Australia’s isolation as an island continent has done much to shape—and inhibit—its culture. The Aboriginal peoples developed their accommodation with the environment over a period of at least 40,000 years, during which time they had little contact with the outside world. When Britain settled New South Wales as a penal colony in 1788, it did so partly because of the continent’s remoteness. Australia’s convict heritage ensured that European perceptions of the environment were often influenced by the sense of exile and alienation. Yet, the distance from Britain—and the isolation it imposed—strengthened rather than weakened ties with it. The ambivalence of the continuing colonial relationship, which only began to be dismantled in the second half of the 20th century, has been a central cultural preoccupation in Australia.
Until World War II, Australian culture was almost exclusively Anglo-Celtic. The Aboriginal population was small and persecuted, and the Commonwealth government’s exclusivist White Australia policy helped to maintain the continent’s striking cultural homogeneity. However, in the second half of the 20th century, immigration rules were relaxed, and large influxes of both immigrants and refugees from eastern Asia, the Middle East, and various continental European countries made their way to Australia, each leaving an indelible imprint on the continent’s culture. Likewise, a revival of Aboriginal identity and positive measures from the government to redress past wrongs, along with a dramatic increase in the Aboriginal population, unleashed a renaissance in the Aboriginal arts.
The original inhabitants of Australia used the oral tradition, including song and dance with gestural storytelling, to entertain, instruct, guide, and reveal spiritual truths, as well as physical geography and the location of life-sustaining resources. This tradition, disrupted and more or less destroyed by the arrival of the British, was replaced by a literature that imitated European models. In the mid-19th century, the Australian landscape, flora, and fauna became the setting for many novels, and, soon after, the colonial experience became a popular subject. Although the bush, or Outback, loomed large in the national consciousness, Australia has been a characteristically urban society, even from its days as a penal colony. Writers as diverse as Robin Boyd, Donald Horne, and Hugh Stretton, as well as the satirist Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage), drew attention to the significance of the suburban ethos in Australian culture. Patrick White, Australia’s greatest novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, explored the negative potentialities of a country in the process of defining itself. Contemporary Australian writers such as Thomas Keneally, Thea Astley, David Malouf, Peter Carey, Hal Porter, Janette Turner Hospital, Elizabeth Jolley, and Tim Winton continue to draw an international following.
Like the other arts in Australia, music there has two distinct traditions: those of the European colonists and those of the indigenous peoples, whose singing and ritual playing of the didjeridu (a drone instrument) reenact the ancient traditions related to a mythological time called the Dreaming, the Aboriginal conception of creation. Contemporary Aboriginal bands (such as Warumpi Band and Yothu Yindi in the early 21st century) incorporate elements of ancestral rituals. The European-based musical tradition also maintains its vitality in the contemporary scene. Australian opera fans can point to talent ranging from the popular coloratura soprano Dame Nellie Melba to the Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s 21st-century production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. Traditional symphony orchestras abound, and Australian musicians and bands such as Olivia Newton-John (born in England), the Bee Gees (who emigrated with their family to Australia), AC/DC, and INXS have wide international followings. "Australia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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