It’s not uncommon to read diatribes from (mostly older) Australians fulminating against American fast food, American music, American computer games and, especially, certain American politicians. But when did all this Americanisation start?

Was it during World War II, when American troops were stationed here?  Or during the Vietnam conflict, when Sydney became a favourite location for Americans’ R & R? Or, perhaps, when the fast food giants, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut began making inroads into our food scene.

No. It happened much earlier. Perhaps it all began with the visit of the American “Great White Fleet” in 1908, when crowds in Melbourne and Sydney turned out to welcome the US warships and their crews. An American fleet visited again in 1925, and was also greeted with enthusiasm. Families were asked to “host” American sailors to give them a taste of Australian life.

By this time, American food culture was already making an impact here, thanks to Greek immigrants. Many arrived by way of America, or had relatives who settled in the USA, and opened American-style cafés and milk bars. This continued through the 1930s accompanied, as the article below pointed out, by the advent of “talking pictures”. The combined influences of visiting Americans, Hollywood movies and immigration promoted a culture that, even back in the ’30s, seemed to outrage those who clung to the old ways of “home”.

The following article appeared in Smith’s Weekly, a tabloid newspaper published weekly from 1919 to 1950.

Your Sydney Has Become American

By An English Visitor

SYDNEY, says the professor, is an Anglo-Saxon settlement. Says him. (American phrase used by Anglo-Saxons).

Guns banged this year, and flags flew, to celebrate the anniversary of Anglo-Saxon Sydney’s foundation by an Anglo-Saxon sea-captain.

If you look Sydney in the eye to-day, you’ll wonder, maybe, why those flags were not starred-and-striped, and why “Yankee Doodle” wasn’t whistled by the fifers of the Artillery band.

Sydney may have been an Anglo-Saxon settlement — once.

To-day it looks like a suburb of New York.

LOOK at them, Sydney and New York, geographically and externally. Both poke up into the sky — long, narrow, thin-gutted cities, compressed between rambling arms of water. Nobody who has seen the New York waterfront from the Hudson River, either in fact or picture, can help being hit by the curious resemblance between this scene and the view of Sydney’s skyline across the harbor from Milson’s Point.

The difference is mainly one of. scale. New York, of course, could stack Sydney in one of its corners,  and its sky-mansions dwarf Sydney’s buildings, stunted by regulation to 150 feet. But the likeness of profile is still there.

The analogy goes a good deal deeper than mere surface-suggestion.

More and more, Sydney is talking American, eating American,  drinking American, living American.

LISTEN to those two girls behind the counter of what used to be referred to, with quiet pride,  when I was here not so many years ago, as an “emporium,” but what you call a “department-store” to-day.

“Say, you gotta date to-night?”

“I’ll say, sister!”

“Gee, that’s swell! Who’s the guy?”

“Same feller.”

“Not that bozo? Say, kid he’s just a piker!”

“You’re telling me!”

Once upon a time, when the Australian idiom was full-blooded and stood firmly on its own legs, “swell” would have been “bonzer,” and “guy” would have been “bloke,” and “I’ll say” would have been “dinkum.”

The Australian idiom is a ghost to-day in Sydney; it has been obliterated by the language schools of the American talking picture. In fact, you have now reached a stage where two Australians, with a reasonable acquaintance with talking-pictures, can carry on a conversation for a quarter-of-an-hour without using more than half-a-dozen words, together with variations and inflections of “You heard,” “Says you,”  “Says me,” “So what,” “Oh yeah,”  “Oke” and “I’ll say.”

SYDNEY dances American to American swing. The Big Apple rolls over the old maxinas and waltzes and lancers. Ninety per cent of the music which sticks in the consciousness of the public comes from Tin Pan Alley, New York.

Sydney eats American — Ameri can hamburgers, American three-decker toasted sandwiches, American gum, American hot-dogs. You have become waffle-minded. The leisured semi-privacy of dining out in the old European way has been sacrificed for an exhibitionist huddle round a coffee-shop counter; you squat on a stool, and a shining-cheeked fellow in a white cap brings you banana fritters and fried chicken.

The spread of the coffee-shop  (Australian for the American Old English “coffee-shoppe”) is significant and surprising. Ten years ago, there were only half-a-dozen chain coffee-shops, run by an Australian Turk on European marble-topped table lines. Now there’s a coffee-shop on every second corner— American style.

Customers, moreover, have become coffee-conscious. Where once the carefree coffee-drinker asked simply for plain coffee, to-day he is particular to discriminate between “Kona” and “Kenya.”

Where once a bloke asked for a pie and a cup-o’-tea, the guy to-day eats with one of the great Hamburger family — Joe or Fred or Jack.

Sydney drinks American —American cocktails, American mixed drinks, American coca-cola.  Ten years ago, you might have pleaded in vain, in any of the big hotel lounges, for those imaginative cocktail mixtures with names like “The Widow’s Kiss,” “Attaboy Special,” “Quo Vadis,” and “Tiger’s Breath.” To-day, you can ask for drinks like these without a blush, and the waiter brings them without a blink.

Sydney smokes American. The demand for American cigarettes, heavier and more spiced than the Australian sort, is growing constantly. The various American Fleets have left their legacies of tastes in tobacco behind them. A big tobacconist tells me that Sydney to-day smokes four times as many American cigarettes as it did 10 years ago — though the duly is as high as 1/- on a packet of 20.  You’ll be surprised if you count up the number of people in your own circle who prefer to shake an American cigarette out of a hole torn in the corner of an American-style packet.

IF you own a car, too, the odds are that it comes from America; and maybe you call it an “automobile.” American words are like that — it’s smarter to say “automobile” than “car” (which is seven letters less); and “elevator” than “lift” (four letters shorter);  and “met up with” than “met”  (two words shorter). Or perhaps you prefer the hideous verb “contact” to “meet up with.” Sydney’s business letters are full of people,  “contacting” these days.

So you “stop in” at a “service- station” (short for “garage”) in your “automobile,” and you ask,  most likely, for “gas.” Listen for a while at the nearest pump, and you’ll realise with a shock how quickly “gas” is taking the place of old-fashioned “petrol.”

The motorist completes his Americanisation by “meeting up” next with a “cop.” Surely a twinge of nostalgic sentiment is aroused in the Sydney bosom by memories of the days when “cops” were “Johns,” or “Bobbies”?

If you’re a man, you are dressed, perhaps, in American-style summer clothes, with a Panama hat and American-shaped shoes. Nothing much wrong with this; the Australian climate shrieks for American clothes.’ But men were wearing straw hats in Sydney 25 years ago — and they were not American.

In the evening, you wear a Tuxedo (American for dinner-jacket). All sorts of American liberties are taken with evening clothes to-day; shirts are soft, collars fold over, ties are peculiar. Perhaps there’s some point in this, on a hot night; but it’s possible to wear a white mess-jacket, English army style, and still be Anglo-Saxon.

So the tide spreads — uptown and downtown, as Americans say. Your buildings are air-conditioned; there are refrigerators in the kitchens; you eat grapefruit for breakfast; Sydney’s children play with Shirley Temple dolls and Popeye dolls. Sydney parents listen in to syndicated American music and recorded American -thrillers from the “B” class wireless stations. (“Wireless”: An old English word meaning radio). |

Sydney is an Anglo-Saxon settlement?

Oh, yeah?

Says you!

Smith’s Weekly, Saturday 26 March 1938