Australia is a great country – it’s beautiful and diverse – but there’s no denying that it’s a really, really odd place.
From quirky politicians, to obscure and archaic laws and some of the strangest biodiversity in the world… the Land Down Under has it all.
Here are a few weird facts about Australia, which may assist you in many a trivia night in your future.
1. Australia was nearly almost Dutch
Although James Cook reportedly “discovered” Australia in 1770, the Dutch had known about the country’s existence for years – in fact, since the early 1600s.
Dutchman Abel Tasman stumbled upon Van Diemen’s Land (which was later named Tasmania after him in 1856) in 1642 and passed the coast of Australia two years later, dubbing it New Holland. If they’d beaten the English to settlement, I’d be sitting here typing this out in Dutch, which is a weird thought.
Let’s not forget that Australia was in fact already settled well before either of these European countries could lay claim to it – by the Indigenous Australians who arrived on the island continent many thousands of years ago.
2. Melbourne was nearly called “Batmania”
Before Melbourne was Melbourne, it was a small settlement on the Yarra River, which was founded by a man called John Batman. He came across the site which is now known as Central Melbourne in 1835, decided it would be a fine place to start a village and declared it “Batmania”, which we can all agree is an awesome name for a city.
In 1837 however, it was officially named Melbourne, after the then British prime minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. This name unlike Batmania, stuck.
Don’t feel too bad for Batman – remnants of the first settlement can be found across the city, in Batman Bridge, Hill, Street, Park and more.
3. And it’s the most liveable city in the world
The EU ranked Melbourne as the most liveable city in the world for six years in a row – from 2010 ’til 2016. Let’s see if it can make it seven years in 2017.
4. AND it’s the sporting capital of the world
Melbourne is also the sporting capital of the world, with events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and Australian Open held annually, as well as it being a city full of people who are utterly obsessed with the game of Aussie Rules.
Quietly, it’s possibly the only thing I personally don’t like about the place, but then I’ve never been much into sports.
5. Yet, Australia has a rapidly growing obesity rate
So, with all these sports fanatics banging about, how are Aussies so darn fat?
Over 63 percent of Australians are considered to be overweight, with one Aussie developing diabetes every five minutes.
So much for the image of the golden skinned Australian with the sun-bleached hair – more like a pasty fatty, watching some sort of cooking reality show on the TV.
6. Australia has the highest risk of skin cancer in the world
Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in Australia. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. This is due to the intensity of the Australian sun, which has quite a bite to it.
How can you avoid this happening to you? Stay in the shade as much as possible, wear a hat and protective clothing. Use sunscreen (non-toxic is best, as some creams can bleach ocean coral) and don’t tan excessively. If a mole starts to change in any way, see your GP immediately.
7. Australia’s size is roughly the same as from the edge of west coast Ireland to Russia
Australia is big. Like, as big as Europe big. Don’t believe me? Check out this website.
8. And the country contains the longest fence in the world
The Dingo Fence or Dog Fence was constructed in the 1880s, to keep Australia’s native dog the Dingo out of the south-east part of the continent and away from sheep. It stretches 5,614 kilometres (3,488 miles) from South Australia along the Western border of NSW, into Queensland.
9. Much of New South Wales is named after the first few governors of the state
Travelling around certain parts of NSW, you’ll see things like:
- The Lachlan Valley
- The Lachlan River
- Lake Macquarie
- Macquarie University
- The Hunter River
- The Hunter Valley
- John Hunter Hospital
And so on and so forth.
Many places around the state were named after the 2nd Governor of the state John Hunter and the 5th, Lachlan Macquarie. In many instances, they ran around naming things after themselves. I can’t even imagine that level of ego and nor do I want to.#Australia is a weird place. Here are 34 facts which support that statement. Click To Tweet
10. It was the second country in the world to give women the vote
Suffragettes in Australia emerged triumphant in 1902, when they were given the right to vote in federal elections, as well as the right to be elected to parliament on a national basis. We were narrowly beaten by New Zealand, who gave women the right to vote in 1893 but they could not be elected to the House of Representatives until 1919, so we sort of won. Not that it’s a competition (it totally is).
This is impressive, when you consider that the same could not be said for the USA until 1920 and the UK and Ireland in 1928 (and Saudi Arabia in 2011). We also beat all the Scandinavian countries. Victory is sweet.
This is less impressive when you consider that Indigenous Australians, male and female alike, did not have equal voting rights in all states and territories until 1967.
11. But same-sex marriage is still illegal
And we can further move from jubilation to pure sheepishness, when faced with the cold hard fact that gay marriage is still somehow illegal in Australia at the time of typing, in the year 2017. Yes, 2017.
The Australian Capital Territory, which is home to our nation’s capital of Canberra (more on that later), legalised same-sex marriage in 2013, only to have the High Court unanimously rule that the ACT’s laws were inconsistent with the Federal Marriage Act, and were therefore unconstitutional. This happened a mere five days later, after a bunch of excited couples ran out to tie the knot. Their marriages were subsequently annulled. If you’re wondering how the Aussie government could have allowed this to happen, please read up on asylum seeker policies in Australia and you’ll realise that none of them actually have a heart.
