So you're coming to Australia!

You should - its a cool place - well I think so anyhow, but I live here :) So with that in mind here are my visiting Australia tips.

Things to remember

  • Everything is poisonous/dangerous/deadly - everything! I mean it - koalas, kangaroos, wombats, platapus, sheep, cows. Ever seen anyone attacked by a kangaroo? Not pretty. Koalas? The males have spurs for fighting. Sheep - well ok, they're not dangerous, but damn there's a lot of them.
  • You won't understand half of what people say. I mean this - I've been to the US and had to suffer the blank stares that. You receive when I use words that I take for granted.
  • Try not to look like an American tourist - we hate Americans - we blame them for everything that's wrong with the world.
  • Canadians are cool because they hate Americans too.
  • We can drink a lot more than most people in the world - and if you're American, remember, our beer is twice as strong.
  • Once you leave the major cities make sure you take a map, especially if you are getting off the beaten track. It's not like America - if you're heading across the middle, there aren't really any towns to speak of, and certainly not many 7-Elevens.
  • If you're in Sydney, don't get into a taxi expecting the driver to know where your destination is (unless its something major like the Sydney Opera House - even then you could be unlucky). Most of the time they don't, and have a problem with English to top it off. Oh, and 3AM is a shift change - YOU WILL NOT GET A TAXI AT 3AM! Trust me, I've tried many many times.

Things you won't see

As a note at the beginning of this part I'd like to note that Australians themselves are mostly responsible for the ridiculous things that the rest of the world thinks about Australia (Well, mostly Americans think). Why? Well, because when Australians get overseas (especially the ol' US of A) we discover that everyone actually knows nothing about Australia. Nothing - nothing at all. We know a lot about the rest of the world, but they know nothing about us. So, it becomes a running joke to see who can tell Americans the most ridiculous stories and have them believe you. eg. around 3AM koalas stampede through the streets of Sydney (true story - my flatmate has been asked about this by a tourist).
  • For gods sake people, WE DON'T RIDE KANGAROOS!
  • Yes, we have water.
  • Wildlife does not roam the streets of our major cities.
  • I'm having trouble thinking of Australian sterotypes right now - if you msg me some I will happily debunk them here.

Other stuff

Want to impress some Australians? Demonstrate your knowledge of our geography by remembering that the capital of Australia is CANBERRA! Not Sydney, not Brisbane, not even Melbourne. Why not visit it? Its a really nice city (my home town) - just don't go driving around it without a map. In fact, even with a map, its more than likely you'll get lost. The only people who can navigate around Canberra are the residents. I'm not kidding here. Everyone I've brought back to Canberra with has professed to being completely lost halfway between my house and the CBD.

Yes, the Queen of England is still our head of state. It's a bit of a sore point at the moment so don't make too big a deal of it unless you enjoy having someone's attack wombat set on you (note: see "Things you won't see"). We still have a large population to whom the Queen means something, so the referendum to move to a republic went down 51% to 49% if I recall. Thats OK - give it some time...

Try some Australian alcohol - especially Bundaberg Rum - you'll never be the same again.

Closing thoughts

Australia is a great place - the best in fact ;) Our women are hot, our beer is strong and plentiful, the weather is great, and for some reason we have some of the best drugs in the world (or so I have been told!). Not only that, but for the most part we're a lot friendlier as a nation than most of the world. So... come visit!

Contrary to some beliefs, Australia not only has sharks and many wonderfully venomous spiders, but it also many wonderfully venomous snakes, most of which are Elapids, including the Coastal Taipan or small scaled snake and the Inland Taipan or fierce snake, which has the deadliest bite in the world. The bite is deadly, not just because of the the toxicity of the venom, but also because of the enormous amount it can inject in a rapid successive bites. There is another snake native to the lush rainforests of North Eastern New South Wales and Queensland called the Golden Crowned Snake which is much prettier and has less toxic venom. It is a Colubrid, meaning its fangs are at the back of its throat and it rarely has a diameter of more than an inch so it is not considered very deadly. You would have to put your little finger down its throat to be poisoned, and its such a pretty little thing with its deep black body and the golden ring on its head that you'd much rather leave it to do its own thing. The Australian Defence Force literature on the Golden Crowned Snake rates it as harmless.

Visitors to wild areas of Australia should be aware of snakes or travel with someone who is. It is also useful to be able to identify the snake if you get bitten so that doctors can use the right anti-venom.

It is also worth noting that, contrary to popular opinion in Great Britain Australia has almost as much cattle as sheep, with some cattle stations larger than Texas (the state in USA, not the town in Queensland), unlike New Zealand which has more sheep than humans.
Neither cattle nor sheep are native to Australia or New Zealand.

