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ANECDOTES AND REFLECTIONS


  AUSTRALIA FELIX


Story of Australia – Past and Present


Henry Zehr
August 2013


It was in 1836 that Major Thomas Mitchell; the Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, started his third journey of discovery into the hinterland. He was commanded by the Governor to follow the Murray River to its mouth, but as he was never good at following orders he turned south near Kerang  into what later became the colony of Victoria, then turned west and came upon the richest grazing land which he called “Australia Felix”. The fact that the land looked so lush was attributed by some to the Aborigine’s land management practices.

 A bird with soft white and salmon pink plumage, was named “Major Mitchell cockatoo” in the major’s honour – and he, who was a bit critical of Australia’s harsh land, wrote – “Few birds more enliven the monotonous hues of the Australian forest than the beautiful species whose pink coloured wings and flowing crest might have embellished the air of a more voluptuous region”.

I chose these opening paragraphs to express my appreciation for my good fortune to live in this “Lucky Country” – Australia Felix.

The country has changed enormously since I arrived in 1949. Here are some of the changes – I speak only for the three eastern states – New South Wales, Victoria & Queensland.

 Current figures – 2011 are in italics.

•    The population was barely 8 million (23.1 million)
             People were predominantly of Anglo/Irish origin – and our landlady, a 3rd generation
             Australian, referred to the UK as “home”. Nearly half of today’s population is of non-
             Anglo/Saxon origin and call themselves proudly “Australian”.

•    To own a modest house one had to have 4 years’ earnings, nowadays it would be 9 years.
 
•    You had to work a year for your car - now it is only four months.

•    Shops were opened from 8.30am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays and 8.30am to 12.30pm on Saturdays. These days shops are open 7 days a week and some 24/7.

•    Hotels – the drinking places – closed at 6pm in NSW and 10pm in Queensland and shut all day on Sunday. Today many are open till the early hours of the morning

•    Cinema sessions started with the national anthem, followed by a newsreel. Some theatres played Ravel s Bolero and in large cities there was often an organ recital as well - and 2 films. Now it is only one film session and advertising.
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•    Theatres and all sporting venues were shut on Sundays. This was enforced by the protestant churches. The only theatre open in Sydney was an amateur communist theatre and only voluntary payment could be accepted. All entertainments are available on Sundays.

•    Non Anglo/Saxon Restaurants and cafes were very rare. There were one or two good Italian restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne and one in Brisbane. Gradually, Greek and Chinese places sprang up but today we have a great proliferation of eating places including Italian, French, German , Greek, Lebanese, Arabic, Halal, Kosher, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Indonesian and most South East Pacific ones – and more.

•    Religion. There used to be some tension between Catholics and Protestants in the early days. That is            quite rare now.
 Australia is a vast country with large areas of desert. Its area is approximately the size of mainland USA (the lower 48 states) but it only has a population of 23.1 million. The USA has approx 313 million.
Estimates put the agricultural land at 6%, grazing land at 56% of the total and built environment occupies only O.3%.of all the landmass. Another 7% is reserved for nature conservation and other protected areas and 13% for indigenous and other uses.  The distance from north to south and also from east to west is around 3500 km to 4500 km.

Captain James Cook was in charge of a vessel (The bark Endeavour) a refitted collier from Whitby in Yorkshire and commissioned to find a Southern Continent - Terra Australis. This was partly financed by the Royal Society’s Joseph Banks and the Admiralty. Another botanist a Swede and friend of Linnaeus together with a painter Robinson were financed by Joseph Banks and were also on board. After recording the passing of Venus they circumnavigated New Zealand and made a landing at Kurnell near Sydney and then sailed around Australia’s East Coast, naming several places on the way. The nation named a small township in Queensland the Town of 1770 which was the year of this voyage and of the first contact of Europeans on Australia’s East Coast. The Endeavour hit a reef in Far North Queensland and got stuck. The captain got to Lizard Island, climbed a mountain and found a way out through the reef. He found a river which now bears the name of his vessel – Endeavour, beached the vessel and rebuild it in seven weeks. The name of the place where it happened is now Cooktown. Robinson, who painted some botanical specimen (only recently published at a four figure cost) and a dozen other sailors died of malaria at the next stopover in Batavia (now Jakarta).Cook also charted the island of Newfoundland, got involved in overcoming the French in Quebec, failed to find the North West Passage through the north of Canada (now Alaska) and got killed in Hawaii in 1779. Captain Cook’s cottage was brought from England to Melbourne.

