A Yank Down Under






A YANK DOWN UNDER              

 (By Bill McAlpin Lee Universtiy 1984- 1989)



Australia is a country made up primarily of immigrants. The loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence led the British government to turn to Australia for alternative overseas settlement. Captain Arthur Phillip commanded the first fleet of eleven ships which brought 1500 people, including 800 convicts, out from England.

The first settlement, founded in 1788, in Sydney, was pioneered largely by convicts and continued for many years as a penial colony, a type of jail or prison for England’s unwanted. This created an identity crisis which exists until this present day. The average Australian does not have much respect for authority or institutions of any kind. They will usually show favor for the “underdog” in almost every situation.

The white Australian, descending from convicts or migrating pioneers, is usually a strong willed, independent, self-reliant individual. His primary goal is to maintain his job status and own a home. The people generally are not interested in church activities and spend their leisure time in the pubs, social clubs, sporting activities, and family outings, with many of their social activities occurring on sundays.

The Australian as a rule is friendly on the outside, but really is closed both as an individual and as a family unit. The home is usually confined to relatives and very close friends. Outsiders are rarely invited into the home for meals or socializing. It takes a very long time to win their confidence and become acquainted on a personal basis. For example, the first Australian I met which drove my family and I to a government hostel, invited us home to meet his family. He later confided that we were the very first people ever, other than his relatives, to visit and eat a meal in his home.

B.  COMING TO A NEW LAND (First Events)

My family and I immigrated to Australia in October 1973. There were around 70,000 immigrants a year coming into the country. I did not come for the same reason as the many thousands of others, searching for a better life style, but came because we felt we had a ministry and testimony to share with others. During our eleven years of living within the country, I was reminded many times that I was very much a minority person in a foreign land. This minority status affected every part of our lives including the family, community, and church life in various ways.

On October 14, 1973, our plane landed at 8:33 a.m. at the Sydney, Airport. As the plane came to a stop on the tarmac, everyone on board started grabbing their baggage. We were told however, to keep our seats until the cabin had been sprayed. Two men with aerosol cans sprayed a mist over the heads of all the passengers. Then everyone rushed off the plane into the airport. We followed the other passengers and stood in line to have our passports checked and stamped. Then an officer took us to a waiting room. We were not told why we were waiting. Finally my wife’s name was called to our surprise. The doctor had failed to note on her health certificate that her smallpox vaccination had been successful. After Winnie signed a paper stating that she had not been outside the U.S. prior to our departure for a specified length of time, we were allowed to continue.

We were directed to another line to make a Customs and Quarantine Declaration. We had some difficulty understanding the accent in the officer’s English. He stamped various papers and pinned a button on my coat. An orange and yellow button was our link and identification with airport immigration officers. This button identified us as immigrants. Our feelings were mixed as there were no relatives, no friends, no church contacts, no familiar faces anywhere to be seen. Instead, an orange and yellow button and strange accents all around greeted the McAlpin family to the Land Down Under.

While we were getting our luggage, we were found by an immigration officer dressed in ordinary street clothes. He made arrangements for us to meet him in a room to our left after our baggage was checked. A hire car and driver were waiting outside to take us to the hostel which was government owned and operated for sponsored immigrants. The driver dressed in a black suit, tie, and hat and was driving a black Ford Fairlane.

The driver, Cyril Curwen, drove the 40 km. trip to the hostel, one which will long be remembered and appreciated. He answered our many questions and pointed out things of interest as we drove through the narrow streets of Sydney’s outer suburbs. He took the time to drive a route that showed us pretty scenery in the mountains and stopped to buy us an ice cream. He made us feel that we had found a friend in Australia.

We were surprised to find many of the small trees, shrubs, and flowers in Sydney to be the same as those in Florida. We found some names of gasoline stations, stores, and their products to be the same as in the United States. We noticed the houses were built close together and all the roofs to be red tile. Most of the houses had fences around them.

Winnie and I caught our breath and tried to apply imaginary brakes as we found ourselves riding on the left side of the road. It seemed that at any time we were going to hit or get hit by an on coming car. This first touch of cultural shock caught me asking myself if I could ever adjust or get use to the sudden differences.?

C. LIFE AT THE HOSTELWe were again reminded that we were the minority, the migrant, in a foreign land as we arrived at the East Hills Hostel. This would be our home for the next several months. Built in 1945, East Hills was one of eleven migrant centers in Australia. Immigrants were assigned to a hostel according to the availability of their employment in the area. We were surrounded by 176 families, speaking various languages, with many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We were the only Americans (Yanks) in the Hostel, a minority among minorities.

Our apartment was called Flinders One. It had an entrance hall, three rooms, and a bath. The walls were cement block inside, with only one wall in each room painted and the others were cement grey. Each room had painted ceilings and varnished wood doors. One room was used as a living room and had a broom closet. The apartment had been throughly cleaned before we arrived. We were assigned a broom, a mop, etc. for cleaning. The living room had a couch which could be used for a bed, and a chair to match in grey plastic.

