Few countries combine urban chic and wilderness beauty as Australia does. Its coastal hubs regularly dominate rankings of the world’s most livable cities. Pay homage to Sydney’s world-famous Opera House and its stunning harbor, or lose yourself in the corridors of the Australian Museum. Melbourne is an international mecca for food, flush with top chefs and enjoying a climatically diverse hinterland where nearly anything can be grown. After soaking up its international cuisine—which includes some of the finest Asian flavors you’ll find outside their homeland—you can take a tasting tour of the hill-cupped wine country outside Melbourne. Head to the tropical outpost of Cairns to access Australia’s most famous natural landmark, the Great Barrier Reef. After reveling in the marine wonders of this greatest of coral reefs, have a blast back on dry land spotting some of Australia’s iconic terrestrial critters, from kangaroos and koalas to dingoes and wallabies.
Since the era of colonization, the backbone of today’s Australian culture grew from the largely British and Irish ancestry of its first settlers. Romantic portrayals of these original underdog heroes, many of whom were convicts, overcoming adversity and injustice in a rugged and distant land eventually blended with rich Aboriginal traditions, which have been passed orally over the past 50,000 years.
Further impacted by massive immigration from Asia and from non-English-speaking European countries, the Australian identity so loved today was formed. A true melting pot, 20% of its citizens were born outside of Australia. A people of many faiths and many languages (over 200 languages are spoken throughout the country), visitors to Australia have a truly exciting variety of international music, theatre, dance, cuisine and art waiting to be enjoyed.
Another intrinsic part of Australian’s national identity undoubtedly comes from its passionate love of sports. Aussies go wild with their national sports of Australian Rules Football, rugby, cricket, surfing, tennis, sailing, horse racing and of course – swimming.
Because over 80% of Australians live within a 30-minute drive from a coast, the culture here has been strongly influenced by its beautiful beaches. Despite the country’s many cosmopolitan offerings, Australia has fostered a wonderfully laid-back beach culture complemented with a true appreciation for its beautiful surroundings, rich history – and delicious barbecue.
Language: the Australian dialect of English with its distinctive accent and unique vocabulary pulls from its rich multiculturalism. Many of today’s endearing Australian expressions originate from cockney and Irish words that are now out-of-use in Great Britain and Ireland. Other words such as “kangaroo” have been adopted from native Aboriginal languages.
Due to its Anglo-Celtic origins, many traditional favorites have survived in Australian cuisine. Locals and visitors alike feast on tasty Australian dishes such as meat pies, prawns on the barbie, sausage rolls and fish & chips. Reflecting its strong multiculturalism, many classics have been revamped over the years to feature spices and flavors introduced by Mediterranean, Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants.
While enough cannot be said to properly describe the deliciousness of Australian barbecue fare such as Balmain Bugs (lobster tails), bangers (sausages), and game meats, exotic delicacies also await those looking to try something a bit farther from home. Cities with tropical climates like Darwin and Cairns offer an unimaginable variety of fruits and vegetables including lychees, star apples, bamboo shoots, mangos, bananas and jackfruits. While visiting these tropical regions, visitors also have the opportunity to taste some of the rich variety of seafood such as barramundi fish, banana prawns, saltwater crocodile and coral trout.
Three Australian traditional treats that should not be missed while on vacation in Australia include a “Lamington,” a sponge cake dipped in chocolate and then rolled in coconut (July 21st is “National Lamington Day” in Australia) as well as the traditional meringue dessert “pavlova” and the crunchy oat & coconut cookies known as “ANZAC Biscuits.” (The named originates from WWI when approximately 80,000 Australian and New Zealander soldiers lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign).
Unique in being both nation and continent, by total land area, Australia is the sixth largest country on the planet.
Surrounded by the Pacific and Indian Oceans, its immense size enables a rich diversity of natural habitats including spectacular mountain ranges, colorful desert plains, golden grasslands, tropical rainforests and vibrant coastlines. In addition to the mainland, Australia also contains over 8,000 islands including the unspoiled island state of Tasmania.
Its legendary Outback, containing some of the least fertile soil in the world, is home to Australia’s thriving mining industry and to many of its endemic animal species like the kangaroo, the emu and the dingo. Sparsely inhabited, the beautiful and picturesque lands of the Outback offer tourists the chance to visit some of the world’s most impressive monoliths and monoclines found in Uluru-Kata Tjura National Park and Mount Augustus National Park. Many of its impressive geological sites are considered both magical and sacred to Australia’s indigenous people, the Aborigines.
Far beyond the rugged beauty of Australia’s deserts, stretching over 1200 miles along Queensland’s coast in the Coral Sea lies another icon of Australian tourism: The Great Barrier Reef. This coral reef system, one of the sixteen natural UNESCO World Heritage sites located in Australia, is often described as the largest living organism in the world; containing an incredibly rich presence of animals, plants and other life forms, it is even visible from space.
The population of this highly developed country primarily resides in the country’s three largest cities: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The first European contact of what is today Australia occurred in the early 17th century by Dutch explorers, who were more interested in charting these newly discovered lands (dubbed “New Holland”) than settling them. Later in the 18th century, colonies were formally established by the British Crown with New South Wales being the first in 1788.
Approximately 50,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans, the ancestors of Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal population began traveling from Southeast Asia to what is today Australia during the Ice Age. These were clan-based societies of hunters and gathers that ultimately developed a strong spiritual connection to the magical beauty of these lands. A highly-advanced society with strong oral culture as well as innovations in tool making, weaponry and agricultural techniques, its clans dwelled throughout Australia’s greatly varied habitats and spoke over 250 languages.
The arrival of the Europeans had devastating effects on the indigenous Aboriginal population, thought to number at least 750,000, due to the spread of diseases and discriminatory policies. Life for the earlier settlers was a difficult one due to the unfamiliarity of the rugged land and to the fact that many were convicts banished to this penal colony of the British Crown. It is estimated that 160,000 men and women came to Australia as prisoners.
In the 19th century vast numbers of free settlers began to pour into Australia from all over the world with dreams of work, cheap land – and gold. As the population grew, many seeking adventure ventured further into Australia’s interior territories, often displacing Aboriginal tribes while others flocked to the ever-growing, lively cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
In 1901 all six British colonies (New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia) united to form the nation known today as the Commonwealth of Australia.
Australia fought in both World Wars of the 20th century. At the conclusion of the Second World War, thousands of immigrants arrived to prospering Australia from Europe and the Middle East in search of work. The economy was thriving, particularly due to the exportation of Australian commodities as well as increased manufacturing.
Australia has continued to grow and embrace its multiculturalism. Today it consistently ranks highly (2nd in the world after Norway in 2011 in the Human Development Index) for its very high quality of life, universal healthcare, free education, high literacy levels and life expectancy.