Culture / Religion
Until the Second World War, the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from the British Isles, and a majority of Australians have some British or Irish ancestry. These Australians form an ethnic group known as Anglo-Celtic Australians. In the 2016 Australian census, the most commonly nominated ancestries were English (36.1%), Australian (33.5%), Irish (11.0%), Scottish (9.3%), Chinese (5.6%), Italian (4.6%), German (4.5%), Indian (2.8%), Greek (1.8%), and Dutch (1.6%).
Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I, much of this increase from immigration. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants. Most immigrants are skilled, but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees. By 2050, Australia's population is currently projected to reach around 42 million. Nevertheless, its population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, remains among the lowest in the world.
In 2016, more than a quarter (26%) of Australia's population were born overseas; the five largest immigrant groups were those born in England (3.9%), New Zealand (2.2%), Mainland China (2.2%), India (1.9%), and the Philippines (1%). Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism. In 2015–16, there were 189,770 permanent immigrants admitted to Australia, mainly from Asia.
The Indigenous population—Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was counted at 649,171 (2.8% of the total population) in 2016. The increase is partly due to many people with Indigenous heritage previously having been overlooked by the census due to undercount and cases where their Indigenous status had not been recorded on the form. Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are, respectively, 11 and 17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians. Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having "failed state"-like conditions.
In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2004, the average age of the civilian population was 38.8 years. A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03; 1 million or 5% of the total population in 2005) live outside their home country.
Although Australia has no official language, English has always been entrenched as the de facto national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon, and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling. General Australian serves as the standard dialect.
According to the 2016 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 72.7% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Mandarin (2.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.2%), Vietnamese (1.2%) and Italian (1.2%). A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual.
Over 250 Indigenous Australian languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact, of which less than 20 are still in daily use by all age groups. About 110 others are spoken exclusively by older people. At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12% of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 5,500 deaf people.
Australia has no state religion; Section 116 of the Australian Constitution prohibits the federal government from making any law to establish any religion, impose any religious observance, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion. In the 2016 census, 52.1% of Australians were counted as Christian, including 22.6% as Roman Catholic and 13.3% as Anglican; 30.1% of the population reported having "no religion"; 7.3% identify with non-Christian religions, the largest of these being Islam (2.6%), followed by Buddhism (2.5%), Hinduism (1.9%) and Judaism (0.4%). The remaining 9.6% of the population did not provide an adequate answer. Those who reported having no religion increased conspicuously from 19% in 2006 to 30% in 2016. The largest change was between 2011 (22%) and 2016 (30.1%), when a further 2.2 million people reported having no religion.
Before European settlement, the animist beliefs of Australia's indigenous people had been practised for many thousands of years. Mainland Aboriginal Australians' spirituality is known as the Dreamtime and it places a heavy emphasis on belonging to the land. The collection of stories that it contains shaped Aboriginal law and customs. Aboriginal art, story and dance continue to draw on these spiritual traditions. The spirituality and customs of Torres Strait Islanders, who inhabit the islands between Australia and New Guinea, reflected their Melanesian origins and dependence on the sea. The 1996 Australian census counted more than 7000 respondents as followers of a traditional Aboriginal religion.
Since the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in 1788, Christianity has grown to be the major religion practised in Australia. Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia. For much of Australian history, the Church of England (now known as the Anglican Church of Australia) was the largest religious denomination. However, multicultural immigration has contributed to a decline in its relative position, and the Roman Catholic Church has benefitted from recent immigration to become the largest group. Similarly, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism have all grown in Australia over the past half-century.
Australia has one of the lowest levels of religious adherence in the world. In 2001, only 8.8% of Australians attended church on a weekly basis.
Australia has the third and seventh highest life expectancy of males and females respectively in the world. Life expectancy in Australia in 2010 was 79.5 years for males and 84.0 years for females. Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, while cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease, responsible for 7.8% of the total mortality and disease. Ranked second in preventable causes is hypertension at 7.6%, with obesity third at 7.5%. Australia ranks 35th in the world and near the top of developed nations for its proportion of obese adults and nearly two thirds (63%) of its adult population is either overweight or obese.
Total expenditure on health (including private sector spending) is around 9.8% of GDP. Australia introduced universal health care in 1975. Known as Medicare, it is now nominally funded by an income tax surcharge known as the Medicare levy, currently set at 1.5%. The states manage hospitals and attached outpatient services, while the Commonwealth funds the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (subsidising the costs of medicines) and general practice.
School attendance, or registration for home schooling, is compulsory throughout Australia. Education is the responsibility of the individual states and territories so the rules vary between states, but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about 5 until about 16. In some states (e.g., Western Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales), children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship.
Australia has an adult literacy rate that was estimated to be 99% in 2003. However, a 2011–12 report for the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Tasmania has a literacy and numeracy rate of only 50%. In the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia regularly scores among the top five of thirty major developed countries (member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Catholic education accounts for the largest non-government sector.
Australia has 37 government-funded universities and two private universities, as well as a number of other specialist institutions that provide approved courses at the higher education level. The OECD places Australia among the most expensive nations to attend university. There is a state-based system of vocational training, known as TAFE, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. About 58% of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications, and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among OECD countries. The ratio of international to local students in tertiary education in Australia is the highest in the OECD countries. In addition, 38 percent of Australia's population has a university or college degree, which is among the highest percentages in the world.
