The third in our five-part series looks at CHOICE through the 1980s.
“Should you buy a metal detector?” we asked. “With gold fetching hundreds of dollars an ounce and some recent fabulous finds, people are heading for the hills in the hope of finding a fortune.”
About 3000 households outlined their experiences with washing machines, dishwashers, colour TV sets and washing machines in our reliability survey. “You responded magnificently,” we wrote.
“Do you get your kilo of flesh when you buy a whole lamb, hindquarter of beef or side of pork?” Our story came complete with handy diagrams of lamb, beef and pig carcasses and how to slice them up.
Price-checkers visited 92 supermarkets in all capital and eight provincial cities. Sydney was the cheapest, with Brisbane running second. Woolies got the nod as the cheapest chain in Melbourne.
CHOICE prophesied: “Soon you will call up retailers’ price lists on your home computer, select the items you want and key them into the terminal. The computer will do the rest – arrange delivery from automated warehouses, credit the cost of your purchases and debit it from your bank account ...”
We gave the current craze, the water bed, a miss. “Though the spirit was willing, CHOICE didn’t test the optimistically named Don Juan water beds, as our tests wouldn’t allow fair comparisons.”
ACA sounded a warning over Bankcard allowing consumers to order goods by phone. “As a generous gesture, the bank will ‘consider’ refunding what they charge you for bills run up by someone illegally using your Bankcard number,” we reported.
We added some culture to the magazine, with our first report on the new miracle food, yoghurt – “claimed to cure just about everything from baldness to radioactive fallout”. In 1980, yoghurt sales reached $40 million, an increase of 20% over the previous year.
We tested bottled water, concluding “your own tap water may be better value than an expensive imported mineral water, both for taste and mineral content”. Sales of these “effervescents” (most from France) were increasing 25% a year. “ACA welcomes water’s sparkling new image and agrees it’s sophisticated and sensible to serve … but we don’t see why you have to pay $1.90/L for water that isn’t necessarily better than tap water and may be less healthy.”
Condoms were put through their paces – using, we reassured our readers, laboratory methods – with disturbing results in leakage and bursting that could lead to unwanted pregnancy and disease transmission.
CHOICE went radical by claiming “possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use should not be an offence.” We shared: “Smoking cannabis is a much more effective way of getting stoned than eating it.”
“Privacy: in a microfiche bowl. Your name is in the computer. How much do they know? What are they saying about you?” With 1984 round the corner, we listed organisations likely to have personal details on file and pushed for greater controls on the use of this information.
In buying a home computer, CHOICE helped its readers to “make sense of these mysterious black boxes” and “decide if you need one at all”. Our advice: “Stick to the cheap end of the market until you’re sure you really need 64K RAM, high-resolution colour graphics, twin-disc drives and a printer. It will also cost you a lot less if you discover you’re just not ready for the computer age.”
With fibre the latest fad, bread came up for scrutiny in an age where “the clip-clop of the baker’s cart and fresh-that-morning crusty loaves have receded forever into the past.”
“Which VCR? – at last the test you’ve been waiting for,” we proclaimed as we earnestly embraced the modern age.
We also asked, “are low- and no-alcohol drinks drinkable?” And the good news was that our panel generally could not tell the difference.
In October, we moved from Chippendale, NSW, to Marrickville.
“We will have basic medical and hospital cover under a national health insurance scheme called Medicare.” CHOICE outlined what readers would pay – and get for their money.
Once again, we chomped away at cereals: “What’s for breakfast – is the cardboard box more nutritious than the cereal it holds?” All-Bran, Weeties, Vita Brits and Weet-Bix got gold stars, while mueslis were still a very small part of a diverse market.
Our fifth supermarket survey found price differences of 79% between two Sydney supermarkets in the “cheapest available” basket.
As part of Australia’s two-airline (TAA and Ansett) policy, fares were determined by the Independent Airfares committee. Why, we asked, is a return airfare to Fiji half the price of Sydney-Perth return? But, after a little number crunching, we discovered domestic airfares weren’t too exxy after all.
