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Americans invade Australia!

Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson are world-famous Australian actors... but both were born in the United States.

Nicole Mary Kidman was born on June 20, 1967 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where her parents Janelle, a nursing instructor, and Anthony, a biochemist and clinical psychologist, were living. Soon afterwards, they moved to Washington, D.C., where her father continued his research on breast cancer. When Nicole was four years old, the Kidmans moved back to her parents' Australian birthplace, Sydney.

Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson (to give him his very full name) was born in Peekskill, New York, on January 3, 1956. His father, Hutton Gibson, a railroad brakeman, won $25,000 on the American TV quiz show Jeopardy in 1968, and used his prize money to move his family to Sydney. Mel was 12 years old. His mother, Ann, was born in Australia. A US fan magazine reported that one reason for the move was that Hutton feared his sons would be drafted during the Vietnam War.

Thousands of other Americans have settled in Oz. "Americans were among early 1800s whalers, and thousands more flocked to Victoria during the 1850s gold rush," Carolyn Webb wrote in the Melbourne newspaper The Age on January 24. "Among the latter was Charles D. Ferguson, who was arrested fighting for the rebels at Eureka Stockade. In 1886, two brothers named Foster arrived from New York and founded the Foster's brewing empire."

The Australian Society of American Descendants (ASAD) aims to identify, document, preserve and promote awareness of the contribution of American Australians. An Exhibition of American Australians, sponsored by the United States embassy, will be held from June 6 to August 22 at the Victorian Immigration Museum in Melbourne.

Project co-ordinator Keith Smiley, a Melbourne journalist whose great-great-grandfather was an American, told us by email:

The Exhibition will display memorabilia, artifacts, photos, letters, diaries and the like, across three centuries of contribution of American immigrants.

American-born entertainers who settled in Australia include Bob Dyer, Tommy Hanlon, Don Lane, Marcia Hines, Gus Mercurio, Evie Hayes and Will Mahoney.

In the deeper past, King O'Malley started the Commonwealth Bank, helped women gain the vote, conceived and had designed the national capital, and provided legislation for the old age pension.

In the even deeper past, three officers aboard Capt Cook's Endeavour were Americans. The first Premier of SA was an American, as were the founder of the Australian Youth Orchestra and the pioneer of psychotherapy.

WWII brought a million Americans who took away 12,000 brides, and thousands returned after a few years or even months. Teachers and farmers came in the1960s and '70s. Sixty-five thousand people born in America live in Australia today. Many more will be included in the exhibit, and research will continue to identify others.

Keith Smiley asks Australians with American ancestry to contribute documents and relics. His telephone number is (03) 9720 4696, his snail mail address PO Box 2130, Bayswater, Victoria 3153, Australia, email


Big Chief Little Wolf

POSTSCRIPT. We've just been reminded about another American who won fame in Australia - a professional wrestler known as Big Chief Little Wolf. His stepson, David Hanson (aka David Little Wolf) of Fruita, Colorado, sent us a message via our GuestMap, and we asked him for details about his father. We recall having listened as a schoolboy to exciting ringside commentaries of the Chief in action, broadcast by 2KY, Sydney, in the late 1930s.

David told us he had pleasant memories of many years spent in Australia with the Chief, who became a respected and popular national figure, performing in several States for many years.

He hopes that one day his father will be awarded a posthumous Order of Australia Medal for his services to the disabled and to the entertainment industry.

On December 10, 2004, the Melbourne Age  newspaper published a story, Little Wolf with a big heart, by the Chief's biographer, Barry York. Here are the first three paragraphs:

It was Prime Minister Ben Chifley who said that "millions of kids know the Chief, but only a handful recognise Chif". Chifley was referring to Big Chief Little Wolf, who was a household name in Australia for about 50 years from the late 1930s.

Little Wolf, a Navajo Native American whose real name was Ventura Tenario, won the affection and admiration of the Australian people like no other showman.

He settled in Melbourne in 1952 and is remembered fondly for his antics in the wrestling ring. Indeed, when he decided to return permanently to his homeland in the United States in 1980, The Age reported the news on its front page - even though it had been 22 years since his last wrestling bout in Melbourne. His death in November 1984 also received prominent media coverage.

You can read the rest of the story by clicking on The Age.




Story first posted April 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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