World’s Smallest Continent, World’s Most Fascinating Place


By Natasha Mudie, Australia beat

Australia may not boast the largest land area in the world, but it has plenty of other things going for it. Well-known to adventure-hungry travellers all around the globe, the land Down Under has its own unique culture and remarkable attractions that make it one of the most captivating places on Earth. Mention Australia to anyone and they might conjure up images of kangaroos, the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, or maybe the untamed wilderness of the Outback. These are all incredible things exclusive to our Southern friend, but they don’t do justice against the fascinating, lesser-known features of Australian history and culture that capture its true essence – diverse, original, and totally grouse, mate!

Admit it; the history of Canada can get pretty boring sometimes. Seemingly insignificant dates and people to memorize are the bulk of it, depending on one’s interests of course. Australian history, on the other hand, is interesting and even humorous at times. For example, take Australia’s history as a colony for criminals. When the British first colonized Australia, they used it as a penal settlement. An estimated 160,000 convicts from other British colonies were sent to this new colony as punishment (although many died on the boat ride over). Here’s a fun fact: despite its origins as a convict colony, Australia’s homicide rate today is 1.2 per 100,000 people, compared to the 6.3 per 100,000 in the United States. Frankly, a history as dark and entertaining as this one would definitely make Social Studies class more tolerable.

There are a few other little pieces of interesting past worth mentioning, too. Firstly, there was a war allegedly waged against the emu population by the Australian military in 1932. Embarrassingly, they lost. Also, in 1957, Australia had a government shutdown, which ended with the Queen firing everyone and the government starting again. As well, Prime Minister Harold Holt just disappeared in 1967. No one really knows what happened to him, but most people think he drowned while swimming. And in 2005, it’s reported that security guards at Canberra’s Parliament House were banned from calling people ‘mate’. The ban lasted for one day. Speaking of Canberra, this city was actually created to become the capital of the country because Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t stop arguing over which of them deserved the title more. While these aren’t exactly the types of history found in a textbook, they reveal a significant amount about Australia’s quirky attitude that it’s famous for.

Along with distinctive history, Australia boasts a diverse, inclusive population. It is very multicultural, with Indigenous peoples and migrants from some 200 countries. Over 400 languages and dialects are spoken in Australia, including 45 different Indigenous languages. It’s also stated that a new migrant arrives in Australia every 1 minute and 29 seconds, and more than a quarter of the country’s population was born overseas. The friendly atmosphere of the island makes it an ideal place for travellers to call home, no matter what background they come from (although terrorists are usually frowned upon).

As far as natural features go, Australia is one of the most highly regarded. It contains an astounding ecosystem with unique sites including pristine rainforests, ancient rock formations and beautiful beaches. Vegetation covers nearly 7 million square kilometres, or 91% of the island. The planet’s biggest living structure, better known as the Great Barrier Reef, is found just off the North coast and attracts thousands of visitors every year. And the island’s coast holds so many beaches that if one were to visit a new beach every day, it would take 27 years to see them all! Beach bums and sun-lovers rejoice, but so do snow enthusiasts. Contrary to popular belief, it actually snows in some parts of Australia. In fact, the country receives more snow each year than Switzerland does. It’s also the only continent on the world without an active volcano, (as long as New Zealand is omitted,) so sufferers of Ifestiophobia can rest at peace.

The vast variety of species down under is just as astonishing as the landscape. More than 80% of their plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are native to Australia and found nowhere else. Aside from the typical kangaroos, emus and koalas, there are many other exclusive animals such as platypuses (or is it platypi?), kookaburras and the world’s largest man-eating crocodiles. But it’s probably more likely to spot some sheep, since their population stands at a staggering 100 million. Believe it or not, there were also issues with over-population of feral camels. Instead of declaring war on them as was done with the emus, a $19m Camel Management Program was introduced to keep the problem under control. There is no need to worry about humans over-crowding the many exotic animals that reside here, though, given that it’s the country with the world’s lowest population density. There’s plenty of room for rich ecosystems to thrive in sparsely-populated areas like the Outback, where conditions are harsh but amazing journeys are guaranteed.

Beyond doubt, it’s the wild range of allure and danger from wildlife that makes Australia’s exotic environment so enticing. Australia’s soul is full of spirit, diversity and above all, adventure. With all the matchless aspects of Australian history, culture and land, it’s no surprise that this country is one of the most sought-after destinations for wandering explorers and tourists alike.