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New Zealand Next Door
Australia has some things that you can only get Down Under. Vegemite is a successor to Marmite but made in Australia and by an American company. The Wiggles have enjoyed massive fame. Consult Nicole Kidman, Paul Hogan, and Steve Irwin. They are or were (as in Irwin's case) filthy rich and famous. Paul Hogan was in spotlight as Crocodile Dundee in the 1980's and Irwin took the helm as the Crocodile Hunter in the 1990's. INXS and The Seekers were tremendous success stories which represented Australian culture.

Australia's Culture & History

"Australia thrives on stereotypes when it promotes itself abroad, using images like kangaroos, convicts and rapists, and vegemite.  If Australia were to publicly admit that the majority of its population lives in the big cities and leads lives not a helluva lot different than other English-speaking countries, would-be tourists would stay at home and grill shrimps on their own barbecue and buy kangaroo stuffed animals. "  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

Come to Australia, and you'll never stop hearing from the locals that "we're rebels at heart" due to the country's convict origins. According to an Australian Broadcasting Company news article from 2007, in the 80 years that Britain transported convicts to Australia, only 2% were guilty of serious crimes. 87% of the men and 91% of the women were sent to Oz for minor offenses, stuff that if done today would probably get one a commendation, a bonus, and a book deal. Most were between ages 15 and 30. These guys were poor and unskilled, not rebels.  You can get a glimpse of the truth by visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania, which has a museum devoted to the history of the penal colony there. 

Too bad this is a British copycat and now American owned

What do you expect? Everyone likes to romanticize the past, nations included. As it turns out, the descendents of the convicts got the last laugh. Today, an estimated 4m Australians are related to deported convicts from the UK. These 4m get to enjoy cheaper real estate, better value food, and superior weather to the descendents who remained in Britain. Had their ancestors not been kicked over to Australia, these descendants would have to endure the UK's cloudy weather and the bureaucracy of the European Union.

Australia's History In A Nutshell

We can't think of a reason to bore anyone to tears.   If you're a history buff, you already know Australia's history in great detail.  If you're not, telling you in great detail would encourage you leave this web site for another.  We will discuss Australia's history insofar as it affects Australia's culture -- or lack of it, as highbrows would argue.

The Dutch were the first European nation here, at around the same time they got to America.  But the British were the ones who did something with the colony and claimed the eastern half in 1770, just 6 years before the Americans declared the U.S. independent of Britain.

Australia was initially settled en masse by penal transplants.  The modern day states of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australian were originally six separate colonies, governed separately, and only united as one nation when the Constitution of Australia was adopted by all on January 1, 1901.  This brings into focus the paramount importance of the Australian state capitals -- each was the head of a colony at one time.   Today, 50% (or more) of an Australian state's population can be found in and around the state capital.  This differs greatly from the United States, where later states outside the original thirteen were never colonies.   In most U.S. states, the largest city is not the capital of the state (New York:  Albany, not New York City;  Washington:  Olympia, not Seattle). 

Although Australia compares itself to the United States on a constant basis and borrowed wholesale the model of its nation's capital, Canberra, from Washington DC, historically and presently Australia has more in common with another British colony, Canada:

  Both countries became one nation under a federation.  Canada was first formed as a federation of four provinces in 1867, only a generation before Australia was federated.

  Neither nation fought for its independence.  Both remained puppets of Great Britain into the twentieth century.  Even after Australia federated in 1901, there was still no such thing as Australian citizenship until 1948.  Canada only officially cut its legal dependencies on the UK in 1982 with the passage of the Canada Act.  Up until 1965, the Canadian flag was another British variant, like the Aussie and New Zealand flags remain to this day.

Canada flag Australian flag New Zealand flag
As different as night and day -- or maybe as different as 7 PM and 8 PM

  Both are extremely large nations in terms of land mass, but have sparse populations to fill those vast lands.  Natural resources form a third of Aussie exports.  Minerals and mineral products in Canada account for over 17% of Canada's exports.  Canada also produces a substantial amount of energy, almost all of it exported to the United States.  Discoveries of oil reserves in Alberta's sands have increasingly tilted Canada's exports in favor of natural resources.

