The cities of Australia are renowned for their cultural diversity, however pockets of diaspora are becoming less obvious as Asian, European, Pacific Islander, and African cultures become more assimilated into the modern day melting pot. A strong indigenous heritage is preserved in most cities, but is far more pronounced in the Northern Territory. Of course, contemporary Australian culture is dominated by summer weather, beach life, partying, and outdoor get-togethers.
Indigenous Australians first emigrated onto the continent more than 40,000 years ago, while European influences didn’t start to show until the 17th century. With the colonization of Southeast Asia by European powers, Australia’s northern reaches were constantly visited by Dutch traders. However, the rest of Australia went largely untouched until 1770 when British explorer, Captain James Cook, navigated Australia’s east coast, naming it New South Wales under the British crown.
Eighteen years after James Cook’s discovery, Captain Arthur Phillip led a fleet in 1788 to begin a new British crown colony in New South Wales. He landed at Sydney Cove and immediately began developing the area. Eventually, expeditions of the Australian coastline led to more colonies in the following years, including Tasmania in 1825, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.
Despite popular belief, Australia’s population grew through the arrival of free settlers, not relocated British convicts. A population explosion occurred during the gold rush of the 1850’s, and by the turn of the century, the separate colonies voted to become a British dominion and Australia officially became a unified nation on January 1, 1901. After federation, Australia’s economy thrived with its abundance of natural resources, but was limited by lack of manpower.
Following WWII, in which Australia fought on several fronts, a large influx of Europeans immigrated into the country. This was the beginning of Australia’s modern wave of migrants, which also included Asians and Africans over the next 50 years.
Visitors can find out more about Australia’s short yet fascinating history at Sydney’s Australian Museum (6 College Street, Sydney) and the Australian National Maritime Museum (2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney). Plenty of colonial remnants are found throughout Australia, including the spectacular Port Arthur Historical Site (Arthur Highway, Port Arthur, Tasmania), which is a well-preserved penal settlement complete with eerie convict quarters.
Australia’s modern culture has been shaped by a number of factors, including ‘Americanization,’ immigration, ancient heritage, and climate. With much of the population living close to the coast, a strong beach culture dominates society. Even in major city centers, it is not uncommon to see locals wearing beach attire around town. The warm, sunny climate also permits an array of outdoor activities, happily lapped up by locals. A typical Aussie Saturday afternoon is spent at a barbecue with friends or family. Australians are very active yet laid-back people, and this certainly shows through their love of sports, whether they are participating or observing.
Indigenous culture is still prevalent in many parts of the country, and tourists can easily find package tours to learn more. The native Aboriginal people are a proud race, and still practice ancient cultural aspects of tribal life, including dancing, music, art, and even hunting. Arnhem Land is an Aboriginal region in the Northern Territory.