While visiting Australia, be mindful of drop bears, especially in the North.

Liquor Licencing in Australia

The hospitality industry (that means pubs, hotels, restaurants and bottle shops) abides by the liquor control act of 1987 (which was reformed in 1991 and 1998). In essence (which is a good way to get drunk if you're not yet 18 by the way), this details the rules and regulations of how alcohol is served, and if necessary, the fines.

Identification
Having proper ID is required to be able to enter and drink on licenced premises. It is the venue's responsibility to check for identification - places which have bouncers instruct them to check possible minors, and barstaff will ask people for ID before serving them. Valid forms of identification are Passports, Keypasses, Learner Permits (only recently has Learner Permits been an option as a valid form of ID), Probationary Licences, Full licences, and a valid Proof of Age Card.

Underage Drinking
Despite the somewhat contradictory (at least where the law is concerned) motif, there is a valid reason for a section of this nature. Underagers can remain on a licenced premises if they are eating a meal or they are with a parent/guardian, and they are allowed to consume alcohol if they are with a parent/guardian and eating a meal. Obviously though, if the child is greatly underage, they will not be given liquor. These clauses are included so children have some experience with drinking/being in a drinking establishment, but ensure that the action is undertaken in a responsible manner. Hospitality industry worker are advised to remember MOP and MAP: Remain - Meal Or Parent. Drink - Meal And Parent. Typically though, the kids will be getting pissed at parties and in parks when they're 16 and under.

Fines
If you are underage and you are caught drinking or buying alcohol without a meal/parent, the fine is $500, or you can opt for an on-the-spot fine of $50.
A person caught serving alcohol to an underage on intoxicated person will receive a fine of $500, or $50 on-the-spot.
The licencee of the establishment will, in either case, receive a $2000 fine, or take a $200 fine on the spot.
If you are drunk, violent, or quarrelsome and you refuse to leave a licenced establishment when asked, you will get a $2000 fine, or $200 on-the-spot.
Inspectors will bring children into pubs and see if they get served to determine fines. If you are serving, and you view ID that is a fake and still serve, you may not get a fine. The circumstances (and the ID) will be reviewed, and if it is understandable that your decision was to let them in, you are alright. That is why you should ask for birthdates/middle names if in doubt, but if the young hopefully has all their shit in order, then (hopefully) you will not be in the shit.

The first part of a developing WU on Australia

The discovery of Australia

The first humans to discover the land that would later be called Australia came from the area that is presently south-east Asia between 100 000 and 60 000 years ago, travelling over land bridges exposed by the trapping of sea water in polar ice caps. It is thought they may also have employed rafts, and tests have shown that a journey from modern-day Indonesia to Australia would be almost impossible to get wrong. Settlement was fairly stable by 40 000 years ago, but contact with lands to the north continued, and about 3 500 years ago (contemporary with middle kingdom Egypt, Bronze Age Europe and the rise of civilisation in the Fertile Crescent) Asian seafarers introduced the dog to Australia. The dingo, as this species of dog is known, is the only land mammal apart from humans found in Australia before European settlement which is not either a marsupial, a monotreme, a rodent or a bat.

The Indian Ocean was known to the Roman empire, some of whose citizens traded on the south-west coast of India. But exploration of that ocean did not advance much until the great Chinese navigator, admiral Cheng-Ho (or Zheng He), whose seven great voyages lasted from 1405 to 1433. These voyages are thought by some to have involved sightings of the coasts of most of the continents, with the notable exceptions of Europe and Antarctica. Maps dating from before 1492 show reasonable approximations to the coasts of both North America and Australia, and most scholars consider it reasonable to assume that Cheng-Ho visited or at least sailed part way around Australia. The Chinese are known to have traded on Timor and New Guinea, and Australia is not far beyond, in terms of the distances covered by Cheng-Ho's vast treasure ships. One of these enormous vessels, the ocean liners of their day, is thought to lie at the bottom of the Carribbean Sea. If true, this would provide concrete evidence of the scale of the Chinese exploration. Unfortunately, an artefact said to be a Ming dynasty figurine, found near Darwin in 1879, is now thought to be nineteenth century. Despite this, Cheng-Ho's voyages remain a remarkable endeavour, and probably represent the first sighting of Australia by dedicated explorers.

Another group with a stake in the discovery of Australia are the Macassan people native to the islands of Malaysia. From about the mid seventeenth century, they seem to have been regular visitors to northern Australia, fishing for trepang, or beche-de-mer. This is borne out by archaeological evidence on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria and elsewhere, as well as by changes in (Australian) Aboriginal canoe design about this time to resemble the Macassan form. In all likelihood, the first dug-out canoes in Australia were traded to the inhabitants by the Macassans. It is thought that it was from this source that the Eurasian disease of smallpox reached Australia, because although it was known in the Dutch East Indies, the first case of smallpox in a white man in Australia was contracted from an Aboriginal. In all likelihood, the disease had been carried across the interior of the continent by Aboriginals, having been transmitted to them by infected Macassans on the north coast.

