Living in the outback
The outback is the Australian word for areas of bush and land far away from large towns and cities. When we think of Australia, we automatically think of kangaroos jumping around the outback, but the larger part of Australia’s 21.75 million people live in the cities. This means that the rest have a lot of room for themselves and live far apart.
The outback is Australia’s dry, open countryside. Farmers there raise cattle or sheep. But they need huge areas to get enough food for their animals because the country is so dry and hot. Some of the biggest farms (or stations as they’re called in Australia) cover more than 2,600 square km – that’s about the size of Luxembourg! The next farm or village can be 200 km away. So things like hospitals and schools can be hundreds of kilometres away and because of this both The Flying Doctors Service and The School of the Air exist.
If someone on a station in the outback gets ill, you can’t just call for the doctor. That’s why The Flying Doctors(officially called ‘The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia’) started in 1928. If there’s an accident and somebody is in danger, the doctors come by plane and bring the patients to a hospital. People can also get medical advice by phone and via computers.
The School of the Air started in 1951 and offers education to children who live on farms in the outback and can’t travel to a normal school every day because it’s just too far away. Some live 1,000 km away from the nearest school! So they learn at home. This sounds nice, but they have to work just as hard as other students. The School of the Air sends them their lessons by computer. They get class lessons every day and also some time for personal lessons where they can talk to their teacher. In the past, the pupils did this by radio, but today they use computers and the Internet. So they do their tasks and send them by e-mail. They also get visits from a teacher and sometimes pupils come together for events like sport competitions. 15 percent of the children educated this way are Aboriginal children. The School of the Air is only for primary school children from ages 4 to 13. For secondary school education they have to go boarding schools.
While out in the outback, you will see many interesting road signs that ask you to watch out for animals that may cross the road like kangaroos, or warn you about long vehicles you may see on the road. They’re called Road Trains because they can be 50 metres long!
Many tourists find this funny and take photographs of them. You can also see these signs on popular postcards from Australia.
Many people often joke that sport is the unofficial religion of Australia! Team sports and water sports are very popular.
A very special Australian sport is Aussie Rules. It’s like rugby or American football and can be quite violent. There are two teams with 18 players on each team. It’s played on an oval field with an oval ball. Players can catch the ball in their hand or kick it. When a player kicks the ball between the centre posts, it’s a goal or six points. When the ball is put between the outside posts, it’s a behind – or only point.
Football, rugby and cricket are very popular too and have lots of spectators. Cricket is played in summer, rugby in winter. There is great rivalry between the Australian teams and the English ones. Australia usually beats England at cricket and rugby. But in 2003, when the Rugby World Cup was in Australia, England was the winner.
The Olympic Games in 2000 took place in Sydney. And Australian sportsmen and women were very successful, for example in swimming. Ian Thorpe won three gold and two silver medals in Sydney, and two gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal four years later in Athens.
Some of the best golfers and tennis players come from Australia. Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur are the most famous Australian tennis players and among the best in the world.
Aboriginal paintings and art from Australia have become more and more famous. In lots of cities and also small towns you can find Aboriginal art galleries and art projects. The paintings usually deal with nature a lot and tell stories about Aboriginal legends. Most of it is dot art: the pictures are made up of thousands of small dots. This symbolizes how the world is made up of small elements that are all connected to one another.
Australians speak English, of course, but have some of their own phrases and slang.
For example, someone will say G’day! when you see them which is short for Good day. If there is a problem, they may say Oh crikey, but as Australians are very relaxed people, they will probably say No worries mate! This means that the problem isn’t anything to worry about. If they aren’t happy about it, then they will probably call it daggy, which is another way of saying uncool. Mate means friend, mainly for men. Everyone in Australia is mate, so they often say G’day mate or Thanks mate.
Australians like to make words shorter, for example a cup of tea or coffee becomes a cuppa, barbecue becomes barbie, Australian becomes Aussie, football becomes footy, kangaroo becomes roo, afternoon becomes arvo. So a conversation might sound like this:
Most Australian slang words relate to animals, idiots, and – of course! – beer. A slab is a cartoon of 24 beer cans, a tinnie is a can of beer, a stubby a small bottle of beer.
Australia has given us many famous people, from sportsmen to actors and musicians.
You’ll surely know Mel Gibson from his films Lethal Weapon, Braveheart or Mad Max. Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential, Gladiator, Master and Commander), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain, The Dark Knight, The Patriot) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men Series, Australia, Kate and Leopold) are successful Australian actors too. And don’t forget the women: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge, Australia, Cold Mountain, Days of Thunder) and Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings, The Missing, Indiana Jones). Sometimes people make a mistake and think they are Americans! Australian music also has many stars, particularly famous is Kylie Minogue, and not just in pop music, but also in classical and Australian folk music too. She began her career as an actress on Neighbours (Australia’s famous soap opera) before she became a singer.
Many Australian sportsmen and women are also famous, because they have been very successful in competitions like the Olympics. Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur are famous tennis players and Ian Thorpe was a very successful swimmer. He won five Olympic gold medals – the most any Australian athlete has ever won.
Australia is very rich in culture. The millions of settlers from countries around the world brought their cultures with them, which has made Australia the multicultural country it is today. Australians are known for their friendliness and welcome millions of visitors a year to their home country wishing to experience the beautiful beaches, see the amazing Australian animals and enjoy the famous Australian beer!