The British landed the first fleet of eleven ships of convicts with some free men – all administrators and military - in January of 1788 at Botany Bay now the site of Sydney’s airport. Captain Phillip was not very impressed by the site and decided to try the land around the corner. He must have been as delighted as I was when I sailed through the Heads into what is called Port Jackson – or the Sydney Harbour – a truly beautiful site. The Frenchman Compte de La Perouse turned up a few days later. Too late! – The British got there first and claimed it for the British crown. Not to worry. Sydney later created a suburb of La Perouse. The Compte asked Capt. Phillip to send some papers to Paris – which was done- and the papers arrived in France, but the Compte himself never did return as he was lost at sea. The Czech connection with Australia goes back to March 1793, when Tadeas Haenke, a renowned botanist and doctor, trained in Vienna and at the Charles University in Prague, arrived with a Spanish expedition. He was born in Chřibská. He described and named some of the species of Australian plants and animals with the help of convicts given to him to collect samples and he reported to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society in London and an advocate of settlement by the British in Australia.

 The penal colony had its own protection in the form of the New South Wales Corps who safeguarded their
own economic interests by creating a “Rum Monopoly” and becoming known as the “The Rum Corps”. They had complete control of all alcohol trade and imports for some 25 years and even sacked the Governor (Capt. Bligh then highly regarded by the settlers). The first free settlers arrived in 1793. When Macquarie, a new. Governor, arrived in 1808, he sent the whole corrupt New South Wales Corp – the Rum Corps - back to England.

 In the 1860’s Burke & Wills and a party of 19 took off on their exploration trip from Melbourne, got as far as the Gulf of Carpentaria, missed a support party’s supply drop on the way back, and perished. Not so a 3rd member of the expedition – King - who was fed by aborigines. Theirs was a truly tragic story. They reached their destination in the north of Australia, spent 24 hours burying one of their members and then missed their supply party by 9 hours. They were shown some edible – nardoo - seeds by the aborigines but did not know to soak them first before consuming them. Without soaking the seeds were poisonous and this hastened their demise. Seven of the nineteen members of the expedition died along the way.

 Only a decade later a start was made on the famous Telegraph Line which stretched 3200 km from South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory. This was to connect with a cable from Europe to Darwin via India. Before the cable, communications between Britain and Australia could take up to three months. The Afghan riders played a prominent role in this construction. Apparently camels can carry up to 600kg of supplies. When the construction finished the camels were let loose or were shot. Obviously not all of them, as we now have the largest herd of wild camels in the world – close to one million. The irony is that we now export them to the Middle East. When I travelled in Central Australia I was surprised to find small melons along the roads. I was told that these were from seeds that the Afghan camel riders packed into their saddles. (I have not been able to confirm this.) The Afghans have, however, not been forgotten. A train which runs through the Centre is called “The Ghan” (short for Afghan). In recent times a Czech by the name of Pecanek conducted a transport and general store in Oodnadatta on the edge of the central Australian desert.

 There were numerous explorers, memorably Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth who traversed the Blue Mountains, which the Governor thought to be impossible. This opened up access to the Western Plains. The seafarer Matthew Flinders, who, very early in the 19th century circumnavigated Australia in a small ship, published a description and charts of his voyage in a book “Terra Australis”. That led to the renaming of the colony to “Australia”. Prior to that, Bass and Flinders established that Tasmania was an island and the Governor named the waterway between Australia and Tasmania Bass Straight. Another explorer, John Forrest, did not succeed in finding any traces of the missing German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt but he explored Western Australia and later became that colony’s first Premier.  Some explorers travelled light whilst others carried a lot of baggage, including timber, a writing desk and even a whale boat – expecting to find an inland sea. Sturt and Stuart discovered that the mouth of the Murray did not flow into the sea, but was a maze of lagoons and sandbars. They also discovered the Sturt Stony Desert and the Simpson Desert. It was very tough going and they both suffered as a result of their travel adventures.

