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Country of the Week: Australia

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve made the journey to Australia! Discover what makes this former British colony one of the wealthiest, most vibrant, and modern countries in the world.

  • Capital: Canberra
  • Largest City: Sydney
  • Population (2015): 23,766,500 (52nd)
  • Total Area: 7,692,024 km² (6th)
  • National Language: English
  • Currency: Australian dollar ($) (AUD)
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Sydney – with a view of the Circular Quay and the world famous Opera House

History

While European colonization of the Australian continent is relatively recent history, human habitation of the land began around 45,000 years ago – give or take a few thousand years. These aboriginal tribes were predominantly hunter-gatherers with oral histories and deep spiritual beliefs.

The first Europeans to land in Australia were led by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. Throughout the following century, the Dutch mapped much of the coastline, and named the island New Holland. Despite claiming the territory in name, the Dutch did not actually make concerted efforts to settle in Australia. This would eventually leave the door open for the British to flex their colonial muscles. James Cook mapped the east coast (what is now New South Wales), and in 1783 the British sent a fleet to claim the province and establish a penal colony – this following the loss of the American colonies. A camp and flag were raised at Sydney Cove on February 7, 1788 – a day that would be celebrated forever after as Australia Day.

In the following years, the British colonized other areas of the continent, with some regions used as penal colonies, while others were ‘free’. Over this period, the aboriginal tribes suffered persecution and greatly declined in number at the hands of disease and assimilation – a process by which many aboriginal children were separated from their families. The relationship between the aboriginal people and the government of Australia remains contentious to this day.

During the 1850’s gold rush, resistance to mining license fees was one of the first steps towards greater independence for Australia. Though it remained part of the British Empire, the provinces were allowed to govern themselves in many areas. In 1901, this went a step further with Australia officially becoming a dominion, like Canada at the time. The Statute of Westminster relinquished full independence to Australia in 1942 although it was backdated to 1939 to give Australia jurisdiction over wartime decisions – but it all meant that Australia was now fully independent.

Today Australia is an active member of the South Asian community while still retaining ties with allies such as the United Kingdom and United States. Highly developed, Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and an active participant in many global initiatives and coalitions.

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The kangaroo has become a symbol of Australia

The Aussie Way of Life

Australian culture is strongly connected with Anglo (British) values and ideals due to centuries of colonization. Other influences include the aboriginal peoples, American and other western influences, as well as neighbouring South Asian communities.

Australians possess a distinctive sense of humour, which is often viewed as dry and irreverent. Satire is a subject in many Australian TV shows and other productions. In addition, a laid-back attitude and loyalty to ‘mates’ is a long time stereotype of Australians and their way of life.

Sport is also a very important part of Australian culture and the Australian consciousness. Cricket is followed throughout the country – with the Ashes contested against England one of the biggest prizes in Aussie sport. Elsewhere, Australian Rules football, Rugby Union, and Rugby League are popular in many regions of the country. Though not as widespread as other sports, soccer is gaining popularity, especially after recent performances by the national team.

The Outback

Australia is the 6th largest country in the world and, due to its size, it possesses a large variety of different environments. By far the most well known ‘feature’ of Australian geography is ‘the Outback’. This refers to the vast, remote, and arid region in the middle of the country. The ‘bush’ refers to similar remote areas but can also mean any area directly outside of the cities.

Australia also has mountain ranges (e.g. the Australian Alps), tropical regions, and beautiful beaches. The world famous Bondi Beach near Sydney is one of the most visited attractions in the country and was viewed worldwide during the 2000 Summer Olympics. No matter what you want to see, Australia will have something for you.

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West Macdonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory – An example of the Australian Outback

Did you know?

  • Actors hailing from Australia include Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe
  • Movies filmed in Australia include The Matrix, The Great Gatsby, The Mad Max series, and (unsurprisingly) Australia
  • Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke chugged 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds – a world record
  • The first police in Australia were well-behaved convicts (remember, much of Australia was a penal colony)
  • In 1975 the government shut down so the Queen fired everyone and gave it another go
  • Melbourne is often considered the sporting capital of the world due to the abundance of top level teams
  • Australia (and the world’s) largest cattle ranch is about the size of Belgium
  • 90% of Aussies live in coastal cities

Last Word

If you’re looking to escape the cold of mid-winter Canada, Australia offers everything you could want in a relatively familiar society. So learn the tune to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and head on down under.

Stay tuned to the Continental Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems.

Stay informed. Stay Current.