World Cultures | Australia

Culture Name

Australian

Alternative Names

"Aussie" is a colloquialism that was used during World War I to refer to Australian-born people of British or Irish ancestry. Initially used to describe a happy-go-lucky character capable of battling through hard times, the term was employed after World War II to distinguish those born domestically from "new" immigrants from western and southern Europe. The term continues to have meaning as a label for Australians representing their country. Among some sectors of society, "Aussie" is regarded as Eurocentric and anachronistic in a nation officially committed to ethnic and racial inclusiveness.

Orientation

Identification. The name "Australia" was formally adopted and popularized in 1817 by the British governor of the colony of New South Wales. The title was suggested in 1814 and derives from the Latin terra australis incognita ("the unknown south land") which had been used by mapmakers for centuries before European colonization.

Since its days as a British colony Australia has developed a complex national culture with immigrants from many parts of the world as well as an indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. The strong sense of societal and historical distinctiveness among the different states and territories has not developed into major subcultural diversity based on geographic regions.

For much of the nation's history, there has been a focus on assimilating different cultural groups into the dominant British Australian traditions; however, in the early 1970s a more pluralist policy of multiculturalism came to prominence. In 1988, bicentennial events were promoted officially as the "celebration of a nation." A commitment was made to the idea that Australia is a collectivity of diverse peoples living in a relatively young society. However, the divisions within the nation continue to find expression in public life, arising from social differences in race, ethnicity, social class, and gender.

Location and Geography. Australia is an island continent in the Southern Hemisphere, lying between Antarctica and Asia. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the west; the Timor, Arafura, and Coral Seas to the north; the Pacific Ocean to the east; and the Tasman Sea and Southern Ocean to the south. Much of the continent is low, flat, and dry. The area of the continent is 2.97 million square miles (7.69 million square kilometers).

Although the impact of environmental variation is highly evident in the traditional cultures of indigenous Australians, it has not been as strong a factor in immigrant cultures. The most significant lifestyle differences are affected primarily by variations in climate.

Australia has six states (Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, and Queensland) and two territories (the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory), whose capital cities are, respectively, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, and Canberra. The majority of the population lives in urban areas around the coast.

The capital city, Canberra, is located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT was created in 1909, and the city of Canberra was designed by an American landscape architect in 1912. The Commonwealth Parliament relocated there from Melbourne in 1927. Canberra has a population of over 300,000 and is the largest inland city.

Demography. According to the 1986 census, the total population was just over 15.5 million. By 1992 the population had risen to 17.5 million, and

Australia

Australia

in 1996 it reached 18.3 million. In the year 2000, that number is expected to reach 19 million. In 1997, 4.3 million (23 percent) residents were born overseas. Roughly 2 percent of the population consists of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, descendants of the original inhabitants of the continent before European colonization. This sector of the population has a higher birthrate than do the others, but also has a higher mortality rate and lower life expectancy. In 1996 the population self-identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander was 372,000, probably about the same as in 1788; many of those people have both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry.

 

Linguistic Affiliation. The dominant language since colonization has been English, with little multi-lingualism among the majority population. Nevertheless, both the diverse Aboriginal groups and many immigrants continue to use languages other than English.

Before the European invasion there were around 250 Aboriginal languages, most of which probably had distinct dialects. Perhaps ninety of these languages are still spoken, with around twenty being spoken fluently by indigenous children. The decline in the use of Aboriginal languages is due to the effects of colonization. Among some Aboriginal groups, especially in parts of the north, a number of distinctive creole dialects mix Aboriginal languages with English.

Apart from indigenous languages, some twelve major community languages are spoken at home by at least fifty thousand speakers. These are, in order of the number of speakers, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, German, Vietnamese, Spanish, Polish, Macedonian, Filipino languages, and Maltese. Melbourne is the most multilingual city. Migrant groups want their languages to be maintained through government policies such as the Languages Other Than English (LOTE) program in secondary schools.

Australian English probably originated as a combination of British regional dialects used by groups of convicts and others who came to the colonies. Australian English is different from British and American English but does not vary much regionally. Various social factors affect accent and style, including social class, education, gender (women tend to use the cultivated variety more than men do), and age.

Symbolism. The flag is dark blue with the British Union Jack in the upper left corner, the seven– pointed white Commonwealth star below the Union Jack, and to the right five white stars representing the Southern Cross constellation. The national animal emblem is the kangaroo, the floral emblem is the golden wattle tree, and the national colors are green and gold. The national coat of arms is a shield supported by a kangaroo and an emu amid branches of wattle. Until 1984 the national anthem was the British "God Save the Queen," but it was changed to "Advance Australia Fair" as part of a movement toward asserting greater separation from the legacy of the colonial power.

