Does shopping shorten women’s lives? Yes! By 30 days each year according to John Henry Austral, Freda Gates and Mavis Bronson, fictional characters in a 1940s radio serial that is an early example of content marketing in Australia.
The three starred in the serial John Henry Austral which ran on Australian radio from February 1948 to December 1949. The Liberal Party of Australia sponsored the show in a bid to win the 1949 Election and warn listeners about the socialist direction the (then) Chifley Government was taking.
Today we would call John Henry Austral content marketing. It sought to entertain and educate Australians on topical issues while reflecting Liberal policy on education, the economy and other topics of the day.
The shopping episode highlighted the battles housewives faced with the rationing regime then in force. Rationing of food and other household essentials had been introduced during the Second World War and was finally lifted in July 1950. Production of consumer items was limited and there were still shortages of many items, we take for granted, even though the War had ended.
In the does shopping shorten women’s lives episode new mother Freda and her older neighbour Mavis complain about the impact of rationing on their daily lives. Especially the time they spend each day queuing for bread, soap, vegetables and other family items. Over afternoon tea they calculate an hour each day goes to lining up in shops. And by some mysterious maths – which I don’t understand – they parlay that into about 30 days each year spent standing in line. Enter John Henry Austral who joins the conversation to proclaim Labor government policies that limit private enterprise and competition are squarely to blame for all this waiting around.
The series was popular and ran for 200 episodes on 80 stations across the country. It broke down complex topics into around the kitchen table -type conversations and although Liberal themes are consistently presented as entertainment and education, branding is subtle. The Party only appears in the closing credits.
The serial spawned other serials on radio and a national newspaper campaign which was very similar. Some argue John Henry Austral was the forerunner of political campaigning in Australia and you might ask have we really moved beyond that 65 year old format?
Copies of the John Henry Austral serial survive. Listen here as Fred and Marvis discuss how shopping shortens women’s lives.