What is Australian Culture?

Aboriginal rock art of a kangaroo at Kakadu National Park, Australia.
Aboriginal rock art of a kangaroo at Kakadu National Park, Australia.

The way of life of the Australian people draws its influences from diverse sources with the British, who had previously colonized Australia, and the native Australians having the most significant impact. The most dominant influence in their way of life comes from Western traditions.

People and Society

Australia is a diverse, multiethnic nation with people from all over the world settling in Australia alongside the indigenous inhabitants. Caucasians of European descent make up the largest part of the population and have had the biggest impact on the nation's culture. Some of the earliest British immigrants into Australia were convicts as the British government sent more than 160,000 convicts to the island. The indigenous Australians, on the other hand, have lived on the island for at least 40,000 years. Their way of life mainly revolved around hunting and gathering. Most Australians prefer to live in cities as much of the country is either arid or semi-arid. Most of the native Australians live along the country's east coast with the largest population being in New South Wales.

Food and Drink

Native Australians have had more than 40,000 years to develop their own unique culinary traditions. They were traditionally hunters and gatherers, and the unique Australian landscape provided them with a wide array of food sources. They hunted kangaroos and emus as their primary source of meat. Communities living along the coast used to catch fish and shellfish to supplement their meals. The communities also ate a large variety of wild fruits such as Davidson's plum and quandong. Immigrants into Australia brought along unique cooking traditions from their home countries. Modern Australian cuisine combines elements of the traditional cooking with imported methods to create unique and authentic Australian dishes. Australians consume large quantities of alcohol which is a relic from colonial times. Australian wine is considered to be among the finest in the world, and the industry contributed more than $5 billion to the national economy.

Arts and Literature

Native Australian art has existed for nearly 60,000 years giving them the distinction of having the oldest continuous art tradition on the planet. Australia has more prehistoric art than any other continent with hundreds of thousands of locations having the unique indigenous rock art. Australia is also home to well-known artists such as Max Dupain, whose photographs have received critical acclaim. John Peter Russel was one of the first Australian impressionists to achieve international success with Claude Monet, one of the greatest impressionists, taking a liking to his work. Marcus Clarke was one of the pioneers of Australian literature and his book, For the Term of His Natural Life, is considered one of the most magnificent chronicles of the life of a convict during Australia's formative years. Australia has also produced some of the world's greatest poets with Dorothy Mackellar and Judith Wright being some of the most noteworthy examples.

Music and Dance

Native Australians have a rich musical heritage spanning several centuries with the didgeridoo being one of their most famous instruments. Immigrants into Australia brought along their homelands' unique musical traditions such as folk ballads which the British immigrants introduced. Caucasian settlers also introduced European classical music to Australia. Nellie Melba, one of the world's premier operatic sopranos, hailed from Australia. Her unique voice was one of the factors that propelled her to international stardom. Native Australian communities have unique dances, passed down through generations, which have great religious significance.

Sports and Leisure

Sports are an essential part of Australian life with cricket being the nation's most popular sport. The history of cricket in Australia stretches back at least 200 years with the first cricket match being played in 1803. Of all the famous cricket stars from the nation, Donald Bradman is considered the greatest batsman to ever play the sport. Football is also popular in Australia, drawing the most spectators of any game. Australia has achieved success on the international stage in a vast number of sports particularly at the Olympic Games and at the Commonwealth Games. Surfing and swimming are popular past times for millions of Australians.


The freedom of religion is enshrined in the Australian constitution which also states that there should be no official state religion in the country. The natives of Australia developed their religious tradition over their 40,000 years stay on the island referred to as the Dreaming. The religious traditions of these communities were passed down through songs and dances. The immigration of various communities into Australia brought new religions with Christianity being the most dominant religion. Close to 40% of Australians identify as Christians, a decline from the 1901 high of 97%. The Catholic Church is the most prevalent Christian denomination accounting for 22.6% of the nation's population. Immigration has diversified the Australian religious landscape with Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus making up close to 7% of the population. Around 30% of the Australian people do not identify with any particular religion.

Traditional Clothing

One of the most iconic pieces of Native Australian dressing is the possum-skin cloak which was favored by communities living in the southeastern part of the country. With the spread of western civilization, fewer possum-skin cloaks were made as modern clothing replaced them. A cover made of kangaroo hide called the Buka was more prevalent in the southwestern part of the nation. In recent times Australia boasts of being the home of several world-famous fashion brands such as Billabong and Quicksilver. Australia has a vibrant fashion scene with its most famous event being the Australian Fashion Week, a bi-annual fashion event. Australian models such as Elle Macpherson have modeled for some of the world's most exclusive brands.

Pop Culture

Australian popular culture developed mainly along western lines. Australia has a dynamic country music scene that draws more from Celtic tradition than the American tradition. Several Australian music stars have made a name for themselves internationally with their music which consistently tops international charts. Sia, Gotye, and Keith Urban are some of the most well-known Australian famous musicians. Several locally produced Australian films and television shows such as Division 4 have become global sensations. Neighbors is considered as one of the greatest Australian soap operas as it has aired for more than 33 years with close to 7,900 episodes.


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