The population growth was very slow until the discovery of gold in the early 1850’s. By then, other colonies were opened by the British Crown – Tasmania (originally called “Van Diemans Land”), Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland followed. The Victorian gold rush in Bendigo and Ballarat enriched the state and its capital Melbourne, so that it became richer than the first state – of New South Wales and its capital Sydney. The issue of gold mining licences led to a rebellion in Ballarat and the “Eureka Stockade” became an issue similar to the “Boston Tea Party” – no taxation without representation. It did lead to some democratisation of the colonial system. It also produced a revolutionary flag beloved of the local socialists.



From the first day of the January 1901 Australia became a federation of the six states. The first Parliament sat in Melbourne but in 1927 it was transferred to Canberra, which is situated in the Australian Capital Territory. This is a territory ceded by the state of NSW to appease the Victorians and is roughly situated half way between Sydney and Melbourne. Apart from the ACT the Federal Government also rules the Northern Territory some of which had previously been administered from South Australia, Norfolk Island and Christmas Island.

Australia sent a large number of troops to Europe during the First World War. All the troops were volunteers. Australia and New Zealand formed a joint corps named ANZAC which fought valiantly beside the British contingent at Gallipoli. Gallipoli was Winston Churchill’s not so bright an idea to gain control of the Dardanelles. To this day the day of landing at Gallipoli by the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) is celebrated as the main wartime remembrance day.
Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and a general of the Turkish army at Gallipoli penned the following inscription which may be viewed at The War Memorial in Canberra and also at Gallipoli:-

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

 After pulling out of Gallipoli the ANZACs transferred to Egypt and an Australian Mounted Division fought at Beersheba (Be’er Sheba) and was the first to reach Damascus immortalised in the film “Forty thousand Horsemen”. It was the last large cavalry battle. France and Belgium were also battlegrounds where Australian troops participated. A village near Amiens called Villiers Bretonneau has a memorial with an inscription “Never Forget the Australians. “Thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number”.   In a war dominated by English high brass, an Australian general, John Monash, distinguished himself in the battle of Hamel by producing “the finest set-piece of the war”. In other words, not throwing masses of soldiers out into the open field. Australia supplied 331.000 men and women and incurred some of the highest casualties of participating countries – 13% of the male population, yet the Prime Minister – Billy Hughes wanted more soldiers and had two referenda to bring in conscription. Both of them failed.

          In the Second World War, Australia again sent large numbers of troops, to Egypt, Libya and Greece to assist Britain. In Africa, Australian troops held Tobruk against the German general Rommel, but were withdrawn, as the PM demanded that the UK allow them to return to Australia in order to defend the country against the Japanese threat. Australian troops were replaced by Czechoslovakian and Polish troops in Tobruk.  In Papua and New Guinea, where the enemy made a push from the north and along the Kokoda Track, the Japanese were held back by Australian militia as most of the trained army was still at sea on the way from Tobruk. The militia was not as well trained for this job and were called “chocolate soldiers” or “chokos”. They acquitted themselves very well and stopped the Japanese just north of Port Moresby the PNG capital. They were soon supported by regular troops back from Tobruk as well as United States soldiers under the command of General McArthur, whom the Australian Government also appointed as commander of Australian troops. Had the Japanese been able to cross the Kokoda track and get to Port Moresby there would have been nothing to stop them invading the mainland of Australia and it appears that the military had plans called “the Brisbane Line”. When the Pacific war started in December 1941 the Japanese practically conquered South China, Thailand, Indochina and Indonesia as well as New Guinea in three months. Singapore, which had a large contingent of British and Australian troops, surrendered very quickly and a large number of POW died in POW camps. This was probably one of the darkest episodes of the war for Australia.  