These formal symbols have assisted in the establishment of a national consciousness. A highly symbolic national event held annually is Anzac Day which marks the landing and subsequent gallant defeat of Australian troops at Gallipoli during World War I. Throughout the country war memorials and monuments acknowledge the achievements and sacrifices made by Australians in that and other wars.

Flora and fauna native to the continent, such as the kangaroo, koala, emu, and wattle, are symbols of the national ethos, especially in international and national contexts, although this is also the case for unique buildings such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The beach is recognized as a symbol of the national culture.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Australian began as a British penal colony in the eighteenth century, and its national character has formed predominantly through the mechanisms of immigration and race relations. Other factors that have shaped the national culture include the early small female population relative to that of men, which is said to have laid the foundations for a widespread ideology of mateship. The involvement of Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) troops in World War I has been characterized as the symbolic birth of the nation.

A further impetus for the formation of a national culture was the myth of the rural bushman, which developed around early phases of the historical establishment of pastoral and agricultural industries. The "bush" mythology has continued to influence conceptions of the national character despite the fact that the population has always been concentrated in urban coastal centers. The relatively sunny climate has facilitated an image of a sporting, outdoor, beach-loving culture represented by images such as the bronzed Aussie surfer.

National Identity. After the invasion in 1788 by British colonists, the indigenous population was dominated by force. Aboriginal societies across the continent experienced violence and disease. After colonization a general history of discrimination and racism was mixed with a range of more benevolent policies. Of lasting effect was the policy of assimilating Aboriginal people into the mainstream culture. The historical stress on assimilation had its most dramatic impact on the children of mixed Aboriginal–European descent who, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, were taken from their Aboriginal parents so that they could be "civilized" and raised in "white" society. These individuals have become known collectively as the "stolen generations" and public acknowledgment of their plight is an important part of the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and other Australians.

The ideology of assimilation permeated relations not only with the indigenous population but also with immigrants. The early British Protestant

The Sydney Opera House, one of the most readily recognized buildings in Australia.

colonists were bolstered by the arrival of Irish Catholic settlers who eventually (through their involvement in the development of a Catholic education system and their representation in government) became incorporated into the dominant cultural group. Since that time Australia has been defined as an Anglo-fragment society in which British or Anglo-Celtic culture was and remains dominant. However, immigration over the last two centuries has created a nation that is among the most culturally diverse in the world.

 

The intergenerational reproduction of minority ethnic identities has produced a national culture that is multicultural, polyethnic, and cosmopolitan. Since the 1970s this diversity has been encouraged through progressive equity legislation that promotes recognition of difference and tolerance of diversity. Nevertheless, multicultural policy has been dominated by a culturalist philosophy in which linguistic and lifestyle (food, dress) diversity has been recognized more readily than have the structural economic difficulties of some immigrant groups. Despite the focus on cultural diversity, the Anglo-Celtic heritage continues to dominate most institutional aspects of society, including the media, the legal system, public education, and the system of health care.

Ethnic Relations. The first migrants were Chinese, attracted by the 1850s and 1860s gold rushes. Fear of miscegenation and xenophobia and the consequent race riots resulted in restrictive legislation against the importation of Pacific and Chinese labor. However, immigration was viewed as important; a well known catch phrase was "populate or perish," reflecting the rationale that population growth would aid both defense and economic development.

The Federation of States in 1901 coincided with the implementation of one of the most influential governmental policies affecting the development of the national culture: The Immigration Restriction Act. This "White Australia Policy" was aimed primarily at combating the perceived "yellow peril" represented by immigrants from neighboring Asian countries. Throughout much of the twentieth century, migrants were selected according to a hierarchy of desirability that was broadened as preferred sources dried up. The British were always at the top of the list, and a number of government subsidies and settlement schemes were implemented to encourage their immigration.

Immigration thus can be defined as a series of waves, with the British dominating until the 1940s, followed by northern Europeans (including displaced persons from World War I), southern Europeans (predominantly in the post–World War II period), and eventually, after the White Australia Policy was abandoned in 1972, Asians. Immigration has declined since the 1980s, and it is now difficult to gain entry. The number of migrants has become an issue of debate, particularly in regard to uninvited refugees.

Australia's long history of immigration and the increasing ethnic diversity of its population have spurred debates about the definition of an Australian. Many Aboriginal and Asian citizens still experience a sense of alienation and exclusion from acceptance as "real" Aussies and in difficult economic times often become political and social scapegoats. However, concerted efforts have been made to present these groups in a positive and inclusive light.

