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British influence on the Australian culture

British settlers arrived in Australia in 1788 and the extent of the British influence is still evident today. The British Union Jack features predominantly on our national flag and the Queen is Australia's Head of State. British models also form the basis of Australia's legal and political systems, as well providing our national language.

Up until World War II, Britain remained the dominating cultural influence in Australia. Britons also dominated the make-up of Australian society - most of Australia's citizens were either born in Britain, or had British descendants. In the years following the war, British subjects were encouraged to migrate to Australia under an 'assisted package' scheme, which helped with the cost of migrating to Australia and provided housing and employment options upon arrival. Between 1945 and 1972, over one million British migrants settled in Australia.

Before 1945, many people, including Australians themselves, considered Australia to be nothing more than a British colony; a nation whose national identity was relatively indistinct from the British. During this period of Australia's history, our modes of entertainment, food, fashion, sporting culture and our social values and attitudes were largely dictated by British culture.

American influence on the Australian culture

One of the most significant changes to have taken place in Australian society since the end of WWII, however, has been its drift towards American, rather than British culture. As the American way of life was projected further into Australia via popular culture, it would rapidly alter the ways we spent our money, entertained ourselves, dressed and socialised. Eventually, many of our British cultural legacies would give way to new American ideals.

In the decades since World War II, however, the penetration of American popular culture into Australian society has raised ongoing concerns about Australia's ability to carve out its own national identity. Local cultural products like films and music are an important way for people of a country to explore and share their common culture and heritage. Australian characters, themes and issues, however, are often outweighed by representations of the American way of life.

American films and television programmes depict American people in American settings and American music deals with American, not Australian concerns. Many people have feared that if Australians are starved of distinctly Australian cultural products, the national identity will be at risk.

America in Australia pre - 1945

America's presence had been felt in Australia prior to WWII. As well as political ties between the two countries, America and Australia were strong trade partners. In 1928, it was estimated that Australia sourced almost 25 percent of its imports from America. Before the war, Australians also enjoyed American cultural imports like films and music.

Throughout World War II, Australia became increasingly dependent on the United States, rather than Britain, for military support. By the end of the war, links between America and Australia were strong and somewhat undermined the traditional ties that Australia had to Britain. Thousands of American troops were stationed in Australia during WWII.

American-style dance halls were established, playing new music and serving American-style food. The American troops wore flashy uniforms and purchased fancy items with their generous incomes. While some people were critical of their brash behaviour, many Australians found the experience of American troops exciting. Their dynamic new ideas and attitudes posed a challenge to the prevailing conservative British sensibilities.

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America emerged from World War II as the dominant global economic power and was well-placed to export its cultural products to the world, including Australia.

At the same time, Australians in the 1950s were well-placed to receive American cultural influences. People were more affluent than ever before and communications and transport technology was advancing rapidly, enabling an easier transmission of American products and ideas into Australian society. American concepts like consumerism and material aspirations also fitted well with Australia's new pleasure-seeking suburban ideals.

These factors enabled American cultural influences to filter rapidly into Australia in the post-war years - primarily via music, cinema, and television. Over the subsequent decades, America would become a dominating cultural influence in Australia.

Music and radio

Australian popular music during the 1950s drew heavily from American sources, as both British and Australian youth fell under the spell of American-style rock 'n' roll. In 1955, American Bill Haley's hit song Rock Around the Clock swept Australia, and the airwaves were soon full of other American acts like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.

During this time, Australian performers like Johnny O'Keefe were heavily influenced by these overseas trends, modelling themselves on successful international acts.

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Large American corporations had developed mass production and marketing plans to tap into the newly-formed teenage market and harness this worldwide craze. They were helped along by technological leaps in radio and television, which made it possible for American music to penetrate foreign cultures like never before.

Following the introduction of television in 1956, radio stations increasingly relied on the new 'teenage' thirst for American music. Commercial radio was increasingly aligning its programming with the American youth model, and play lists were still dominated by mostly imported American and British popular music.

Radio announcers in the 1950s often used American accents to make their products appear exciting and modern - a clear reflection of the esteem with which American culture was held at the time.

