Register Now!

Search Skwirk

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 white 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, 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 1990s - Overview

By the 1990s, one in four Australians were born overseas. Australian society had become a fusion of many cultures, including European, Asian, Indigenous, American and British. The relevance of Australia's historical ties to Britain was questioned, however, by the republican debate.

At the close of the 20th century, America was the dominant foreign influence in Australian society. Cultural phenomenon like the internet had enabled American products to spread into Australia's cultural marketplace.

The 1990s republic debate

The extent of the British influence in Australia was debated in the hotly-contested Republican issue of the late 1990s. A growing number of people felt that as one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world, Australia should embrace cultural symbols that all Australians could identify with. This, republicans argued, included replacing Britain's Queen with an Australian Head of State.

While the republican proposal did not pass at the national referendum in 1999, the support for the republican cause provided significant evidence of Australia's gradual move away from its British roots.

American and British influence on Australian music in the 1990s

Foreign music flowed easily into Australia throughout the 1990s. American music videos were repeatedly broadcast on Australian music programmes and commercial Australian radio stations played American music on high rotation. Later in the decade, the internet enabled Australians to easily download and reproduce music from anywhere in the world.

In 1991, American grunge band Nirvana released the song Smells Like Teen Spirit. It became a worldwide hit, and cemented grunge as a major influence on the Australian music scene. In 1994, local act Silverchair emerged with their own grunge anthem, Tomorrow. Many young Australians also adopted typical grunge fashion, with heavy boots and baggy, torn clothes.

British alternative rock acts like the Verve, Oasis and Blur achieved success in Australia throughout the decade. In the late 1990s, Australians embraced British electronic acts like the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy and Fatboy Slim.

American hip-hop and R&B, which had begun its rise in the 1980s, retained its popularity in Australia throughout the1990s. Popular American hip-hop and R&B acts included Mariah Carey, girl group TLC and Snoop Doggy Dog.

See Image 1

While Australian hip-hop was heavily influenced by its American counterpart, the style began to develop a more distinctively Australian sound throughout the decade. Australian hip-hop performers proudly rapped in an Australian rather than an American accent, for example and addressed themes and issues specific to life in Australia.

This trend demonstrates the 'hybrid', or mixed, effect that foreign, mostly American music has had on the Australian scene. In the 1990s, many Australian musical acts were combining elements of American genres with their own unique styles, sounds and thematic concerns, to create a hybrid musical style.

American and British influence on Australian cinema

While many Australian films achieved box office success during the 1990s, at the close of the decade, Australian films constituted just 15 percent of those watched in cinemas. American-made films remained, by far, the biggest crowd-pullers. Among the highest rating American films of the decade were Pretty Woman (1990), Jurassic Park (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Titanic (1997), and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). The highest rating British film of the decade was The Full Monty (1997).

While the Australian film industry grew substantially throughout the 1990s, the high costs associated with film making meant that Australian films were increasingly financed overseas. This, in turn, required that films appealed to an international audience, rather than focusing on purely 'Australian' stories. As a result, the quintessential Australian aspect of local films was increasingly replaced by an international feel.

The Matrix (1999), for example, starred American actors and carried all the hallmarks of a big-budget Hollywood production, although it was filmed in Australia. Other films, like Babe (1995) were a result of international collaboration. Babe was written and produced in Australia, however facilities in America, Britain and Australia combined to produce its technological effects.

See Image 2

American and British influence on television in the 1990s

Some of the highest-rating programmes screening on Australian television during the 1990s were produced in America, including the animated series The Simpsons, medical drama ER and the comedies Home Improvement, Seinfeld and Friends.

American and British programme formats heavily influenced the style of Australian comedy, drama and lifestyle programmes throughout the 1990s. Popular Australian comedies like Hey Dad and Acropolis Now, for example, combined Australian themes and concerns with the American sitcom format. Australia's Funniest Home Video Show, also followed the same formula as its American counterpart, but used Australian rather than American video clips.

Many Australian programme makers reworked popular overseas television conventions - mixing local and global elements to create Australian programmes with international appeal. The ABCs drama series Police Rescue, for example, was set against a contemporary urban backdrop and involved themes and storylines about city life that were relevant to an international, rather than just an Australian audience.

American and British influence on food and shopping in the 1990s

American fast food chains like McDonald's, KFC and Burger King continued to prosper throughout the 1990s. More and more new fast food stores opened around Australia, many of which offered convenient new features, such as a drive-through service.

Supermarkets in the 1990s continued to follow American trends by extending their opening hours and expanding their range of products.

Supermarkets became 'one-stop shops', with a massive range of grocery items available under one roof. Consumers could also purchase foods from all around the world, with some supermarkets offering international food sections.

See Image 3

Impact of changing food habits

The influence of America on food consumption in Australia has had significant social and economic repercussions.

The proliferation of supermarkets, for example, meant that consumers could save money and satisfy all of their shopping needs in one place. On the other hand, small vendors like butchers, bakers and greengrocers, were unable to compete with the convenience and low prices offered by large supermarkets, and were forced to close.

American influences also shifted eating habits away from their British roots. In the 1990s, lunches, snacks and drinks consumed by Australians were, more often than not, American in origin. Interest in European and Asian food was also strong. British staples like meat and vegetables, though, continued to remain a common dinner choice for many Australian families.

As well as changing the kinds of foods Australians consumed, the trend towards American convenience foods also affected the amount of time people spent preparing food in the 1990s. 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 flavour.

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 Ashes cricket matches. Australians still relish beating England 'at her own game'.

Sport and the American influence in the 1990s

Since the 1970s, however, American culture had been exerting a greater influence over Australian sport. In the 1990s, the American sporting influence was accelerated by new communications technology like pay TV and the internet, which enabled more widespread, frequent and up-to-date broadcasts of American sport into Australian homes.

America impacted on Australian sport in several different ways. Firstly, it changed the types of sports that we played. In the 1990s, media coverage of American basketball prompted so much interest in the game that it became the fastest-growing sport in Australia. In 1994, a survey found that Australian teenage boys recognised American basketball player Michael Jordan over any Australian sports person.

The American influence on Australian sport could also be seen in the way sport was presented in the 1990s. Many Australian sporting matches featured American-style glitz and glamour, such as football games where players and the crowd were boosted by cheerleaders and mascots.

See Image 4

The American sporting influence also crossed over into Australian fashion and popular culture. American sports clothing like trainers and baseball caps were popular with young people, and both amateur and professional sportspeople used high-tech sporting equipment developed in America.

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 into Australia over the decades, however, 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 somewhat intervened in the American and British effect on Australian culture.

In the face of globalisation, however, 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 spread to almost all areas of Australian cultural life in the 1990s. 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, such as 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 spreading 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 of globalisation also foresee serious social and cultural consequences. Australian people may find it increasingly difficult, for example, to form a collective identity or sense of community. 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 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.


ToolBox