Other apartments had yellow, green, or orange furniture, but each had the same amount. The apartment also had three dinette chairs and a small adjustable table. We used the table for washing our cups and tableware. We were assigned four cups, forks, knives, and spoons. They were carried to and from the communal canteen at mealtime. No cooking was supposed to be done in the apartments. However, many used an electric jug (to heat water), toaster, and electric fry pan. Small fridgs (refrigerators) and tellys(televisions) could be rented from the Kiosk (store).

The other two rooms in the apartment were used as bedrooms with two cots in each. Our children, Karen who was twelve and Barry who was eight, shared one bedroom. One of the bedrooms had a writing table, and the other a chest of drawers. We were assigned linens and pillows. One towel, sheet, and pillowcase for each of us were turned in each Friday to the linen store room for clean ones.

The small bathroom had a 3 ft. x 3 ft. tub for bathing and with the aid of a scrub board and Winnie’s feet, doubled as a washing machine. There were boilers to boil clothes and spinners to spin them but no washing machine to wash the clothes. The nearest laundromat was 8 km. (5 miles) and cost 75 cents a load.

We ate our meals in the canteen, a large building with three dining rooms, with approximately 150 tables. Meals were served on schedule three times a day, cafeteria style, and the menu was posted on the board. Packed lunches for the working men and school children were picked up at breakfast. Fruit was distributed in each packed lunch or at breakfast. Children under eleven were allowed one egg each day and only children under six could have milk. Hot tea or water was served to everyone. Needless to say, we carried our own cold drinks to the canteen.

We also carried a shopping bag to take back to our apartment such things as bread, butter, salt, pepper, and sugar. Meals were often fixed in combination dishes and contained a lot of starch. The food was prepared much different than most of the immigrants were used to eating in their own country. The same menu was served every week on the same day, and the style of preparation of the food caused many complaints. East Hills Hostel provided us with a place to live, food to eat, and help until we could find our place in a new country. We tried to be thankful. But each day found us anxious to get settled in a place of our own.

One amusing story about Hostel living came about when my family was invited to a local minister’s home for tea. On the evening appointed, we ate a good meal at the canteen before going to the manse for tea and a time of fellowship. Arriving at the minister’s home, we found the minister’s wife busy in the kitchen.

We waited and waited for the cup of tea. Finally, we were asked to the table where a full course meal had been prepared. We ate the meal without revealing to the Pastor that we had already eaten. We found out the hard way that to the Australian, “Tea” is an invitation for dinner and not a cup of tea. Later, we also learned of many words which had different meanings in Australia (see appendix).


After two months of Hostel living, we moved to a small wood frame house in the outer suburbs of Sydney, called Campbelltown. The neighborhood was a mixture of immigrants from all parts of the world as well as a few “Fair Dinkum Aussies.” The government housing project had many people on a waiting list for up to two years before receiving a house or an apartment in the area. However, a few of the houses had been purchased by individuals from the government a few years prior and we purchased this home from one of these individuals.

We had many surprises and shocks as we began to adjust to Aussie living. Such things as no insulation in the ceiling and walls, wood floors with no carpets, no screens on the windows or doors, no heating system for the cold winters, and air vents in all outer walls allowing outside air into the home at all times. These and other new found conditions challenged us as we tried to settle into our new 9 square home.

Shopping presented a problem to us. We were used to jumping into our car in Florida and driving to any number of shopping centers just about any time of the day or week. However, shopping in Campbelltown was confined to the hours from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday. But, there was Thursday night shopping until 9 p.m. and Saturday until 12 noon. Shopping had to be done on the basis of going to the green grocer, the bakery, the butcher, the fruit and veggie shop, and the staple goods shop etc. There was no one stop shopping centers like we had taken for granted in Florida. Walking from one shop to the other while carrying our shopping bag soon became a common part of our day to day living. We also bagged our groceries as there were no bag boys to tip.

As we shopped from place to place, common phrases could be heard from the shop attendants such as, “Are you right luv?” or “Are you right mate?” A response from me would often call for repeating myself as the person would ask me where I was from. They would say, “I just love the way you talk, say that again.”

During this time of settling into the community, there were constant reminders that my family and I were among the minority.  We were continually adjusting to differences in lifestyle and customs. One difference for us as an American, could be observed at the bus stops every day. The children were all dressed in the same uniforms for fear that one child would appear more prosperous than another in the public schools. My own children were made to wear uniforms and this required some getting used to this difference.

My son, Barry, encountered many problems as the foreign kid in school. It went beyond name calling several times as school kids broke open his school box, threatened him, and followed him home while throwing rocks at him along the way. There were times when the house was rocked as kids called Barry names.

