where r u’.

If you wanted concert tickets you had to stand in line at the ticket booth.

If you wanted to go to the movies you had to buy a newspaper to see movie times.

If you wanted information you had to go to the library. Then you had to look through cute little drawers filled with cards to find where that book might be.

If you wanted to own music you had to go to the store and buy a record or a tape. Or you could get a friend and record from their record onto a tape. Or if you were really flash you had a tape-to-tape deck and you could record from a tape to a tape. I had one of those! Just call me flash.

If you wanted to take a photo, you had to load the film, think real hard because there was likely only 24 possible photos that could be taken with that film. Point and shoot. Take the full film to be developed. See that every photo you took was shit.

Gosh, I can’t think of any more right now. What do you remember about living in the 1980s?

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6 thoughts on “The REAL 1980s

  1. Clove cigarettes! I never saw those. My attempts at smoking were menthol cigarettes. Luckily smoking made me feel sick and it never stuck. I think it was still considered ‘cool’ to smoke in the 80’s.

  2. Great post, Kathryn! The 80s – I remember them well and fondly. We didn’t feel deprived because that was just the way the world was then. Having just two TV channels that went off air at about 9pm (wasn’t it?) are another memory of mine growing up in Mackay in the 70s/80s. Flo

  3. So much of your description of the 1980s are the things I remember, too. How I wish I’d never thrown my letters out! So many letters I wrote and received during the 1980s, and one day while packing up a house I ditched them, thinking they belonged to the past. One of my biggest regrets.

    1. Oh, I am sorry for your letters. My mother accidentally got rid of a heap of mine. I had hidden them in a piece of furniture.(being a secretive teenager) She didn’t know they were in there. I often wonder if someone else bought that stool from and op shop and read all my letters.

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