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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, 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.

American and British influence in the 1980s

Australia in the 1980s was a fusion of many cultural flavours. As well as the obvious British and American influences, European, Asian and Indigenous Australian culture all contributed to the shape of Australian society. In the 1980s, America still proved to be the dominant foreign cultural influence. As Australia enjoyed an economic boom, the nation warmly embraced the American consumerist ideal.

American and British influence on music in the 1980s

American music artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson swept the Australian music charts in the 1980s. British acts like The Cure and Duran Duran also achieved commercial success in Australia.

American rap and hip hop music began filtering into Australia during the 1980s. This influence would eventually lead to the creation of a small but thriving Australian hip hop scene. American hip hop culture also crossed over into the field of fashion and many Australian youths adopted the baggy pants and baseball caps of their favourite hip hop stars.

While American and British acts dominated the Australian music charts in the 1980s, local music was gaining confidence. Many Australian acts, such as Men at Work and INXS, enjoyed international success.

Imported music and the music video

The success of imported music in Australia in the 1980s can largely be attributed to the rise of the music video. Advances in video technology meant that promotional music videos could now be produced quickly and cheaply. These videos were screened on music programmes like Rage and Countdown and soon become equally as important as the music itself. By the mid-1980s, releasing a video clip to accompany a song was standard practice in the music industry.

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The era of the video clip gave well-financed overseas artists a distinct advantage over Australian performers. In order to gain a commercial edge, large overseas record companies allocated huge budgets to producing slick, lavish video clips. These clips enabled overseas artists to gain greater airtime on music television and Australians soon developed a taste for expensively-produced imported music.

American and British influence on cinema in the 1980s

While many Australian films achieved local and international success in the 1980s, American films cemented their dominance at the Australian box office. Throughout the decade, successful Hollywood films adhered to a seemingly winning formula: expensive special effects, high-profile actors and massive promotional budgets. Combined, these elements generally pulled huge audience numbers all over the world, including in Australia.

As special effects technology advanced, the 1980s became the era of the big-budget action film; a trend that would continue into the 1990s. The Terminator (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987)and Die Hard (1988) were successful examples from this genre and were instrumental in launching the global careers of actors like Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The American film Ghostbusters (1984) was the most popular comedy of the decade in Australia. Big-budget Hollywood science fiction also proved popular, including The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). In 1982, Steven Spielberg's E.T. became one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

American influence on television in the 1980s

American soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty were popular in Australia in the 1980s. Sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Family Ties rated highly, along with crime dramas like Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice.

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Throughout the 1970s, however, the overwhelming dominance of foreign, mostly American programmes on Australian television had met with mounting public opposition, and Australian television stations began to give local programmes a greater platform. As a result, the number of Australian programmes shown on television increased in the 1980s.

The tax breaks and funding assistance given to the Australian film industry during the 1970s began to filter through to television in the 1980s. Many high-quality, locally-made feature films, mini-series and documentaries were screened on Australian television during the decade, which helped to counter the flood of imported television programmes.

Reasons for American dominance of Australian television

Television plays a significant role in forming the culture, beliefs and values of a nation. A strong television industry, therefore, is important to the development of a strong national identity.

Since the advent of television, America has been able to produce television programmes much more cheaply than they can be produced in Australia. This is largely due to America's large population, strong economy and huge entertainment industry.

American television companies can then afford to sell these programmes to Australian TV networks at an extremely low price. This discouraged the production of much more expensive locally-made television programmes and led to a flooding of the domestic market by less expensive, imported content.

American influence on food and shopping in the 1980s

American fast food chains had rapidly extended their reach across Australia during the 1970s. In 1971, for example, McDonald's opened their first restaurant in Australia. By 1980, there were 105 stores throughout the country.

These outlets offered fast, affordable food that could be consumed in-store or at home. This convenience, combined with greater numbers of stores and aggressive promotional campaigns, meant that fast food quickly became an established part of the diets of many Australians.

The trend towards convenient, time-saving American-style foods was echoed in the supermarket sector. The introduction of microwave ovens in the 1980s changed the time Australians spent in food preparation and increased the range of American-style pre-packaged and frozen foods available.