So, just to reiterate – women in Saudi Arabia can vote, but homosexuals are not allowed to marry in Australia. And there are plenty of politicians who can sleep deeply and soundly at night, despite this fact.
And same-sex marriage became legal in NZ in 2013, which is most disappointing of all.
12. Kangaroos and Emus can’t walk backwards, which is why they were chosen for the country’s coat of arms
There are a lot of whacky and unique animals that could have been chosen to be on the country’s crest. Like the koala. Or the numbat. The quoll or the platypus, which is truly WTF.
Out of all these weirdos, they chose the kangaroo and the emu. Why was that?
Quite simply, because the two animals are biologically incapable of walking backwards. They were considered symbolic of a country that was intent on moving forward, away from British rule.
And look at what we’ve become. Oh, the irony.
13. When the first platypus was sent to England, it was believed that the Australians had played a joke on the Brits by sewing the bill of a duck onto a rat
Speaking of the platypus, biologists in England quite simply thought someone was playing a cruel prank on them, when they first saw specimens of the creature. Nope. It’s a real thing that exists – this egg-laying mammal that also contains enough venom in the spur of its hind foot to kill a dog. Mother Nature sure does have a sense of humour.
Even now, experts are hazy on platypus numbers, as they’re so rarely seen out in the wild. Their conservation status is considered to be “Near Threatened”, but who really knows for sure?
14. The Cane Toad problem in Australia can be linked back to a careless mistake
The cane toad was introduced to Australia from Hawaii in June 1935 to control the spread of the cane beetle, which was wreaking havoc on sugar cane crops.
However, SOMEONE HADN’T DONE THEIR RESEARCH PROPERLY. As it transpired, cane toads have no interest in eating cane beetles. With no natural predators (when animals try to eat them, sacs that run down their sides secrete a poison that kills predators in minutes), they quickly spread across the country (they can be found across QLD and the NT are expected to soon creep their way into northern WA and NSW), driving some local species to extinction.
15. The country has a feral camel problem
The toads are just one of many invasive species that are wreaking havoc on Australia’s biodiversity.
Another is the camel, which was introduced in the mid 1800s, in order to help build the first railroad across Australia. Horses couldn’t hack the arid desert climate – camels thrive in it.
Many were released into the wild, rather than being put down as instructed. And that’s where we’re at today, with the government having to organise regular culls, to keep their numbers from exploding.
Fun fact – the “Ghan” train that traverses the country from Adelaide to Darwin is named in honour of those who built the country’s first railway. They were referred to as “The Afghans”.
16. And camels are exported to Saudi Arabia
Although camel stations exist around the country, the breeding of camels is not allowed. We now ship them to Saudi Arabia, which is hopefully a better alternative to culling them.
17. Australia is home to the world’s most venomous creature
Surprise! It’s not a snake or spider – rather it’s the box jellyfish, with an often fatal sting. It can be found floating around the northern parts of the country during the summer months.
I’ve heard that the hotter the planet gets, the more chance they have of migrating further south. Fun times.
18. …And only one person has died from a spider bite in the last forty years
Travellers to Australia often fret about the country’s spiders. Yet, since the introduction of anti-venom for the Sydney Funnel Web and the Redback Spider, there has only been one recorded death since 1979, with a young man tragically dying from a redback bite in 2016.
While you will probably be safe, it never hurts to shake out your boots before you put them on or check under the toilet seat before you pop your bare bum down on it.
19. Australia goes through Prime Ministers like it’s changing underwear
As frustrating as it was for the Australian public, the country had five politicians in as many years, due to instability within the two main political parties.
Since 2010, the following people have held office: Kevin Rudd, Australia’s first female leader Julia Gillard (2010-2013), Kevin Rudd again in 2013, Tony Abbott (2013-2015) and Malcolm Turnbull (2015-?). This is presumably because the major political parties became confused, thinking that if they simply applied a different face as a front to their unpopular policies, they’d be able to stay in power.
The only thing Tony Abbott had said that I have ever agreed with was that Australia deserved the Prime Minister that they voted in, or in so many words (uttered when his own party leadership was being questioned, after years of gloating over Labor playing musical chairs with the seat of Prime Minister). That being said, I believe he and I both had different interpretations of that statement – he wanted to stay in power, I sadly agreed that we, as a country, were getting our just desserts for voting him in in the first place.
20. Previous PM Tony Abbott once bit into a raw onion on live TV
Speaking of Tony Abbott, he once bit into a raw onion, when there were cameras present. No one really knows why.
21. Previous PM Harold Holt disappeared whilst swimming, presumed drowned
Australia’s 17th Prime Minister Harold Holt went swimming in Cheviot Beach in Victoria on the 17th December 1967. The surf was wild that day and despite being a strong swimmer, Holt soon disappeared from view. A subsequent search for the PM was conducted – one of the largest in Australian history – but no trace of his body was ever found.
