Australians — People of Australia Who are Australians?
The people of Australia are called Australians. Their general cultural outlook is Western (similar to that of the United Kingdom and the USA) which has evolved over the years into a uniquely Australian cultural identity.
Australia today is a multicultural society composed of different ethnic groups who originated from over 200 countries around the world. They live in a harmonious multi-racial multi-ethnic society that respects the cultures, religions, and customs of all its citizens.
Australians are friendly, generally optimistic, outgoing and confident. They love their sports, family barbecues and the beach. Most Australians live in large cities along the coast.
Related Article: Australia Facts, Description, People, Things To Do
Population of Australia How Many People Live in Australia?
The population of Australia is approximately 24.5 million people and grows at a rate of roughly 380,000 people per year (1.3% annually). The country is one of the least populated places on earth. There are fewer people in all of Australia than in a city such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta or New Delhi. There are only 3 people per square kilometre. By comparison, China has 146, India 441, Japan 348, USA 35 and UK 269. Because the interior of the country is extremely hot and arid most of the population lives along the more hospitable eastern coastal area of the country. For this reason, Australia also has one of the most highly urbanised societies in the world, about 90% of the population live in cities and towns. The country's two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, hold nearly 30% of the entire population of the country.
Is "Australian" an Ethnicity? Are Australians a Distinct Ethnic Group?
All humans belong to the same species - Homo sapiens. Within our species, there are very minor genetic variations usually in appearance which over the centuries has resulted in people being grouped into "races" such as Chinese, African, etc. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is associated with cultural identity such as Japanese, French, etc.
So there is no Australian race. However, it is reasonable to say that Australians have developed their own distinct cultural identity which means that "Australian" can be considered a distinct ethnic group.
Almost 94% of the population od Australia is of European ancestry. Over 97% of the population is made up of immigrants or the children of immigrants who arrived here during the last two centuries. 28% percent of people living in Australia today were born in a foreign country and migrated here. Nearly 50% of all Australians living today are from an overseas country or have at least one parent who was born overseas.
While we call ourselves Australians, if you were to ask the question "were did you come from or what is your ethnicity?" the statistics are as follows: English 36.1% Australian 35.4%, Irish 10.4%, Scottish 8.9%, Italian 4.6%, German 4.5%, Chinese 4.3%, Indian 2.1%, Greek 1.9%, Dutch 1.4%, other 20% and Aboriginal 3.0%. Over one-third of the population report mixed ancestries, such as English-Irish. For this reason, the percentages mentioned do not equate to 100%.
Related Article: The History of Immigration to Australia
Australian Multiculturalism What Does Multicultural Mean?
With a population that is predominately first, second and third generation immigrants and their descendants from over 200 different countries; Australia today is a melting pot of peoples with varied cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. Australian multiculturalism embraces and celebrates all this diversity within the framework of the core values by which all Australia’s people are expected to abide by. These include the rule of law, and religious, cultural, ethnic and racial tolerance free from discrimination of any sort.
It should be noted that Australia was not always a tolerated multicultural society. In the early years of its existence, Australiaadhered to a strict 'White Australia' policy. In fact, the first law passed by the newly independent nation of Australia in 1901 was a law banning Chinese from entering the country. By the 1970's all discriminatory laws were abolished and in 1973 the concept of multiculturalism was adopted as a central premise of the Australian democracy.
Australian Language Australian English and Multilingual Population
Australia has no “official” language. However, English is the first language of the majority of the population and the language used in government and business communications.
The English used in Australia is "Australian English" which is derived from British English. So for example, Australians spell colour as colour and center as centre. Australians love to use diminutives — to shorten words and create slang words by taking the first part of a word and adding an a, o, ie, or y to it. Commonly referred to as Strine, these words contribute a rich vocabulary of new words to the Australian language such as rellie (a relative), and journo (a journalist). The Australian accent and the pronunciation of words is uniquely Australian and sits somewhere between that of the British and Americans. The English language spoken by Australians is relatively homogeneous. Almost all Australians have a similar accent and pronunciation, but there are some linguistic variations between different sociocultural groups. This is in stark contrast to the multitude of accents of the UK or the USA.
Because Australia is a multicultural society made up of people from all over the world, there are about 225 different languages and dialects spoken by people living in Australia. The most commonly spoken languages, other than English, are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Vietnamese, Spanish, Hindi, and Tagalog.