Barry found that it was not popular to speak up for America as the greatest country in the world. His trouble and fights did not get any better until he began to speak less like a “Yank” and more like an “Aussie.” He also learned that he could not brag on America or express his patriotism. My daughter, Karen, learned very quickly to keep a low profile and as a result she encountered very little trouble with school mates.

I also learned that the Australian had a certain image of an American and we were stereotyped into that category. The American is thought to be proud, boastful, loud, sometimes rude, but having a sense of humor. They are also thought to be wealthy, influential, successful, and can be counted on to get the job done.

The Australian often exhibits an inferiority complex due to this image. Aat times an American feels an Australian is trying to put him down in an attempt to make the Australian have a better image of himself. The American is given a nickname, like all other foreigners, such as “Yank” for an American, “Pomme” for the British, or “Wog” for Italian.

I remember that as our first winter approached, we looked for a system for heating our house through the cold weather (the typical Australian home had no cooling or heating system). We decided on window reverse cycle air conditioner units. As a result, our Australian neighbor and his children nicknamed us “Eskimos.”

I often had to travel by train to Sydney. I listened to people speaking English with various accents while others conversed in a foreign language, which revealed that they were immigrants. I noticed that there was little exchange of conversation between strangers, (unlike the friendly “hellos” in Tennessee). The people seemed bound to their routine and practiced a policy of “Live and let live.” The time riding on the train was often spent reading the daily newspaper with frequent remarks of disgust about the government and unions. The people seemed insecure about the future.

The government and unions control most aspects of their lives including the cost of housing and wages, the price of petrol and food, the cost of doctor’s and solicitor’s fees, etc. The strength of this control has been demonstrated when government officials have seized and killed the chickens when a farmer produced more eggs than the allotted quota. The unions have held strikes which backed up mail until the back log numbered into the millions. Petrol strikes cause the grocery shelves to become barren and the queue lines to extend for miles on the day allotted to purchase petrol.

A change in the government could change many aspects of their lives almost overnight. An early election could be called by the Prime Minister and an election by popular vote could bring a change. There is one phrase which is repeated over and over within the Australian culture which is, “She’ll be right mate.” This indicates that there is hope that the present circumstances are not permanent and tomorrow could bring a change for the better.


Arriving into a new country for the purpose of spreading the message of the Gospel also brought its share of reactions from the Australian. A few days after I moved into the Campbelltown area, I received a message from a local Pentecostal church pastor.  The message  stated that he did not want us to come to his church. I found out that he did not like the idea of an American church coming into his country.

We discovered that strong feeling existed against the establishment of new church groups. Any new church is considered an infringement on established territory and the new pastor is referred to as a “Sheep Stealer.” This attitude is due to the great difficulty in getting people into the church. This causes a very protective attitude on the part of the pastors.

The term, “Sheep Stealer,” was used on several occasions in regard to our pioneering the Church of God. We were not well received by the existing Pentecostal churches. This was a difficult problem we had to overcome in establishing a church work. We were liked by many who heard Winnie and I sing, however, there was a fear we would draw people away. One group told me that if I would renounce my church affiliation in America, send my ordained minister’s license back to the U.S.A., they would be more than happy to follow my leadership.

There were many adjustments in the preaching style, worship style, and Christian conduct that required an entire change of attitude on my part. Cultural shock was very real in matters of the church. As a minority, I found I had to do most of the changing. The type of songs and style of preaching had to take on a more contextual role. In some areas, I was plainly told that they did not like my style of preaching and would not be back until I was gone. The typical Southern American style of preaching was not their “cup of tea.”

Others joined us because they believed all American churches and ministers were loaded with money. They pledged their support only because they believed that their money problems would be over by doing so. They expected full support from America. Many came and went when they discovered there would be no giant handouts. In retrospect, I don’t believe that it is possible to be totally accepted by everyone. However, after eleven years of living and preaching in a cross cultural setting, I believe it is possible to gain acceptance and respect by most people. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to forget that you are a minority person. As the scriptures said concerning the disciples, “your speech betrays you.”



U.S. Term -  Australian Term

Food – Tucker

Doctor’s Office – Surgery

Car Hood – Bonnet

Wind Shield – Wind Screen

Car trunk – Boot

Biscuit – Scone

Cookie – Biscuit

Jelly – Jam

Jello – Jelly

Pacifier – Dummy

Baby – Bubba

Mom – Mum

Gas – Petrol

Cooler – Eskie

Wreck – Smash

Supper  - Tea

Lawyer – Solicitor

Doctors Surgery Room – Theater

Thank You – Ta

Good-bye – Cheerio or Ta-Ta

Store – Shop

Pharmacy – Chemist

Friend – Mate

Girl – Sheila

Man – Bloke

Yard – Garden

Vegetables – Vegies

Refrigerator – Fridge

Television – Telly

Nurse – Sister

A nosy person -Stickybeak

How are you – How you going mate

Suitcase -Port

True -Fair dinkum

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