The first inhabitants of this vast continent are the aborigines, coming to the land some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, and the scholars thought they might have crossed the land bridges from Southeast Asia. These people were mostly hunter-gatherers with an elaborate oral tradition and spiritual beliefs. The Aborigines were able to use and sustain the continent's resources, concurring to stop hunting and gathering at certain times to give ample time to the resources and populations to flourish. It is believed that before the European settlement, as many as half a million to a million Aborigines lived peacefully. Today, an estimated 350,000 Aborigines are living on the continent.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Aboriginal culture is their belief of the Dreamtime or the sacred time of the world's creation. Stories of the Dreamtime are depicted in bark painting and rock art as well as sweet music, which is handed down from generation to generation and has remained intact for at least 50,000 years. Dances are also a significant feature of the Aboriginal culture and tradition portraying the creation myths as well as recent events of historical significance.
The Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch explorers have landed on the continent, but it was not until the late 18th century that a European settlement started with the arrival of settlers and prisoners from Great Britain. Australia was a penal colony of the British Empire until the system was abolished around the mid-1800. The former prisoners and other pioneers founded six colonies, and these are New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland.
The colonial past of this land has inspired the Australian affinity for social equality, for justice and liberty, and for the will to survive in new and largely unfamiliar areas and situations very much like the pioneers of the land.
During the gold rush of the 1850s, immigrants from all over the world, such as Europe, North America, and China, traveled to Australia in search of the gold and the riches buried beneath the red sands of this vast continent. These immigrants brought with them their unique culture to merge with the flourishing culture of the settlers and the long-standing Aboriginal tradition. However, this period of prosperity was short-lived, and the 1890s was a time of financial recession.
After the Second World War, Australia promoted immigration from Europe and later on, immigrants from Asia and elsewhere begun coming in and building new lives in the Land Down Under. Once again, Australia experienced another cultural transformation. From then on, this vast arid land has undergone so many changes, and Australia is now one of the highly industrialized countries in the world.
Another distinct feature of the Australians is their sheer love for sports. There are more than 120 national sports organizations and thousands of state, regional and even local sports associations. Australian athletes have proven time and time again in international sports competitions that they can step up to the challenge. Football, cricket, and water sports are just some of the favorite games of the Aussies. Since most of the populations are living within easy access of the coast and the sea, it is not surprising that the beach and the water is a central part of the Australian lifestyle.
As a steady stream of immigrants arrive, the multiculturalism of Australia is further defined with more than 20 percent of the population being foreign born and another 40 percent are of diverse cultural background. Most Australians are multilingual, speaking a second or third language after English, the most famous of these being Cantonese, Greek, Italian, and Arabic.
Australia has indeed come a long way from the land it was in the 18th century. Today, it is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world by blending the past with the present and forging an enduring future for the next generations of Aussies.