Australian Values Key Cultural Beliefs
It Wasn't Always So
While Australians adhered to the principles of social justice including the rights of women and the lack of institutionalised slavery; they did practice some very deplorable forms of discrimination in the past. The most noteworthy of these were the White Australia immigration policy which was only abolished in 1966 and the treatment of the Australian Aborigine, the first inhabitants of the continent, who were treated as non-persons and didn’t have the right to vote until 1967. It should be kept in mind however that many other countries too had discriminatory policies such as slavery in America, the treatment of Jews in Europe and the Irish in the UK.
There is much debate in Australia as to exactly what "Australian values" mean. Some generally accepted characteristics of these values can be enunciated.
Democracy, Freedom, Equality & Rule of Law
Australians live in a pluralistic parliamentary democracy governed by a constitution, the rule of law and an unwritten social compact. The people of Australia are expected to abide by the key tenants of their social contract which is firmly established in their functioning Western democratic institutions and beliefs. These include the freedom of speech, association, religion, the rights of the individual, the rule of law, equality for all its people whether they be male or female, irrespective of their sexual orientation, ethnic backgrounds, religion, race, social class, age or health status.
It is claimed that Australia is the most egalitarian society in the world. In its simplest definition, Australian egalitarianism means a refusal to accept to being inferior to anyone else. Australians believe strongly that 'all men are created equal'. Wealth or social status does not entitle a person to more rights or privileges than any other Australian. For this reason, an Australian will usually address you by your first name, without any deference to your social position. This was demonstrated most vividly when an Australian sportsman, Dennis Lillee, was introduced to the Queen of England. He greeted her with a simple handshake and a laconic “g’day, how ya go-in” (roughly translating to 'hello how are things'). Another example of this is that an Australian will most likely sit in the front seat of a taxi with the driver rather than be chauffeured around in the back seat. As a part of their egalitarianism, Australians believe in the dignity of labour. A garbage collector will be treated just as respectfully as a doctor or politician. This egalitarian ideal originated in the country's early immigrate past when the authorities went to great lengths to deprive the early settlers, mostly convicts, of any semblance to respect, dignity or self-worth. As a consequence, the Australian psyche abhors any appearance of privilege. This ethos was reinforced by trade unions which encouraged the dignity of labour and egalitarianism.
The Origin of the Word "Mate" It's Not What You Think It Is
It is often thought that the term 'mate' originated from its English language usage which means a fellow member, a sexual partner or to connect. Some claim that the word's origin is from the German word 'gemate' which means a person eating at the same table — a messmate. How it actually infiltrated the Australian lexicon is not known. (Another such German word is 'waltzing' as in the title of the song Waltzing Matilda.)
The 'Fair Go'
At its simplest meaning, 'a fair go' means to be reasonable and fair about something. An everyday example to illustrate this may be a conversation between two siblings which may go like this — " fair go I washed the dishes yesterday so it's your turn now'. The concept of a fair go in its fuller meaning also means equitable opportunities, a reasonable chance, and even-handed treatment.
Mateship embodies egalitarianism, loyalty, and friendship, usually among men. A mate is more than just a friend and implies the notion of shared experience, mutual respect, and unconditional assistance, usually in the time of need. Some argue that the term was in existence from the very outset when the first convict settlers arrived in Australia where the word was used to mean a reliable friend and as a reverse pejorative for the convicts’ jailers. (Ie. not a mate). It was also used during the Gold Rush and immortalised in Henry Lawson’s poem Shearers. The term came to the fore during World War I during the terrible hardships Australian soldiers endured at Gallipoli.
Social Classes Class Structure in Australia
Plight of the Australian Aboriginal
Aborigines make up roughly 3% of the Australian population and are the original inhabitants of the continent. They have been, and still remain today, the most disadvantaged group of Australians. For cultural, racial and social reasons they have failed to integrate into the larger social fabric and endure many hardships.
Australia seems surprisingly free of class stratification and prejudice. People will accept you for what you are, and are less concerned with you pedigree, what job you do, how you speak, where you went to school or what country you came from. Class delineation is predominantly based on occupation and wealth.