Source: Sir Geoffrey Badger: Explorers of Australia (2001). The forthcoming book 1421 has more details on Cheng-Ho, and when I get a copy, this node will be further updated.


I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me...

Dorothy Mackellar , 'My Country'



Australia. It's hot. It's dry. It's an island - and it's a long way away from just about everywhere else on the globe. It's full of creatures that can kill you very easily. If you want to travel around within the country, you're probably facing a trip that will be hours long unless you can afford the luxury of flight.

There's barely an Australian who would want to live anywhere else on the planet.

This harsh land, this country of Australia which is only a little over 200 years old as far an Anglo-Saxon habitation is concerned, has become the home to millions of people, who love it despite its flaws. Who consider themselves incredibly lucky, that they can call themselves Australians. It's a land of contrasts - from the chaos of cities such as Sydney, to the vast open spaces of the Australian outback, where it can take a farmer days to travel from one side of their property to the other. From the snow covered mountains of the Snowy Mountains, to the baking sun of Australia's centre.

A country of people who will literally stop to watch a horse race on the first Tuesday in November each year, a land whose Prime Minister virtually gave the nation's workers a day off following victory in the Americas Cup in 1983.

Australians generally aren't a people who will overtly display their patriotism - it's not common to see the Australian flag waved outside of a sports ground. For years there have been calls to change the national anthem. Never make the mistake of thinking that Australians don't have a deep love of their country though.

Look for the family building castles on a white sandy beach. See the light in the eyes of a farmer standing under a tin roof, as the rain drums above his head. Watch as volunteer firefighters are given a heroes reception, following weeks straight saving lives and homes.

This is Australia





The First Australians


Well before Australia existed as the Nation we know today, it was inhabited by the Australian Aborigines. The length of time that Australia has been inhabited by humans is a matter of some conjecture - some believe it may have had human occupants for over 60,000 years. Most, however, put the time at around 40,000 years, and clear evidence exists to justify this time frame.

Australia was a very different place at that time - the shape of Australia as we know it today was radically different. The island state of Tasmania was connected to the mainland. Australia's first human inhabitants originally moved down from Asia, via New Guinea, by foot and boat. As continental drift continued, the isolation of the Aboriginal people of Australia was magnified. Faced with a lack of outside influence and culture, these people developed their own unique culture and religious belief system. Based of the family unit, the people were grouped into tribes. Members of individual tribes were all related, lead by religious leaders. The Aboriginal people had no form of government - politics played no part in Aboriginal culture.

Australia is a harsh land, and the people had to adapt to its varying climate and terrain. The Aborigines were hunter gatherers, and they lived a nomadic lifestyle through necessity. They practiced no form agriculture, so were forced to survive on whatever they could take from the land at the time. In general, the men of the tribe were the hunters, hunting Kangaroo, Emu and other small animals with weapons such as the boomerang, and spears hurled with a device known as a Woomera. The women of the tribe were responsible for gathering food such as roots, fruits and witchetty grubs. The tribe's nomadic existence was mainly based on the availability of water in the area. If water sources were becoming low - as is common in Australia - the tribe would be forced to move onto a different area.

Their culture was based on the idea of The Dreaming, a significant religious system for the Aboriginal people. It is a difficult concept to explain, and was - and is - connected to their very being. Perhaps it's best if I use the words of an Aboriginal Elder, to try to explain the concept:

The Dreaming means our identity as people. The cultural teaching and everything, that's part of our lives here, you know?… it's the understanding of what we have around us.

Merv Penrith - Elder, Wallaga Lake.

The Dreaming is a term used to describe the complex connection of beliefs central to Aboriginal life - their faith, knowledge, and the beliefs they hold regarding their very creation. It is separate to The Dreamtime, which is a term used to describe a time when spirits roamed the earth, and created the lands, and their people.

Estimates on the number of inhabitants in Australia before European settlement vary greatly - between 300,000 and 1,000,000 Aborigines are believed to have lived here at this time.



European Contact, and The First Fleet


Non-Aboriginal people visited Australia first between 1500 and 1700, with Indonesian fishermen coming to the northern coast of Australia. The first European contact with the Aboriginal people occurred around 1606, when Dutchman Willem Jansz hit the Australian coast near Cape York Peninsula. Many of the early instances of contact between Aboriginal and European people were violent, conflict between the two groups occurred on numerous occasions.

