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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.

Reasons for American cultural dominance in the 1960s

During the 1960s, American cultural influences rapidly filtered into Australia - primarily via music, cinema, and television. There are a number of historical reasons for this.

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 1960s 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.

Music and radio

Commercial radio play lists were dominated by mostly imported American and British music throughout the 1960s, quenching the teenage thirst for rock 'n' roll.

The public's taste was changing, though and 1950s rock 'n' roll stars like Elvis Presley made way for the 'British Invasion'. Teenagers were infatuated with British acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks and adopted the wild fashions and hairstyles of their idols.

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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.

Local film industries are generally considered an important way for people to examine and share their own culture and heritage. Starved of local stories in the late 1960s, many people feared that Australia's cultural identity was at risk.

Very few quality Australian films were produced during the 1960s. While some films were shot in Australia, many were financed by British and American interests and featured foreign stars in the leading roles.

Reasons for American domination at the cinema

American films dominated Australian cinemas during the 1950s and 1960s for a number of reasons.

Firstly, 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.

Secondly, the abundant budgets and superior technological resources 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.

Television

The first two decades of Australian commercial television were largely dominated by American comedy and drama. In 1959, the ten most popular programmes on Australian television were all American. British programmes dominated the ABC's schedules, which modelled itself on Britain's public broadcaster, the BBC.

Between 1956 and1963, almost all content screened on Australian television was sourced from overseas. Of this, 83 percent was American, with the rest from Britain.

Throughout the 1960s, American TV shows like Perry Mason and I Love Lucy continued to rate among the nation's favourite programmes. Many other local programmes produced during this period were based on formulas set by American programmes.

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Although the ABC broadcasted many Australian programs, concerns were voiced during this time about the lack of local content on Australian commercial television. In the late 1960s, the government imposed a local content quota in order to protect the Australian television industry being swamped by American products.

Food and shopping

Prior to the 1960s, traditional British meals, such as 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.

By the 1960s, new American-inspired shopping centres and supermarkets had become common, particularly in the newly-built suburbs. These contained a number of shopping facilities under one roof and markedly changed Australian shopping habits.

In the 1960s, American-style, convenient, pre-prepared foods like frozen French fries, and entire frozen dinners became available. These foods were particularly attractive to time-poor women who had recently joined the paid workforce, but were still responsible for the preparation of family meals.

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In 1968, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened its doors. Kentucky Fried Chicken was Australia's first American-style takeaway store and would soon be followed by other fast food chains. These fast food restaurants would significantly alter Australia's eating 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 arrived in Australia over the decades, they introduced new stories, traditions and perspectives to Australian culture. The traditional concepts of an Australia as a white British colony, or a land of struggling bush-dwellers, no longer seemed to fit with the diverse new reality of 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 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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