New South Wales — History and Culture
New South Wales stands as the first state in Australia, boasting the site of the First Fleet’s landing in 1788. With a strong colonial heritage, New South Wales has also been greatly influenced by waves of immigration since the post-war era began. The state is arguably Australia’s most influential region when it comes to finance, commerce and tourism.
Even before Captain Cook sailed the coastline in 1770, New South Wales was inhabited by hundreds of different indigenous Australian tribes. For around 40,000 to 50,000 years, native Australians lived off the land and experienced a relatively unchanged culture. However, this all changed with the landing of the First Fleet in 1788.
The name ‘New South Wales’ came about after Captain Cook likened a series of coastal cliffs with similar geographical landforms off the southern coasts of Wales. Therefore, New South Wales became the title for Britain’s newest southern colony. However, it wasn’t settled until 18 years later, when Captain Arthur Phillip led a fleet of ships to settle the colony. Originally, the fleet landed in Botany Bay, on Sydney’s southern shores. However, due to lack of suitable water sources and food, the settlement moved slightly north, into what is today known as Sydney Cove. The original settlement quickly spread up the Parramatta and Hawkesbury rivers in the late 18th century, but failed for encompass land further west of the Blue Mountains, which were deemed impassable.
In search of new grazing and agricultural land, explorers finally passed the Great Dividing Range and Blue Mountains in 1815. This led to the development of new agricultural towns like Bathurst. Further growth of inland New South Wales was experienced during the Gold Rush era of the mid-19th century. Nevertheless, this event was much more influential in Victoria, just to the south.
At the time of Federation (turn of the 20th century) New South Wales was earmarked to provide Australia’s new capital city, with Sydney or Albury the frontrunners. However, tensions with Victoria led to the creation of the Australian Capital Territory, and the national capital was handed to Canberra. The New South Wales government ceded land for the development of the ACT.
Sydney took over from Melbourne as the largest and most significant city in Australia during the 20th century. Industrialization, especially steelworks and mining in cities like Newcastle and in the Illawarra district, helped increase New South Wales’ economic power. Following the demise of the steel industry in these areas during the 1970s, the state began to focus on otherfields, including tourism, finance and technology. Today, New South Wales is among the Asia-Pacific’s strongest economies. Visit the Australian Museum (6 College Street, Sydney, New South Wales) or the Australian Maritime Museum (2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney, New South Wales) for more information about New South Wales’ intriguing past.
Like much of Australia, New South Wales doesn’t have a single, identifiable culture. Due to the influx of migrants over the last 60 years, the state boasts an exciting multicultural landscape. In areas around Sydney there are plenty of districts that are dominated by one or two nationalities. Outside the capital city, New South Wales is still a mix of cultures, although diasporas are harder to find.
Sport is an extremely important part of the state culture. Football usually refers to Rugby League, and sometimes Rugby Union. However, in Australia soccer is the name of the global game, ‘football’. During the cooler months, there is a rugby league match played somewhere in the state every week. Towards the southern reaches of New South Wales, Australian Rules football becomes more prevalent.