Australia is a sunburned country, there’s no doubt about it. The vast 5.2 million square kilometres of ‘Outback’ is inhospitably dry most of the time and as climate change gathers pace, water shortages cause increasing problems. The majority of Australians hug the coastline, facing the rolling sea. But there’s more than surfing dudes and Outback Aboriginals to this beautiful island continent.
Australia is an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country. Australia is sandwiched between the Indian and Pacific oceans and is approximately 4,000 km from east to west and 3,200 km from north to south. Due to Australia’s size, it is incredibly diverse, ranging from the beach to the bush and the rainforest to the reef. Australia is divided into six states and two territories. Canberra is Australia’s capital city and situated in the Australian Capital Territory, Canberra is roughly half way between the two largest cities Melbourne and Sydney.
As of 2015, Australia’s population is roughly 22.9 million people. The most populous states are New South Wales and Victoria, with their respective capitals, Sydney and Melbourne, the largest cities in Australia. Australia’s has one of the most urbanised and coast-dwelling populations in the world, with more than 80 per cent of residents living within 100 kilometres of the coastline. Needless to say, the centre of Australia is sparsely populated.
Australia’s first inhabitants, the Aboriginal people, are believed to have migrated from Asia to Australia between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. Aboriginal people of Australia have a rich, living culture – one of the world’s oldest living cultures. You can’t leave Australia without learning about its first people. There are an increasing number of Aboriginal experiences. In Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest – the oldest rainforest in the world – you can take a tour with clans that have been the traditional owners for millennia. At Uluru, an interpretive centre explains the religious significance of the world’s largest monolith, which its traditional owners would prefer you not to climb. Even in Sydney’s harbor side botanical gardens, there are guided walks explaining traditional medicinal uses of the plant life.
While Captain James Cook is credited with Australia’s European discovery in 1770, the Dutch are known to have explored the coastal regions in the 1640s. The first European settlement of Australia was in January 1788, when the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. Originally established as a penal colony, by the 1830s the number of free settlers was increasing.
In 2014 there were 6.8 million visitor arrivals, an increase of 8.5 per cent relative to the previous year. With so much to see, make sure you give yourself enough time to explore; there are snowy mountains, ancient rainforest, the largest coral reef in the world and spectacular geological phenomena. Combine this with a laid-back city life, where time on the beach or at outdoor cafés is as important as that in the office, and you have, possibly, the perfect destination. No wonder Australia often tops the polls of places to visit.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Supporting Australian Aboriginal people & community based tourism:
The gap for health, well-being and employment between Australian Aborigines and non-indigenous Australia’s remains terribly skewed. Today, aborigines have an unemployment rate three times that of non-indigenous Australians. The infant mortality rate is twice that of non-indigenous babies and the life expectancy is 14-18 percent lower than the non-indigenous population.
According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, In 2006 around one-third (32%) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population lived in major cities of Australia, 43% in regional areas and 25% in remote areas. While 12% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in the Northern Territory, they do make up almost a third (30%) of the total Northern Territory population.
Following European settlement, the issue of Aboriginal land rights came to light 1992 when the High Court of Australia deemed that Aborigines on the Torres Straights (situated between Australia and Indonesia) had a right to the land they had inhabited for generations, and the government passed the Native Title Act. As aboriginal communities received land and management rights back from the Australian government, the opportunity to develop an Aboriginal tourist industry emerged. This opportunity provided the Australian aboriginal communities with an economically viable use for the land, whilst preserving the local cultures and environment.
A good examples of Aboriginal owned and operated tourism can be found in central Australia – In 1985 Uluru was controversially handed back to its traditional owners, the Anangu people. Before then, travelers were encouraged to climb Uluru (Ayers Rock), it was seen as both an achievement and remarkable experience. When they were handed back their land, the Anangu people strongly discouraged people from climbing the rock — and offered an alternative. Now, traditional owners take travellers on guided tours around the rock to view sacred areas and ancient rock paintings and pass on stories about the Dreamtime. Today, tourism at Uluru has never been better, with travelers even boasting about observing the cultural boundaries.
Displacement of local peoples:
Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.
Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:
Cultural Loss and Indigenous Tourism:
As we have extended the scope of our holidays into remote places, we now see ‘remote people’ as part of our holiday landscape. Our interest in other people’s cultures is not always sensitive. What are the implications, for example, of tourists viewing, filming & photographing tribal peoples who now demand payment in exchange for becoming models in their finery? Performing for tourists has become an income earner for tribal groups all over the world. But the income comes with a price.