I was a very keen skier when I first came to Australia at the age of 20. I spent my first   holidays at the Hotel Kosciuszko which was then only one of two places offering accommodation in that area. Today there are literally hundreds of places, including two villages Thredbo and Perisher as well as hotels and rooms available in nearby towns of Jindabyne & Cooma. The whole area is called the Snowy Mountains (an area as large as Switzerland) and the tallest mountain is Mt. Kosciuszko. It was first climbed by the surveyor general of the State of Victoria, Count Strzelecki. The mountain is the tallest in Australia, measures 2228m and was named by Strzelecki for his Polish hero and American revolutionary war General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. The full Polish spelling of Kosciuszko was restored by the NSW Geographic authority fairly recently from its abbreviated version).

A year after my holiday in the snow country I took a job with The Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority which had just started to build a large complex of dams, tunnels and power stations. Probably one of the largest ever projects for this country. It took 25 years to complete (I did not stay that long but long enough to enjoy a lot of skiing and get paid at the same time). In those days, one was able to ride to the summit on horseback, which I did with a party of my Snowy co-workers.

When the first fleet of European settlers landed in 1788 the local population, The Aborigines, were estimated to number between 300.000 and 1 million. They were hunters and gatherers who lived in groups of clans and were largely nomadic. As they did not mark their land in any way the British authorities declared the land to be “terra nullius” and appropriated it to themselves. When the settlers constructed fences and the Aborigines shot some farm animals the settlers retaliated and a number of the natives were killed. This together with illnesses such as small-pox soon reduced their numbers. In the Sydney area alone three quarters died within three years of the European’s arrival. When I arrived in 1949 their number was just over 100 000 and there was an expectation that they would not survive and all one could do was to “soothe their pillow”. However there was a steep turnaround in the second half of the 20th century and the numbers have now reached half a million. It is now recognised that an Aborigine is “one (a) who considers himself to be one,(b) who can claim aboriginal descent, or (c) who is recognised by the community as such”. Probably three quarters of them are products of mixed marriages. There is a belief that many declare themselves to be members just to receive benefits of various government grants. Some problems are difficult to overcome. These relate mainly to drinking which in turn leads to malnutrition, crime, violence and school absence. The core of the problems lies in the Northern Territory where there are some 73 small settlements. The Government now plans to build centres and equip them with hospitals, schools and police stations. Mining companies promise to employ many of them provided that they master the English language. A volunteer organisation promises to bring employment to 50.000 aborigines – mostly in the mining industry. The tide has turned. I recall attending a meeting in the early 1960’s where the “first” aboriginal university graduate was present. Today they number over ten thousand.
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I arrived in Sydney in January 1949 and quickly discarded the fatty foods of continental Europe better to cope with the heat of the Australian summer. I noticed that sweets and biscuits often tasted of salt, which I find unpleasant (to this day). The reason for it was the butter – it was salted, presumably as it lasted longer in the hot climate. Unsalted butter was hard to get. Other migrants, often called “Displaced persons” had to cope with mutton in migrant camp kitchens, whilst the locals were consuming large quantities of beef (some even three times a day). These days you see more sausages on barbecues, than steaks.

 The Prime Minister was Ben Chifley a self taught economist and engine driver from Bathurst. His ALP (Australian Labor Party) attempted to nationalise the banks but they failed and were subsequently defeated in December of that year. That was the last attempt at enforcing the socialist platform by that party. Conservatives and Labor have since been selling off state enterprises including the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra – the telephone company, Qantas ( which had previously incorporated Trans-Australia Airlines), CSL a serum laboratory, CHEP - Commonwealth Handling Equipment pool (pallets), AWA (radio),COR (half share with BP in petroleum products). Some state governments disposed of rail and electricity enterprises.

Immigrant factory workers and some professionals from overseas were readily accepted at work but other professionals had real problems. Doctors, dentists and accountants were not considered to have appropriate qualification and were forced to re-study or partly study their professional qualification. I did not mind as at that time I did not wish to practice accountancy and I worked in major motor car assembly factories. When they discovered that I could count to ten they gave me a job in the tool store, which required only 2 hours work, and that gave me 6 hours to study. I managed to cover my first 2 years’ study in 8 months. After that it was a piece of cake – except when I tried to get work at a firm in Sydney in 1953 - I struck a brick wall. The solution was to apply for a job in a country town, which I did – and after 15 months there I got a job in the big city quite easily. Today, there is no such problem – and an employee of my successor in a private accountancy practice is a Korean. In spite of the fact that some Australians have reservation about the English, they are themselves still very British. My work experiences as a labourer in car factories and the hydro electric project made me feel that training and hence middle-management was quite poor. As an example – welding equipment was given to me without any training or instruction, right on the factory floor. Drawing of petrol out of a drum was done by sucking on a pipe without any precautions.  At an Army exercise, a Bren-gun was given me on a rifle range without any explanation as to how to handle it. I believe that training these days is much better. By contrast, I thought that the armed forces middle management was very good.