New Zealand is the national culture related most closely to Australia. New Zealanders have special entry rights, and there have been large population flows in both directions. Australians and New Zealanders compete energetically in areas such as sport but cooperate closely in international relations.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

There has always been a high concentration of urban and suburban dwellers, partly because the harsh physical environment has encouraged people to remain close to the fertile coastal areas. In 1991, 70 percent of Australians lived in thirteen cities that had more than 100,000 people and 39 percent of the population lived in Sydney and Melbourne. Notions of national identity have long been framed around a distinction between the city and the bush, with urban and rural dwellers articulating different economic and social interests.

The cities are characterized by low–density housing and dependence on private cars. In recent decades there has been increased inner–city redevelopment aimed at attracting locals and tourists to central public shopping and recreational areas.

Across cities and towns, significant icons in public spaces include war memorials, sporting grounds, and prominent structures such as the new Parliament House in Canberra. Also of great importance are the "natural" icons such as Uluru, a huge sandstone monolith in Central Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches down the east coast of northern Queensland. Major development projects are celebrated as national achievements, especially the Snowy Mountains and Ord River schemes, which were constructed from the 1950s to the 1970s to bring irrigated water to agricultural areas. The Snowy Mountains project generates hydroelectric power and is regarded as the nation's greatest engineering feat.

Personal home ownership is a common goal, and the nation has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. In recent decades homes have become larger with more bedrooms and bathrooms, designs have created greater internal spaciousness, and more elaborate fittings and household possessions have been obtained. The quality of private dwellings, however, varies considerably with a household's level of income. Since the 1960s housing has been more diverse in style and size, but the conventional single–story separate house remains predominant.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Before colonization, Aboriginal peoples were sustained by a diverse range of flora and fauna. The early settlers primarily consumed meat (at first native animals, later beef and mutton), bread, and vegetables, particularly potatoes.

Nearly all regularly eaten foods—except seafood—were introduced after European settlement. However, there have been considerable changes in food preference patterns. In the 1940s meat consumption began to decline, poultry consumption increased dramatically after the 1960s, and there has been a doubling of seafood consumption since the 1930s, in addition to a steady increase in fruit and vegetable consumption since the 1950s.

Since World War II the diet has become highly diversified. Each wave of immigrants has had an impact, including German, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Jewish, and Southeast Asian foods and cooking styles. Olive and vegetable oils have replaced dripping and lard, and items such as garlic and Asian condiments are used more commonly.

Australian chefs are known worldwide for their "fusion cuisine," a blending of European cooking traditions with Asian flavors and products. Nevertheless, certain foods are recognized as national emblems, including Vegemite (a yeast extract spread), Milo (a powdered base for chocolate milk drinks), Anzac biscuits (oat biscuits sent to soldiers in World War I), and damper (a wheat flour-based loaf traditionally cooked in the ashes of a fire by settlers).

Australians are among the world leaders in fast-food consumption. Burger and chicken chain stores are prominent in the suburbs, having displaced the traditional meat pies and fish and chips. While Australians were long known as tea drinkers, coffee and wine have become increasingly popular.

A shearer cuts the wool from a sheep in Stawell, Victoria.

Before World War II Australians drank about twenty times more beer than wine; beer consumption remains high, but wine drinking has increased at a much greater rate, and the country has become a significant exporter of wine.

 

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. No foods are reserved for special occasions, although the religious traditions of some ethnic groups include ceremonial foods. Easter and Christmas are observed by most of the population. Christmas usually is celebrated as it is in Britain, with roast turkey, ham, and roast vegetables followed by a steamed fruit pudding. However, there is an increasing tendency for Christmas to involve a light seafood meal, and barbecues are becoming popular as well. Instead of pudding, many people have ice cream cakes or cold desserts such as pavlova (made from egg whites and sugar). Some people celebrate "Christmas in July," using the coldest month of the year to enjoy the hot dinner of a traditional Christmas.

Special meals are eaten among ethnic groups to celebrate Easter or Passover. Molded chocolate products (Easter eggs) are given to children at this time.

Basic Economy. After forty years of settlement, when there was little scope for industrial or commercial enterprises, the pastoral industry became a key force in economic development. In particular, growth in the wool industry was associated with advances in the rest of the economy. Gold surpassed wool as the nation's major export in the 1850s and 1860s, resulting in a rapid expansion of banking and commerce.

From federation until 1930 there was some expansion in manufacturing industries, and with the onset of World War II, the manufacturing sector was developed to respond to the demand for war materials and equipment. Some industries expanded and new ones were developed rapidly to produce munitions, ships, aircraft, machinery, chemicals, and textiles.

After the war exports consisted mainly of primary commodities such as wool, wheat, coal, and metals. High tariffs and other controls were imposed on most imported goods. Although many of those controls were lifted in the 1960s, effective rates of protection remained high. The government continues to be involved in the operation of some public enterprises, including railways, electricity, and post offices and telecommunications. There remains a government interest in the Commonwealth Bank.

