Australia is a strange country. In many ways it is very American, so much so that it’s difficult sometimes to remember its distinctly British past, and continued (yet complicated) connection with the Monarchy and Commonwealth. Indeed, British and American ‘cultures’ collide in a seemingly bazaar way. The money has the queen’s head on it, and looks very British, but yet is called dollars. Everyone drives an SUV or four-wheel drive, the trucks look American, and the streets and avenues are distinctly American. The traffic lights and street signs are just like what you’d expect to find in America, but they drive on the left. The TV channels show infomercials to outrival the Americans themselves, but they also seems to have a distinct affinity with British programmes. The country is a mishmash of cultures all rolled into one, but their pronunciation of vowel sounds is distinctly their own. Nobody can take blame for that.
Being here has made me realise how little I know about this country/island/continent. Here I put forward some interesting facts about Australia that you probably didn’t know, or at least that I didn’t know, or at least fully comprehend, before I arrived here.
1. It is very, very, very big! I have often heard people say that Australia is a very big place and that the cities are very far apart. It’s only since I came here that I realise just how big it is. On the map Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney look very close together, just like Liverpool, Chester and Manchester. The reality is a whole lot different. If you had an afternoon to spare, cycling between these three English cities wouldn’t be completely out of the question. It would take more like a week just to cycle from Melbourne to Canberra. At over seven and a half million square kilometres, Australia is the 6th biggest country in the world (behind Russia, Canada, China, United States and Brazil). It is the largest borderless country in the world, and the largest country wholly in the Southern Hemisphere.
2. There are very few people here! Well, 22.8 million may not sound like very few, but that’s only about 3 people per square kilometre, and given the disproportionate number of people who live in the main cities in the south and east, there are large parts of the country with nobody at all…and beautiful towns like Falls Creek, which in November is practically isolated from civilisation.
3. It is the flattest continent. Only six percent of the Australian land mass rises above 600m. The highest point is Mt Kosciuszko in New South Wales at 2,228m. By contrast the average altitude of the whole of the North West of Kenya is more than 2,000m. Makes me wonder why I’ve bothered coming here for altitude training – oh yes, the beautiful, quite isolated town of Falls Creek perhaps!
4. Australians are very good at sport. Relative to their population, Australians are among the most successful sportspeople in sport. At the 1996 Olympics, for example, Australians won 3.78 medals per million of population, two and a half times better than Germany, the next best performer, and despite being only the 52nd largest country by population, finished 5th on the medals table. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that their top sports are listed as Footy (Australian Rules), Cricket, Rugby league, Horse Racing and Surfing, none of which are Olympic sports. They excel in almost every sport. There are even three dozen Australians playing baseball in the United States.
5. It’s a dangerous place. Three Quarters of the world’s most venomous snakes can be found in Australia. However, only a small number of people live in prime snake habitats, and India experience thousands more snake-related fatalities each year (remind me to scratch India off my list of places to visit). Australia is also home to many more of the world’s deadliest creatures, including crocodiles, at least two types of spider with potentially fatal bites, and the highly venomous box jellyfish which can paralyse heart muscle in an instant. On the upside (I think), however, you are apparently more likely to be killed by a bee sting, or drown while surfing, than be killed by shark attack in Australia. Still, take care out there boys and girls.