According to Countryaah, Australia’s first residents arrived for approx. 50,000 years ago from Southeast Asia, but it is not possible to pinpoint exactly when a larger ethnically homogeneous group arrived in the continent. Australia’s first residents, dubbed “Aboriginal” by Europeans, had 260 languages and a similar number of cultures. Still, they had a number of common features – adapted to living conditions in the country. They were collectors and semi-nomadic hunters. Daily life was linked to a universal process through rituals whose purpose was to mark the seasonality and collection of food. The land was jointly owned and the community contained no other form of stratification than that obtained through prestige in the practice of religious rituals.
Developments on this basis continued all the way until Europeans’ arrival in Australia. Spanish sailor Vaez de Torres was the first European to “discover” the country in 1606, but the colonization only started in 1770 when British captain James Cook went ashore and declared the eastern part of the country to belong to the British crown. In 1788, the first group of British arrived to settle in Australia. Out of the 1030 that landed in the metropolis of Sydney today, there were 760 prisoners. After the loss of the North American colonies, Australia should now become the place where the British got rid of its long-term prisoners. Of the tens of thousands who arrived until 1830, only 18% were free people. Up to the end of the transports of prisoners in the latter half of the 19th century, more than 150 had arrived. 000 of them – of which 15% are women. Representatives of the British government allocated land to those willing to take prisoners as labor. Land that was robbed from the native population. Increasingly parts of the continent were colonized and by the mid-1800’s six different British colonies had emerged in Australia.
Australia also served as a safety valve for the social tensions brought about by the violent industrialization of Britain. The majority of the accumulated wealth was brought back to England and contributed significantly to the accumulation of capital there. Finally, Australia constituted an important piece for the British crown in its control of the seaways. During this period, Australian society was characterized by a strong authoritarianism, which included was a consequence of the country’s function as a captive colony. The local government was limited to a high ranking military man appointed by the Crown to oversee the prisoners’ population and to protect the country from possible attacks by other European powers.
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The war against the indigenous people
The colonization of the country started at the coasts and gradually penetrated further into the country. The British behaved as if the land were unpopulated. The arrival and colonization of the land by Europeans was thus a disaster for the indigenous people. The brutal intrusion into their territories disrupted their way of life, deprived them of their hunting grounds and irrigation sites, and brought with them previously unknown diseases and alcohol. The Europeans’ war against indigenous people cost about 80% of the population’s lives. The British’s ways of solving the “Aboriginal problem” were executions, poisoning of drinking water and food, and concentration of Indigenous people in British-led sanctuaries. Only in our days has the population again started to rise.
The Aboriginal religion based on a strong religious relationship between man and the earth was an obstacle to the colonization of the country. Therefore, it was systematically degraded and persecuted, just as the original languages were suppressed. The indigenous people first lost the land richest in natural resources. The Europeans settled on the best fishing grounds and the lands best suited for cultivation and grazing. The industrial revolution in the United Kingdom was based on the textile industry, which provided a significant market for wool. The Europeans therefore introduced sheep breeding and to this day Australia is the world’s largest sheep exporter.
The development of agriculture and the discovery of significant deposits of gold and other valuable minerals gave the country’s economy a tremendous boost in the period 1830-60. The opportunities for quick enrichment accelerated immigration and led Europeans to occupy ever-larger land. When their resistance failed, the indigenous people were marginalized and squeezed into the country’s most barren. But at the same time, for a long time, rural life was characterized by the indigenous guerrilla struggle against the conquerors, with the aim of destroying their production and regaining lost territories.
When the resistance broke, the indigenous people were forced to sign “labor contracts” written in English – a language they did not understand. These contracts made them unpaid workers, slaves, slave women, and concubines who were subjected to the harshest disciplinary measures.
Movies in Australia
Having had a significant silent film production, i.e. by director Raymond Longford and his protagonist Lottie Lyell, the competition from Hollywood became too strong: in the 1930s, it was virtually only the company Cinesound and director Ken G. Hall who made feature films in Australia. After the war, documentaries from the Commonwealth Film Unit and the Australian National Film Board were noticed; the feature film production was sporadic.
The situation changed in the 1970s, and then radically, with an explosion of creativity that has since been called “the Australian wave”. A state commitment led to the establishment of The Australian Film Commission (grl. 1975) and the Sydney film school. Many new directors made their appearance, including Peter Weir with The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Ken Hannam with Sunday Too Far Away (1975), Donald Crombie with Caddie (1976), Phillip Noyce with Newsfront (1978), Fred Schepisi with The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) and Gillian Armstrong with My Brilliant Career (1980).
“The Wave” had its commercial hits: Bruce Beresford’s bush comedy The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie (1972, sequel 1974), the TV series Against the Wind (1975; NRK shown under the title Against All Winds), George Miller’s action film Mad Max (1979; sequels 1979 and 1985), and television comedian Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee (1986, sequels 1988 and 2001).
Since then, Australian films have received international attention occasionally, with films such as Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1991), Piano (1993) directed by New Zealand’s Jane Campion, Stephan Elliott’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Chris Noonan’s family film Babe (1995, sequel 1998) about a little pig on adventure, and Scott Hicks’ Shine (1996) about pianist and mental patient David Helfgott.
The American film industry has regularly captured the greatest Australian talent. Actors like Mel Gibson and Judy Davis quickly became world stars, most of the leading directors traveled the same path, and since then Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and many others have followed suit. Among many recent Hollywood successes based on Australian talent are Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (2001) with Nicole Kidman, and Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) with Russell Crowe.
Sports in Australia
Australia is considered one of the world’s foremost sports nations and has a very enthusiastic and patriotic sports audience. The two major team sports are cricket and Australian football; cricket is played mostly in the summer, football in the winter. Australia, as of 2004, is the world’s leading cricket nation, and the captain of the cricket team is said to hold the nation’s second highest position – according to the prime minister. Australian football is similar to both rugby and Irish Gaelic football. The game developed in the Melbourne area from around 1850 and is now played across the country, but few places outside Australia. Rugby is also a great sport.
In individual sports, water sports are popular, not unnatural as people mostly live on the coast. Australia is next to the United States the world’s leading swimming nation with athletes such as Dawn Fraser and Ian Thorpe, and surfing and sailing is run along the entire coast. Tennis has long traditions with names such as Margaret Court, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Ken Rosewall, and Australia has won the Davis Cup almost 30 times. Well-known Australian athletics stars are Ron Clarke, Herb Elliott and Cathy Freeman. Australians have also asserted themselves well in both car and motorcycle sports, i.e. won the Jack Brabham World Cup in Formula 1 three times. The Melbourne Cup is a world renowned event in the field of canoeing.
Australia has hosted Olympic Games twice, in Melbourne 1956 and Sydney 2000. The latter are considered the most successful ever.