It wasn't until 1770 that the most significant entry into Australia was made, by English explorer Captain James Cook. Following his discovery of the land, in 1786 the British Government decided that Australia would be used as a penal colony. On the 16th of March, 1787, the 11 ships that made up the First Fleet sailed from Portsmouth - 2 Naval vessels, 3 supply ships, and 6 ships loaded with convicts. The fleet first landed in Botany Bay between the 18th and 20th of January, 1788, however although this was Captain Cook's recommended site for a settlement, it was deemed unsuitable. A lack of fresh water, the fact that Botany Bay is open to the ocean - making it unsafe for ships - and the poor prospects for agriculture in the area lead to the decision to sail into Port Jackson - the area now famous as Sydney Harbour - on the 26th of January 1788.



The Growth of a Nation


Australia's early settlers didn't face an easy task. Faced with land that was not easy to farm - particularly when those undertaking the work are convicts, more used to criminal activities than turning soil into crops. European farming methods were found to be less than suitable for the conditions the colonists were faced with, the soil less than ideal for farming. From the outset, the colony was faced with surviving on the rationed supplies that had been brought with them. Shelter was also an issue, as the tools that had been brought on the ships were inadequate and too few for the jobs needing to be done. The wood was very hard, and the low quality tools would break.

Despite the multitude of difficulties, the colony did survive, and begin to establish itself. More suitable farming land was discovered up the Parramatta river, and although the distance from the settlement made transporting food back difficult, agriculture started to see some success.

It wasn't until the arrival of the Second Fleet, in June of 1890, that the fortunes of the struggling colony turned around. One of the ships that arrived was filled with provisions for the colony, allowing rations to be increased. More convicts arrived, and although many of them were very unhealthy and sick following the long voyage, the additional laborers helped build and improve the colony. Eventually, following the breaking of a long drought in 1791, farming was established, and food ceased to be as much of a problem.

Over the next 50 years, the colony continued to grow, through further convicts arriving, and free immigrants choosing to settle on Australia's shores. By 1840, only a small percentage of the population were convicts, and transportation of convicts stopped completely in 1842. From convict beginnings, Australia moved into the next stage of its life - this country evolving into a home for those who chose to live within these shores.

The time leading up to the turn of the century was a time of great change for Australia. Victoria and Queensland broke away from the colony of New South Wales, in 1851 and 1859 respectively. Over the century, the idea of bringing the separate state colonies together, to form a Federation is discussed regularly, although it takes a long time for this discussion to move from words, to serious action. The champion of Federation was a man called Henry Parkes. He had been calling for Federation for many years - although action is slow. By 1880, Parkes was the Premier of New South Wales, and finally serious discussion of the proposal began to happen. In 1890, the first Federation Conference was held, 1891 saw the first Draft Constitution of Australia, later modified in 1897, where it was put to the people in a referendum. The first referendum failed, however was passed at a second attempt a year later. In 1900, the Federal Constitution Bill was passed by the British Parliament.

The colonies came together to form the Federation of Australia officially on the 1st of January, 1901. Lord Houpton becomes Australia's first Governor General, and the first Prime Minister is Sir Edmund Barton. Australia as we know it up to this day is born.

Over the century following Federation, many things have changed in Australia. The population has grown to just short of twenty million, and Australia has grown into a modern country. People from all around the world have chosen to call Australia home - although the issue of multiculturalism remains a point of debate and controversy. It wasn't until 1973 that the White Australia Policy was completely abolished - people from non-Anglo-Saxon nations faced a difficult time relocating to Australia under this policy - officially named the Immigration Restriction Act - which originally came into effect in 1901. In current day Australia, immigration is again a major issue - this time through Australia's treatment of illegal refuges - often referred to as boat people in this island nation. These people, once intercepted, are placed in detention centers. Their stay in these centers can be very long indeed, and the centers themselves are located in some of the most inhospitable country imaginable, such as Woomera, Port Hedland and Baxter, near Port Hedland. Currently, there are over 1,100 people held in detention centers across the nation. Pauline Hanson capitalised on the fears of many, of a nation being overrun by immigrants, particularly Asians, to become one of the most controversial and hated politicians in Australia - of course, there were also many people who loved her, and believed in her vision for Australia. Although policies such as the White Australia Policy have been stopped, race still remains a major issue in Australia, possibly one of the most important issues the Nation is facing as it moves on into the 21st Century.



A Land of Extremes


Whether it be climate, terrain, natural disasters, or flora and fauna, Australia is the country that doesn't do anything by halves.

