Eighties flashback: What Australians loved in 1988-1989

Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. (Mary Evans Picture Library/AAP)

With the release of the National Archives cabinet documents of 1988 and 1989, it feels like an apt time to revisit some of the fashions, inventions and iconic moments that defined the period.


In 1988, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, John Howard the Opposition leader and the nation celebrated the bicentenary of the arrival of the first fleet.

Outside of politics, the eighties brought such notable trends as acid wash jeans, synth pop, cassette tapes, and Pac-Man. Here are 12 things you may remember:

1. The Seven Network launches the television soap opera Home and Away on January 17, 1988

Two decades later, Home and Away is still on our tellies and Alf "Ya Flamin' Galah" Steward (played by Ray Meagher) is the only remaining cast member.   

Home and Away cast The original cast of Home and Away.

2. Charlene and Scott's wedding

Speaking of another long-running Aussie drama, we can't talk about the eighties without remembering the wedding of Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan) and Charlene Mitchell (Kylie Minogue).

About 2 million Australians watched the momentous occasion and nearly 20 million Brits tuned in when it was finally broadcast there in November 1988. This Neighbours episode is so famous, it even has its own Wikipedia page (true story).

4. Sketch show The Comedy Company airs on Network Ten

Although it had a short run, this show introduced Australians to lovable characters like Con the Fruiterer and Kylie Mole. The Comedy Company also won two consecutive Logie Awards for "Most Popular Light Entertainment/Comedy".

5. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking publishes "A Brief History of Time"

The New York Times reported that Hawking's modern classic (with questions about existence in our universe, quantum mechanics and relativity) was the biggest hardcover non-fiction book of 1988.

According to the Guardian newspaper, one copy was sold for every 750 people on earth.

The book would go on to become an international bestseller, as Hawking writes in the Wall Street Journal: "It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 147 weeks and on the London Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks, has been translated into 40 languages, and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide." 


6. Nintendo's flagship gaming console The Game Boy released

Long before all the insanely addictive game apps that people play on their smart phones, the first real big name in portable gaming was the Game Boy. Since 1989, Nintendo has sold over 150 million Game Boys.

Nintendo Game Boy

The Game Boy was released in 1989. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/William Warby)

7. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes's single "(I've had) The Time of My Life" tops the ARIA Singles charts in 1988

A syrupy pop ballad that will forever be associated with 1987 film Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze (Johnny Castle) and Jennifer Grey (Frances "Baby" Houseman").  

This song nudged ahead of Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistable" and Cheap Trick's "The Flame" for the top spot.

It also won the Oscar for Original Song and a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.


Dirty Dancing

The iconic dance moment when Johnny Castle (Swayze) lifts Frances Houseman (Gray).

A year later in 1989, Madonna's "Like A Prayer" was the number one single.

8. Crocodile Dundee II is released

The sequel to the 1986 Australian comedy and international box office sensation, Crocodile Dundee II took in $24,916,805 at the box office.

In other screen news, Rain Man directed by Barry Levinson was the highest-grossing movie of 1988 in the US, and Bernardo Bertolucci won nine Oscars at the Academy Awards for his film "The Last Emperor".

9. INXS sweeps the 1988 MTV awards

The Australian rock group INXS was the biggest winner at the MTV Video Music Awards in September, taking home five awards: Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Viewer's Choice, Breakthrough Video and Best Editing. 

10. Triple J's annual Hottest 100 countdown is launched

In 1988, radio producer Lawrie Zion wanted to ask listeners what their favourite songs were, and asked them to submit their 10 favourites tunes. Joy Division's classic "Love Will Tear Us Apart" topped the inaugural poll.

Since then the results of the results of "world's largest music democracy" is counted down each year on Australia Day.

11. Expo 88

Apart from the 2014 G20 Summit, Brisbanites may remember the time their city came of age in 1988, when they hosted the World Exposition (Expo 88).

With a theme of "Leisure in the Age of Technology", the six-month long event offered visitors a glimpse into all the technological novelties, innovations and a celebration of the traditions of the exhibiting countries.

Expo 88 cost $600 million and attracted over 15 million visitors.

Crowd at Expo 88

Closing day crowds leave Expo 88, Brisbane, 30 October 1988 (Credit: Queensland State Archives)

12. Handheld mobile phones

Launched just a year earlier in 1987, the Telecom Walkabout mobile phone was expensive (about $5,200), but was seen as a status symbol for the yuppies of the day.

Walkabout mobile phone

(Credit: Powerhouse Museum)

13. The end of free university education

In 1989, the Hawke government ended free university education, introduced under the Whitlam government in 1974. This was achieved with the introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in 1989.

The issue drew the ire from university students at the time, including Joe Hockey, who protested university fees introduced under Labor in 1987.

What are your picks? Tweet at us or share your favourite eighties memories in the comments below.
Source: SBS