Australia is a land of contrasts - topographical, cultural, physical, meterological and visual. About 40,000 years ago, the Aborigines were the first to settle. They lived as hunters and gatherers for this entire time, living with a close link to nature, although backburning and other poor agricultural techniques have since been realised to have caused significant deforestation, salinification of the soil and elimination of much of the natural diversity of the landscape. Such a poor ability to interact with nature, despite it being so important, helps explain why much of Australia is now unsuitable for sustaining life. Interestingly, this provides one of the few examples of where the native population damaged the land more than later waves of settlers. Their way of living developed into a complex culture based on oral tradition and intricate social bounds, which was almost destroyed by the second wave of settlers, who were able to populate the land with much more success.
In the 15th century, explorers from the Netherlands and possibly from parts of the Arabic world and other European countries are believed to have landed in the far North and West of the country. However, due to the severity of the climate, the poor soil and the complete absence of conditions required for living, gave up and went somewhere better.
In 1770, Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay, which today is part of Sydney. (in fact Sydney Airport juts out into Botany Bay) This commenced with the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove (now Sydney Harbour, near Circular Quay railway station) on 26th January 1788. The British government decided to use convicts to tame the newly discovered continent and did not care a lot for the people that were already there (for example, the land where Melbourne now stands was sold by the aborigines for a handful of beads). Deportation to Australia lasted for about eighty years. After this all immigrants went more or less voluntarily.
Australia became an independent nation on 1 January 1901. The British Parliament passed legislation allowing the six Australian colonies to govern in their own right as part of the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1986 history was made again when parliament passed legislation that ended the power for the Britsh Partliament to legislate for Australia.
Today a growing proportion of Australians were born overseas. Their combined cultural heritage makes the Australian culture a real global one. However, most cultural groups tend to live in enclaves with little interaction and real multiculturalism such as in London, New York or other major cities does not exist. Australia has also discovered the value of the Aboriginal culture and uses it to sell trinkets to a strong tourist market.
While Australia is a nation in its own right, it is also a technically a continent, with large differences between regions. It has a reputation as a land of leisure, with sun, sea and an enviable 'Crocodile Dundee' outdoor lifestyle, but this is just a very narrow conception of a continent. The reality however, is that most people work all day, and then spend the weekend running around trying to pack life into the 2 days on the weekend. Only the homeless and tourists have time to sit around on the beach, or laze away days watching sport on TV.
One of the states is the island state Tasmania of which one fifth is World Heritage area. Each state has its own national parks with their specific character where you can indulge in bush-walking or maybe even rock-climbing. When you’re interested in the miracles of water-world, you can’t miss out on the Great Barrier Reef on the east coast, the main reason for many travellers to visit Cairns. The Wet Tropics of Queensland comprise dense rainforests and foaming waterfalls. Rare species of animals can be spotted in the famous Kakadu National Park as well as ancient aboriginal art. These old drawings can also be seen in the Namadgi National Park.
Good places to set off for exploration of the great outdoors are big cities such as Canberra, Darwin, Adelaide and Perth, that all have interesting sights and a good cultural atmosphere as well. Of course, Australia is surrounded by sea, so good swimming and surfing beaches are more rule than exception, generally these beaches will be full of only tourists, especially during the week. So fun can be had watching people who haven't heard of sunscreen yet turning into lobsters, or getting trapped in the surf. North of Brisbane, is the Sunshine Coast one of the many stretches of coast where you can find excellent beaches, South of Brisbane is the better known Gold Coast, famous for being home to Australia's equivalent of trailer park people and teenagers who can't afford a holiday somewhere better. Don’t forget the smaller historically interesting Alice Springs, or William Creek [the most isolated town in Australia] that will lead you right to the famous Ayers Rock.
Deserts, rainforests, big cities….and just when you thought you’d caught a glimpse of the versatile character of this fascinating continent, you have forgotten about Melbourne and the excellent skiing opportunities in the Alpine National Park. Another good option is the Snowy Mountains area in NSW. How many months could you stay?
Reprinted under Creative Commons Licence World 66