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Australia Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Australia
With a strong history of immigration, modern Australia is made up of people from many different cultural backgrounds. This mix makes Australia an endlessly fascinating place to visit as travellers will be exposed to a variety of different customs and cultures during their stay. From the ancient, spiritual ways of the indigenous population to the wide array of faiths, foods and festivals on display in the big cities, Australia is a cultural melting pot.
Despite the differences, there are many things that unify the people of Australia. Sports, in particular cricket, soccer and football (Australian Rules) are played and watched by the masses, irrespective of age, race, gender or income. Large sporting events like the AFL Grand Final, Melbourne Cup Day and the Boxing Day Cricket Test have universal appeal for Australians.
Australians relish public holidays, with national and state holidays offering locals time to relax with friends and family over a barbecue or picnic. Making use of Australia’s natural environment is also paramount during this time, with outdoor activities like bushwalking, swimming at the beach or lazing in the park popular with locals.
Geography and Environment of Australia
The continent of Australia is known for being one of the flattest, hottest and driest places on earth; but despite this there are an astounding variety of terrains and environments on this island nation. While large areas of Australia are covered in desert, there are also tropical rainforests, alpine snowfields, dense bushland, beaches, gorges, lakes and rivers to be found. Australia’s national parks are home to many species of birds and mammals not found in the wild anywhere else in the world including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and wombats. Boasting many stunning white sand beaches, Australia has a coastline like none other. From busy Bondi to surfing icons like Bell’s Beach and Tasmania’s stunning Wineglass Bay, there are endless places to swim, surf, snorkel and paddle.
Despite Australia’s large landmass, most people tend to live in urban, coastal cities. Faster-paced cities like Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne hold much of the population, as do regional satellite cities such as Albury, Dubbo, Bunbury, Townsville, Newcastle and Geelong.
Outback towns have a unique flavour and a distinct way-of-life; things are slower here and due to smaller populations, space is plentiful with most locals relying on agriculture for a living. Venturing away from the city to visit the outback and rural areas of Australia is highly recommended as it gives travellers the chance to see a different side to Australia.
History and Government of Australia
The land now known as Australia was inhabited by an indigenous population for thousands of years before white settlement and colonisation. Aboriginal tribes lived an independent lifestyle with the land providing all that was needed for survival; hunting, fishing and the gathering of berries and other edible plants provided sustenance for people. Tribes were largely nomadic – this allowed them to move around to find game and water and enable the land to regenerate in their absence. Tribal groups had different customs, rituals, music and language dialects, although the concept of ‘Dreamtime’ is a common theme in aboriginal culture and spirituality.
Rock paintings, middens (shell heaps) and other archaeological sites give us clues to ancient dreamtime stories, daily life, rituals and even the arrival of the white man. Central and Western Australia are particularly rich in ancient rock art and paintings, with some sites open to the public for viewing.
Naval explorer Captain James Cook set foot on Australian soil in 1770, claiming the eastern coastline as British Territory. Australia was soon seen as a solution to overcrowding in British prisons and a way to expand the reach of the British Empire.
In 1788, 11 ships arrived from Great Britain carrying convicts, marines and settlers. The arrival of white settlers changed the face of Australia almost instantly. Much of the indigenous population fell victim to starvation and disease, with foreign diseases like small pox and loss of land devastating the aboriginal population. Colonisation soon expanded throughout Australia, with separate colonies being set up in Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria. Thousands of convicts and settlers arrived to populate the new colonies, essentially giving birth to modern Australia. Convict life was hard, with long days spent toiling in a harsh environment with the unforgiving climate making life difficult. Brutal physical punishment, public hangings and death from disease and malnutrition were commonplace. The free settlers also suffered, as limited access to healthcare and fresh produce created medical problems and malnutrition.
In the 1850s, Australia experienced a new wave of immigration due to the Gold Rush. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from China, Britain, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Germany and France flocked to the Victorian goldfields to find their fortunes in the gold frenzy. This new wave of multiculturalism would be the first of many for Australia.
In 1901, the separate colonies united to form the Federation of Australia, meaning the nation was then governed under one constitution. Sir Edmund Barton became Australia’s first Prime Minister, governing the Commonwealth of Australia until 1903 when he stepped down to become a judge of Australia’s first High Court. A little more than a decade later, World War I was declared. Australia’s participation in World War I gave birth to the Anzac legend – the spirit of mateship, courage and honour that embodies the Australian way of life. Later on, Australia also participated in World War II, as well as the Korean War, Vietnam War and other conflicts and peacekeeping missions.
More recently, Australia has prospered with a strong economy based on tourism, agriculture and the export of resources and minerals like coal, iron and gold.
Australia at a glance
- Canberra (population 307,000)
- 21.7 million
- (GMT+10:00) Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney
- Type I (Australian/New Zealand & Chinese/Argentine 2/3-pin)
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