As stated by Australian-based journalist, Margaret Ambrose, to the Aborigines of Australia; land is not just something that belongs to them; it’s what defines them. Aborigines believe that the Australian landscape was created by their ancient ancestors. They value the land as they would value a grandparent or other ancestor. Destruction of the land is akin to the death of a family member. Tourists traipsing through sacred land is akin to the pain and suffering of a family member.
When visiting aboriginal land or participating in Aboriginal tours, keep in mind that indigenous life differs in some areas from non-indigenous Australians – some aspects to be aware of, include:
- Some sacred sites are off limits to women and others to men, and some sites are not able to be accessed at certain times. It is always advisable to seek permission from the indigenous communities before entering.
- Visiting times and dates can change or vary without warning for culturally significant occasions like periods of bereavement.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Indigenous people and tourism:
Australian aborigines have the longest continuing art tradition in the world, which is also an essential form of income of the Aboriginal community. If you are going to purchase Aboriginal art check out Desart. Desart is the industry body for over forty Central Australian Aboriginal-owned art centres, and supports and represents these art centres.
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device.There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
In Australia, many Aboriginal communities believe photographs capture the souls of their subjects. Aborigines become distressed when confronted with images of deceased people. Always seek permission before taking photographs of any Aboriginal person.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography
Australia has an incredible range of native endemic fauna. Many of Australia’s native animals and insects are sensitive to introduced species. For example,
- the introduction and spread of animals such as the Cane Toad and the European Rabbit have disrupted the existing balances between populations and developed environmental problems.
- The introduction of cattle into Australia and to a lesser extent the dingo are other examples of species that have changed the landscape.
- The introduced species of red fox has single handedly caused the extinction of several species. This is a major reason why Australian customs are highly restrictive.
Surprisingly, Australia has a large population of camels, especially in Northern and Western Australia. Camel riding is available in Australia, and whilst Camels are known as the ships of the desert, this doesn’t mean that they are always in a condition to ship tourists around. If you are considering a Camel ride, see the rights-tourism article to understand the issues.
Reefs and Marine Ecosystems:
In regards to marine life, the Great Barrier Reef is a world heritage site and the largest coral reef on the planet. If you are considering a snorkeling or diving trip, look for ‘coral friendly operations’ that practice reef conservation in a number of ways. These include giving environmental briefings, using available moorings rather than anchoring to fragile reefs, using wastewater pump-out systems and participating in local conservation projects. Anything that you take with you on the boat should be kept safe and disposed of once you return to the shore, not in the water, including cigarettes.
UV & Ozone protection:
Australia is renowned for it hot and dry climate. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, this is due to over-exposure to UV solar radiation because of the Australian outdoor lifestyle, and also the weaker ozone layer over Australia. According to the Australian government, “The ozone layer is depleted in two ways. Firstly, the ozone layer in the mid-latitude (e.g. over Australia) is thinned, leading to more UV radiation reaching the earth. Data collected in the upper atmosphere have shown that there has been a general thinning of the ozone layer over most of the globe. This includes a 5-9% depletion over Australia since the 1960s Secondly, the ozone layer over Antarctica is dramatically thinned in spring, leading to the `ozone hole’”. SPS30+ sunscreen is recommended in Australia.
Aboriginal Sacred Land:
Indigenous people have a unique relationship with the land and water of their country; which entails the care and protection of the environment. There are many ways you can respect this spiritual relationship to country, such as:
- Never remove rocks or other objects from Aboriginal lands or waters without permission of the traditional owners
- Never casually kick ant beds, or stones; break twigs from, or carve initials into, trees.
- Rock art sites are particularly fragile, sites can be sensitive to dust from cars.
- Consider giving back to local communities through making a donation to local projects designed to improve and preserve the natural environment
The majority of Australia experiences temperate weather for most of the year. The northern states of Australia are typically warm all the time with more tropical conditions, the southern states experience cool winters but rarely sub-zero temperatures. Snow falls on the higher mountains during the winter months, enabling skiing in southern New South Wales, Victorian & Tasmanian ski resorts.
Whilst Australia is blessed by extensive sunshine, expansive coastlines and a strong innovation sector – Australia’s energy mix is still predominately reliant on fossil fuels; namely black and brown coal. Due to short-sighted and flimsy federal policy, Australia has stumbled to transition towards a more balanced renewable energy mix. Sadly in 2014, Australia actually took a step backwards cancelling their carbon tax and downgrading their renewable energy target. Solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal and tidal energies have all been gradually implemented in Australia, however a lack of consistent and incentivising policy has stunted the renewable energy sector. Traditional infrastructure and government contracts with mining organisations have added to the complexity of Australia transitioning to the low-carbon economy.