The communist party was quite strong in various trade unions but had no representation in the State or Federal houses of Parliament. Workers voted in Communists as their leaders as they were very effective in securing better conditions for their workers. In 1949 the coal miners led by their communist leaders decided to boycott the production of coal which threatened to bring industry to its knees. A Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, decided to send the troops to the mines and the strike quickly collapsed. The communists tried to infiltrate the Labor Party but instead the ALP managed to get rid of the communists in the trade unions over the next 15 years., The conservative party, which calls itself the Liberal party, gained office in December 1949 and Robert G. Menzies, was in power as PM for nearly 17 years. The Liberals, together with their partners the Nationals formerly the Country Party ruled for 41 of my 64 years stay in Australia. The ALP can no longer be called a socialist party as it moved towards the centre and could be described as social-democratic.

We had two military conscriptions, one was in the fifties during the Korean War and another in the sixties during the Vietnam War. There was also a “Malaysian Emergency” (which happened before Britain relinquished its rule of Malaysia when a revolt by the mainly Chinese-Malayans attempted to create a Communist state. They failed. At that time I joined the Citizen’s Military Forces now called Army Reserve and went through training at the Canungra Jungle Training Centre. Unbeknown to most people in Australia, the conflict in Malaysia was helped by the communists from Indonesia, who looked like gaining control there. The island we know as Borneo has 2 Malaysian states but Indonesia owns a larger part and they renamed the island Kalimantan. The British initiative was probably one of the last imperial adventures of Great Britain – and it was a great success.  Australia now participates in the engagements both in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pacific also has had situations requiring military assistance in dealing with tribal conflicts in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Bougainville and East Timor. Additionally, Australia is also involved in policing in Cyprus. In 1964 Australia agreed to send police to Cyprus to assist in maintaining peace. It failed to put in a “sunset clause” and the police are still there.

Australia is a land of Bookworms. A Queensland charity, Lifeline, organises a “Bookfest” yearly, with 4 km of tables full of books available for sale for as little as 20 cents. All titles on sale are donated. Queensland with a population of 4.6 million is but a fifth of the country’s population. Brisbane, the capital of Queensland has a population of 2 million and the city councils have 58 libraries spread over the city. There is also a State library. The largest research library is the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

 Patrick White won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1973. Other prominent Australian authors include David Malouf, Peter Carey, and Colleen McCullough (30 million copies sold of “Thorn birds”), Tim Winton ((Cloudstreet) and Thomas Keneally. These are the recent ones. George Johnston’s (“My brother Jack”), D’Arcy Niland, A B ”Banjo” Paterson and Frank Hardy, are earlier authors.  An “oldie” –“For the Term of his Natural Life” by Marcus Clarke – was written in 1870. A memorable book, “A Fortunate Life” written by AB Facey when he was 83 years of age, is an epic written by an optimist who had a very hard life and it is a real Australian classic. Arthur Upfield wrote about an imaginary Aboriginal detective – “Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony). We have another Nobel Laureate living here – he is originally a South African– JM Coetzee. Australian artists living in London include Germaine Greer, Rolf Harris and Clive James.

My experience with Music has been in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Each Australian state has a symphony orchestra the best ones being in the two most populous states. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) was greatly enhanced by the presence of a conductor from England named Goossens. I was present at an outdoor performance in Sydney’s Centennial Park, in the early 1950’s when Goossens conducted the SSO playing Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” accompanied by cannon provided by Australia’s armed forces. An assistant conductor was hanging on the outside of the music shell directing the artillery when to fire. It was done perfectly. In my early days most concerts were in Town or City Halls. Nowadays, most states have modern Cultural Centres incorporating a Music Hall.

