Three vast oceans separate the island continent of Australia from the rest of the land masses that make up our world. The Indian, Great Southern and Pacific Oceans have nurtured and brutalized Australia's coasts over millions of years, creating spectacular, scenic and unique coastlines that beckon to be seen and experienced. With a total population of just over 21 million, slightly more than the state of New York, Australia is a land of monstrous, open spaces and a heart that is mysterious, arid and at times, deadly. However, it is the coast that draws in more than five million visitors1 and upwards of 170,0002 migrants annually to where the bulk of Australians live, work and play.
Australia's major cities, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, all located on the eastern part of Australia and west side Perth which is as far away from the other cities as Australia is wide, are steeped in history, ethnically and culturally diverse, and yes, crowded but not so over populated that you feel wedged into a concrete jungle; all are situated on scenic harbors within easy reach of world renowned beaches. They are vibrant and cosmopolitan, offer world class tourism accommodations, dining, events and sights to behold yet the locals are still are capable of maintaining the laid back, friendly and happy-go-lucky quality that Australians are known for.
Small and medium sized towns abound within the eastern temperate and tropical rainforests . A scattering of pioneer minded and space loving citizens populate the wild and seemingly barren lands referred to as the "Outback", which covers close to three quarters of the continent. Tasmania, the island state is at its southern most tip and is a destination in itself with its highly diverse scenery of steep mountains, temperate rain forests, quiet bays and beaches, and pastoral settings. It has two main cities and a string of quaint small towns sprinkled all over and along the coasts of the heart shaped island.
Australia is a young country by western settlement standards but the outback holds some of the oldest geological formations known to man. Its first citizens, the aborigines, or the "Indigenous Ones" as they prefer to be known first arrived anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 thousand years ago from Africa via Asian yet exact timelines are still disputed. Ask an aboriginal and he will likely say he is from the Dreaming, a time where both land and living things were created at the same time. He would say he has always been in the same place however science has proven to a degree that the Indigenous Ones were migrants as much as its Western and non-Western citizens are. Most Australians are recent immigrants or Australian born citizens of immigrants or whose ancestors migrated within the last two centuries, either voluntarily as settlers and British soldiers or involuntarily on behalf of the British Judiciary, allowing for Australia's wild and inhospitable territory be tamed mostly by convicts.
This rich and diverse history permeates the Australian landscape, suburbs and inner cities and its people who are often classed as "tough battlers", adaptable, positive thinking, hard working and generally tolerant except of course, to those who would "bash" Australia, its lifestyle or its loyalties to sport, barbecues and beer indulgences as well as their right to live free and independently. They love the beach and the bush equally and love to share with visitors.
The most common gateway to Australia is Sydney with its spectacular sailboat design opera house and arched Harbor Bridge, overlooking the largest of several inland harbors. There is enough in Sydney alone to keep a visitor busy for weeks, from exquisite shopping venues, world class dining experiences and the King's Cross nightlife which is best defined as Red Light District meets San Francisco's Castro District a la Manhattan, New York! Depending on a person's interests, anything and everything can be found in all points of Australia. On a lesser scale in the southern area of the mainland, Melbourne with a much richer cultural diversity and the only city with San Francisco style trams, its own Chinatown, Italian District and Greek Street, is a delight. To the northeast, the Great Barrier Reef meanders down the coastline some 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers), offering the "world's biggest single structure made by living organisms"4. Just south of Brisbane is Australia's answer to Florida's Miami Beach district, the "Gold Coast".
To the north and northwest, tropical rainforests, lush and crocodile infested waters cloak ancient rocks and lands dating back eons; Kakadu National Park with its four million acres displays over 5000 aboriginal heritage cave paintings within its confines. On the Western side in the largest Australian state, moonscapes can mean death if you are caught unprepared and alone however, its coastal areas have fabulous beaches, an exciting and beautiful city, and historic gold towns. When it rains, infrequently, the desert floor becomes a carpet of colorful wildflowers. The south, including Tasmania, is the most historical and most diverse part of Australia. In the middle, you have Uluru, the giant monolith of the desert, an assortment of geological anomalies that defy description and a deep red soil beautifully staining the landscape.
In the late sixties, Australia was coined as the "Lucky Country" by author Donald Horne3, in a somewhat ironic chastising of Australia's lack of technology vision and outdated immigration and citizen policies. Since then, the phrase has been used mostly as a term of endearment or occasionally derision depending on one's point of view. Australia's isolation has made it an enigma in the eyes of many foreign nations and peoples. It is considered a land still to be explored and discovered, exotic and hospitable. Despite the fact that asylum seeking migrants have been turned away from its shores recently in an embarrassing but defiant exercise of government policy, it is still considered as an ideal place to relocate, to visit, to experience. The asylum seekers keep coming back and sometimes their persistence pays off and they are welcomed in.
Australia seems to be surviving the economic meltdown most nations are experiencing although it will not come out it completely unscathed. Stress levels and cost of living are up, patriotism is at an all time high; overall, Australians will weather this tough era and come out smiling eventually as they have always done in the face of crisis and welcome its visitors to its shores to share in their bounty. Tourism is beginning to rise again. Australians are resourceful, resilient and will toss the threats and ills of the downturn over its collective shoulder, say "No Worries", and go to the beach. Australians still believe they live in the lucky country and they may be right.
4 http://www.ga.gov.au/media/releases/2002/1013133456_20385.jsp. Sarah Belfield