History - AustralianAustralian CultureCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries

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Cultural awareness: to stereotype or not?

Emotion & innovation

Group vs individual

Tradition & change

Cults of multiculturalism

Warden & Convicts

Failed revolutionaries

Thinkers and Drinkers

Immigration and emmigration

Colonial masters

India Cultural Differences Between Australia and India
Convicts and Maharajas

Samurai & Convicts

New Zealand
Convicts vs Do gooders

Papua New Guinea
Chiefs and Elites

East or west?

South Africa
Kaffirs and Convicts

Coolies and Convicts

South Korea
The middle-powers

"Australians appear very naive to the newly-arrived Japanese. They speak the same way with everyone."
Hiro Mukai - Japanese

"Australians risked becoming ‘the poor white trash of Asia."
Lee Kuan Yew - Singaporean

"I can personally affirm that to stand before an audience of beaming Australians and make even the mildest quip about a convict past is to feel the feel the air conditioning immediately elevated."Bill Bryson - American

"You have no need to feel iffy about a country where "relaxation is the aim". There's nothing to be worried about if "no worries" is your mantra. People have killed for less."
Soumya Bhattacharya - Indian

" What sort or peculiar capitalist country is this in which the workers' representatives predominate in the upper house....and yet the capitalist system is in no danger?"
Vladimir Lenin- Russian

"You feel free in Australia. There is great relief in the atmosphere - a relief from tension, from pressure, an absence of control of will or form. The skies open above you and the areas open around you"
D.H Lawrence - English

" The Australian, who are the men our troops have had opposite them so far, are extraordinarily tough fighters. The German is more active in the attack, but the enemy stakes his life in the defence and fights to the last with extreme cunning."
Major Ballerstedt - German

"New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQ of both countries."
Robert Muldoon - New Zealander


Cultural Differences between South Africa and Australia

Kaffirs and Convicts

Both South Africa and Australia were once colonial countries under British rule. Both had gold rushes, and both had significant Asian immigration. However, South African identities are dominated by conceptions of race. In Australia, social policy has worked to prevent race becoming a huge factor in the Australian identity until relatively recently.


South Africa
Population 43,786,115 20,600,856 (July 2008 est.)
GDP per capita ($US) $9,800 (2007 est.) $36,300 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 3.2%
industry: 31.3%
services: 65.5% (2007 est.)
agriculture: 3%
industry: 26.4%
services: 70.6% (2007 est.)
Public debt 31.3% of GDP (2007 est. 15.4% of GDP
Racial groups black African 79%, white 9.6%, colored 8.9%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2001 census) White 92%, Asian 7%, Aboriginal and other 1%
Export partners Japan 12.1%, US 11.8%, UK 9%, Germany 7.6%, Netherlands 5.3%, China 4% (2006) Japan 19.6%, China 12.3%, South Korea 7.5%, US 6.2%, India 5.5%, NZ 5.5%, UK 5% (2006)

From CIA World Fact Book



Although both South Africa and Australia are multicultural countries, multiculturalism means different things in each. In South Africa, multiculturalism refers to a mosaic of different cultures living within a rainbow nation. Reflecting this diversity, South Africa has 11 official languages. The most common language spoken at home is Zulu (24 per cent), followed by Xhosa (18 per cent), and Afrikaans (13 per cent). English (8 per cent) is only the sixth-most common language.

In Australia, multiculturalism basically means lots of people with different coloured faces living together. English is Australia's only official language and it is the home language for 92 per cent of Australians. Furthermore, with the exception of the apartheid-style permit system for Aboriginal communities, there is no policy of keeping groups separated from other groups. Although the original policy of mulitculturalism shared some commonalities with apatheid, today mixing, learning, and integration is favoured. Such values was represented in the 2005 Australian government's official view on multiculturalism which proposed:

"to build on our success as a culturally diverse, accepting and open society, united through a shared future."

Pre-colonial history

For tens of thousands of years, hunter gatherers known as the San roamed South Africa. Around 2000 years ago, Khoikhoi ( Hottentot) reached South Africa. The Khoikhoi were graziers and believed themselves to be of a superior class due to their ownership of animals. The San continued to survive in the desert and mountain regions where grazing was not suitable.

