Chances are if you’ve heard of Australia, you’ve heard about its people. You would have heard about our ‘ridiculous accents’, our possibly too laid-back attitudes, and how everyone apparently really wants some barbecued shrimps (even though we call them prawns). However, you never really hear about the people of Australia. Who are we as a nation, as a people?
Speaking from personal experience, Australians are some of the most culturally diverse people you’ll probably ever meet. Currently, Australia has a population of approximately 24 million and is one of the most sparsely inhabited countries of the world, having the lowest population density of any country. Most of Australia’s population is made up of immigrants or people whose families immigrated from various contents including Europe and Asia. Approximately one in four of Australia’s population were born overseas; 44 percent of the population was born overseas or have a parent who was (I myself being included in this, with my father being born in India and then moving to Australia when he was eight years old). Four million Australians speak a language other than English. Over 260 languages are spoken throughout Australia and we identify with more than 270 ancestries.
Australia’s multicultural identity is one that is held in high regard and is described by the Australian Government to be at the heart of “our national identity’ and is ‘intrinsic to our history and character.” This unique multicultural community gives a national identity different to any other in the world and, according to Australia’s Multicultural Policy*, “gives us a competitive edge in an increasingly globalised world”, something I will more than happily agree with.
Though we have a multitude of cultures and backgrounds that call Australia home, I think it’s only fair that I begin with those who first called Australia home: our Indigenous peoples. Now, I myself am not an Indigenous Australian, so I cannot properly begin to describe the origins of this incredibly beautiful culture, nor can I give a proper understanding of their sacred stories and beliefs, though I can provide you with facts. If you, yourself, are an Indigenous Australian, or have Indigenous Australian heritage, and would like to add your input regarding these matters, then feel more than free to contact me and leave a comment!
Before the arrival of foreigners, Australia was inhabited by the Indigenous peoples – Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who are sometimes now referred to the First Australians. They are the longest surviving culture in the world, having existed for at least 60,000 years and are comprised of hundreds of different language, tribal, and nation groups (a map has been produced demonstrating these separate groups with additional information)*. These separate tribes engaged in frequent contact with one another, often trading various goods. These various tribal or language groups are still of great importance to the Indigenous peoples living today, and important events often begin with a ‘Welcome to Country’ speech or performance. I, myself, live on the traditional land of the Kaurna people, the people of the Adelaide Plains.
Though, historically, not recognised as an important culture by the British colonisers, the Indigenous culture is now given much more appreciation and exposure, more so after the official Apology Speech made by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008*, with Indigenous history and culture being taught in primary schooling across Australia. Indigenous culture focuses on the land, as well as the connection between people and the land to which they belong. Land and animals are not seen as property, and so are treated with the utmost respect, with all of the Dreamtime Stories (the sacred stories) of the Indigenous culture revolving around the earth and flora and fauna*.
Australia, through British colonisation in 1770 with the arrival of Captain Cook, is known to have large amounts of British cultural influence, with Anglo-Celtic heritage, evidenced by the predominant English language, the democratic system of government inclusive of traditions belonging to the Westminster Government, Parliamentarianism and constitutional monarchy, American constitutionalist and federalist traditions, and Christianity as the dominant religion. This, however, is just one small aspect to the exponentially large cultural aspect of modern Australia.
Throughout the course of the 20th century, Australia has been exposed to many more cultures, other than just those of the Indigenous peoples and British colonizers. Significant events throughout this century also highly contributed to this expansion of cultures and, in turn, the formation of Australia’s cultural identity. The Federation of Australia in 1901, as well as the many unfortunate wars seen throughout the century, were just some of the multitude of events heavily influencing the expansion of Australian culture. After the Second World War, more than 6.5 million people migrated to Australia, this fundamentally affecting and changing Australia’s culture for the better. The Vietnam War and the Korean War also contributed to this ever-growing population and, in turn, the ever-developing cultural identity. All these events have contributed to the large cultural diversity we Australians pride ourselves on having.
I, myself, have Italian, Portuguese, Indian, Irish, and possibly even French, heritage. My friends and classmates have many other culturally diverse backgrounds, these being English, Scottish, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Taiwanese, to name but a few.
The many cultures seen throughout Australia are represented in a variety of ways, with food being the primary method. Accompanying the many restaurants that encompass the flavors of many countries, there are specific areas dedicated to certain cultures and countries, areas such as China Towns, as well as many festivals, including the Glendi Greek Festival recently held in the Adelaide CBD. Exposure to these backgrounds is also viewed through our TV personalities, seen both at home and on the world stage. Many of our entertainers, politicians, and athletes are of a variety of backgrounds, only further demonstrating the wide variety that Australia considers a part of our national and cultural identity.
Regarding religion, Australia also has great diversity, with the religions of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as the tradition and spirituality of the Indigenous peoples, being only a few.
The multicultural diversity seen throughout Australia is one of the most important aspects to us as a nation. We thrive on the diversity we are lucky enough to have and, without this diversity, Australia would not be the wonderful country it is today. This multiculturalism is one of the aspects of Australia that I am most proud of, and I will forever love about my country.
It is difficult to fully encompass the many backgrounds and cultures of the Australian people in one small article. If after you’d like to know more about the people of Australia, perhaps in some more depth, I’ll include the websites I referenced while writing this article. Hopefully, there will be something in these sources that will satisfy your curiosity. Additionally, for those wishing for shorter reading (or possibly more engaging reading), there is a very well-known children’s in Australia book known as My Place, written by Nadia Wheatley and illustrated by Donna Rawlins. The book focuses on one specific piece of land in Sydney pictured in various decades moving backwards from 1988 to 1788, a different inhabitant being featured each time. This is one of the most powerful books regarding Australian history and culture I have read myself and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to get a glimpse into the diversity Australia has to offer. If you prefer watching to reading, the My Place book also inspired a TV show of the same name. Both are an excellent way to learn more about the variety of Australian culture.
Hopefully, I’ll see you again in the next article, and please remember to check out the other wonderful countries and Keepers we here at Babel Tower have to offer!
Enjoy the rest of your day or night and be safe!
Siobhan Reardon, Keeper of Australia
* WEBSITE LINKS
- Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology Speech to the Indigenous peoples of Australia:
- Australia’s Multicultural Policy
- Indigenous Culture and History
- General Information