  Both had indigenous groups -- Canada, the Native Americans; Australia, the Aboriginals -- that had to be subdued for European colonization

Australia's Culture

Everyday Australians may have their own derogatory terms to refer to Mother England, but for the most part, it's all hot air.  The Queen is still the reigning monarch in Australia and her youthful face appears on Australian coins and the AUD 5 bill. 

Australia, like Canada, suffers from a culture problem caused by a huge share of the culture being borrowed from larger, more powerful nations.  Both Australia and Canada were tremendously influenced by the United Kingdom and practice its form of government.  Canada had the dual influence of the powerful United States on its doorstep piping American culture in from the south.  Today, Canada most commonly describes its culture in terms of how it's not American, not what makes it distinctly Canadian.   Australia, much further away from the United States, was primarily influenced by the UK until the end of the Second World War, though American influence was creeping in even then.  When the UK joined the European Union in 1971 and shifted its trade to Europe, Australia became a more common bed partner of the USA.

This is not to say Australia and Canada don't have their own culture.  It's just largely derivative of the United States and the United Kingdom.  Canada has been socially influenced by the United Kingdom but economically and culturally by the United States. Australia, on the other hand, has a British core, but with American window dressing. 

Australia plays cricket and rugby.   They eat shepherds pies and beans on toast.  They have drinks at pubs.  Their mainMarmite chocolate brand is Cadburys (but manufactured in Tasmania).  There are a few original things, Australian rules football, for one.  And Australia has created some original snack foods.  Vegemite could be Australia's most famous food, but before Aussies can seize full credit, it's important to realize that Vegemite was invented in 1922 after imports of British-made Marmite to Australia became unreliable.  In 1925, American food behemoth Kraft took over Vegemite's registration and today has full control of the product, which has not effectively caught on in foreign markets unless it's expat Aussies doing the buying. 

Paul Hogan Steve Irwin Wiggles Seekers Mad Max
Australia's export quality culture

The Australian-produced soap opera Neighbours has made inroads into the UK, New Zealand, and Irish markets since its inception in 1985, and there have been a few Australian-produced films, primarily in the 1980's, that put Australia on the scene internationally.  The Mad Max trilogy and the Crocodile Dundee films are the ones which spring to mind.  But it's important to note that these films succeeded on foreign terms.  When Mad Max came out in 1979, the Aussie voices were dubbed over with American performers at the urging of the American distributor.   The Australian soundtrack only appeared in the US for the first time in 2000.  Crocodile Dundee's protagonist was a stereotypical Australian -- never mind that his personality was a caricature -- but the setting was American.   Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, kept international audiences entertained until his untimely 2006 death by doing over-the-top antics.  Irwin only gained international attention when North American television picked up his show.

For the most part, Australian culture doesn't export.  When Aussie and New Zealand actors have made it abroad, it's rarely for appearing as an Australian or New Zealander.  Russell Crowe, Toni Collette, Nicole Kidman (American by birth), and Mel Gibson (American by birth) made it into the limelight by sounding American.  For the Australian TV awards ceremony, called the Logies, American TV stars are flown in to do some of the hosting, as if their presence lends legitimacy to the ceremony.   Music acts are an easier export.  You can't regularly distinguish pop music by a band's origins.  INXS scored big in the 1980's, but had the press announced they were American or British, no one would have known the difference.  The Seekers and the Bee Gees were smash successes but they had to go to the UK to make things happen.  Men At work were big for 2 short years, largely on the success of their Australian-themed single "Down Under."  Once in awhile an act hits the big time and stays there for years, spurned only from initial success in Australia, like the kid's group The Wiggles, but that's just the point.  It's once in a long while. 


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Fascinating Ideas You Could Care Less About

 Australia has some unique aspects. Ever tried vegemite? The Wiggles are an international kids band. Nicole Kidman, Paul Hogan, and Steve Irwin met fame and fortune internationally. Paul Hogan did it as Crocodile Dundee and Irwin as the Crocodile Hunter. INXS and The Seekers were huge international successes which represented Australian culture.