From a geological & ecological standpoint, since Australia broke away from mainland Asia around 50,000 years ago it has spawned some incredibly unique flora and fauna. Australia is famous for its marsupials, such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats, platypus, possums, dingos, black cockatoos and emus. Did you know that Australia’s national emblem displays a kangaroo and an emu; two creatures that can-not take a backwards step. Australia has an abundance native flora; most famous are the various eucalyptus trees, known as gum trees and wattle trees. Gum tree’s make up the Australian ‘bush’ and have evolved to withstand long, hot, dry Australian summers. The native wattle trees have a distinct yellow blossom; the distinct green and gold is the source of Australia’s national colour.
Much of Australia is very dry, which explains why the majority of the Australian population is based on the coastline & rivers between Adelaide and Cairns (more than 80 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast). Australia rainfall on the east coast is reliance on the El-nino weather pattern, which is responsible for many of Australia’s recent droughts and floods. The north of Australia, ranging from Broome in Western Australia, Darwin in the northern territory and Cairns in Queensland, experiences more tropical conditions with a wet season feeding some of Australia’s most precious ecosystems; such as the Daintree forest and the Kimberly.
Australian forests are diverse and range in height, density and species depending on the geographical location. Old growth forests such as those found in South Western Australia and Tasmania have some of the tallest trees in the world and a lively debate continues to play out about the protection of these forests. Australia’s native forests have been heavily forested since European settlement 200 years ago. The native species of Eucalyptus is a hardwood which has been used for numerous purposes such as a dense firewood and timber for building & construction. In more recent times, forestry has served a purpose for chipping to supply the Asian market for pulp and paper.
The Great Barrier reef is one of Australia’s most famous icons and runs along Queensland’s eastern coastline. Unfortunately the health of reef is deteriorating, this has been put down to a combination of pollutants entering the coastline via mining activities and urban waste, along with rising ocean temperatures. Reef ecosystems are extremely sensitive and small changes to their ecosystem can result in bleaching of the coal reef.
Australians have a unique colloquial language, coined ‘strine’ by linguist Alastair Morrison (imagine saying Australian with your teeth gritted together). This combines many long lost cockney and Irish sayings of the early convicts with words from Aboriginal languages. Australians (aussies) often abbreviate words and then add an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ on the end as in ‘bring your cossie to the barbie this arvo’.
Australians are typically ‘down to earth’ and are mindful of not giving the impression that they think they are better than anyone else. In general, Australians prefer people who are modest, humble, self- deprecating and with a sense of humour. The Australian sense of humor is fairly dry and they like reverse nicknames, calling people with red hair ‘bluey’, saying ‘snowy’ to someone with dark hair, and tagging ‘lofty’ to someone who is small in stature.
Australians are not very formal so greetings are casual and relaxed – a handshake and smile suffices. While an Australian may say, ‘G’day’ or ‘G’day, mate’, this may sound patronizing from a foreigner, visitors should simply say, ‘Hello’ or ‘Hello, how are you?’ Australians prefer to use first names, even at the initial meeting, so generally there is no need for ‘sir’ or Madame’.
Australia’s rich cultural diversity is reflected in the food, which embraces most of the world’s cuisines and artfully fuses quite a few of them. You’ll find European flavours, the tantalising spices of Asia, Africa and the Middle East and bush tucker from our backyard on offer everywhere from street stalls to five star restaurants. Tuck into Thai takeaway, dine out on perfect Italian pasta, do tapas in our city’s Spanish strips and feast on dumplings in Chinatown. Most typical Australian dishes and flavors include lamingtons, vegemite and the traditional barbeque of sausages, chops and salads.
English is the official language in Australia. However, 226 languages are spoken throughout Australia. After English, the most popular are Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic. You can also embrace our melting pot of cultures in the many colourful festivals. See samba and capoeira at Bondi’s Brazilian South American festival, dance behind the dragon parade during Chinese New Year or stroll through streets transformed into a lively piazza during the annual Italian celebrations.
In 1788, there were around 250 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia, plus additional separate dialects. Today, only two thirds of these languages exist and only 20 of them are strong enough to be maintained and spoken into the future.
Australia is multicultural and multiracial and this is reflected in the country’s food, lifestyle and cultural practices and experience. Most Australians are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who arrived during the past two hundred years, since 1945 more than six million people from across the world have come to Australia to live. Today, more than 20 per cent of Australians are foreign born and more than 40 per cent are of mixed cultural origin.
As a nation, Australia’s religious beliefs are varied and you’ll find Catholic and Anglican churches, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist temples, mosques and synagogues.