5 things you might not know about Australia (and Australians)

As an Australian living abroad, I am constantly amazed at how little the rest of the world knows about our not-so-little country. Here are five of my favourite tid-bits.
  1. Australia is really, really big.

    In land area, Australia is the sixth largest nation after Russia, Canada, China, the United States of America and Brazil. The mainland is the largest island on Earth. The largest State, Western Australia, is about the same size as Western Europe.

    Ergo, there is not much excuse for not being able to find Australia on a map. Click here for a laugh. Or a cringe.

  2. Australia is really, really empty.

    Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet. As such, very few people live in the driest parts - in the centre of the country. The result is that this country, only slightly smaller than the 48 mainland states of America, has (at the date of this entry) about 20 million people (compared to almost 300 million in the US). 70% of these people live in the 10 largest Australian cities, almost all of which are located on the coastline.

    This is particularly important for my American readers to read: if you meet an Australian, the odds are that they will have come from quite a large, developed city. You can safely assume they are accustomed to all of the modern conveniences - such as electricity - as you are!

  3. Australia is full of dangerous creatures ... or not?

    Crocodiles are everywhere - why else would we need a crocodile hunter, eh? Australia has 7 of the world's 10 most poisonous snakes, right? Maybe. And spiders ... big and dangerous. Or just big?

    The reality is far less exotic. Between 1980 and 1990, more people died from lightning strike (19 people) than shark attack (11). In fact, during that time, more people died from bee stings (20) than died from shark attacks, crocodile attacks and spider bites combined. In fact, there have been no confirmed deaths in Australia from a spider bite since 1979.

    1990 was a while ago, but I am pretty certain things have gotten better on this front, not worse.

    This is particularly important for my English readers to read: if you come to Australia, the odds of you getting killed by a spider, snake or shark are damn low ... but I can't make any promises!

  4. Australians are good at more than just sport!

    This is a very British thing to say. Australians are capable in many arenas, not just those involving a ball. The black box flight recorder, the Utility vehicle (or Ute, in Australian parlances), differential gears (or diff, as used in all cars), pre-paid postage and the first feature-length film all came out of Australia. Medically, Australians have contibuted to the world the bionic ear, the development of penicillin into a usable drug (as opposed to its accidental discovery, of course), the electronic pacemaker and, my favourite, the cure to 80% of all stomach ulcers by using anti-biotics by discovering the bacteria that cause them.

    12 Australians have won the Nobel Prize.

    Then there are the arts. Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts and Geoffrey Rush are instantly recognisable. Looking to the past, so is Errol Flynn. Behind the camera are the likes of Peter Wier and Baz Luhrmann. At the awards ceremonies, you will see several top-notch celebreties draped in Richard Tyler creations. US TV is peppered with Australians - witness House(Jesse Spencer), Without a Trace (Anthony LaPaglia) and Nip/Tuc (Julian McMahon). Musically, AC/DC and INXS were as big as they came. More recently Jet, Silverchair, Savage Garden, Natalie Imbruglia and Kylie have done their bit.

    But all of these examples probably won't impress the Poms. But what about Tom Keneally - author of Schindler's Ark which, when put to film by Stephen Spielberg, became Schindler's List. The English have had to endure far more of Germaine Greer (pioneering feminist, god bless) than Australians have and the London Sunday Times Writer of the Year 2000 award went Robert Hughes, to go with his numerous American awards.

    And who painted the Queen's portrait last year (2005)? None other than our own Rolf Harris. Many Australian artists have been recognised in Britain, notably Sir William Dobell, Sir Russell Drysdale, Sir Sidney Nolan and Sir Arthur Streeton. Ken Done was probably more of an American-80's thing but I should mention him as a patriotic Australian in any case.

    Have I made my point?

  5. Australians are hard workers

    It seems that relaxed nature of many Australians has led to the false notion that they are not hard workers. In 2004, Australian's ranked third in a list of average hours worked each year amongst OECD countries behind New Zealand (1) and the US (2) and ahead of Japan (5), Britain (8) and Germany (12).

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