Our Australian Identity

The Lucky Country

From the mid-19th century, Australia came to be known as ‘the lucky country’. This was because if one worked hard and made proper use of opportunities, then one could prosper and enjoy a better life.

Up until the 1960s Australians saw themselves as being British but also Australian. This changed rapidly as Britain went into Europe and former British countries like Australia established their own trading relationships, particularly with America. Today, Australia is more American in its culture than British.a

Australian Goldfields

Painted by Edward Roper [In the State Library of New South Wales]

There was a massive influx of people in the mid-19th century when gold was found in New South Wales and later in Victoria. This is called ‘The Gold Rush’ and was a major influence on the Australian identity. Most gold diggers were poor individuals seeking their fortune and the rough conditions and lack of food and other essentials led to a sense of mateship amongst many. Many who came to Australia during this time stayed and integrated into the wider community whether they had found gold or not.

Migrant Arrivals in Australia

Prior to the Second World War most migrants came from Britain, America and Europe. Before, during and after the war, a number of Europeans found their way to Australia to escape authoritarian governments all looking to find a better life for themselves and particularly for their families.

A strong tradition of mateship was built up amongst young Australians who fought in Europe in the First World War and in both Europe and the Pacific in the second.

These and other events all led to a change in the Australian identity which was added to as a result of the multi-cultural backgrounds of new Australians.

Another Australian characteristic was the preparedness of Australians to embrace diversity, to accept people from different countries and racial backgrounds and to become accustomed to the many cultures and religions that are now around them. Australians also have readily accepted new innovations and technology rather than stick with things just because they have worked in the past.

A part of this readiness to embrace the future is perhaps a reason why Australia also expanded at a very rapid rate, building large cities and industries as well as developing agricultural enterprises in each state. When one looks at Australia today, it is difficult to believe that the whole continent was essentially unbuilt on just over 200 years ago.

However, underlying all these changes was the same thread of Australianness that we could see in the late 19th/early 20th

Cover to Paterson's 1905 collection
of bush ballads, entitled Old Bush Songs

century poets such as Banjo Patterson wrote ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Australia is the only nation-continent in the world. It possesses a unique flora and fauna and its geography ranges from the temperate to the tropical with habitations mainly around the coastal areas separated by huge areas of inland desert. The early beginnings of modern Australia as a British convict settlement was also unique in that without imported labour, everyone had to toil to survive with many who came over as convicts being able to build up land holdings and businesses or obtain government positions all of which would not have been possible for them in England.

Australia is therefore truly a land of hope and opportunity.

Poets of the 19th century and later waxed lyrical about this. For instance, Dorothea Mackellar (born 1885) was one such Australian poet who wrote 'My Country' in 1911, the second stanza of which became famous: "I love a sunburnt country/A land of sweeping plains,/Of ragged mountain ranges,/Of droughts and flooding rains."

"Banjo" Paterson (born 1864) was another Australian bush poet who wrote a number of ballads and poems about Australian life. His song "Waltzing Matilda" written in 1895 is widely regarded as Australia's unofficial national anthem.


Sport plays a major part of the Australian identity, even amongst those who are not involved in any sporting activity. Throughout Australia's history, sport has characterised the Australian people from the earliest days of settlement, through the years of two World Wars and in peacetime

Many Australians are engaged in sports particularly cricket and the football codes. Swimming, tennis, athletics, golf , cycling, basketball, netball, hockey and even skying - you name it - Australians will be involved. As well as participating in sports, Australians also love to watch sporting activities either in person or via television, computer or other means. Betting is also a major attraction to so many.

The Melbourne Cup, held on the first Tuesday in November, is termed 'the race that stops the nation'. It is one of the richest horse races in the world. The first Melbourne Cup was held in 1861 and Melbourne Cup Day has been a public holiday in Victoria since 1877.

The Arts

Aboriginal Painting - Bush Medicine Leaves
Gloria Petyarre (c1945)
In the Australian Nationhood Foundation Library 

Australia's landscape, indigenous heritage and convict history have all contributed to a unique cultural tradition and include a great number of fields not just covering literature and painting but also acting, music, visual arts, theatre, dance and crafts. Our literary tradition started with the storytelling of Indigenous Australians and continued with the oral stories of the convicts arriving in the late 18th century.

There are major art galleries, ballet, theaters, symphony orchestras, opera houses and dance companies in each of our capital cities. Leading Australian performers have included the opera Dames Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland, dancers Edouard Borovansky and Sir Robert Helpmann, and choreographer/dancers such as Graeme Murphy and Meryl Tankard. Opera Australia is based in Sydney at the world-renowned Sydney Opera House and the Australian Ballet, Melbourne and Sydney symphony orchestras are also well regarded cultural institutions.

Organisations such as the Sydney Theatre Company and National Institute of Dramatic Art have fostered students of theatre, film, and television a number of whom have continued to international success.

Waterhole & Birds
by Pro Hart, one of Australia's Famous Artists
In the Australian Nationhood Foundation Library