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Australian Society in the 1950s and 1960s Essay

During the 1950s-1960s Australia’s popular culture was heavily influenced by American culture, trends and images. The 50s and 60s was the era of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hippies, Rebellious teenagers, and drugs. These themes were all part of America’s culture and were portrayed to the rest of the world as important elements of American culture. These important elements of culture heavily influenced the growing nation of Australia – particularly during this period. Teenagers were the prominent generation of this time, with the consumers market aimed strait at them. The 60s saw the uprising of a new generation who strived to be different from their elders.

During the 1950s-1960s American artists, American themes and American styles of music dominated the Australian music scene. Australian charts were packed with foreign American hits, Australian acts rarely making it into the Australian top ten. Radio stations devoted much less time to talking so they could fit in more American music, because that is what the Australian people wanted to hear. American artists such as Elvis Presley and Bill Haley (and his band ‘The Comets’) we hugely popular in Australia and were idols for the teenagers generation. During this time, Australia’s most notorious rock ‘n’ roll singer rose to fame – Johnny O’Keefe, Heavily influenced by American rock ‘n’ roll artists.

The 50s and 60s saw the birth of a new generation – hippies. Hippies were a generation mainly composed of young people, either in their teens or early twenties. A generation of ‘free spirits’, whose main goals in life was to just be one with Mother Nature and promote peace and love. Hippies were looked down upon by older people because most hippies did not seem to care much about a stable, settled-down life. Hippies were usually involved in drugs (LSD was popular) and also believed in free love.

Influenced by the growing American trends of hippy culture an Australian hippy culture began to emerge. The generation of hippies sometimes formed anti-government groups. This was evident in Australia when hippy anti-Vietnam war groups and hippy anti-communist groups started to appear. Aussie hippies spent a lot of time surfing and the stereotype of an Australian hippy included a VW Kombi, painted colorfully with peace signs with surfboards in the back. Australian hippies were following many of the movements of American hippies, especially supporting the psycadelic and folk music scenes.

In the mid 1950s television was introduced into the home and became a part of typical Australian households. Television was a gateway for Australians into American culture, since most of the earliest television shows were American. The Australian public was constantly watching American ways and American trends and began to adapt to those trends because the TV shows portrayed the American way of life as ‘cool’. Actors such as Elvis Presley playing rebellious teenagers in motion pictures influenced teenagers to be rebellious, because their own idol was.

Australia’s own film industries did not kick off until the mid-80s, although film was a major part of Australian culture during the 50s and 60s. Families would regularly go to the movie theatre to watch American films on a Saturday night or go to the new American inventions – drive-ins. Drive-ins at that time were a symbol of American culture, and were a popular Saturday night entertainer.

The reason why Australia was so heavily influenced by America during the 1950s and 1960s is because Australia was a young country, without any real identity that had to look abroad for influence. In comparison to America and the United Kingdom, Australia was still a very undeveloped nation.

John Douglass Pringle, a Scottish journalist living in Sydney in the 50s and 60s said this about Australia’s outside influences; “Some Australian nationalists find a painful irony in the circumstance that, having fought against the British influence all their lives, they have won their battle only to find that American influence has taken it’s place”. It seems as though as Australia was striving to be different from its mother country, Great Britain, it became more and more like America without even realizing.

Nowadays, in our multicultural society, it is difficult to stereotype a particular country as every country now influences countries across the globe. Popular culture in mega countries such as Australia, Great Britain and America is now very similar, because many companies and trends can easily spread across the globe due to better communication, although these countries are not without an individual and unique popular culture.

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