There are large areas of Australia that average only 100mm of rain each year, while areas of Tasmania and Queensland average over 3200mm in the same period. Average maximum temperatures range from 9oC in alpine regions, to over 36oC in northern areas of the country (remember - that's an average...). In April of 1999, a severe thunderstorm hit Sydney, and caused over 1.5 billion dollars worth of damage, with over 20,000 homes and 40,000 cars damaged or destroyed. On Christmas Day, 1974, Cyclone Tracey hit the capital of the Northern Territory, Darwin. 65 people died, and the city was virtually destroyed in a storm lasting six hours.

Of course, these are reasonably infrequent events in Australia. The country has won a reputation the world around for warm, sunny days, perfect for spending on the beach, enjoying the surf and a barbeque. Large areas of Australia have average maximum temperatures that sit in the 20's, so chances are that you won't be too cold in those areas.

Australia's terrain varies greatly - from the tropical north, to the arid heart of the land. Desert takes up huge areas of the interior of Australia, and South Australia's Nullarbor Plain is one of the flattest, driest areas imaginable. It is possible to travel along 145km of dead straight road along this plain, as well as see some of the most spectacular vantage points imaginable at those areas where the plain ends abruptly where it meets the ocean along the Great Australian Bight, great limestone cliffs towering from the ocean, to the edge of the plain above.

Contrast this with Kakadu National Park, in Australia's north. A massive area teeming with plant and animal life, large areas of the park are turned into wetlands during the monsoon season, the rivers in the area flooding, water spreading far across the land.

This area is also one of the places where you will find one of Australia's deadliest creatures - the massive Saltwater Crocodile. Saltwater crocodiles have been found that are over 6m in length, and occasionally in Australia people are killed by these awesome beasts. Of course, Australia has built a reputation as being home to a disproportionate number of deadly creatures. Australia is lucky enough to be home to not just a few, but all ten of the World's Deadliest Snakes. It is home to the Funnel-web Spider, who’s bite can be fatal if not treated. Fortunately, no death has occurred since the development of an effective anti-venom.

The oceans are not a lot safer - ocean waters around Australia are home to many sharks, and although shark attack is rare, several people have been killed in shark attack in recent years. Apart from sharks, the waters are home to the most deadly venomous creature in the world's oceans - the Box Jellyfish. Normally only found in warm northern waters, this creature has the capability to kill a human with ease. The Blue Ring Octopus is almost as bad - its venom has the ability to kill in minutes. Unlike the Box Jellyfish however, there is no antidote for its venom. Once you have stopped breathing, you will likely undergo hours of heart massage, keeping you alive until the venom has passed through your system, allowing your body to function for itself once again.

Of course, not all of Australia's fauna will kill you - some of it is just strange instead. Animals such as the Kangaroo, the Emu - capable of speeds of up to 50km/h - and the Platypus are always tourist draw cards. Australia's isolation provided a breeding ground for many unique species of animal, allowed to live in isolation for millions of years. Unfortunately, many of these animals are now threatened with extinction following the introduction of species such as the cat, as well as the destruction of native habitat by man. Particularly hard hit are the small marsupial species, their numbers devastated over the past centuries of Anglo-Saxon habitation in Australia.

Australia's plant life is also abundant and diverse. Over 20,000 species of plant are found in Australia, including the Wattle (Acacia) - whose bright yellow flowers are the floral emblem of Australia - Banksia trees, the Sturts Desert Pea, and the Kangaroo Paw. However the most abundant Australian plant is the gum tree. Over 1,200 eucalypt species are found in Australia, and are the main reason Australia's bushfire seasons are so dangerous. Many of Australia's plants rely on bushfire for their very survival, and their seedpods will not break open and germinate without fire. Australia's gum trees are packed with flammable Eucalyptus Oil, Candlebarks leave bark hanging in strips from their trunks and branches - once burning, they will detach, floating on the high winds that a fire generates, and create spot fires ahead of the main fire front. When it comes to sustaining their life through fire, Australia's gum trees are masters. It's difficult to argue against the health of this policy when you see burnt out areas springing back to life following a fire however - new growth is everywhere you look. Following a fire in Canberra several years back, a previously unknown species of Orchid was discovered growing - in all places, on the fringes of the National Botanical Gardens!



Cities, States and Territories


Australia is divided into six States, and two Territories. They are, along with their capital city:


New South Wales - Capital Sydney - Sydney is Australia's oldest and largest city. A city of incredible beauty and life, its heart wraps around Sydney Harbour, one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. Home to internationally recognised landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Victoria - Capital Melbourne - Australia's second largest city, and also the least sunny place in Australia, with on average only 5.7 hours of sunshine each day.

Queensland - Capital Brisbane - Queensland is known as 'The Sunshine State', and the motto for many years has been 'Beautiful One Day...Perfect The Next'.

