Want an introduction to Australian irreverence? Start with this joke told by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Australia is a country where it’s acceptable to say, ‘G’day, mate’ to your boss; where swear words are tossed around the dinner table as liberally as the salt and pepper; and where we slag off our politicians, and are just as quick to take the piss out of ourselves. No, Australians don’t do that whole ‘solemn reverence’ caper particularly well.
One concept Australians do hold in high regard is the idea of the ‘fair go’ — the belief that everyone should be given an equal opportunity — which manifests itself in universal support for publicly funded education and healthcare systems. Australians pride themselves on that deep-seated egalitarianism, shaking off the pompous class system of the historic motherland, Britain.
The downside of that irreverent, egalitarian ethos is an ugly affliction known as ‘tall poppy syndrome’, where people are disparaged for their perceived wealth or success or status. Aussies’ love of an underdog results in this scorn for a tall poppy, who is invariably cut down to size the moment they get too big for their boots.
Australia doesn’t have one uniform national culture because the country is made up of so many different cultures thanks to waves of migration following European colonisation in the late 18th century. Joining the hundreds of Indigenous groups are those early British and Irish settlers, European immigrants following World War Two, then growing Asian and African communities in recent decades. In fact, a quarter of Australians were born overseas, and another quarter have at least a parent born abroad, too.
One of the most significant components of this multicultural milieu is Australia’s First Peoples, who represent the oldest continuously existing culture anywhere in the world. Archaeological evidence proves that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have inhabited the continent for 60,000 years, and today there are 650,000 Indigenous people in Australia, roughly 2.8% of the national population.
Such vibrant multiculturalism means that Australia doesn’t really share one cohesive cuisine — lamb roast is as common as fettuccine or pho or falafel. But there is one quirky feature of Australian food: kangaroo regularly finds its way onto the menu. With 50 million roos hopping around the country — twice the population of humans — Australia’s national icon is a common meal, in the form of steak or sausages (known as ‘kanga bangers’).
On the World Health Organisation’s table of the thirstiest nations on earth, Australia is the third booziest country outside Europe (and 19th overall), guzzling down 12.2L of alcohol per capita each year. And with a world of wonderful wineries dotted all over the countryside as well as a booming brewery scene developing in our cities, it’s no mystery why we’re so fond of a tipple. Cheers!
Aussies might not take themselves too seriously, but the same can’t be said when it comes to sport. From massive international events like the Australian Open tennis and the Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, to local leagues like the AFL and the NRL, along with the beloved summer of cricket to all the water sports that miles of golden coastline affords, Australia is a sports lover’s paradise.
Despite that stereotypical image of Crocodile Dundee roaming the Outback, Australia is actually one of the most urban nations on Earth. Around 85% of the 25 million population live within 50km of the coast, including 10 million in the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Maybe the allure of Australia’s 10,685 sparkling beaches is just too much to resist.
Study after study after study has shown that Australia is among the most open-minded nations on Earth, and it was put to the test last year with a postal survey on the issue of marriage equality. Despite months of distasteful public debate, 62% of Australians voted yes to legalising same-sex marriage — a thumping (and long overdue) victory for a country so proud of its progressive values.
Ask the UN’s Human Development Report or the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index and they’ll tell you that Australia is fortunate enough to be one of the most prosperous nations on earth. ‘The Lucky Country’ has become an oft-used nickname for Australia since the term was coined half a century ago, and it’s an accurate moniker for a nation that enjoys such an enviable climate, stable political system and wealth of natural resources.