Today is Australia Day, our National Holiday. It’s the commemoration of western settlement when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney on January 26 1788, carrying convicts. It’s a good day to celebrate the things we love about our country and also a good day on which to reflect on the things that we have not done so well.
I’ve now travelled to over 66 countries around the world now, and I feel somewhat competent to make comparisons on what I love about Australia and the relevant conditions in other countries.
Our 20th Century folklore was based heavily on literary works such then writings of ‘Banjo’ Patterson and Henry Lawson who loved the bush and the outback, but the reality is that we are now mostly a nation of city dwellers. It’s a long time since wool was the economic driver of this country and our economy ‘rode on the sheep’s back’.
The things that I celebrate about Australia on this day are these:
We have a long-held Stable Democracy and a firm ‘Rule of Law’
Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system under its Constitution, one of the world’s oldest, since Federation in 1901. We have the world’s sixth oldest continuous democracy and voting is compulsory.
Levels of corruption here a quite low. Australia is ranked 13th in the world – ahead of the USA but below New Zealand.
People here have the right to protest. I am proud that I contributed to protecting this right as a member of the military. Sometimes, I wonder at the feral nature of some protestors, but they have an absolute right to do it.
This is generally a very safe country. Of course we have some crime but we can mostly walk around without fearing for our lives. We don’t need to have ‘active shooter drills’ as in American schools. Nor do we have areas in any of our cities that are ‘no-go zones’
Australian National Parliament House in our nation’s capital – Canberra
Australians are irreverent with an easy sense of humour
One of our former Prime Ministers is famous for saying that in Australia, it’s acceptable to say, ‘G’day, mate’ to your boss. We speak directly and forthrightly – calling ‘a spade a spade’, sometimes appearing abrupt to other nationalities. We can slag off at our politicians, and are quick to take the ‘piss’ out of ourselves. We are not very strong on ‘solemn reverence’. Unless we are in one of the services, we don’t address others as ‘Sir’ or Ma’am’. I’m sure that on my last trip to the United States, I may have been seen as being impolite by not doing this enough, but it is not our style.
All over the world, Australians are known for their easy-going, friendly attitude. It’s the reason you hear the words “no worries, mate” exchanged between others in the street. it’s a laconic way of putting aside problems and focusing on the the positive things in life.
Dame Edna Everage epitomises our irreverence and sense of humour
Australians are egalitarian
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 especially 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 British motherland and the characteristics of the super wealthy elite of countries like America.
We see this egalitarianism in our history. We were the second country in the world to give women the right to vote. We were the first country in the world to establish a reasonable life-work balance by introducing the eight hour working day. Our industrial relations laws have always provided for a ‘living wage’ – setting the minimum wage at a sufficient level on which to live.
Linked to being egalitarian is a spirit of mate ship – looking out for one another. You can easily see this in terms of the amount of money collected across the country to support victims of our current bushfires – so far, a total of $115 million.
We tend to greet everyone from the postie to the shop assistant with a “g’day” or “how ya going?”.
The Eight Hour Day Memorial in Melbourne
Australia is a diverse society
Australia doesn’t have one uniform national culture because the country is made up of so many different cultures thanks to waves of migration. At the time of colonisation, the seven hundred, or so, indigenous tribes, were joined by hundreds of British and Irish settlers (the outrage brigade will probably say ‘invaded’). European immigrants followed after World War Two, then growing Asian and African communities in recent decades. In fact, a quarter of Australians were born overseas, and another quarter also have at least one parent born abroad.
One of the areas in which I reflect on as an area of poor performance in our multicultural mix is our relationship with our Aboriginals who are part of the oldest continuously existing culture anywhere in the world. Archaeological evidence shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have inhabited the continent for 60,000 years, and today there are 690,000 Indigenous people in Australia – roughly 3% of the national population. We have not treated them well, even after throwing billions of dollars at them in services and welfare. I despair at their comparatively low levels of health, education and life expectancy. It’s a problem in every country where European colonists inhabited the lands of indigenous peoples, but I have no idea of an effective solution for these problems.
