The Land Down Under has a rich and vibrant history that is clearly seen in its people and attractions. Long before the Europeans first landed on Australia’s shores, a culturally-rich aboriginal people had a population ranging from 350,000 to 750,000, descendents of what must have been some of the world’s first mariners. This was one of the most isolated cultures on earth, and the aboriginal tribes were able to sustain a peaceful existence among each other as they learned to use the natural resources of the land.
In 1606, Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon first landed on the shores of Australia, but it wasn’t until 1770 and the arrival of James Cook that the first permanent European settlement was established on the East Coast of Australia, eventually settling in Botany Bay, in what is now Sydney, claiming the land for the British. In 1788, the British established a penal colony in the region, called New South Wales, and soon Europeans began exploring the interior. This brought disease and conflict to the indigenous people, and the tribes were greatly weakened.
It was not until the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, that the infant colony began to thrive. Eventually, New South Wales presented enough appeal to bring in free colonists as well, and by the 1800s, many immigrants were arriving in Australia. At first, they came seeking a new life, and by the 1940s to find freedom from persecution and famine, both of which were widespread in Europe.
The discovery of gold and fertile lands in the interior of Australia during the 1950s set the stage for the birth of democracy. As soon as the colonists heard of the discovery of gold, they began heading to the interior in droves, in Australia’s Gold Rush. The British tried to capitalize on the gold rush by imposing heavy fines on miners, but this backfired. When they had to send troops to one mine, killing several miners, public opinion turned against the British.
When the gold rush collapsed, the people continued to feel a fierce sense of nationalism. By the 1890s, the country was ready to unite as a nation, in a bloodless revolution. On January 1, 1901, the six states of Australia created and agreed to a single constitution. Over the next century, they gradually gained their independence from Britain, without any battle for their independence.
World War I was difficult for Australians, as around 60,000 of its men were killed during the war. This was followed by a period of new cars and entertainment during the 1920s, as the country recovered from the horrors of war. World War II allowed Australia to establish itself as important in world politics, as they sided with the winning Allies throughout the war.
The post-war period and Australia’s growing manufacturing sector brought thousands of immigrants from Europe and the Middle East who were looking for work. This led to a period of prosperity and the government pursued nation-building projects.
Throughout this time, the aboriginal people lived lives highly separate from the descendents of the original settlers. This all changed in 1967, when Australians voted to allow the federal government to hold sway over the aboriginal people, thus uniting the two main groups of Australians under one central government.
The 1970s brought a period of social reform, with the ending of university fees and the introduction of universal health care. This pushed Australia into the 21st century as a leading economic and political power in the world, boasting one of the world’s highest standards of living.
- People in Australia tend to postpone marriage, with the average age for an Australian bride being 28.9 years and the average age for an Australian groom being 30.9 years. Over 30 percent of the population will never marry.
- Australia is a land made up of immigrants and the descendents of immigrants. Today, immigration from Ireland and the UK is still common.
- Do not put too much stock in someone’s nickname. Australians love to name things the opposite of what they really are. For example, a bald man may be nicknamed “curly,” while a tall man may be called “shorty.”
- Australia has one of the lowest population densities in the world.
- The Melbourne Cup, a major horse race held in Melbourne, is so important that the city has a public holiday so people can participate.
- Australia’s population is highly urban. The arid conditions of the interior cause 88 percent of the people to live in an urban area.
- The Great Barrier Reef off the shores of Australia is the world’s longest coral reef.
- Australia is the world’s smallest continent.
- While most people think of Australia as a dry, warm climate, the Australian Alps actually receive more snow than the country of Switzerland.
- Sydney – Australia’s capital is also home to some of its most iconic landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Bridge.
- Great Barrier Reef – Charter a cruise ship or take a diving or snorkeling trip to one of the world’s greatest natural landmarks. You can even mail a postcard from the mailbox located on the reef.
- Kakadu National Park – Explore Australia’s wildlife and indigenous people in the country’s largest national park.
- Flinders Ranges – If you are looking for a mountain experience, the Flinders Ranges are some of the most beautiful on the continent.
- Ayers Rock – The largest rock on the continent and a sacred place for the aboriginals, this is one of Australia’s most popular destinations.
- Broome – This desert coastal city is the perfect place for an Australian beach vacation.
- Whitsunday Islands – Turquoise waters, white sand beaches and the Great Barrier Reef await those on a cruise through the legendary Whitsunday Islands.
- Yorke Peninsula – Go whale watching or surfing in this beautiful coastal area.
- Melbourne – If you love nightlife, then you will appreciate a visit to Melbourne.
- North Stradbroke Island – White beaches and friendly dolphins await those visiting North Stradbroke Island.
How to Get Cash
- Exchanging your money is simple at Australian banks. You will also find licensed moneychangers throughout the country. Watch for fees, which can vary from one location to the next but should be clearly posted.
- Traveler’s checks are not as common in Australia as they once were, but they are still readily accepted as long as they have a well-known brand on them. Simply visit a bank or moneychanger to easily exchange these.
- Almost every town has an ATM, where you can get cash using your credit or debit card. Keep in mind that almost every ATM changes a surcharge, and that is in addition to what your bank charges. The charge will be clearly displayed and tend to be around two Australian dollars.
- Credit cards are accepted almost anywhere in Australia.
- If you have an emergency, look for a Western Union to have people transfer money to you. This will be expensive, but it is better than being in a bind.