Since 1788, the main influence on Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic Western culture, with some Indigenous influences. The divergence and evolution that took place over the following centuries led to the emergence of a distinctive Australian culture. Since the mid-20th century, American popular culture has strongly influenced Australia, especially through television and film. Other cultural influences have come from neighbouring Asian countries and from massive immigration from non-English speaking nations.
Art in Australia
Australian Aboriginal rock art is the oldest and richest in the world. It dates back 60,000 years and encompasses hundreds of thousands of sites. Traditional motifs, patterns and stories permeate contemporary Indigenous Australian art, “the last great artistic movement of the 20th century”; Emily Kame Kngwarreye is one of them. In the first century of European colonisation, European-trained colonial artists showed a fascination for the unknown land. The naturalistic and sunny works of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and other artists associated with the 19th century Heidelberg School – the first “quintessentially Australian” movement in Western art – gave rise to an emerging Australian nationalism in the pre-federation era. While the school remained influential in the new century, modernists such as Margaret Preston and later Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd explored new artistic trends. Landscape remained a central theme for Fred Williams, Brett Whiteley and other post-war artists whose works, eclectic in style but uniquely Australian, oscillated between figurative and abstract. The National Gallery of Australia and state galleries hold collections of Australian and international art. Australia has one of the highest per capita attendance rates at art galleries and museums in the world.
Australian literature developed slowly in the decades following European colonisation, although the oral traditions of the indigenous people, many of which have since been recorded in writing, are much older. 19th century writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson captured experiences in the bush with a distinctively Australian vocabulary. Their works are still very popular; Paterson’s bush poem “Waltzing Matilda” (1895) is considered Australia’s unofficial national anthem. Miles Franklin is the namesake of Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, awarded annually to the best novel about Australian life. Its first winner, Patrick White, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. Australian Booker Prize winners include Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally and Richard Flanagan. Author David Malouf, playwright David Williamson and poet Les Murray are also well-known literary figures.
Many Australian performing arts companies receive funding from the Australian Council of the Federal Government. There is a symphony orchestra in every state and a national opera company, Opera Australia, known for its famous soprano Joan Sutherland. In the early 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world’s greatest opera singers. Ballet and dance are represented by the Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a state-supported theatre company.
Media in Australia
The story of Kelly’s Strip (1906), the world’s first feature film, sparked a boom in Australian cinema during the silent era. After World War I, Hollywood monopolised the industry and by the 1960s Australian film production had virtually ceased. Thanks to government support, the Australian New Wave of the 1970s produced provocative and successful films, many of which dealt with themes of national identity, such as Wake in Fright and Gallipoli, while “Crocodile” Dundee and the Ozploitation movement’s Mad Max series became international blockbusters. In a film market flooded with foreign content, Australian films achieved a 7.7% share of the local box office in 2015. The AACTAs are the major awards for Australian film and television. Australian Oscar winners include Geoffrey Rush, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger.
Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services and numerous non-profit public television and radio stations. Every major city has at least one daily newspaper, and there are two national dailies, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. In 2010, Australia ranked 18th on a list of 178 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (8th) but ahead of the United Kingdom (19th) and the United States (20th). This relatively low ranking is mainly due to the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; most print media is controlled by News Corporation and Fairfax Media.
Cuisine in Australia
Most tribal groups of Indigenous Australians subsisted on native wildlife as simple hunter-gatherers, also known as bush tucker. Early settlers brought British food to the continent, much of which is now considered typical Australian food, such as Sunday roast. Multicultural immigration has transformed Australian cuisine; after World War II, European immigrants, especially from the Mediterranean, contributed to the rise of coffee culture in Australia, and the influence of Asian cultures has produced Australian variations on their staple foods, such as Chinese-inspired dim sim and chiko roll. Vegetables, pavlova, lamb and meat pies are considered iconic Australian foods. Australian wine is mainly produced in the southern and cooler parts of the country.
Sport and recreation in Australia
Approximately 24% of Australians over the age of 15 participate regularly in organised sporting activities. Internationally, Australia has excelled in the sports of cricket, hockey, netball, rugby league, swimming and rugby union. The majority of Australians live in the coastal zone, making the beach a popular recreational area and an integral part of the nation’s identity. Australia is a powerhouse when it comes to water sports, such as swimming and surfing. The surf lifesaving movement was born in Australia, and the volunteer lifeguard is one of the country’s icons. Other nationally popular sports include Australian football, horse racing, basketball, surfing, football and car racing. The annual Melbourne Cup horse race and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race attract a lot of interest.
Australia is one of only five nations to have participated in all the Summer Olympics in the modern era and has hosted the Games twice: in Melbourne in 1956 and in Sydney in 2000. Australia has also participated in all Commonwealth Games, hosting the event in 1938, 1962, 1982 and 2006, and will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Australia participated in the Pacific Games for the first time in 2015. In addition to regularly participating in the FIFA World Cup, Australia has won the OFC Nations Cup four times and the AFC Asian Cup once – the only country to have won championships in two different FIFA confederations. The country regularly competes in the world’s elite basketball competitions and is one of the top three teams in the world when it comes to qualifying for the Summer Olympics basketball tournament. Other major international events held in Australia include the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament, international cricket matches and the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix. Popular television programs include sports broadcasts such as the Summer Olympics, FIFA World Cup, The Ashes, domestic rugby league and the National Rugby League and Australian Football League grand finals. Skiing in Australia began in the 1860s and snow sports are practised in the Australian Alps and parts of Tasmania.