Australian Cultural Symbols

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November 21st, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

Just like any country, Australia has many cultural symbols. After living in the country for over four months, here are ten of the main symbols I have come across.

Kangaroo

When people think of Australian animals, most would probably picture a koala or kangaroo. Kangaroos, commonly known as ‘roos’, are very common in Australia, and most species are endemic to the country. Some species populations are healthy enough to support hunting, although there are very strict regulations with the priority being the conservation of the animal. The marsupial cannot move backwards, and its inclusion on the Australian coat of arms as a national icon represents the idea of the country always moving forwards and advancing.

Emu

The emu is the national bird of Australia and is unique to the continent. It is one of the two animals included on the Australian coat of arms. Similar to the kangaroo, emus have difficulty moving backwards and their presence on the coat of arms also represents Australia always moving forward.

Opal

Opals are the national gemstone of Australia. Over 96% of the world’s opals are mined in this country. Even so, not many Australians actually wear opals, and the stones are usually exported or sold at tourist shops. I’ve heard multiple warnings to be wary of your source when buying an opal, since it can be hard to distinguish between imitation gems and the real thing.

Southern Cross

This cluster of stars is one of the most visible constellations in the Southern Hemisphere. It is included on the Australian National Flag, and it represents Australia’s geographic location. While the Union Jack on the flag pays tribute to the colonizing British, it is the Southern Cross that actually represents Australia.

Golden Wattle

This has long been recognized as Australia’s floral symbol, similar to the concept of state flowers in the US. It’s found in many parts of the country, including the woodland and open scrub. It’s green and gold colors are the same as the colors used to represent Australia in sports. The plant is also included in the Australian coat of arms.

Vegemite

The food is very dear to many Australians. In one way, it sets them apart from visitors since very few outsiders like Vegemite. As one local told me, for many Australians Vegemite is one of the first salty food they have which leads to a love for the spread that dates back to early childhood. On the other hand, many foreigners grew up something vastly different than Vegemite that satisfied their primal craving for salt. Thus, if someone is very fond of Vegemite, you can almost guarantee that the individual is from the land down under.

Peace sign/ V sign

While this is a harmless gesture in the United States, a peace sign has a much different meaning in Australia when you do it with your palm facing in. It is basically the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. Apparently in 1992, President George Bush visited Australia and tried to flash the peace sign, but gave the insulting V sign instead with his palm was facing in. However, this sign is somewhat old and people more commonly use the finger in certain situations.

Sitting in the front of a taxi

In the US, it is very common for people to hop into the backseat of a taxi. However, in Australian this can be considered rude. Australians are very keen on equality and dislike categorizing people based on their class or social status. Sitting in the back of a taxi as a single occupant makes it seem like you are being chauffeured and makes conservation difficult. In a way, sitting in the back is like saying you are too good to talk to a simple taxi driver.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

This is one of the most iconic landmarks in Australia, and it is commonly referred to as the “coathanger” by locals due to its shape. In 1988, it was named an “International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The landmark is also the world’s largest steel arch bridge. A picture of this bridge alongside the Sydney Opera House is a common choice for Australian postcards.

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ANZAC Day

This day is celebrated on April 25th and commemorates the day when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli during WWI in 1915. In the present day, the holiday is used to remember all the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Australia in WWI and subsequent wars. There are many war memorials in different cities across Australia, and special ceremonies are often held there on ANZAC Day. Additionally, many roads and highways bear the label ANZAC.

More updates to come soon!

Cheers,

Michelle

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