Since 1788, the primary influence behind Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic Western culture, with some Indigenous influences. The divergence and evolution that has occurred in the ensuing centuries has resulted in a distinctive Australian culture. Since the mid-20th century, American popular culture has strongly influenced Australia, particularly through television and cinema. Other cultural influences come from neighbouring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.
Indigenous Australian rock art is the oldest and richest in the world, dating as far back as 60,000 years and spread across hundreds of thousands of sites. Traditional designs, patterns and stories infuse contemporary Indigenous Australian art, "the last great art movement of the 20th century"; its exponents include Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Early colonial artists, trained in Europe, showed a fascination with the unfamiliar land. The impressionistic works of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and others associated with the 19th-century Heidelberg School—the first "distinctively Australian" movement in Western art—gave expression to a burgeoning Australian nationalism in the lead-up to Federation. While the school remained influential into the new century, modernists such as Margaret Preston, and, later, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, explored new artistic trends. The landscape remained a central subject matter for Fred Williams, Brett Whiteley and other post-World War II artists whose works, eclectic in style yet uniquely Australian, moved between the figurative and the abstract. The national and state galleries maintain collections of local and international art. Australia has one of the world's highest attendances of art galleries and museums per head of population.
Australian literature grew slowly in the decades following European settlement though Indigenous oral traditions, many of which have since been recorded in writing, are much older. 19th-century writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson captured the experience of the bush using a distinctive Australian vocabulary. Their works are still popular; Paterson's bush poem "Waltzing Matilda" (1895) is regarded as 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 recipient, Patrick White, went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. Australian winners of the Booker Prize include Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally and Richard Flanagan. Author David Malouf, playwright David Williamson and poet Les Murray are also renowned literary figures.
Many of Australia's performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each state, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, well known for its famous soprano Joan Sutherland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world's leading opera singers. Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.
The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), the world's first feature length film, spurred a boom in Australian cinema during the silent film era. After World War I, Hollywood monopolised the industry, and by the 1960s Australian film production had effectively ceased. With the benefit of government support, the Australian New Wave of the 1970s brought provocative and successful films, many exploring 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 delivered a 7.7% share of the local box office in 2015. The AACTAs are Australia's premier film and television awards, and notable Academy Award winners from Australia 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 public, non-profit television and radio stations. Each major city has at least one daily newspaper, and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. In 2010, Reporters Without Borders placed Australia 18th on a list of 178 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (8th) but ahead of the United Kingdom (19th) and United States (20th). This relatively low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; most print media are under the control of News Corporation and Fairfax Media.
Most Indigenous Australian tribal groups subsisted on a simple hunter-gatherer diet of native fauna and flora, otherwise called bush tucker. The first settlers introduced British food to the continent, much of which is now considered typical Australian food, such as the Sunday roast. Multicultural immigration transformed Australian cuisine; post-World War II European migrants, particularly from the Mediterranean, helped to build a thriving Australian coffee culture, and the influence of Asian cultures has led to Australian variants of their staple foods, such as the Chinese-inspired dim sim and Chiko Roll. Vegemite, pavlova, lamingtons and meat pies are regarded as iconic Australian foods. Australian wine is produced mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country.
Australia is also known for its cafe and coffee culture in urban centres, which has influenced coffee culture abroad, including New York City. Australia and New Zealand were responsible for the flat white coffee.
Sport and recreation
About 24% of Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities.
Australia is unique in that it has professional leagues for four football codes. Australian rules football, the world's oldest major football code and Australia's most popular sport in terms of revenue and spectatorship, originated in Melbourne in the late 1850s, and predominates in all states except New South Wales and Queensland, where rugby league holds sway, followed by rugby union. Soccer, while ranked fourth in popularity and resources, has the highest overall participation rates.
Australia is a powerhouse in water-based sports, such as swimming and surfing. The surf lifesaving movement originated in Australia, and the volunteer lifesaver is one of the country's icons. Nationally, other popular sports include horse racing, basketball, and motor racing. The annual Melbourne Cup horse race and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race attract intense interest. In 2016, the Australian Sports Commission revealed that swimming, cycling and soccer are the three most popular participation sports.
Australia is one of five nations to have participated in every Summer Olympics of the modern era, and has hosted the Games twice: 1956 in Melbourne and 2000 in Sydney. Australia has also participated in every Commonwealth Games, hosting the event in 1938, 1962, 1982, 2006 and will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Australia made its inaugural appearance at the Pacific Games in 2015. As well as being a regular FIFA World Cup participant, 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 among the world elite basketball teams as it is among the global top three teams in terms of qualifications to the Basketball Tournament at the Summer Olympics. Other major international events held in Australia include the Australian Open tennis grand slam tournament, international cricket matches, and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. The highest-rating television programs include sports telecasts such as the Summer Olympics, FIFA World Cup, The Ashes, Rugby League State of Origin, and the grand finals of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League. Skiing in Australia began in the 1860s and snow sports take place in the Australian Alps and parts of Tasmania.