JOHN TULLOH. Wow! The Americanization of Australia.


Growing up in Adelaide in the 50s, I recall a newcomer who was regarded almost as an alien. He was an American no less with, what’s more, a real American drawl. As far as I remember, he was a soldier from Kansas who’d met an Australian girl. He was treated as such an oddity that from time to time the local newspapers, much to his surprise, would ask him for his opinion on some momentous event back home across the Pacific. Goodness knows what he made of this or the quiet and prim life of suburban Adelaide compared with the razzle dazzle of the U.S. he had left behind. Today, however, he would feel right at home. The American penetration of Australian life has become unstoppable, especially in the cities. Once it was Mother England we looked to. Now our reassuring elder is the U.S. of A.

One of the many Australian sectors which has made sure of this is the media. The ABC is obsessed about the US presidential race which started in earnest 15 months ago when Hillary Clinton in particular and Donald Trump joined others in announcing their candidature. Since then, the ABC news machine has barely paused to draw breath on this story. In addition, there is a weekly on-line summary of what has been happening in case you missed it all and a tv program called Planet America. Even ABC NewsRadio prides itself as ‘Australia’s home’ of the presidential race. And we still have five weeks to go. Certainly it is a more interesting race this time with the duel narrowed to that between a demagogue and what could be America’s first female leader. But do we need a ball-by-ball account and relentless analyses when whoever wins is going to make little difference to Australian life? Such is our fetish with everything American or out of Washington that the ABC has probably given the presidential race more air time already than it did to our own federal election this year.

Studies have shown how so much international news coverage is due to the ripple effect of what is happening in the most powerful country of the world. So many US-based foreign reporters, especially inside the Washington beltway, are heavily influenced by what they read on the front page or on-line of the New York Times and the Washington Post and to some extent the US network evening newscasts. It is like an infection. It is even more severe now with the void of 24-hour news to fill. Helpfully for us, the Americans also speak English and hours of ‘live’ political events are freely available.

Commercial tv in Australia would collapse without US programming. That’s why you hear so many millenials who’ve grown up with this talking with a hint of an American drawl. Even the ABC’s most popular radio broadcaster, Ian ‘Australia All Over’ McNamara, who yearns for the old Australian days, punctures his presentation with ‘Wow!’ Most Spellchecks prefer the American style. Netflix has now muscled in on the Australian viewing market which can only mean more American films. Everything today is ‘any time soon’. Foxtel peddles CNN and the Fox News Channel as well as American football and baseball. It has been many years since our commercial tv channels had a US news bureau east of LA/Hollywood. Sydney University has a US Studies Centre (at least, not a Center). The New York Times and Washington Post are now available as easily on-line as local media. The Australian each day has one and sometimes two pages devoted to the Wall St Journal business coverage and other stories. As a result, the paper closed its Washington bureau. More flights than ever before link Australia, Disneyland and the rest of the US. The Dow Jones index guides our share traders. Our main social media outlets all have US origins. American marines based here are helping to defend us. Even the staid old Brooks Brothers clothing company which for decades has attired Wall St titans has opened stores in Australia. The American presence is endemic.

The fact is that our news, lives, lifestyle, fads, habits, speech and outlook are shaped by what American marketers deem best for Americans. Its own enormous domestic market gives it the capital to exploit smaller ones like Australia. Yet it is as if we ourselves cannot get enough of this cultural and commercial imperialism. It is overwhelming and invasive, slowly infecting our identity. As English is our common tongue, it is so much easier to fall into line with the American way of life. We have even picked up that hoary American platitude beloved by their politicians except it is now ‘the Australian dream’.

The fact is that we have become irretrievably aligned to and locked in with the US. Canberra will never change. Ministers are in thrall with Washington and, with China on the march, will continue to be. We should be forever grateful for what the U.S. did in WW2 to save Australia. Since then we have followed the Americans into battle everywhere. But should we still be so dutiful? Earlier this month Malcolm Turnbull visiting Washington announced Australia would take in 5000 Central American refugees from America’s own doorstep. Thank you, said a startled Washington giving us a tick of approval. (The fact that they almost certainly would be Roman Catholic rather than the unmentionable no doubt made the gesture easier).

Years ago, Australia placed a large order for F-35A jet fighters. Their development has encountered numerous delays, technical problems and cost overruns as well as serious questions whether they are the appropriate replacement for our existing fighters. Count us out, said an exasperated Canada. Yet somehow we don’t mind. We are like an obedient goldfish which has allowed a shark to become its best friend.