Australians tend to have a twisted sense of humour, so it’s not surprising that a renovated public pool was named in his honour in 1969. If you’re ever in Melbourne and fancy a dip, you can swim laps at the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre.
22. Previous PM Bob Hawke set a world record for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds
He once stated that it was the fact that accounted for his nationwide popularity.
23. Our first female Prime Minister pushed through the most legislation of anyone whilst in power
And think what you will of Julia Gillard, but you can’t say she didn’t work hard.
During her three years in power, she managed to push through more legislation than any previous (male) PMs. Women get things done. End of story.
24. Australia used to be home to Megafauna – giant creatures which roamed the land
Megafauna are giant animals, that can still be found around the world – such as in the form of elephants and giraffes.
Australia used to be home to its own breeds of megafauna, but they’re now all sadly extinct. Why? It’s been suggested that the country’s earliest inhabitants may have wiped them out, or a changing climate couuld have been responsible. Yet, we’ll possibly never know.
And maybe it’s for the best. I for one, find the idea of giant, veiny kangaroos terrifying.
25. The oldest record fossil was found in Oz
Truth. Australia is the ideal place for natural historians!
26. The koala population are suffering from a chlamydia outbreak
Many of Australia’s native mammals are considered at least threatened, due to a range of factors. Scariest perhaps, is disease and it is an STD that is threatening one of our most symbolic and beloved critters, the Koala.
The strain affecting koalas is different to that of humans and in some parts of Oz, infection rates are as high as 90%. The animal could face extinction if more isn’t done to protect it.
27. And the Tassie devil may be wiped out by a disease that causes facial tumours
A parasitic cancer is also doing its best to wipe out the Tasmanian Devil, a species which is endemic to our southern state.
Devil facial tumour disease causes large tumours to form on the devils, leading to death within three to five months. Its wreaking havoc on the local population and at the time of writing, there is no cure.
The concern for the devil is so great, that colonies are being set up in other states, in the hope of reintroducing them into the mainland (they are thought to have existed throughout other parts of Australia some 400 years ago). One such project is Devil Ark, located in the Barrington Tops in NSW.
28. Tasmania has the cleanest air of anywhere in the world
Although it is slowly getting more polluted. This hasn’t stopped me from wanting to move there to start my rescue dog farm, by any means.
29. Australian’s invented the selfie, or at least the word
Although people worldwide have been taking photos of themselves pretty much since cameras were invented and narcissism can be traced back to Ancient Greece, the word itself was apparently invented by Australians.
And for that, I am sorry.
30. The Sydney Opera House design was inspired by an orange
“SAILS ON THE HARBOUR!” Most people will say, when they ask what the Opera House is meant to represent.
Not quite – Danish architect Jørn Utzon was actually influenced by a segmented orange.
Utzon actually never saw the Opera House in its completed form. After going way over budget, the government at the time began to question his designs and estimates. He was forced to resign, despite popular opinion and left Australia after nine years of working on the project, never to return.
It seems sad, but as his son Jan Utzon once noted, as the architect all he had to do was “…close his eyes to see it.”
31. The capital Canberra is a compromise
Another foreign architect, an American this time, had a hand in designing the nation’s capital – Canberra. That’s right – Sydney is not the capital of Australia and don’t let any Melburnians hear you say anything otherwise.
It was rivalry between the country’s two biggest cities that caused the need for Canberra to exist in the first place (STOP FIGHTING YOU TWO!). No one could agree on which city should be capital. Fortunately, Australia has quite the un-populated landmass, so it was decided that one would just be created instead.
Walter Burley Griffin had the winning design, with it being selected from 137 entries in 1912. The city was founded in 1913, with the Commonwealth parliament moving to Canberra on 9 May 1927.
“Canberra” is said to mean “meeting place” in a local indigenous language, but as usual, no one knows for sure.
32. It’s an offence to have more than 50kg of potatoes on your person at anytime in Western Australia
And it has been since 1946.
33. Australia has one of slowest Internet speeds in the world and it is painful
Australia is currently ranked 51 on the list of global average internet speeds, behind countries such as Kenya, Thailand, Serbia and Bulgaria, which is depressing. After arguing for years, the government began the rollout of the National Broadband Network (the NBN). Let’s cross our fingers and hope things improve by the time it has been installed countrywide. It would be nice to make the top fifty, at least.
34. Australia is full of big things
Someone decided to build the Big Scotsman in Medindie, Adelaide, in 1963 and they created an awesome monster.
Across Australia, you’ll find an array of “Big Things” – from a banana, to a prawn. A golden guitar and a beer can. Many are heritage listed and all can be used as an excuse for one helluva road trip.
We could have had a big dunny (toilet) in Dunedoo NSW as well, but unfortunately, the town voted against it (spoilsports). It’s a real shame, honestly. At least there are plenty of other attractions around the country, to keep you entertained.
What can I say? I guess we do things bigger and better in the land of Oz.
Are there any oddities you’d like to add to this list?