A move toward privatization at the state and commonwealth levels of government has been gaining momentum since the early 1980s. Some states, such as Victoria, have embraced this move much more than others have. Australia is highly integrated into the global capitalist economy. Since World War II, much trade has been redirected from Britain and Europe to the Asia-Pacific region, especially Japan. A related trend has been the growth of mineral exports since the mid–1960s.

Land Tenure and Property. When the British took control of the continent in 1788, they deemed it terra nullius (land that was not owned). According to British law all Australian land was the property of the Crown. In the last two decades of the eighteenth century, land grants were made to emancipated convicts, free settlers, marines, and officers. Land was available to anyone prepared to employ and feed the convicts who were assigned to it as servants. In 1825 sale of land by private tender was introduced.

Land is held as freehold (privately owned through purchase), leasehold (pastoralists and others are given special usage rights for a specified numbers of years), national parks, and Crown Land, which effectively remains under the control of the government. In 1992 a new form of rights in land was legally recognized—"native title"—as a form of continuing Aboriginal and islander connection with the land. To the extent that a system of indigenous customary law can be shown to have continued from the time of European establishment of sovereignty, these groups can make claims to their traditional lands.

Commercial Activities. The economy is strong in the service sector in relation to goods-producing industries. Those industries, including agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing, construction, and energy, contributed around 31 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) during the mid-1990s, while the services industries contributed 60 percent. Goods-producing industries provided around a quarter of employment, with the rest provided by service industries.

Service industries include distribution industries (wholesale trade, retail trade, accommodation, cafés and restaurants, and transport and storage) and communication and business services (communications, finance and insurance, and property services). Other service industries are government administration and defense, education, health and community services, and cultural and recreational services.

Major Industries. In 1996 and 1997, manufacturing was the most significant sector. Wholesale trade was the only other industry to contribute over 10 percent of GDP, manufacturing accounted for 12 percent of total employment, behind retail at 15 percent. Another major contributor was the property and business services industry. Primary industries in mining and agriculture are of key economic importance. The development of large mines in some remote regions has been associated with the establishment of towns and increased employment.

Trade. In order of economic significance, Australia's current major trading partners include the United States, Japan, China, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of wool, meat, and wheat and a major supplier of sugar, dairy products, fruits, cotton, and rice.

Major imports include passenger motor vehicles, telecommunications equipment, and crude petroleum oils.

Division of Labor. There has been considerable upward socioeconomic mobility, but there is some inequality in the distribution of work. Unemployment has been a problem in recent years, and for some people only part-time or casual employment is available. Youth unemployment is a major problem in some regions.

Australia is increasingly shifting toward an information economy that relies on a high-skill base. Thus, the workers most at risk of unemployment are laborers, factory workers, and those who learn their skills on the job. Highly skilled managers, medical practitioners, teachers, computer professionals, and electricians have the lowest risk of unemployment.

There has been a widening gap between rich and poor over the past fifteen to twenty years and the household income gap between the poorest and richest neighborhoods has grown considerably. A substantial number of people live below the poverty line.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The three main social classes are the working class, the middle class, and the upper class, but the boundaries between these groups are a matter of debate. The wealthiest 5 to 10 percent are usually regarded as upper class, with their wealth derived from ownership and control of property and capital. The growing middle class is defined as individuals with nonmanual occupations.

Nonmanual workers typically earn more than manual workers, although upper-level manual workers such as tradespeople earn more than those in sales and personal service positions. The professions, which include such occupations as accountants, computing specialists, engineers, and medical doctors, have been one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Since the 1980s the number of manual workers has been in decline.

Manual workers form the nucleus of the working class; 20 to 40 percent self-identify with this category. Class consciousness includes the acknowledgment of class divisions, but there is also a broad commitment to an ethic of egalitarianism. Australians commonly believe that socioeconomic mobility is possible and exhibit a basic tolerance and acceptance of inequality associated with social class.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The upper-class can be signified by expensive clothes, motor vehicles, and homes. In particular, the economic value of housing and other real estate properties varies greatly across different suburbs in all cities.

However, class is not always evident from clothes, cars, and living circumstances. Middle-class people from economically wealthy backgrounds

An Australian aborigine wears traditional face and body paints and plays a didgeridoo for tourists and commuters at Circular Quay.

may mask their prosperity according to fashion, choice, or participation in particular subcultures. Young people such as students may dress to mimic imagined styles valued for their symbolic rejection of wealth, and some working-class families go into debt to purchase expensive cars and other commodities.

 

Patterns of speech, consumption patterns associated with entertainment and the arts, and participation in certain sports may be useful indicators of class.