Around 500 AD, the Bantu people migrated from the north and settled in eastern South Africa. Like the Khoikoho, the Bantu people were not hunter gatherers. They had domesticated animals, farmed crops and lived in villages. The arrival of the Bantu appears to have forced the Khoikhoi to the arid grazing areas.

Humans are believed to have first arrived in Australia around 60,000 years ago. It is possible that some domestication of animals and farming may have occurred shortly after arrival. At the time of European colonisation; however, there was no domestication of animals (dingo aside), no farming of crops and no villages. 

Some anthropologists argue that there was only ever one pre-colonial migration to Australia, but this is not supported by the fossil record, the genetic record and is not plausible anyway. Early theories proposed that the first humans in Australia were the "negrito" Tasmanian people, who were displaced by "Murrayans", who were in turn displaced by "Carpentarians".

Displaced is probably an incorrect word because human history has shown that new arrivals tend to breed with existing peoples.

Different humans found in Australia

From http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/notafrica.php


White population

In the 17th century, the Dutch established a colony in western South Africa. Migration from Holland, France and Germany eventually led to the creation of an Afrikaner identity that represented a composite of the European races in Africa.

In the early 1800s, Britain purchased the Western Cape from the Dutch. Large numbers of British migrants subsequently flowed into South Africa. The Afrikaners were not fond of British rule, which eventually led to a war against British control at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1788, urban Australia was established to be a prison. The Convict heritage made a large segment of the population hostile to English rule; however, no major conflicts were fought against the English. Furthermore, because those hostile to the English spoke the same language as the English, and were the same race as the English, it was difficult for their hostility to be passed down the generations like the Afrikaner.

Black white population ratio

In 2007, it was estimated that black Africans comprised 80% of the South African population. Whites comprised 9.1%. In Australia, Aborigines comprised around 2.3% of the population while whites comprised 92%. 

The differing racial compositions stemmed from past actions of respective white governments. In South Africa, the white governments wanted to exclude the black population. Consequently, blacks were never provided with a equal education nor were any attempts made to assimilate them. Admittedly, some black people, such as Nelson Mandela, were given an education by Christian missionaries. Two societies developed side by side in very different ways. White society grew into first world with low birth rates. Black society remained third world with high birth rates. The black third world was able to gain access to medical treatment and thus reduce their mortality rate.

In Australia, white governments practiced a policy of assimilation towards Aborigines. When Aboriginal populations were near cities, they were encouraged to enter society and live like whites. This was reflected in Aborigines being given the vote when the colonies of NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia framed their constitutions in the 1850s. At times, white missionaries actively went into Aboriginal communities, removed children and put them in schools.

As a result of the assimilation policies, Australia never developed black shanty towns on the edges of its major cities. Today, 70 per cent of the Aboriginal population lives in cities in a lifestyle that is not dissimilar to any other Australian.

In areas away from the cities, the Aboriginal communities were left relatively alone. The continuation of traditional conflicts, European diseases and alcoholism kept population low.  The 30 per cent of Aborigines that live away from the cities are the ones most often used to define Aborigines as disadvantaged.

Aboriginal Disadvantage

Rural Aborigines are often defined by statistics of ‘disadvantage’. It should be noted; however, that despite rural Aborigines being more prone to be defined as 'disadvantaged,' research by the ABS (quoted by Robinson 2010) (1) has found that Aborigines in rural areas are more happy with their own lives than are Aborigines in the cities.


During the second half of the 17th Century, South African whites imported Malayasian slaves to work in Cape Town. In 1806, the Cape Colony had a white population somewhere around 26,000, a slave population of some 30,000 and a mixed race population of around 20,000.

In Australia, Convicts were the slaves. They were assigned to land owners to do work as required. If they conformed and behaved, they would eventually be set free. Aborigines were never made into slaves because they could just walk off into the bush.

