It's been 30 years since the last recession. Here's what life in 1990 looked like

The must-have gadget for 1990? The Gameboy. Picture: Shutterstock
The must-have gadget for 1990? The Gameboy. Picture: Shutterstock

It's official. For the first time in almost 30 years, Australia is in a recession. And my, how the world has changed since the last time we were in this position in 1990, when "the recession we had to have" began.

It was a pre-Seinfeld Australia

It was the sitcom that, arguably, came to define the 1990s and while Seinfeld was already taking over television sets in the United States, Australia would have to wait until 1993 to meet Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. There was no such thing as "same day as the US" when it came to televisions shows, which meant Aussies had to wait for not only Seinfeld but other shows released in the US in 1990 including, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Twin Peaks, Law and Order, and Beverley Hills, 90210. So what was on television?

Australia's Funniest Home Videos

Long before YouTube, Facebook and TikTok housed funny videos, there was a show that would broadcast them to the entire country at a set time, every week. The year 1990 saw Graham Kennedy's Funniest Home Video Show take to the screens - a show that after one season was renamed to what we now know as Australia's Funniest Home Videos. Lateline also began in 1990, and Baywatch came to our screens, after premiering in the US the year before. And of course, there was always Neighbours and Home and Away, both of which had been on our screens for a few years by this stage.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

That year introduced the world to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, who may sound like Renaissance artists, but are actually the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The show was so popular that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines were the must-have gift for Australian kids everywhere that year.


Speaking of in-demand presents, the Gameboy was still high on wishlists, after it was released the year before. According to the 1990 ad for the handheld game console it allowed people to "play some real power games", including the "mind-bending" Tetris game which it came with.


The world fell in love with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost, with the film raking in more than $505 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film for the year. The other films making it into the top five highest-grossing films of 1990 are Home Alone, Pretty Woman, Dances with Wolves and Total Recall.

Nothing Compares 2 U

Sinead O'Connor's emotional cover of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U was the most popular song for 1990 in Australia after it spent eight weeks at number one. Other hits from the year include MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This, Vogue by Madonna and It Must Have Been Love by Roxette.

Milli Vanilli

Speaking of music, 1990 saw the revelation of one of the music industry's biggest scandals when German producer Frank Farian announced that then-superstars Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan, aka Milli Vanilli, hadn't sung a note on their 1989 multi-platinum debut album Girl You Know It's True.

Bob Hawke was prime minister

This one is fairly obvious, particularly for politics fans. However, in July 1990 Bob Hawke officially became the second-longest-running Australian prime minister (after Robert Menzies). It came after a federal election saw Hawke re-elected for a fourth term, earlier that year.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison

After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and he and his then-wife Winnie raised their fists in celebration. Mandela would go on to become president of South Africa.

German reunification

The reunification of East and West Germany was made official in October of 1990, almost one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlin was reunited into a single city and was once again designated as the capital of united Germany.

This story It's been 30 years since the last recession. Here's what life in 1990 looked like first appeared on The Canberra Times.