Our politicians have forgotten that it is long overdue for Australia to join Neighbourhood Watch and focus on Asia where our real future lies. But they continue to gaze in awe across the Pacific and cling to the ANZUS treaty as if an out of date insurance policy is still valid. The ABC is just as guilty.

  FOOTNOTE. The other morning, the ABC 7.45 radio news bulletin headlined the New Jersey train crash which killed one person. The second half of the same bulletin had a story of a mass murderer in China with 19 victims. It spoke volumes: we are still a nation of English-speaking white man’s dreamtime. 

Next year will see an election which in its own way will be just as important as the race for the White House. But news coverage in Australia will be minimal because all the participants speak German.

John Tulloh has spent many years observing Australia’s place in the world and covering international news.
















Next year will see an election which in its own way will be just as important as the race for the White House. But news coverage in Australia will be minimal because all the participants speak German.















John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.

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3 Responses to JOHN TULLOH. Wow! The Americanization of Australia.

  1. Avatar Edward Fido says:

    Canada, because it is, basically, in America’s backyard, can opt out of much defence preparation. Thus it was during the Cold War. I think, psychologically, we need something like the awareness of the British fleet in places like Singapore to feel safe. With the end of the British Empire we look to America. Our involvement in Vietnam and ‘The War on Terror’ are a sign of our commitment to America just as our involvement in wars such as the Boer and World Wars were a sign of commitment to Empire. Can we be as independent in foreign and military policy as Canada or Israel? Would that be wise? I would tend to take the practical advice of people like Andrew Wilkie and David Kilcullen, both Australian patriots with real security nous, on this one. My own opinion is that the American alliance is a good thing but we need to be aware that it is a bit like having visiting rights but not a marriage.

  2. Avatar Julian says:

    Though you paint the situation with a broad brush John, it is now all but impossible to disagree that the American influence in Australia is paramount – no more so than in the Media as you correctly point out. I mean, when was the last time anyone heard the exclamation: “Blimey”, or even “Bloody Hell”? Though I grant you that “WTF” can still be heard occasionally.

    Mind you John, I think the process started much earlier than many realise. Perhaps it all started with those pesky Americans coming here during the Gold Rush, and if it wasn’t that, it could well have been the visit of the Great White Fleet to Sydney (much to the annoyance of the British Foreign Office). See for example:

    And then there was Hollywood. Previous generations of Australians were much taken with the antics of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Myrna Loy and many, many others. The continuing influence of Hollywood in Australia is there for all to see. I have no doubt John that you are correct when you say: “Commercial tv in Australia would collapse without US programming.” Good Grief, if that happened we might just have to read a book. Yuk!

    And concerning the Media, our own ABC is something of a laggard in the matter of things American and really ought to be brought up to speed: no more re-runs of Chief Inspector Barnaby or Stephen Fry – give us the latest CSI and such like! At the same time, it seems that our younger fraternity know considerably more about the Kardashians than, for example, their civic responsibilities – at Home, or in the home.

    However it is when you come to “serious matters” like Defence for example, that the real problems lie. I think it can no longer be seriously argued that we could repel any invader for much longer that about 20 minutes – at the most; and once on-shore? Well, one can only hope the invading force made the mistake of coming through the Pilbara. On the other hand, they may have brains and have negotiated beforehand with the Chinese to come through the Port of Darwin.

    And what of those who say: “Now don’t you worry about Defence – trade and commerce is far more important”? The assumption here seems to be that the Yanks will always be available to repel boarders and grant us the “benefits” of free trade. And if this is so, why don’t we just abandon all pretence and petition Uncle Sam for membership as, say, the 53rd State. Surely this would put all matters to rights, and consider this: there can’t be all that many persons left who would knock back a hefty discount on their daily dose of Spam.

    Now of course to a sensible proposal like integration, there will be a few recalcitrants – there always is when simple and straightforward matters are raised – but I do believe logic of this proposal to be sound and above all to be economically prudent. 🙂 🙂

  3. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    After many years living/teaching in Japan I returned to an Australia which spoke of Terror Tories (The Northern and the Australian Capital ones) and Sarah Moanies. So, I find myself beginning explanations. When once I began: “Well,…” It’s inexorable…

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