South Australia - Capital Adelaide - Adelaide is known as 'The City of Churches', for the large number that have been built in the city. On a Sunday morning, church bells peel across the city. Suffers through extremely hot summers, with hot, dry winds bringing the heat from the desert interior of the north down over the city.

Tasmania - Capital Hobart - separated from the mainland by Bass Strait, Tasmania is a land of rugged beauty. Much of the island is unspoiled wilderness, and is a popular destination for bushwalkers (or hiking, if you feel that 'bushwalking' is a strange term!).

Western Australia - Capital Perth - Western Australia is Australia's largest state, by a long way. Perth is extremely remote as far as Australian Capitals go (even in a land where being in remote locations is fairly normal) - almost 3,500km lie between Sydney and Perth.

The Northern Territory - Capital Darwin - a state of rugged wilderness, and home to landmarks such as Uluru, Kakadu National Park and Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas].

Australian Capital Territory - Capital Canberra - Canberra is Australia's National Capital, a city planned from the outset. Maligned by many in Australia as a city of Public Servants, it has grown into more than simply the seat of Government. Home to many National monuments, galleries and memorials.



The People of Australia


So here's the thing about Australia's people - you need to forget about all the stereotypes you've heard. Don't ever base your opinion on Crocodile Dundee, or Steve Irwin...but on the other hand, don't be surprised if you meet an Australian who seems to fit those stereotypes perfectly. Confused? Well, Australia is a land of diverse people, and no generalisation can describe the Australian psyche.

The Australian you meet in Sydney or Melbourne is likely very different to the one you meet in remote areas of the Northern Territory. The Sydneysider may remind you of city dwellers world wide - the Northern Territorian may be just like Mick Dundee.

From convict beginnings, Australians have always been a resourceful people - for many, it's the only thing guaranteeing their survival in a land that can be incredibly harsh, with the closest help hours or days away. They are on the whole a laid back people, with a reputation for friendliness. One of the defining factors of the Sydney Olympic Games was the army of volunteers, the friendly faces ready to help people find their way around, or simply give a smile and a hello - maybe even a G'Day! Although that's a word that will probably cause many Australians to cringe (particularly when said by a tourist trying to be Aussie), it's in some ways a good indicator to the Australian attitude. Good Day a bit too long? Well, let's just invent our own word for it, that's far easier to say with your mouth half closed!

Of course, with almost 20 million people calling Australia home, there's no way you can categorise the people of Australia. The people are constantly changing, multiculturalism has brought the influence of many cultures into this land, and we're now as diverse as people the world over.

And although it may make us cringe a little, I'd say many Australians have a soft spot in their heart for the leathery skinned farmer, a Blue Heeler on the back of his Ute. Covered in flies, as he checks on the sheep grazing in the paddock, under a scorching summer sun.

We've changed a lot over the past 215 years, when 11 ships sailed into Port Jackson, and built a prison for England's unwanted. We disagree as much as any other people, we don't always like the direction our country is going, or find pride in the actions of our past. Even so...you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wasn't Proud to be Australian.




Sources:

http://www.ntlib.nt.gov.au/tracy/advanced/xmas_eve.html
http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10492/20021115/index.htm
http://www.immi.gov.au/facts/82detention.htm#2
http://www.abs.gov.au
http://www.discoversydney.com.au/sydney/history.html
http://www.bom.gov.au
http://www.atn.com.au/wa/desert/null-b.htm
http://www.koalanet.com.au/australian-fauna.html
http://www.dreamtime.net.au/indigenous/timeline2.cfm
http://www.shoalhaven.net.au/~cathyd/designs/ffstory.html
http://members.optusnet.com.au/~darrengiles/articles/factsandfigures.htm
http://www.infoplease.com/ipsa/A0109157.html
http://www.qub.ac.uk/english/imperial/austral/abo.htm
http://www.australianaustralia.com/indigenous.html
http://www.palmdps.act.edu.au/australia_online/History/aust_his.htm
http://www.austemb.org/history.htm




Thanks go to Gritchka, for informing me that Australia's original inhabitants had more seafaring skill than I'd originally credited them with. Frankie for pointing out some errors I should have picked up on (even if she is sadly delusional regarding our national cricket team!). Taliesin's Muse for running a teacher's eye over my words, and helping me make them that much more readable. And another noder, who's username I have sadly lost, for pointing out that my history was at one point a century out of whack. You know who you are (and i'll gladly add your name here if you get in touch again!). Thankyou all.

Eyelids blink over glassy eyes. The strange looking biped was dying, separated from the Herd. Dying for a lack of sustenance. Dying for a lack of water. In this savage land,Nature was pulling the choke chain, and tens of thousands of his kind lay on the red dirt, in the vicious and inedible scrub, alongside the black roads which bear the metal beasts that roar across the land like the raging sands.