Political Life

Government. Australia is a parliamentary democracy based on the British system of government. Federal, state, and territorial elections are held every three or four years. Voting is compulsory at the federal and state levels but not at the local government level. There are two houses of the federal and state parliaments except in Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory.

Core features of the political party system derive from early twentieth-century arrangements that followed the federation of the states into a commonwealth. There are two major political parties: the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party. The National Party (formerly the Country Party) allies itself with the conservative Liberal Party. The other large political parties are the Australian Democrats and the Green Party.

Since federation, the constitution has been changed only reluctantly through referenda. In 1999 there was a vote rejecting the proposition that Australia become a republic, ceasing to have an office of governor-general as a representative of the British monarch and thus as the titular head of state. Some argue that the society is already a de facto republic since the constitution has entrenched the primacy of popular sovereignty. The British Union Jack on the flag is for some people an acknowledgment of historical ties with Britain, while for others it is a reason to change the constitution to emphasize the independence of the nation.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are three levels of government leadership: the prime minister in the federal government, the state premiers, and the mayors in local government. All officials are elected democratically. At the federal level the governor-general is appointed by the government, as are governors at the state level. Federal and state/territorial governments operate through departments that are organized bureaucratically

An opal miner working in a field near the South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy. Mining is one of the most important industries in Australia.

and hierarchically. High-ranking officials are important in the administration of policies and laws.

 

Social Problems and Control. In the legal system authority is divided between states and territories and the commonwealth. The judicial system is based on the common law of England. The criminal justice system consists of the state and commonwealth agencies and departments responsible for dealing with crime and related issues. The federal criminal justice system deals with offenses against commonwealth laws, and the state systems deal with offenses against state laws. Criminal law is administered mainly through the commonwealth, state, and territorial police forces; the National Crime Authority; and the state and territorial corrective or penal services. Crimes such as stealing are more common than crimes against individuals, such as assault.

Military Activity. The defense forces operate according to three basic priorities: defeating attacks from outside the country, defending the nation's regional interests, and supporting a global security environment that discourages international aggression. Australia has a volunteer army reserve but no national service requirement. There is a navy, an army, and an air force. Twelve percent of regular service positions are held by women.

The nation's strategic stance is broadly defensive, with the expectation that armed force will be used only to defend national interests. The Defence Force has been called on frequently, to assist in international security and humanitarian crises in the Middle East, Namibia, and Cambodia as well as in humanitarian crises in Somalia and Rwanda. The most recent military activity has been peacekeeping in East Timor. The Defence Force also has played a key role in responding to major floods and fires, and its services are called on in search and rescue missions.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The approach to social welfare is based on the notions of "a fair go" for all and egalitarianism. Since the 1970s, legislation has promoted equity and equal access to services for all citizens, often to improve the chances of the disadvantaged. This history of helping "the battler" has been challenged by notions of economic rationalism.

Pertinent social welfare issues include rising unemployment, an aging population, child care, assisting people from diverse cultural backgrounds, assisting people in remote areas, and poverty. Approximately two million people live below the poverty line.

A host of social welfare provisions have been enacted throughout the nation's history. Australia was one of the first countries to give women the vote. It also was the first country to legislate a forty-hour working week (in 1948).

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The government maintains continuing relationships with many large and small Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are active in human rights and community services (Amnesty International, Australian Red Cross, Defense for Children International, and International Women's Development Agency). NGOs provide relevant needs-based community services and welfare and promote changes in government policies and activities. Most not-for-profit NGOs were created by religious organizations to meet perceived needs or by community members to deal with a specific problem (Salvation Army, Brotherhood of Saint Lawrence, Care Australia). The government encourages the existence of charitable NGOs through tax exemptions and liberal laws of association and incorporation. Often, NGOs are established in response to immediate or emergency social problems. The government will intervene when resources are not being used efficiently and when services are being duplicated.

NGOs, particularly those in the nonprofit sector, are major providers of welfare services and significant contributors in the health, education, sport, recreation, entertainment, and finance industries. The bulk of their revenue comes from government grants, private donations, and service fees.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. British ideas and practices involving gender were imported with colonization. Women tend to be associated with the private sphere, unpaid work, and the home, while men tend to be associated with the public sphere, paid work, and the larger society. This division was particularly pronounced in the early years of settlement, when free settler women were seen as homemakers who brought civility to the male population. Migrant women have been valued for their ability to create settled families and generally have entered the country as dependents.

Traditionally, occupation has been sex-segregated, with women predominating as domestics and in the "caring professions," such as teaching and nursing. However, sex discrimination and affirmative action policy since the late 1970s has been directed toward promoting gender equality in all spheres. As a consequence, there have been increases in women's participation in secondary and higher education as well as in the general workforce and an increase in the availability of child care.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Many areas of social, economic, political, and religious life remain gendered, generally to the disadvantage of women. Women are underrepresented in scientific occupations, managerial positions, and the professions and overrepresented in administrative and clerical positions. Women earn on average less than men do and spend more time than men doing unpaid domestic work.

