With just 3.4 people per square kilometre, Australia is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries. The climate ranges from sub-tropical, to the Mediterranean on the coastal fringe while the interior has vast and forbidding deserts, the reason why most of Australia’s 25 million inhabitants live on the coast.
Because of its geographical isolation, Australia has a bewildering array of wildlife including almost 800 species of reptile. Many species, such as the platypus, the wombat, the koala and the kangaroo are unique to this island continent.
Australia also boasts some of the world’s largest reserves of coal, iron ore, gems, uranium, bauxite and natural gas, one reason why it is known as the Lucky Country.
The Australians are some of the sportiest people on earth, boasting top internationals in Soccer, Cricket, Rugby League, Rugby Union, Basketball, Golf, Tennis and the peculiar institution of Aussie Rules, a sport invented to keep the nation’s cricketers busy during the off-season.
Let’s not forget the water sports – swimming, scuba diving on the Barrier Reef, sailing and of course the Australian national sport of surfing. An estimated 2.5 million Australians regularly take to their surfboards, often past the age of 60.
Then there is horse racing: the day of the Melbourne Cup brings the entire nation to a standstill.
So attuned are Australians to the great outdoors that there is a growing movement to walk barefoot, not just on the beaches but in the towns and cities, the bush and the countryside.
So, after an exhausting day of sport or surfing, what do Australians do to relax? Well, they party. The barbecue is a national institution, so much so that on some beaches the local authorities provide free gas-fired barbecues. The food is of course accompanied by lots of grog – a cold tinnie (beer) or a bottle of Australian wine, Australia being one of the world’s biggest wine producers. Add to this the Aussie tradition of ‘mateship’ and unending optimism – ‘she’ll be right, mate’ and the whole package sounds like a great way to stay both healthy and happy.
There is of course another, very different population of Australians, the original inhabitants of this vast land, the aborigines. They again are an outdoor people whose traditions are: a reverence for the land and their ancestors and a spoken or sung tradition known as the Dreamtime. Their rock carvings and paintings are found all over Australia. Shamefully treated by the early arrivals strenuous efforts are now being made to protect the aborigines and their ancestral lands, art and traditions.
So the love of the outdoors, nature, sport and afterwards –well you can always throw another shrimp on the barbie.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The southernmost group of islands in the Caribbean are the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. In the native tongue the name for Trinidad means ‘Land of the Hummingbird.’
The favourite pastime of Trinidadians is to ‘lime’. That is their word for getting together with friends to share good company, tell stories, eat and drink the ubiquitous rum.
However, what the inhabitants of these islands most like to do is to party. Having been owned at one time or another by the Dutch, Spanish, French and finally the British before gaining their independence in 1962, the islands boast an eclectic mix of South American, Indian, African, European, Creole and even Chinese influences. This is hardly a problem for the peoples of Trinidad and Tobago who enthusiastically celebrate every possible holiday including the Indian festivals of Holi and Divali; the Muslim feasts of Eid, the indo-Caribbean holiday of Hosay, not to mention Chinese New Year, Christmas Day and Easter.
But the grand party of the year is the major celebration of Carnival. Every February the islands resound with the sound of steel bands, soca parties, salsa and calypso music as gigantic parades wind through the streets accompanied by costumed revellers. Afterwards they unwind with massive feasts accompanied by gallons of locally produced rum.
Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of the steel pan drum, the only percussion instrument to be invented in the twentieth century. It is also the origin of calypso and of limbo dancing. Yes, in this southern tip of the Caribbean they sure know how to party.