Operas are not as abundantly performed as in Europe. We have an excellent Australian Opera company which travels but is mostly resident in that most beautiful of buildings, the Sydney Opera House. Other states have their own smaller companies. The country also produced two excellent singers, Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Joan Sutherland. The Sydney Opera House was opened by the Queen in 1973. It was built on Bennelong Point which had previously been a tram depot. Eugene Goossens was the main proponent of the site. The first opera performed was Prokofiev’s”War and Peace”. Charles Mackerras of Brisbane was a great lover of Czech music, particularly of Leoš Janáček’s, whose music he propagated in Australia. Mackerras himself spent many years in Prague, both with the Symphony orchestra and the National Theatre. I was fortunate in seeing a performance of “The Excursions of Mr Brouček”(Výlety páně Broučkovy) conducted by Mackerras in 2004 in the National Theatre in Prague.

Just at the outbreak of war in 1939 a Rumanian born and Vienna (musically) educated Richard Goldner landed in Australia and realised that music was not a way of life here as it was in Europe and decided to popularise serious music here. It was thought to be “sissy” for men to be involved in classical music. The war and the influx of refugees and GI’s changed the landscape. Goldner put together an ensemble which he named Monomeeth String Quartet, from an indigenous term for peace and harmony, and put on a concert in Sydney. The hall was lit by hurricane lamps and motor car headlights as electricity was still too erratic in 1945. That was a start of MUSICA VIVA which is the oldest independent performing arts organisation in Australia. The founder could not get a job during the war with the ABC because of his nationality, so he concentrated on inventions, for example a zipper immune to sand used by the Forces in parachutes, which made him quite wealthy. He used his wealth to create an ensemble and after the war he threw himself into propagating music by taking Musica Viva to the people. For the young he initiated courses involving 400 000 students in 2 300 concerts, reaching rural areas and projecting Australian artists’ chamber music overseas.  Musica Viva organises concerts, workshops and artists in residence in all states of Australia and these number in thousands. It is now also the worlds’ largest entrepreneur of chamber music

A number of Czech musicians came and settled in Australia and performed in various orchestras. Rudolf Pekarek was conductor in Perth and later in Brisbane. Jaroslav Kovaříček – was a musicologist with the ABC and Jan Šedívka, Jiří Tancibudek, Jindřich Degen and Richard Dedecius were instrumentalists. Ladislav Jašek was concertmaster of the Sydney Opera House and was followed by Vojtěch Hlinka as concertmaster and he then played with the Sydney String quartet, the top Australian chamber music ensemble.

The government created two very important broadcasting bodies: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting System (SBS). The first one is by far the larger one. It covers the whole of Australia (both radio and television) and has between three and five stations in each capital city. It is a great “engine” for music and literature and it also produces material on its audio systems which probes controversial matters oftentimes critical of the government, its creator. Strangely, it is more of a “driver” of controversy than its commercial counterparts. SBS caters mostly for ethnic groups and broadcasts news – some directly from target countries – both on radio and television in many languages. In the late 1970’s the country started to allow voluntary community broadcasting and I was involved in such a project as a convenor of the Czechoslovakian program  firstly broadcast from other community stations and later from our own. As a convenor I tried to obtain some cultural material from the Czechoslovakian, then communist authorities, but without any success. Our program was the first one aired as the broadcasting was in alphabetical order of nationalities.  The station is “The Ethnic Broadcasting Station -4EB” and we have separate Czech and Slovak groups broadcasting from that station now. It broadcasts in 48 languages.

Another prominent institution is the federal government funded CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). It employs over 6 600 scientists and staff and is involved in a wide area from astronomy to agriculture. It is partly funded by income from patents which are a product of its own research. There are many other research organisations in Australia, but I will just mention one. The Queensland Institute of Medical Research, which employs 700 people and has recently commenced building a new centre with financial help from an Irish/American donor, who gave $ 250million to this institution.
Eleven Nobel awards were granted to Australians. Ten of them were for science and medicine and one for literature. The best known is Sir Howard Florey who shared the prize with Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming for the discovery of penicillin.