Women's right to vote in federal elections was included in the constitution of 1901. Nevertheless, the progress of women in entering public office was

A traditional pearling lugger is loaded with supplies at Streeter's Jetty.

slow. In 1995 women's representation in local, state and federal government was around 20 percent. Although women are more likely to spend time on religious activities than men, the majority of religious ministers are male.

 

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Most heterosexual couples marry for love and to confirm a long-term emotional, financial, and sexual commitment. Arranged marriages occur in some ethnic groups, but are not considered desirable by most people. Marriage is not essential for a cohabiting relationship or child rearing, but nearly 60 percent of people over fifteen years of age are married. The law grants members of de facto relationships legal rights and responsibilities equivalent to those of formally married couples. Homosexual couples are not recognized by law as married regardless of a long-term relationship. Marriage occurs with a civil or religious ceremony conducted by a registered official and can take place in any public or private location. The ceremony usually is followed by a celebration with food, drink, and music. Guests provide gifts of household goods or money, and the parents of the couple often make substantial contributions to the cost of the wedding. No other official exchange of property occurs.

Divorce has been readily available since 1975 and involves little stigma. It requires a one-year separation period and occurs in approximately 40 percent of first marriages. Upon divorce, the husband and wife agree to divide their mutual property and child-rearing responsibilities; law courts and mediators sometimes to assist with this process. Remarriage is common and accepted. A significant trend in family formation is a dramatic increase in the proportion of marriages preceded by a period of cohabitation.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is widely considered the norm; the most common household unit in the 1996 census was the couple, followed closely by the couple with dependent children, then the one-parent family with dependent children, the couple with nondependent children, and other family groups.

A pervasive myth is that the extended family does not exist and that society is composed of nuclear families cut off from extended kin. While most people live in couple-only or nuclear family households, the extended family is an important source of support for most people. Blended families and stepfamilies with children from former marriages are becoming more common.

Inheritance. Citizens have "testamentary freedom" or the right to declare how they wish their property to be distributed after death. With this freedom, individuals can legally enforce their cultural practices. They also can choose to remove relatives from the will and pass their property to a charitable organization or an unrelated person. If an individual dies without a valid will, the property is distributed to the spouse, then the children of the deceased, and then the parents and other kin. If there are no relatives, the property goes to the Crown.

Kin Groups. Broad kin groups are not a significant feature of the national culture, but extended families exist across households and are the basis for emotional, financial, and social support. Many minority ethnic groups recognize kin networks of considerable breadth. Aboriginal cultures encompass principles of traditional kinship in which large networks of relatives form the significant communities of everyday life.

Socialization

Infant Care. Child rearing varies considerably with the country of origin, class background, the education and occupation of the parents, and the religious group to which a family belongs. While most practices are aimed at developing a responsible and independent child, Aboriginal and many migrant families tend to indulge young children more than do most Anglo-Celtic parents. Some ethnic groups supervise their young more strictly than the dominant Anglo-Celtic population, encouraging them to mix only with family and friends, be dependent on the family, and leave decision making to the parents.

Child Rearing and Education. Mothers are the preferred primary caretakers, although fathers are taking increasing responsibility for child care. In the past mothers were not as isolated in their child care responsibilities, receiving help from older children, extended kin, and neighbors. The reduction in family and household size in recent years has meant that the burden of care falls largely on mothers. There is significant variation in ideas about good parenting, reflecting the diverse cultural values and traditions of parents' ethnic background. Practices justified by recent scientific research usually are considered the best. In the past the values most prized in children were obedience and deference, but today good parenting is commonly associated with having assertive and independent children. There are no formal initiation ceremonies for the "national culture," although the twenty-first birthday often is celebrated as a rite of passage into adulthood.

Access to high-quality education is considered the right of all citizens, and the government provides compulsory primary and secondary schooling for children between ages six and fifteen. Most schools are fully funded by the government. The remainder are nongovernment schools that receive nearly half their funding from fees and private sources such as religious associations. Attendance at nongovernment schools has been increasing since the 1970s because it is felt that independent schooling provides better educational and employment opportunities. Preschool centers are available for children younger than age six. Nongovernment schools are mainly Catholic. Education is aimed at providing children with social and workplace skills. Educational methods vary depending on particular requirements; for example, education for children in remote rural locations relies heavily on advanced communication technologies. Guidelines have been established in all states for dealing with children with special educational needs, such as those with disabilities and those who are intellectually gifted. Some schools with a high percentage of Aboriginal and/or migrant pupils have special language policies that include instruction in languages other than English.