Australian teenagers rapidly adopted entertainment technology like car and transistor radios, following the lead set by their American counterparts.

Cinema

Prior to World War II, Australia had a small but thriving film industry. After the war, however, the local film industry struggled amid an influx of mostly Hollywood-produced films. Most cinema chains were foreign-owned and Australian films struggled to reach the screen.

Very few quality Australian films were produced during the 1950s. While some films were shot in Australia, many were financed by British and American interests and featured foreign stars in the leading roles.

It has been estimated that in 1952, almost 75 percent of the films screened in Australian cinemas were American, while 18 percent were British.

Australia's widespread exposure to the American way of life depicted in 1950s movies coincided with the rock 'n' roll explosion and a spin-off into the teenage fashion industry. Australian youth imitated the fashions and hairstyles of their favourite American movie stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Reasons for American domination at the cinema

American film-making technology was the most advanced in the world, making it possible for them to produce many more high-quality films at a faster rate than their competitors. Local production companies could not compete with the dazzling technicolour and bright, big-budget promotional campaigns of American film companies.

The abundant budgets and superior technological resources also attracted the best actors, writers and directors to America. In many cases, this meant that the American creative output was of a higher standard than that of other countries.

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American and British influence on Australian television in the 1950s

The American television industry had been established in the 1940s. During the post-war reconstruction period, the Americans quickly returned to the airwaves and began producing a myriad of television exports.

Between 1956 and 1963, almost all content screened on Australian television was sourced from overseas. Of this, 83 percent was American, with the rest from Britain. Many local programmes produced during this period were also based on formulas set by American programmes and were not distinctively Australian.

In 1959, the ten most popular programmes on Australian commercial television were all American. These included shows like Perry Mason, The Flintstones and I Love Lucy.

British programmes dominated schedules on the ABC throughout the 1950s. The ABC modelled itself on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Britain's public broadcaster and aimed to provide programmes that enriched the culture of the nation and remained free from commercial interests.

The dominance of American content on Australian television in the 1950s meant that the representation of Australian characters and issues was far outweighed by representations of the American way of life. Most programmes depicted American families in American settings and dealt with American concerns and themes. While some television stations, like the ABC, made concerted attempts to broadcast Australian programmes, concerns were voiced during this time about the lack of local content on Australian commercial television.

In the late 1960s, the government would impose a local content quota in order to protect the Australian television industry from being swamped by American products.

Food and shopping

Throughout the 1950s, traditional British meals, like roast dinners, chops or sausages and vegetables, were the typical dinner for most Australians. Breakfast usually consisted of porridge, toast, eggs, or simple cereals like cornflakes.

Food was usually purchased from specialist vendors - bread from a baker, vegetables from a greengrocer, meat from a butcher and other staple items like sugar and flour from a local corner store.

Towards the late 1950s, new American-inspired shopping centres and supermarkets began springing up, particularly in the newly-built suburbs. These contained a number of shopping facilities under one roof and markedly changed Australian shopping habits.

The quest for an Australian identity

While the British and American influence has played a major role in defining the shape of Australia that we know today, a number of other influences have contributed to the development of the Australian identity.

As settlers in an unfamiliar land, the Australian identity was long bound to the stereotype of the tough, heroic bushman who fought to tame a difficult landscape. Australian values like 'mateship', 'fair go' and the 'Aussie battler' emerged as a result of this myth. Throughout the prosperous post-war years, however, a new Australian ideal emerged and Australians were thought to be part of a more laidback culture that enjoyed the 'good life'.

As migrants moved to Australia over the decades, however, they introduced new stories, traditions and perspectives to Australian culture. The traditional concepts of an Australia as a British colony, or a land of struggling bush-dwellers, no longer seemed to fit with the diverse new reality of the society. As Indigenous peoples were finally acknowledged as the original owners of the land, the role of Indigenous values in the construction of a true Australian identity had also become apparent.

As such, the Indigenous and migrant influence has intervened in the American and British effect on Australian culture.

As Australian society adapted to changing cultural influences across the decades, whether they be British, American, Indigenous, Asian or European, the national identity continually evolved in response. In the face of globalisation, however, the future of Australia's unique national identity was increasingly challenged by the development of a global culture.


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