Sport plays a very large part in the life of this country. Federal authorities finance an Institute of Sport with branches for different sports. Its aim is to win medals at games and provide a structure for amateur organisations to foster different sports.
Australia has held two Olympic Games – 1956 in Melbourne and 2000 in Sydney. Australia came 4th, 4th and 6th in medal count in the last three Olympic Games (2000, 2004 and 2008). Apart from world championships in individual sports, we also participate in four- yearly Commonwealth Games meetings. We had one in Brisbane in 1982 and hope to have one on the Gold Coast in 2018. The Commonwealth is an association of countries who are or were associated with the British rule and it even has “volunteers” from outside that area e.g. Rwanda. 71 “countries” attended in 2010 in Delhi.

Australia past and present. For more then one and a half centuries Australia was “riding on “the sheep’s back”. When one of the early members of the NSW Corps, John Macarthur, took time off to return to Europe, he found a breed of sheep, the Merino, which he considered suitable for the climate. He was right and we still have them. Wool and sheep became the two largest export items for Australia. This has now changed and wool is now the 20th in export ranking, although Australia remains the top producer of wool in the world.  In the 1950s Lang Hancock flew over the Pilbara area in northern Western Australia and noticed some rusty colouring in the hills so discovering one of the largest iron ore deposits in Australia. Together with coal deposits in Queensland and New South Wales unimaginable quantities – (like hundreds of millions of tonnes) – are exported and shipped to China, North Korea and Japan. There is enough for one hundred years. China takes one third of our exports. Although our exports to China exceed our imports our exports are hindered by recent sharp increase in the value of the Australian dollar which causes great pain to our manufacturing sector.

We had some pretty hard years lately. After many years of droughts, we had floods in Queensland this year and fires in Victoria in 2009.  Brisbane had very severe flooding this year; I was also here in the previous flood in 1974. We managed to clean it up and rebuild with a mighty effort and help from many thousands of volunteers. A large sum of $270m was donated by the public.
 
There are constant discussions about a viable number for our population. It was 8m in 1969 and is 23.1m now. Some think we should have 35m by 2050 while others say we cannot afford so many as Australia is the driest continent. Others point to the fact that we export 60% of the food we produce and that 90% of what we consume is produced locally. I tend to think that we need immigrants to rejuvenate the work force, which can periodically slow down due to the balmy weather and relatively easy welfare support. How soon can we assimilate present day migrants who are largely Asian and non-Christian? It took a long time after the post WW2 migration to assimilate the non-British. We have about 5% of non-Caucasian here now – and since we dropped the White Australia policy in 1973, this percentage is growing. Our current immigration policy allows about 14.000 yearly, which amounts to 0.06%, most of them being refugees. We need lots of engineers for the relatively new industry of extracting Coal Seam Gas (CSG).
According to the 2006 census there were 7180 Czech born people living in Australia. That is a sharp drop of figures of arrivals after 1948 and 1968, (17 000 and 11 000 respectively) this is partly because there would be a mixture of Slovaks included in the earlier figures and partly because of people returning to their home after the fall of communism.

Australia has an unusual export. The third largest earner of foreign currencies is the education systems which has 557.000 pupils from overseas in institutions varying from the 39 universities to colleges. The country also has a large travelling population. About 31 persons out of a hundred travel overseas each year. When you consider that the closest overseas destination is about 3 000km and the Americas and Europe about 20 000km you can imagine that we have to travel further than people of other continents. One of the outcomes is the familiarity Australians have of the world beyond their continent and hence you could say that we are not behind in matters scientific and cultural.

We live in a free country, free of corruption, with plenty of sunshine, beautiful beaches and a strong light. Distances are pretty large, but there is also a feeling of space. Social security, whilst not of the standard of Scandinavian countries, is good. The term “multiculturism” signifies that all groups may exercise their identities, rather than imposing their own on the rest of the community.

 I have visited all continents except the Antarctic and I can’t think of another country I would rather be in - but Australia Felix – the lucky country.

Henry Zehr
August 2013


Sources:
Wikipedia   (incl.Thomas Mitchell & Australia’s Explorers (Wikipedia))
The Economist – Pocket world in figures
DFAT (Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade)


Copyright © Henry Zehr 2013