Australia has its stereotypes – the bronzed surfer, the intrepid Aboriginal, the battle-ready soldier and sportsman, a down-to-earth humour – and yet these stereotypes are all authentic depictions of life Down Under. Australia is a multicultural country. Immigration had been free and frequent at one time. The resultant melting pot of diverse ethnicities has filtered into a world-famous cuisine, and a way of life and cultural heritage that is unique. Yet Australia remains one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with the various ethnicities, including Aboriginals of mixed descent, living in close quarters with each other in harmony.
History of the Ethnicities that Make up the Australians
A strong tradition of ethnic inclusiveness has made Australia one of the most multi-cultured countries in the world. In the beginning, colonisation since 1788 first brought the British and Irish into the country. They found existing natives or Aboriginals with complex social and spiritual lives, who had migrated to the continent from the islands of New Guinea and Indonesia in the Pacific Ocean thousands of years ago. The people who claim Torres Strait Islander ancestry today are descendants of this group of indigenous people.
The wave of British migration following colonisation brought with it other European migrations in its wake – colonialists and convicts. These people found an unfamiliar land and climate, struggled against it, and so was born the Australian sympathy for the underdog and the ‘mate’. One of the biggest local heroes, Ned Kelly, was a bushranger who spoke up against Victorian tyranny and class systems that made the lives of the shipped convicts miserable.
Later, the gold rushes brought the Chinese, who still make up a large percentage of the population of modern Australia. Post World War II, the dismal European climate brought a greater rush of migration from Italians, Germans and other Europeans such as Greeks and Croatians, almost doubling the country’s population.
With a history of colonisation, it is to be expected that racism was not far behind, and Australia was no stranger to racism. During the post War period, the White Australia Policy encouraged European migrations over other ethnic groups. However this law was abolished in the 1970s, which opened the doors to Asians from China and India, and Middle Eastern people largely from Lebanon and Armenia.
Harmony in Diversity
The Australian population today is a rich tapestry formed of these diverse cultures. Varying cultural lifestyles and social statuses do give rise to some conflict. For instance, the native Aborigines in the great outback have always been somewhat isolated in the remote areas beyond urban Australia. Some Aborigines of mixed origin reside in the suburbs of some cities, and seek more rights and better conditions of living for their group. Yet there are continual efforts, in the spirit of inclusiveness, to include all ethnic groups in important decision making and in efforts for better living conditions.
A country with such diversity of people respects its people, and has no official religion, though Christianity is predominant. Yet there are places of worship for all religions – Catholic churches, Anglican chapels, Hindu and Sikh temples, Buddhist monasteries, synagogues and mosques.
The multiculturalism has lent its vibrant dynamism to a thriving arts scene and plenty of innovative ideas. More than 20 percent of Australians are born abroad, while more than 40 percent have mixed cultural origins. Italian, Greek and Cantonese follow English as the most popular languages. The sacred Aboriginal Dreamtime lyrics and rock art are iconic aspects of the country’s culture. Australian cuisine is known globally for its fusion of seafood and Asian cooking methods and spices; in the country, you will find European flavours in the dumplings of Chinatown and African and Middle Eastern falafel in food stalls as well as five star hotels.
Festivals embrace all cultures, with the Brazilian samba on Bondi beach’s South American festival, dragon dances on Chinese New Year, or annual Italian festivals.
Sports and Leisure
With urban and suburban populations largely concentrated along the coasts which are more hospitable than the Bush, the natives embrace their water sports with a vengeance. The beach is an emblem of national culture. Plenty of sun, sand and surf and barbecues define the Australian lifestyle. The warm southern Christmas is more often celebrated with light seafood and barbecue meals today. Snorkelling, parasailing and scuba diving are Australian territories in most tourist destinations all over the world. Be it a ski resort in Japan or a dive location in Bali, Australians are usually the ones to set the challenges.
Famous Australians of the Past and the Present
Australians have become famous writers, artists, politicians, sports figures, actors and actresses, explorers and innovators. The country has had its share of scientific Nobel winners, including a shared one by Howard Florey in 1945 for work on extracting penicillin and neurophysiologist John Eccles (who won it in 1963). Professor Ian Frazer, immunologist, invented a vaccine for cervical cancer that gained universal approval in 2006.
Culturally, Australian writers such as Nobel winner Patrick White, Man Booker Prize winners Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally have brought Australian literature to the rest of the world, as did expat writers Germaine Greer and Clive James.
Celebrated chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong is an example of the melding of Chinese and Australian cuisine today. Iconic singers Olivia Newton John, late opera singer Dame Joan Sutherland, famous Aboriginal singer such as Jimmy Little, entertainer Peter Allen and songwriter Rolf Harris are all people that have made Australian culture what it is today – a rainbow of melding influences.