There would be no remorse from this enormous, inscrutable land. No healing rain. Not even a cloud to shade the noon-day sun which was bearing down from above, making the endless horizons shimmer and dance like a mirage. Cooking him alive - draining his vital fluids faster and faster.

But that was life. There can be no escape, not in this ancient land. Unlike the rolling hills and plains of western Europe, or the forests and woods of England or North America, or the grasslands of Africa, life was not a struggle against predators. There weren’t enough to worry about. No: here it was nature that you had to struggle against. As the kangaroo’s eyes lidded for the last time, and its shallow breath became a death rattle, it reflected (in its limited fashion) that all it ever took was a slip, a cut. A snapped bone, a little too much blood lost. Fluids lost that could never be replaced, energy that had to be conserved in the endless hunt for food - a little less distance travelled per day, a little less chance of finding the meal vital for continuing the hunt the next day.

We understood this once. The birds of prey closed in to feast, and we found it not just expedient, but utterly necessary to co-operate to survive in this utterly inhospitable landscape. The independence of the Westerner meant nothing to this implacable continent, which set about slaying them like all other life-forms who expected quarter from the patient rage of Nature in this savage corner of the world. To survive, they had to pull together. They cut clearings for what would become the great and small metropoli and towns of this nation. They drew maps and found life-giving water. They constructed farms and rail-roads. All together, because they knew that to be out of sight of another man in this inhospitable hell was to be lost forever amongst shifting red sands and unending landscapes, where the sky loomed huge overhead.

The settlements grew and became interconnected. Roads and rail linked the distant towns to the coastal ports. Working together, firstly as towns as part of separate colonies, and later as a nation, we grew strong. We threw off the British, not by war, but by the vote. We became the Federation of Australia.

The past was not entirely forgotten. The dependance on fellow man left great impressions on our character - as a culture and as individuals. Inherited from mother Britain was a strong individualism common to the nations of Western Europe, but our harsh trials as an infant nation, first as a colony and then at war, had etched deep into us all a sense of dependence on others. A strong bond between fellow Australians; mateship, as it were. A sense that we should all work together or the implacable continent would eat our bones and bury our colony beneath the oceans of red sands. It was obsolete, but it was still there, a hangover from our past and a wonderful national trait. In this climate, free health care and housing for the poor became institutionalised. Unions flourished and became strong. National initiatives made sure no one was too poor to eat, or raise a family, or own property.

We had survived. We had pulled together and defeated the vastness of the country. We now stood alone, a beacon of Western civilisation in a hostile region. We became first economically, then culturally, independent of Britain. And although we became insular and repressive on our indigenous peoples, we were a nation with distinct values, beliefs and characteristics.

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I still dimly remember a time when America was an exotic thing, an other. We were us, and they were them. I wore the flannel shirt, and had the mullet. Our Prime Minister was an intrinsically Australian man, Bob Hawke. We built very ugly buildings, and made stupidly-named films. We spoke the Queen’s English, with a few unique additions.

A world away, the Berlin Wall toppled. And the Market roared with triumph, and spilled out over the globe.

The Americans, an incredibly industrious and inventive people, are the masters of production since times before they won their battle against the British and cast them back to the waves. They would come to stand astride the world like a Colossus a few short years after the decline of the Soviet Empire. No longer interested in merely selling their particular economic systems to the nations, they would dominate that system which they had managed to bring to a state of virtual monopoly in the world. The Market.

It is 2003. Australia is a deeply confused nation. Confused about what it is, and more importantly, who it is. Times have changed. Mateship is now a cringe-inducing word. People who are well-enough educated leave the country to work overseas. We have literally forgotten who we are. Ask a person on the street to sum up what Australian culture is, and chances are they’ll reply with “Diverse”.

Diverse. Why not? In this age of mass international travel, we’ve dropped our White Australia policy to adapt to the realities of a globalised world - to stay competitive. We now are home to many people from all over the world. Our media broadcasts information and productions from everywhere. Melbourne is home to the largest number of Greeks outside of Athens.

Here’s why not. National character is a shared thing between individuals - all individuals that share the trait have it individually. Diversity is not a trait that can be held by a sane individual. It is a weak answer and indicates a general lack of any kind of understanding of what makes that person an Australian. If diversity is our prime attribute as Australians, we are truly fucked as a nation. Dispersed. Lost.

We were a nation before we were ‘diverse’. There was something that made us Australian. Something that was there but now is obscured - something that we all knew deep down but forgot in the new age since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

To forget who you are as a people is a deeply distressing and dire thing. As humans we are social animals, and what makes us social is the bond we share between ourselves and other humans. To belong to a nation is to have a bond between yourself and everyone else in that nation - the national identity. With that gone, you become “Diverse”, and you float around until you are snatched up by another community to belong to. This leads to a strange uprooting - a sense that you are not anchored anywhere. A longing to belong to something, anything.

