In A Sun-burned Country, visitor Bill Bryson wrote about Australia, "If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. . .”
But that’s a foreign writer for you. Aussies are unperturbed. They love their wild island continent, where 80% of the plants and animals are unknown anywhere else on earth. They like to say their country “makes us who we are.” And today they celebrate what is great about Australia and being Australian.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were the first to arrive, thousands of years ago, followed by the Dutch, who looked but did not stay, followed by Captain Cook, who charted the east coast, and claimed the land for Britain in 1770. On January 26, 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip established the British Crown Colony of New South Wales at Port Jackson. The first political prisoners from Scotland and Ireland, who had rebelled against the Crown, and persons convicted of crimes in Britain were already stepping ashore. Their first job was to find work, but they had already found something else – they had found their mates. Out of these early experiences arose an enduring Australian spirit of “mateship” and fairness.
On January 1, 1901, the six British colonies became a Federation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Australia remains a Commonwealth Realm. Aussies came to the aid of Britain in both World Wars, creating a legend of sacrifice and “can do”.
The feeling is mutual. David Abbott, talking with friends in Britain, said, “We have far more ties with Australia than with any country in Europe.”
David Malouf, born in Brisbane, the son of a
Lebanese father and an English mother, is an award-
winning Australian writer whose themes encompass
Australian history and the Australian landscape.
Today around 20.6 million Aussies are living in a country only slightly smaller than the United States. They make their homes in the large coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, in the capital, Canberra, on the beach, and in the great Outback.
David Abbott says that “wide open spaces tend to promote a sense of freedom, and Australia certainly has its wide-open spaces.” Aussies affirm that their society is built on fundamental rights and responsibilities with freedom of thought and expression, participation in government, and respect for and equality under the law. They have honestly recognized that their record on fundamental rights as regards Aboriginal peoples had to be corrected.
Immigrants today are coming from all over the world, not only Britain, and recently there have been some strains. Prime Minister John Howard’s Government has officially raised the idea that "Australian citizenship is a privilege, not a right," infers “mutual obligation” and requires knowing English.
Most Aussies would agree, while believing, in their inimitable phrasing, that one might as well “exercise the armadillo”. Why come if you’re not already in love with Australia?