All people in Australia are encouraged to learn English, which is the national language and an important unifying element of Australian society.
However, languages other than English are also valued. In fact, more than 15 per cent of Australians speak languages other than English at home.
The most commonly spoken languages after English are Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Mandarin. Australians speak more than 200 languages, including Indigenous Australian languages.
While English is Australia’s national language, there are certain words and expressions that have become regarded as uniquely Australian through common usage. Some of them might seem strange to non-Australians.
The use of these colloquial or slang words, often coupled with an Australian sense of humour that is characterised by irony and irreverence, can sometimes cause confusion for international visitors. There are a number of books on Australian colloquialisms and slang, including the Macquarie Book of Slang.
Australia is a predominantly Christian country, with around 64 per cent of all Australians identifying as Christians. However, most other major religious faiths are also practised, reflecting Australia’s culturally diverse society.
Australia’s earliest religions or spiritual beliefs date back to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have inhabited Australia for between 40 000 and 60 000 years. Indigenous Australians have their own unique religious traditions and spiritual values.
Australia has no official state religion and people are free to practise any religion they choose, as long as they obey the law. Australians are also free not to have a religion.
Australia has a vibrant arts scene that reflects both the nation’s Indigenous cultural traditions and its rich mosaic of migrant cultures. All forms of the visual and performing arts have strong followings, including film, art, theatre, dance and music.
According to one survey, almost 13 million or 88 per cent of adult Australians attend at least one cultural event or performance every year. The most popular art form is film, attended by about 70 per cent of the population each year. More than 26 per cent attend a popular music concert; 25 per cent go to an art gallery or museum; 19 per cent see an opera or musical; 18 per cent attend live theatre; 11 per cent attend a dance performance; and 9 per cent attend a classical music concert.
Visual artists have played an important role in shaping and reflecting Australia’s image. They range from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to the nationalist painters of the Heidelberg School in Victoria, symbolic surrealists such as Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker and modern artists reflecting issues confronting contemporary Australia. Other notable Australian artists include John Brack, William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Margaret Olley, John Olsen, Margaret Preston, Clifton Pugh, Jeffrey Smart, Brett Whiteley and Fred Williams.
Australia has a strong literary tradition, which started with the storytelling of Indigenous Australians and continued with the oral stories of convicts arriving in Australia in the late 18th century. Australia has one Nobel Prize for Literature to its credit, with novelist Patrick White receiving the award in 1973. Other recent Australian novelists whose work has a particularly Australian flavour include Peter Carey, Bryce Courtenay, Kate Grenville, Elizabeth Jolley, Thomas Keneally, Christopher Koch, David Malouf, Colleen McCullough, Christina Stead, Morris West and Tim Winton.
Australians love their sport, both playing it and watching it.
Australia has often achieved impressive results at the elite level. In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Australia ranked fourth overall in the medal tally behind the United States, China and Russia. In the 2006 Football World Cup, Australia reached the final 16. Australia is also ranked the top cricketing nation in the world.
But it’s not just at this top level that Australians enjoy their sport. A recent national survey showed that more than 11 million Australians aged 15 or over participated at least once a week in physical activity for exercise, recreation and sport—a participation rate of almost 70 per cent. The 10 most popular physical activities were walking, aerobics/fitness, swimming, cycling, tennis, golf, running, bushwalking, football (often referred to as soccer in Australia) and netball. Other popular sporting activities include Australian football, rugby, hockey, basketball, baseball, car racing, horse racing, sailing and snow skiing.
The most watched sports in Australia include Australian Rules Football, a uniquely Australian game with roots traceable to early forms of rugby and Gaelic football, rugby league, rugby union and cricket. The Australian Open, held in Melbourne, is one of tennis’s four Grand Slam events. Australia has more than 120 national sporting organisations and thousands of state and local bodies.