On the 26th of January 1788, the First Fleet landed, and Captain Arthur Phillips hoisted a Union Jack to claim the new land for Great Britain. The fleet of close to 1,000 souls that landed in Australia that day consisted of around 700 prisoners. A new penal colony was soon established in Port Jackson.
Having recently lost the American colonies through the American Revolutionary War, the Crown was eager to establish a new settlement. Landing in Sydney cove that warm January morning cemented Britain’s dominations of the seas and helped re-establish confidence in the British Empire that had been lost in America.
Over 230 years since the First Fleet landed January 26th has become an annual day of celebration for Australians. Celebrated across Australia, the day is marked with family gatherings, barbeques, fireworks, and parades. A day that is dedicated to the things that are great about life down under, Australia Day is, for many, a day of national pride.
In celebration of Australia Day, here are ten interesting facts about Australia that you might not have known!
Swimming used to be illegal
With central Australia remaining almost uninhabitable, 90% of the population of Australia live along its exciting and stunning coastlines. Known for its prime surfing spots and the Great Barrier Reef - the world’s largest living coral reef, it is not surprising that Australia is the go-to location for water sport enthusiasts. However, it was not always the ideal scuba destination.
Between 1838 and 1902 it was illegal for anyone to swim in public during daylight hours. A combination of limited access to swimming costumes, no changing sheds, and public decency laws meant that it became illegal to swim at the beach during daylight hours.
Despite being home to the world’s largest hot desert, the Middle East imports it is sand from Australia. Composed mostly of garnet, Australian sand is ideal for cleaning and sandblasting.
Sand is not the only bizarre export that Australia sends to the Middle East. They also provide the majority of their camels.
Introduced for transport, camels became defunct once the Australian rail and road systems were in place. Left to thrive in the wild, it is now estimated that there are over 1,000,000 pure-bred camels roaming free. Considered pests, the camels pose a threat to the local ecosystems and farmers.
With the camel populations in the Middle East affected by selective breeding, as well as not enough supply for demand, Australian feral camels are captured and exported for breeding and meat.
The Australian Aboriginal culture is the oldest living civilization in the world. Having been one of the first people to have left Africa more than 70,000 years ago, Aborigines have survived for between 40,000 and 60,000 years. Sadly, due to colonisation, many of the Indigenous cultures and civilisations have greatly suffered. When the First Fleet arrived in 1788, it is estimated that 70% of the Indigenous population were wiped out due to European diseases to which they had no immunity. Further devastation at the hands of colonisers through schemes such as resettlement and assimilation efforts have left the Australian Aborigines struggling to hold on to their ancient heritage. Many of Aborigines refute Australia day as a day of celebration and refer to it instead as Invasion Day.
Proof of life
Dated back to around 3.5 billion years, blue-green algae fossils called stromatolites can be found in Shark Bay in Western Australia. The fossils are the oldest evidence of life on earth and continue to grow in abundance on the Western Australian coast today.
Cops and robbers
The first Australian police force, named the Night Watch, was established in 1789 to guard Sydney Town. Due to the limited workforce, and the majority of the town’s population consisting of convicts, Governor Arthur Phillip selected 12 of the best-behaved felons that had travelled with him to Australia the year before to keep law and order in his town.
So many sheep
Sheep outnumber the locals by more than 3 to one! In fact, Australia has the second-largest sheep population in the world, behind China.
Australia is home to the only two species of egg-laying mammals on the earth - the duck-billed platypus and the Echidna. It is also home to 21 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, and 80% of the wildlife found is native to Australia.
Surfing, scuba and… skiing?
Despite being known for its hot, tropical climates and white sandy beaches, the Australian Alps get more snow every year than in the Swiss Alps.
In 1970 the Australian state of Victoria became the first in the western world to introduce a mandatory seatbelt law. Just over a year, later all other Australian states had followed suit.