Higher Education. Higher education is considered to offer the best employment opportunities. Consequently, tertiary education has become more widely available and is undertaken by an increasingly larger proportion of the population. It is available in two forms: universities and institutions of technical and further education (TAFE). In 1992, 37 percent of women and 47 percent of men received post-school qualifications, and 12.3 percent of the labor force held university degrees in 1993. Universities also attract substantial numbers of overseas students. The government is responsible for funding most universities and institutions, with increasing contributions being made by students in the form of fees and postgraduation tax payments.

Etiquette

A predominant image among Australians is that they are very casual, easygoing, and familiar. First names are used commonly as terms of address. An ideology of egalitarianism pervades, with men, women, and children treated similarly. Attempts at appearing superior to others in terms of dress, manners, knowledge, and the work ethic are discouraged. A handshake is the most common way to greet a new acquaintance, and a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or a verbal greeting the most common way to greet a friend. The colloquialism, "g'day" (good day), is considered the quintessential greeting.

There is an easy friendliness in public places. Personal privacy is respected and staring is discouraged, although eye contact is not avoided. Eye contact during conversation is considered polite among the general population; averting the eyes during conversation is considered a sign of respect among Aboriginal people. When a line is forming, new arrivals must go to the end. In museums and exhibitions voices are hushed. In performance contexts the audience is expected to be silent and attentive. Service attendants consider themselves equal to their guests, and usually are not subservient. Australians also resist being "served." Food may be eaten in the street, but meals usually are eaten at a table, with each person having his or her own plate and eating utensils. Bodily functions are considered inevitable but are not discussed or performed in public.

Religion

Religious Beliefs. The constitution guarantees religious freedom, and while there is no official national religion, Australia generally is described as a Christian country. British colonists brought the Anglican belief system in 1788, and three-quarters of the population continues to identify with some form of Christianity, predominantly the Catholic and Anglican faiths. Until recently almost all businesses closed for Christian religious holidays.

Extensive immigration has made Australia one of the most religiously diverse societies in the world. Almost all faiths are represented, with significant numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Hindus. Many indigenous Australians have embraced Christianity, often as a result of their contact with missionaries and missions.

Religious alternatives such as spiritualism and Theosophy have had a small but steady presence since the 1850s. A growing set of beliefs is represented by the so-called New Age movement, which arrived in the 1960s and evolved into the widespread alternative health and spirituality movement of the 1990s. This has opened the way for an interest in paganism and other aspects of the occult among a minority of citizens.

Religious Practitioners. There has been an increase in lay religious practitioners in the Christian churches in recent times as a result of decrease in the number of people entering the clergy. Most religious institutions are hierarchical in structure. Religious specialists participate in pastoral care, parish administration, and fund-raising for missions. Many also maintain a host of institutions that deal with education, aged care, family services, immigration, health, youth, and prisoner rehabilitation.

Rituals and Holy Places. Every religious denomination has its own places of worship, and most expect their followers to attend religious services regularly. There has been a decline in regular church attendance among the younger generation of Christians, who tend to be critical of church policy and practice. Places of worship are considered sacred and include locations that hold spiritual significance for believers. Among certain ethnic groups shrines are established in places where saints are said to have appeared. There are many Aboriginal sacred sites, which are generally places in the landscape.

Death and the Afterlife. The law requires that deceased people be dealt with according to health regulations. A vigil over the body in the family home is practiced in some religious and cultural traditions. Funeral parlors prepare the body of the deceased for cremation or burial in a cemetery. Funerals are attended by family members and friends and often include a religious ceremony.

Medicine and Health Care

Most medical health care is subsidized or paid for by the government, for which a small levy is paid by all citizens. Public hospitals often provide free services. People can select a private general practitioner, usually in their neighborhood. The general practitioner provides referrals to specialist doctors where necessary, and payment is usually on a feefor-service basis. Health professionals may work privately or in a hospital setting. In recent years there has been an attempt to increase the level of private health insurance coverage among citizens.

Prevention of illness is a high priority of the government, with several programs such as vaccination, public health warnings about smoking and AIDS, public education campaigns on nutrition and exercise, and public awareness campaigns regarding heavy drinking and illicit drugs. Individuals are held to be responsible for their own health problems, and most investment goes to individually oriented, high-technology curative medicine. In the 1970s community health centers were established to focus on groups with special needs, such as women, migrants, and Aboriginal people. These centers provide more holistic care by addressing personal and social problems as well as health conditions.

Increasing numbers of people combine Western medicine with traditional and New Age practices. This may include Chinese herbalists, iridology, and homeopathic medicine. These alternative forms of medical treatment generally are not subsidized by the government.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides emergency medical assistance to those in remote areas. It was founded in 1928 and is funded by government and public donations. The service also provides emergency assistance during floods and fires.