This is the fate of any colonised people. Their heritage is stripped away by the colonial power, their language desecrated, their beliefs and values and traditions replaced by those of the ruling power. Until they assimilate into the ruling power, they are alien in their own land.

Globalisation is the second colonisation. It is the cultural colonisation of the world by the markets of the United States of America. By using their dominance of the global Markets of practically every known commodity, and their inventiveness and ingenuity, they have Americanised the world. They put their colossal boot on our chests and pour American export culture onto us.

The Global American Cultural Product is a strange and dangerous thing. There's something about the food that doesn't taste right - something about the music that doesn't sound right. Sure, it'll fulfil your needs. It'll sustain you - but there's nothing about The Product that really satisfies. It is a vile, light mustard coloured paste that, applied liberally, will fill in every cultural crevice your country can throw at it. You'll go off to work one day, thinking you're an Australian, and you'll come home and find that there's a McDonalds in your backyard, your children are all listening to Eminem and you'll find yourself wondering which out of Pepsi or Coke is the choice of the Australian generation?

And so it happened. As the Berlin Wall fell down, and America turned its gaze to monopolising the Market, all markets, we found our nation, like virtually all others, invaded with this strange, smooth tide of semi-solid goop. It enveloped our cinemas, engulfed our televisions and radios. They absorbed the children with new sounds and tastes. They eroded our sense of who we were by being everywhere. On television American sit-com actors and American reporters redefined who we were and what we liked. Our markets became flooded with American goods. We had never industrialised enough in our own right to build the new sorts of equipment that was coming into demand - certainly not at the rates required by our technology-hungry populace. So it all came from America and her allies, and with it came their culture.

So on this day, as I type, looking out of my second-floor apartment, I see a city that no longer understands who or what it is. And why should it? We are approaching a point on near-total cultural dissolution. The intelligent ones amongst us should be just able to begin to understand the horrors that faced the Aborigines conquered by the British. We are losing our identity, bit by bit, amongst the incredible amount of America that pervades our everyday lives.

The intelligent ones that are old enough to remember are like the ancient warriors who fought the British here and the Yankees in America. But it doesn’t matter. The young and the foolish buy the American Product wholeheartedly. They listen to the music, they eat the food, they watch the television. They speak with American accents. They write in their language. The old will eventually die out, and the young who are Americanised will eventually become the majority.

There is no other choice for them. The old have become confused and detached from Australia, and the young have known no other real way of being. The spread of computer technology, centred in America, has allowed the destruction of our language through the young - word processors which only allow an American dictionary, which auto-corrects “incorrectspelling. Organisation becomes organization, flavour becomes flavor. We are no longer free to write in our own language without going through tremendous difficulty and education in order to do so. It is easier simply to go with the flow. It doesn’t help, of course, that Australian history is barely even taught in schools.

The impending death of our mother tongue marks the bottom of the slide into cultural oblivion. Language is of vital importance to any culture - stories, place names, beliefs and values are usually virtually untranslatable into any other language. They lose meaning. And although American English is still easily understandable to anyone who can read and write in Australian or British English, the language that we speak is still of vital symbolic importance. If we allow the American language to overcome ours so easily, it signifies that we see no value in our past or our beliefs - or our nation. Our “diversity” which we value so highly will allow us only two options - to become a citizen of a glorified American outpost, or to leave the nation and wander the Earth.

We must retake our identity and our language. Our sad mantra of “diversity”, pushed on us by cash-hungry governments and American Markets, must be abandoned. That is not to say that there is no worth in diversity, but only that it is important for any culture to be able to identify and enjoy that which is different while celebrating that which is uniquely theirs.

We must find once again what it is that made us Australia once, and we must re-establish a balance with the overwhelming American influence. We - all Australian citizens - must educate our young on all aspects of our national history: colonialist, migrant and Aboriginal. We must ensure that our young learn our national language and customs. We have to write books, create films, retake television and radio. We have to learn to be ourselves again.

Above all, we must learn to distinguish that which is American as foreign and therefore Other - to be enjoyed and celebrated, but definitely to be held apart from our culture. Removing their presence from national media and breaking their strangle-hold on our markets will likely facilitate this end.

In the end, it matters not to the bleak land and the odd animals which populate it. To this ancient and patient island, it will be but a blink of time before we and our culture are buried beneath the sands. But it is this land which was the key to creating what we were, and what we must become. If we allow ourselves to be dominated by outside cultures, we will be strangers in our own cities and towns, and will increasingly find little reason to inhabit this harsh continent.




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