After Convict transportation came to an end in Australia, Pacific Islanders were imported to work in conditions that could be described as slavery. The importation only lasted a few decades because the local white population saw the slave labour as taking away their jobs and undermining their bargaining power in the labour market.

Because the slavery of Australia was only based on race for a short period, Australia never developed the hierarchical notions of race as did South Africa. Furthermore, Australian stereotypes never paired different racial groups with specific jobs or specific socio-economic classes.

Convict flogging

White slavery in Australia


Racial conflict

A history of racial conflict is used by both white and black South Africans to define their respective identities. For the white South Africans, the Battle of Blood River in 1838 has become an extremely symbolic event. The whites made a pact with God that if they won the battle, they would build a church and commemorate the day as a Sabbath. In the minds of the whites, God was accommodating because the whites killed so many Zulus that they river ran red with their blood. For the next 150 years, whites celebrated their victory with songs, paintings, holidays and prayers.  

The blacks didn't have many monumental victories over whites, but they did have a number of victories over other blacks that they used to build their identity. In the 1830s, Shaka Zulu became a hero due to his use of force to unite the Zulu tribes. Shaka taught Zulus that the most effective way of becoming powerful was by conquering and controlling other tribes. After smashing a rival, Shaka incorporated the scattered remnants into his own army. By the time of his death, Shaka controlled an army of around 50,000 warriors. It has been estimated that around 2,000,000 people died from the conflict under his rein.

A traditional Zulu praise song said of him:

"He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown...

In Australia, there is little documented evidence of white groups fighting with blacks. Furthermore, there is no cultural legacy of either whites or blacks celebrating a victorious battle like that of Blood River. To the contrary, most Australian paintings depicting Aborigines and whites show them acting in quite a friendly manner. In regards to song, Waltzing Matilda, (a song of nationalism from the 19th century) used Aboriginal words. Most of rural Australia uses Aboriginal place names.

Perhaps the Australian environment explains the cultural differences in race relations. Because Aborigines were hunter gatherers, they never attained the population density of the Zulus and so they found it difficult to organise large armies. Furthermore, because the Australian environment was extremely poor for farming, Australian colonists rarely succeeded in forming high density farming communities to fight Aboriginies.

When the paths of colonists and Aborigines crossed, it was only between very small groups and there was little incentive to fight. The Aborigines ate native plants and animals. The colonists farmed imported cows, sheep and wheat. By creating permanent water supplies, the farmers also increased the numbers of kangaroos that the Aborigines fed upon. Co-existence was quite easy.  

For the last 30 years, white historians have been using the writings of other modern day white historians to support their claims that large scale warfare occured in Australia. The interpretations have become like an academic version of Chinese Whispers in which a story gets corrupted as it passes from one person to the next.  In 2002, historian Keith Windschuttle compared the interpretations of his peers to the primary sources and found that they were completely alien to what the primary sources documented. For a variety of reasons, the white historians in Australia had wanted to believe that their ancestors slaughtered Aborigines.

The Ruines: Failure of inland colonial communities in Australia


Human rights activists

South Africa has produced numerous human rights activists that are celebrated by the international community. Ghandi was the first to claim international attention. Before he led India to independence, Ghandi made a name for himself in South Africa by organizing non-violent resistance amongst South African sugar cane workers of Indian descent. Nelson Mandela is another famous human rights activist. Mandela was initially sentenced to death for terrorist activities. In prison he became a symbol of black persecution. He was then released and became the country's first president in free elections. Bishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Prize in 1984.

Australia has never produced a black leader in the vein of Ghandi, Mandela, or Tutu. The heroes of black politics are white men such as Gough Whitlam, William Deane and Paul Keating.  For example, in 1993, Keating gave a speech in which he accepted white responsibility for injustices against Aborigines. In the speech Keating said:

"It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion."

 In 2007, listeners of ABC radio voted Paul Keating's speech as their most memorable by an Australian. In an international context, they ranked Keating's speech only behind Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" and Christ's "Sermon on the Mount." No speeches made by Aborigines were ranked at all.