Secular Celebrations

Probably the most significant national secular celebration is Anzac Day on 25 April. This is a public holiday that commemorates the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps landing at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. However, the event now encompasses participants in all wars in which Australia has been involved. Dawn services are held at war memorials and there are well-attended street parades. On Remembrance Day (11 November), which is not a public holiday, a two-minute silence is observed in remembrance of Australians who fought and died in wars.

Australia Day is celebrated on 26 January to commemorate British settlement, and many capital cities host a fireworks event. Boxing Day occurs on 26 December. The Boxing Day cricket test match is an annual event watched on television by many residents. The day also is treated as an opportunity to extend Christmas socializing, with many barbecues taking place in public parks or at private homes.

Labour Day is a public holiday to commemorate improved working conditions and the implementation of the eight-hour workday. It is celebrated at different times of the year in different states. A significant celebration occurs on Melbourne Cup Day, an annual horse-racing event in Melbourne. Many people attending the race dress formally, and employees in workplaces gather to watch the event on television.

New Year's Day and New Year's Eve are celebrated. Royal Easter Shows and Royal Show Days with annual agricultural shows are held in capital cities with exhibits, competitions, and sideshows highlighting the rural tradition. On Grand Final Days, the annual finals to the national Australian Rules and Rugby League football competitions, large crowds gather to watch the game and friends congregate to watch it on television in homes and public bars. Most states have public holidays to commemorate the founding of the first local colony, and there are annual arts festivals that attract local, national, and international artists as well as multicultural festivals. Some states have wine festivals.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Most people who participate in the arts depend on other professions for their primary income. Full-time arts practitioners are usually highly dependent on government funding. The sale of work in graphic arts, multimedia, and literature earns a substantial income for many practitioners, while the performance arts, in particular dance, do not tend to generate enough income to cover their costs. The Australia Council funds artistic activity, provides incomes to arts workers and projects, and is the primary source of income for dance and theater. The film and television industries receive substantial government support and tax incentives. There is government funding for schools of the performing arts. Approximately 10 percent of large businesses provide some form of support or funding to the arts or cultural events.

Literature. Since the 1890s a national literature has been developing with a distinctly Australian voice. This tradition, which is focused largely on the bush as a mythic place in the Australian imagination, has been challenged recently by a new suburban focus for literature. Increasingly, Aboriginal and other authors from diverse cultural backgrounds are having work published and appreciated. Australian authors have won many international awards, and Australians are claimed to be one of the leading nations in per capita spending on books and magazines.

Graphic Arts. Painting was dominated by the European tradition for many years, with landscapes painted to resemble their European counterparts until at least 1850. The Heidelberg school was influential in the late nineteenth century. Social-realist images of immigrants and the working class were favored as more "Australian" by 1950. Since 1945, images of the isolated outback have been popularized by artists such as Russell Drysdale and Sydney Nolan. Aboriginal artists were acknowledged in 1989 with a comprehensive display of their art in the Australian National Gallery. Their work is becoming increasingly successful internationally.

Performance Arts. Each state capital has at least one major performing arts venue. Playwrights have been successful in presenting Australian society to theatergoers. Indigenous performance has been supported by a number of theater and dance companies since the early 1980s. Women's theater achieved a high level of attention during the 1980s. The styles of music, dance, drama, and oratory vary significantly, reflecting the multicultural mix of the society. Annual festivals of arts in the states showcase local and international work and are well attended, in particular by the well educated and the wealthy.

Music styles range from classical and symphonic to rock, pop, and alternative styles. Music is the most popular performance art, attracting large audiences. Pop music is more successful than symphony and chamber music. Many Australian pop musicians have had international success. Comedy and cabaret also attract large audiences and appear to have a large talent pool. Ballet is popular, with over twenty-five hundred schools in the early 1990s. The Australian Ballet, founded in 1962, enjoys a good international reputation.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The sciences are well served in a number of leading fields, including astronomy, chemistry, medicine, and engineering. Funding is provided by a combination of government and industry. Most universities provide scientific programs. The social sciences are not as well funded mainly because they tend not to produce marketable outcomes. Nevertheless, there is a strong representation in disciplines such as psychology, history, economics, sociology, and anthropology in universities. Social scientists work both in their own country and overseas. There is a tradition of social scientists from certain disciplinary backgrounds working in government and social welfare organizations.

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Web Sites

ABS 1999 Australian Bureau of Statistics Web page. Australia Now—A Statistical Profile. http://www.statistics.gov.au/websitedbs .

—L ORETTA B ALDASSAR AND D AVID S. T RIGGER

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