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A presence since the gold rush, American immigrants have had an influence on Melbourne well beyond their numbers, establishing the first fire brigade, the Hobsons Bay Railway Pier at Port Melbourne, and J.C. Williamson's theatrical productions. From the 1920s, American companies set up manufacturing plants, while local retailers increasingly adopted American methods. Postwar suburban development was dominated by such American innovations as the drive-in cinema, motel, shopping mall and freeway. Since the 1970s, American fast-food chains have become increasingly prominent. The 'Americanisation' of Australian popular culture has been evident since the 1920s; electronic and print media have substantial American content.

Defence has been central to the Australian-American relationship. When the Great White Fleet arrived at St Kilda Pier in August 1908, the response was enthusiastic. Thousands welcomed US General Douglas MacArthur, who arrived in Melbourne on 21 March 1942, followed by 30 000 troops, garrisoned in requisitioned buildings and parks, including Camp Pell in Royal Park and Camp Murphy at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Although US military headquarters moved north in August 1942, service personnel remained in Melbourne until 1945, stimulating the economy but straining entertainment facilities. GIs described Melbourne as 'half as big as New York cemetery and twice as dead'. Relations were generally harmonious, with the Brownout murders a notorious but isolated exception. The first meeting of a Friendship Club in 1943 attracted 300 wives or fiancées of US servicemen, most of whom emigrated to the US after the war.

The Australian American Association, which began as the Australian American Co-operative Movement in 1943, continues to promote political, business and cultural ties from its South Melbourne headquarters. An American consulate has operated since the 1930s from different locations on St Kilda Road, and has been a focus of anti-war demonstrations. While the immigrant American community has remained relatively small in Melbourne, from the early 1990s growth in recreational and educational tourism has increased the presence of Americans in the city.

Kate Darian-Smith