Australia: Introduction

  • © Kiwimatze,

    © Kiwimatze,


There are a lot of clichés about ‘Down Under’. Europeans wanting to escape the clasp of modern-day civilisation may well dream of sitting around a campfire with Crocodile Dundee in person just after landing – or at least of meeting his brother. But the reality is a little bit different. Australia is a country with one of the highest rates of urbanisation in the world – with the majority of the 23 million ‘Aussies’ living in cities and towns.

Office workers with their ties flapping, who scurry through the urban canyons of Sydney or Melbourne in the morning and meet up with others in a pub in the evening for a quick refreshing Toohey’s or a Victorian Bitter, are just as much part of this as the hordes of youngsters who seek out the vibrant night life at weekends, culture vultures who never miss a theatre performance, sailers, surfers and water rats who hang out on the yolky-yellow sandy beaches such as Bondi Beach in Sydney or Scarborough Beach in Perth, or the gays and lesbians in their wild costumes at the huge Sydney Mardi Gras Parade.

Multi-cultural diversity is the name of the game in this country

Diversity is the name of the game in this country – and if you want to see people from 140 different countries living closely side by side then you should head for Melbourne. The generally problem-free multi-culturalism in Victoria’s capital is the result of several major influxes of immigrants, such as those in the 1950s. But the Australian touch is always to be found – the ‘no worries, mate’ sounds just as genuine from the mouth of a Greek in Sydney, a German in Adelaide or a Turk in Melbourne as in Darwin or Alice Springs.

One continent – one state: this huge land mass between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean covers 2,966,000mi², an area almost 32 times the size of the UK. Caught between the extremes of western civilisation and the exotic outback, Australia is a unique cultural experience and an unforgettable adventure: magical coral marine parks and the Great Barrier Reef in the east and dusty bushland in the west, vibrant metropolises along the coasts and uninhabited deserts in the country’s interior, the dense green of the tropical rainforests in the northeast and barren geological formations such as Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the red heart of the country, lush meadows in New South Wales and parched earth in Western Australia.

The Australian touch is that casual, laidback joie de vivre you can really only find Down Under. Where else in the world does a nation grind to a halt for one whole day just because of a horse race – when the thrills and spills of the Melbourne Cup flicker across the television screens in every living room? Where else other than in Adelaide can you find a nationally important food festival where young and old, workers and managers sip top-quality wine, nibble choice tit-bits and chat away happily with one another? You can sample the delicious ingredients that make up the light Pacific cuisine grown in ‘God’s Garden’ – as many farmers call the fertile south and southeast region – for yourself, in all their glory, in the gourmet restaurants in the towns.

Tropical rainforests and craggy, snow-covered mountain peaks

They’re flexible, the townies. When out and about in the bush far away from urban centres, even self-styled Sydneysiders, snobby Melbournians and lounge lizards from Adelaide can turn into real bushmen types, happy to exchange disco beats for country music from the radio or perhaps a sing-along to ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Then they put on their long socks and shorts, roll up their sleeves and don a sweaty Akubra, strap boats to their 4×4s and get out their fishing tackle. And, much to the surprise of many a tourist, the party clown from Adelaide or the Rotary Club member from Melbourne can put up a tent just as quickly and properly as they can drive an all-terrain vehicle safely across huge sand dunes.

They always return happy from such excursions and usually go into ecstasies about the wonders and beauty of their country. For many people from other corners of the globe who are more used to a critically sombre tone in their dealings with others, this may well be one of the nicest experiences of all – the daily lesson in positive thinking, the daily dose of good mood, the beaming nature of the Australians. ‘No worries, Mate.’

Australia is a mixture of unexplored tropical or moderately cool rainforests and craggy, sometimes snow-covered mountain peaks with, of course, a good portion of adventure. Some routes for 4×4s, such as the Canning Stock right across Western Australia, still pose a danger even for the wiliest of adventurers. And when bush trekking in Wooronooran National Park around Mount Bartle Frere in Queensland, you really can get so hopelessly lost in the rainforest that a rescue party has to be sent out. On such trips you don’t need to waste time asking for permission to camp or fish and there are no fault-finding foresters to stop you lighting a fire. When you sit there gazing at the starry firmament in the outback that – thanks to the dry air and the virtually complete darkness – sparkles as if it had just been given a good polish; when you can feel the earth cooling down from the heat of the day; then you’ll find yourself plum in the middle of an Australia familiar from slide shows. However, some of the threats and dangers, such as crocodiles or some of the most poisonous snakes in the world – without which it wouldn’t be an adventure – actually turn out to be less dramatic than you thought. Not few Australians see their country not as a continent but rather as an island that Mother Nature made a generous size, on which a number of appealing peculiarities and oddities from the early days of the settlers have survived, such as a love of cricket and tea – a legacy of the British to the Australians.

‘The Lucky Country’ does, however, have its problems of course. The culture of the Aborigines, one of the oldest in the world, may well fascinate tourists, the brightly-coloured dot paintings of many Aborigine artists may well decorate living room walls, and boomerangs, hand-made by the native inhabitants, may spin through the air, but behind this façade the social fabric is showing signs of wear. In 2004, there were massive racial riots in Sydney for the first time. Aborigines still have a hard time finding a job and an even harder time finding somewhere to live, as the opinion of the native inhabitants held by the better-situated Australian is more or less shared by everyone, and the billion-dollar social measures devised to assist Aborigines created more envy than new jobs.

Australia is a young nation

There is no doubt that Australia, as a young nation, is still on the road to self discovery. Since the Summer Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney, the lovely national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’ is played just that little bit louder – a heart-felt declaration of love to the nation and its pioneering spirit: ‘We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil; Our home is girt by sea …” The text was originally written back in the days of the first settlers and gained its status as the official anthem in 1984, replacing the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’.

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