Our very first Gobbledegook Award winner was a mortgage document from a building society, with one offending clause in particular. A spokesperson defended the verbiage, but we were not confident a typical reader would have “the capacity, necessary knowledge and time to spend deciphering the clause”.
We tested CD players, “the biggest leap in sound recording technology since the Edison cylinder”. Such progress didn’t come cheap, but we offered comfort that CDs were likely to become cheaper over time. Performance results for every CD player tested were “excellent and better than most turntables in a similar price range”. So many players were flooding the market that we had to run a further test six months later.
“Food radiation arouses fears and moves are afoot to introduce the process in Australia – 10 times the amount of radiation proposed in
the US.” We concluded irradiation should not be permitted without stringent safeguards.
“Tearing your hair out trying to find a cure for thinning hair?” we asked, concluding there were only two solutions for follicly challenged men: castration or choosing ancestors that kept their crowning glory into old age. Embrace your baldness, we suggested, using an image of a young and gyrating Peter Garrett to argue the case.
An issue of CHOICE went on display at the Powerhouse Museum beside the Bible and the Koran as part of the ‘Making Sense of the World’ exhibition. “CHOICE is an example of the means by which people can order their information and make more informed decisions,” said the exhibition’s curator.
Baby bottle teats went under the microscope: “We found unacceptable levels of potent carcinogens in many.” Nitrosamines were the offending substances – several countries limited levels of these, but not Australia.
We compared local “champagnes” and the French originals. “Untutored palates can’t tell between the real thing and the local version,” we said.
“Should you buy Australian?” we asked as the Australian Made campaign gathered momentum. There was little need to buy food from overseas, but car buyers were
in a bind. “If you want reliability, go for imports; if the budget’s tight, go for local,” we advised.
“The ice age has arrived,” CHOICE told its readers. Aussie consumption of ready-made frozen meals had risen by over 50%, with ‘classic’, ‘authentic’ and ‘cuisine’ bandied about to lift their status. However, our test found that only a handful gave you a balanced feed.
After Chernobyl, we tested European processed foods for radiation. Only three of the food samples had detectable levels of Caesium-137, which, it seems, was definitely from Chernobyl a– a Bulgarian strawberry jam, some Turkish figs and Yugoslavian cherries. But we warned the threat of contamination would remain a problem for many years to come.
Our new quarterly magazine, Consuming Interest, looked at consumer policies, advertising, health standards, legislation and hazards of all kinds. It cost just $17 for individuals.
In line with the glitzy ’80s, our cover was about buying and insuring jewellery and how to clean newly bought booty.
Smokers’ and non-smokers’ rights were becoming a hazy area. “A small but growing number of restaurants are totally smoke-free, and an even larger number provide separate areas or smoke-free periods.”
We tried to scuttle bank fees, arguing that small account holders carry an unfair share of the costs. “Any costs to the bank should be reflected in the interest rate and not passed on to the customer in separate charges.”
With almost half of all Australians taking vitamin supplements, we revealed many were exceeding their RDI.
We took a moral tone on cordless phones – “synonymous with trendiness, self-indulgence and, dare we say it, laziness?” – but suggested that the elderly, gardeners and owners of multi-storey homes would appreciate them.
“Shoulder pads are a nightmare for dry cleaners and most are awaiting the demise of the fashion,”
we said. “It’s a pity more manufacturers don’t adopt the practice of attaching shoulder pads with Velcro strips, making them easy to remove before dry cleaning the garment.”
“Live, invest, die – Yuppie epitaph, 1988.” So began a report on investment options – buying shares, superannuation and investment options. In April, it was taxation’s turn: “It’ s a sign of the times when taxation becomes a common subject for party chat.”
Our report on shower roses raised environmental issues such as energy and water conservation, and we advised readers on how to make savings and cope with rationed water supplies. We gave our pick of “energy-efficient shower roses which give a fair to good shower”.
Pasta sauces were tested exhaustively. “Ten years ago, the average family ate home-cooked pasta once a week; now it’s more likely to feature two to three times.”