Impact of changing food habits

American influences shifted Australia's eating habits away from its British roots. By the 1980s, lunches, snacks and drinks consumed by Australians were, more often than not, American in origin. Interest in European and Asian food was also strong throughout the decade. British staples like meat and vegetables, remained a common dinner choice in Australia.

As well as changing the types of foods Australians consumed, the trend towards American convenience foods also affected the amount of time people spent preparing food. During the 1940s, it was estimated that Australians spent around six hours per day purchasing and preparing food. By the 1970s, this had dropped to two hours and by the end of the 1990s, Australians were estimated to spend just 30 minutes per day in food preparation.

Sport and our British heritage

Since the early days of the Australian colony, sport has been a fundamental aspect of Australian cultural life. Sport is one area of Australian society that, for decades, resisted American influence and retained a strong British influence.

Popular contemporary sports like cricket, horse racing, and rugby union, were all originally transferred to Australia from Britain. Australia and Britain also share many great sporting traditions like rugby internationals and The Ashes cricket matches. Australians still relish beating England 'at her own game'.

Sport and the American influence in the 1980s

By the 1980s, American culture had changed the nature of Australian sport. This was accelerated by advances in communications technology, which enabled more widespread, frequent and up-to-date broadcasts of American sport into Australian homes.

America exerted an influence over Australian sport in several different ways. Firstly, it changed the types of sports that we played. The uptake of traditional American sports like basketball and baseball boomed in Australia. In the 1980s, for example, basketball was the fastest-growing sport in the country and teenage boys idolised American NBA stars like Michael Jordan.

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These changes in sports participation also crossed over into Australian fashion and popular culture. American sports clothing like trainers and baseball caps became extremely popular with young people and both amateur and professional sportspeople began to use high-tech sporting equipment developed in America.

During the 1980s, Australian sport also followed the American trend towards increased corporate involvement. Companies injected millions of dollars into sports or individual teams, in exchange for sponsorship rights and television coverage. This in turn meant that many Australian sports were altered to appeal to television viewers. Rugby league and AFL matches, for example, were played in the evening to maximise the potential television audience. Some sporting matches featured American-style glitz and glamour, such as football games where players and the crowd were boosted by cheerleaders and mascots.

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 new settlers in a harsh, unforgiving 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. Typical Australians were no longer stoic bushmen, but laidback, pleasure-seeking suburbanites who owned a acre block of land and enjoyed 'the good life'.

As migrants poured into 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. Also, as Aboriginal people were finally acknowledged as the original owners of the land, the role of Indigenous values in the construction of a true Australian identity became apparent.

Australian society has absorbed many cultural influences across the decades - not just British and American, but Indigenous, Asian, European and many more. As such, the Indigenous and migrant influence has intervened in the American and British effect on Australian culture.

In the face of globalisation, the future of Australia's unique national identity was increasingly challenged by the development of a global culture.

Globalisation, Americanisation and Australian culture

American influence had pervaded almost all areas of Australian cultural life in the 1980s. This process, however, was not unique to this country. It was part of the broader process of globalisation, whereby the cultural, political, economic and social spheres of individual countries were becoming increasingly mixed and interdependent. This process was largely driven by communications technology like the internet.

As America was influential in many fields, particularly that of economics and the diffusion of cultural products, the process of globalisation was often considered a process of Americanisation.

Globalisation of culture - good or bad?

Debate rages over whether or not this interdependence of cultures, and the pervasion of foreign, mostly American influences, will have a positive or negative effect on Australian society.

Globalisation's critics believe that it promotes a bland, homogenous global culture, dictated by American consumerist ideals. It is feared that the world will end up wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods, listening to the same music and watching the same TV shows.

Opponents to globalisation also foresee serious social and cultural consequences. Australian people may find it increasingly difficult to form a collective identity or sense of community, for example. Our long-held traditions, social values and unique way of life may also be at risk.

Champions of globalisation, however, believe that it will lead to a breakdown of cultural barriers like religion, language and economic status and will help foster a greater understanding of cultural differences.

Looking to the future

Whether or not Australia can continue to carve out a distinct national identity in the face of Americanisation remains to be seen. Australians, however, continue to enjoy seeing their own stories represented on television, in film and in music despite the saturation of American products. Furthermore, many people believe that throughout its history, Australian society has continually absorbed a range of foreign cultural influences and transformed them into a distinctly Australian culture.


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