Brisbane USA

Brisbane's 'American invasion'

Australian women with visiting American sailors, Brisbane, Queensland, 1941.

Between 1941 and 1945 more than one million Americans passed through Brisbane. They were soldiers, sailors and aircraft personnel at every rank, with all the support staff required by the world’s biggest and most expensive war effort. Brisbane residents, less than 330,000 at the start of World War II, were outnumbered more than three to one.

These were not quiet Americans. They were loud, cheerful, colourful and in charge of high-powered machines. Most important for Brisbane women, they were gallant, charming and loaded with cash. In July 1942 Brisbane became General MacArthur’s headquarters and the centre of military command of the South-West Pacific War. The American anthem played at all movie screenings and the Star Spangled Banner adorned city buildings. American troops and local women ‘mixed together as effortlessly as gin and tonic’, to quote historians Raymond Evans and Jacqui Donegan.

Australian men found the going tough, simmering tensions breaking out in some famous brawls including the Battle of Brisbane, when Americans could be seen ‘flying through the air’ between groups of inebriated Diggers.

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