The three main social classes are the working class, middle class, and upper class. The meaning and boundaries between these groups is a hotly debated topic. Most wealth is self-made and does not span more than a few generations. It is based on entrepreneurship and the ownership of capital and property. The wealthiest 5-10% constitute the upper class. The middle class is defined as those who are in non-manual occupations. These include doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers, etc. Skilled trades' people, an electrician for example, may well earn substantially more than a doctor, engineer or accountant. Reflective of their egalitarian outlook, Australians believe in social mobility, that anyone by their own hard work can better themselves, and as a consequence are accepting of reasonable inequalities in wealth. They do, however, frown upon the flagrant exhibition of wealth. A recent survey found that only 2% of the population consider themselves to be upper class. A staggering 85% consider themselves to be middle class and only 13% consider themselves to be working class. Interestingly, the survey also found that even amongst the richest groups there is a belief that they are struggling to make ends meet — an Aussie battler — the notion of being an ordinary individual who perseveres through adversity to make ends meet.
The Australian character is moulded primarily by a strong sense of equality and unpretentiousness. People who flaunt their wealth or social position or brag are frowned upon and will most likely be on the receiving end of an Australian’s witty putdown.
Consistent with their unpretentious nature, Australians are very informal in their attire and interactions with others. They are totally oblivious of titles or rank. They will address you by your first name and may dress in jeans to go to the opera. Very rarely do they dress formally.
Australian surprisingly free of class prejudice. People will accept you for what you are, and are less concerned with how you speak, what job you do, where you went to school or what country you came from. And if you support their football team or love cricket, then you will be accepted even more readily.
An Australian will call a spade a spade. This puts them at odds with some cultures which value discreetness and a non-confrontational approach. An Australian is more likely to dispense with the courtesies and get directly to the point and say what he has to say in unambiguous terms.
Australians are known for their laid-back lifestyle, but they are usually very punctual. Being late is considered rude, and in a business environment, being late is considered both rude and unprofessional.
Interestingly the Australian movie Crocodile Dundee epitomises some of these Australian core values.
Love for the Underdog
Australian have a natural affinity for the underdog. Why else would Waltzing Matilda, the story of an itinerant worker who stole a sheep and commits suicide to avoid justice become Australia's favourite song. The bushranger and murderer, Ned Kelly, who defied the authorities and eventually died in a gunfight is a folk-hero. Australians even celebrate the massive and humiliating defeat at Gallipoli as, in fact, a victory of the Australian spirit and the crucible of their national identity. Australians still harbour the deep anti-establishment sentiments of the original settlers of the country, who felt hard done by.
Health & Well-Being
Males babies born in 2015 can expect to live to 80.4 years and 84.5 years if they are female. However, the life expectancy amongst the native inhabitants of Australia, the Aborigines, lags substantially behind that of the rest of the population. The life expectancy for an Aboriginal male is 69.1 years and that for an Aboriginal female is 73.7 years.
The major factor affecting life expectancy is the consumption of alcohol and smoking, both of of which are declining. Overweightness and obesity, on the other hand, are on the increase exerting a negative influence on longevity.
Australian Religion What Religion are Australian?
Australia has no official religion. In fact, Section 116 of the country's constitution guarantees religious freedom and bans the government from establishing or supporting any religion.
The population of the country is, however, predominately a Christian with nearly 52% of the population identifying as belonging to a Christian denomination. 30% also claim to be non-religious. Other religious groups include Buddhists (2.4%), Muslims (2.6%), Hindus (1.9%), Sikhism (0.5%) and Jews (0.4%).
Australians at Work What we do for a Living
Australians are one of the most urbanised societies in the world. Almost 80% of the workforce are employed in service industries such as offices, banks, etc in the major cities.
About 16% work in manufacturing
About 3% are farmers or graziers (ranchers). Wool is one of Australia's major exports.
About 1% work in the mining industry. We mine and export alumina, iron, coal, copper, gold, uranium, etc
Australian Sports Australians Love Sports
Australian love their sports. In the winter it’s Australian Football, Rugby and Soccer. In Summer its Cricket and Tennis. There is usually something on in Melbourne and Sydney almost every weekend.
In the summer we play cricket. Cricket is played with a flat bat and a round leather-covered ball. Each team has 11 players. The objective of the game is to hit the ball as far as possible without getting "caught out" or without having the ball come in contact with your body or hitting the stumps (3 short poles behind the batsman).
Leisure We Love all sorts of Past times
Almost 85% of Australians live within a few hours drive of the coast.
Most major cities have bicycle tracks and lots of parks and wide-open spaces.
A Note About This Web Page
This page was originally written in 1997 by Trishan, an eleven-year-old Australian boy and his dad. We have given the page a long overdue makeover with lots of additional content. We have, however, left some of Trishan's artwork from the original web-page.
TrishansOz © Copyright Senani Ponnamperuma.
All Rights Reserved. (Last Updated: Jan 29, 2020)
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