The indigenous Australian populations are believed to have arrived on the land around 50000 years ago (though it has been suggested their early arrival may even go back as far as 70000 years ago). They developed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and used stone tool technology. Did you know, remains found at Lake Mungo in the western part of the country, suggest one of the world’s oldest known cremations, thus indicating early evidence for religious ritual among humans? The Dutch were the earliest Europeans to explore the land in the 17th century however after a visit in 1770, by British explorer James Cook, British fleets were sent to establish a penal colony in Botany Bay (today, Sydney). These colonists pushed slowly into the interior and in this period, Aboriginal populations suffered death, illness and displacement as well as dispossession and disruption of traditional lifestyles and practices. Gold was discovered in the mid-19th century bringing multiple migrants from China and other countries. Australia’s six states became a nation under a single constitution on January the 1st 1901. Today people from more than 200 countries make up the Australian community, and more than 300 languages are spoken across Australian homes. Despite some devastation caused by both World Wars, Australia’s economy flourished throughout the 1950s accompanied by major nation-building projects. Today the country is a stable democracy, which takes place within the framework of a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Did you know, Australia was the second country in the world to allow women to vote (New Zealand was first)?
The country has a largely Western culture, drawing much of its influence from British sources. Though at the same time, indigenous populations have also played their part in creating ‘Australian’ tradition. For example, conflict and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians have been a source of much art and literature, and ancient Aboriginal artistic styles and iconic inventions such as the boomerang, the didgeridoo and Indigenous Australian music have become important symbols. Influence from the range of indigenous and colonial sources can also be seen in language and Australia is known for the habit of shortening its words, such as “Barbie” for BBQ, “Arvo” for Afternoon or ‘Bikkie’ for Biscuit. Don’t be surprised if you’re ever asked to wear your thongs either, as it’s the colloquial term for flip flops!
Close to 80% of the country’s population lives within 50km of the ocean and as such the ‘beach going culture’ is quite significant. Australia is home to world-renowned oceans like Bondi Beach, the 12 Apostles, Botany Bay or, really, the entire ‘Golden Coast’. The food matches this outdoor flare in style. Enjoying a Barbie outside, whatever food it may be, is considered a national dish. Add to this meat pie (originally mutton) with tomato sauce, vegemite (a yeast extract spread), Pavlova and lamingtons (often called the ‘National cake of Australia’) and you’ve got yourself a veritable Australian spread. If you’re feeling a little adventurous you can also sample some of the local meat, including crocodile, emu and kangaroo.
If you happen to be in the country in January you’ll be able to see what really makes Australian culture. The 26th marks Australia day and it is celebrated in a big way across the country!