We love the Outdoors
With our warm climate and oodles of sunshine, Australia is blessed with some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world – so it comes as no surprise that Australians like to be outdoors. This passion for nature runs deep through Australia’s veins, and is anchored in the foundations of our history. Our climate means that we can swim at the beach in one month and then go hiking in another.
Overnight camp in the Wilsons Promontory National Park
Australians are very social
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. That’s not too hard to achieve when we have wonderful wineries dotted all over the countryside as well as a booming brewery scene in our cities.
We have a dynamic restaurant and cafe scene. The ability to share a meal or a drink with a group of mates in an interesting location is readily available. It could be having dinner at the Pub, enjoying Asian flavours down a city laneway or indulging in a fast food meal on one of our many beaches.
The famous Pellegrin’s Cafe and Bar in Melbourne
We have unique and diverse wildlife
Many of our native animals and birds are only found locally. We are one of the few continents to have all three groups of mammals. Monotremes like the echidna and platypus that lay eggs, marsupials like the kangaroo, koala and the possum and Placentals such as the dingo and flying fox. We are home to more than 800 species of birds, including the iconic emu. We have two crocodile species, 4,000 fish species and 50 types of marine mammals. One of the things that I always miss when travelling are the variety of bird songs that I hear at home.
Rainbow Lorikeet in our front garden
Australians are obsessed with sport
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 football leagues along with the summer sport of cricket to all the water sports that our miles of golden coastline provides, Australia is a sports lover’s paradise. We have some of the biggest stadiums in the world – The Melbourne Cricket Ground, for instance, can seat over 110,000 people
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Australians are actually city slickers and beach goers
Despite that stereotypical image of Crocodile Dundee roaming the Outback, Australia is actually one of the most urban nations on Earth. Around 85% of our 25 million population live within 50km of the coast, including 10 million in the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
The proximity of our population to the coast provides a thriving beach culture.. Australians find countless ways to kick off their shoes and enjoy their many beautiful beaches, be it swimming, surfing, fishing, kayaking, picnicking, sharing an impromptu game of beach cricket or just soaking up some sunshine.
Australians are tolerant
Study after study has shown that Australia is among the most open-minded nations on Earth. Our multiculturalism and diversity continues to grow as people from around the world have settled into the country’s buzzing cities and breezy regional towns. Today, Australia’s rich assortment of backgrounds, cultures and communities influences everything from the food we eat to the celebrations we share. We now have people from 220 countries around the world living here and we are very much the better for it.
I drove past the town hall at Ivanhoe in the middle of the day, today, and saw people walking out of the door holding certificates in their hands. They had just been to a naturalisation ceremony and had become Australians. Welcome to all of them!
We have a wide diversity of people and cultures
Australia is also ‘The Outback’
The Australian outback covers more than 70% of our country and is home to an array of different landscapes and countless natural wonders. It produces its own challenges. Population is sparse and distances are long. I’m always impressed with two organisations that serve the outback community for free and with high levels of professionalism.
One is the The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. This was the first flying medical service in the world. It provides emergency and other health care to people living in rural and remote areas. Communities in the Outback are generally small, and spread over large distances. Many farms, stations and outstations are located a long way from towns and can only be reached over rough bush roads. Because of this, many of these places do not have access to hospitals or doctors. The Flying Doctor Service brings medical service to them. Doctors can fly from 21 bases around the country and land any of its 60 planes at a community that has an airstrip, or on the road in case of an emergency.
Then second is the School of the Air. Many children in Australia live in remote areas and are schooled by a combination of home schooling from parents and via the School of the Air, a uniquely Australian way of getting an education. Lessons were traditional provided by using an HF radio receiver (often pedal powered) to communicate with the school teacher and class. The Internet and computers with satellite connections are now replacing the old radios. One school at Alice Springs has provided daily lessons to children aged 4 to 13 years since 1951. Their school broadcast area covers 1.3 million square kilometres including most of the Northern Territory, the northern area of South Australia and eastern area of Western Australia.
The Bungle Bungle Ranges, Western Australia
Rawnsley Bluff, Flinders Ranges
Western MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia
So there you have it. Those are the many things that I celebrate on Australia Day. 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 fifty years ago, and it’s still a good name for this nation that enjoys such an enviable climate, stable political system and a wealth of natural resources. I love it dearly!