Despite being the heroes of Aborigines, the white men failed in their task of eliminating Aboriginal disadvantage; despite having all the resources of a first world economy at their disposal. They probably failed because they were wanted to harness the political benefits of self-flagellation instead of defining the model Aborigine that they wanted to socially engineer.


Traditionally, whites in South Africa played sports like cricket and rugby union while the blacks played soccer. To break down the racial barriers, the South African government has implemented quota systems to get more players of colour in the cricket and rugby teams.

In Australia, the most popular sports are Australian football, cricket, rugby league, soccer, and rugby union. With the exception of soccer, none of the sports in Australia have racial associations. Furthermore, non-whites have found it very easy to be accepted by team mates and fans. For example, the record of most caps as test captain of the Wallabies (Australia's rugby union team) is held by George Gregan, a black man of African descent.

After World War II, many migrants from southern Europe established soccer teams in Australia that were racially based. These inevitably resulted in racial conflicts that prevented the game being accepted by the wider Australian community. In 2005, a new league was created without any racially aligned teams. Although not mainstream yet, the league is now growing beyond its ethnic base.


Comparing the White Australia Policy with Apartheid


The South African policy of apartheid (separating races) initially commenced under British rule. Because black tribes were in numerical dominance in the areas of Lesotho and Swaziland, the British gave them their own countries within South Africa. These countries were subsequently recognised by the international community and are still in existence today.

After South Africa became a republic, the Afrikaner government extended the British policy by creating self-governing homelands for other black groups. However, because the Afrikaners had become accustomed to blacks working as their cleaners and labourers, they didn't want to exclude them completely from white South Africa. Consequently, the blacks could leave the homeland to work for the whites. These homelands were not recognised by the international community and became symbolic of white racism. Today, some whites want to create a white only homeland to protect Afrikaner culture.

Australia's major race-based policy was the Immigration Restriction Act that aimed to keep criminals, paupers, and non-whites out of Australia. It came into affect in 1901 and was progressively dismantled after World War 2. The policy was designed to deny businesses from using foreign labour to weaken Australian unions. Although the economic intentions of the Immigration Restriction Act were completely opposite to apartheid, it has also become symbolic of white racism. Ironically, it allowed strong unions to form and prevented the stereotypical pairing of non-whites with low class jobs.

Today, Australia has some policies similar to apartheid and there is a push to extend them. Aboriginal tribes in outback Australia have been given the legal right to exclude outsiders from entering their lands. Just as the blacks could under apartheid, Aborigines are free to leave the lands to work in the cities. Even though it is apartheid under a different name, the policy is currently defined as "progressive".

Much like the Afrikaners of South Africa, some Aborigines want a self-governing Aboriginal homeland for all Aborigines.


Around the world, justice is usually punitive and comes in variations of the old adage of an eye for an eye. Basically, if someone murders someone else, they might be executed or incarcerated. Critics of punitive practices argue that it just leaves two pissed off people without eyes. Restorative practices work on the belief that if crime hurts, justice should heal. It aims to make perpetrators understand the hurt they have caused and victims feel that their stories have been heard. Ideally, this will also allow them to forgive and move on.

Restorative practices have proved to be quite effective after incidents of genocide, such as in Rwanda. Although they haven’t been able to undo the hurt, they have been quite effective of stopping the cyclic nature of ethnic violence where neither take feels responsible and both sides seek revenge.

After the end of Apartheid, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were set up and run along restorative principles. They provided amnesty for all crimes committed for political reasons; provided that guilty parties confessed their guilt, met the victims of their crimes and signed their confessions. Due to the restorative practices, many people walked free who the average person would want in jail or executed. For example, white people who killed blacks, barbequed their bodies and drank beer as the bodies burnt to ash told their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They then signed their names and walked away. Admittedly, they asked for forgiveness from the families of their victims, but forgiveness was not given.

Even though the ethic of forgiveness allowed some very bad people to retain their freedom, it had some upsides. Firstly, it allowed victims of crime to have their stories heard and the perpetrators to be named. The names of the perpetrators and exactly what they did was recorded, and is accessible in public libraries. There is no dispute about exactly what happened, which individuals committed the crimes and how the victims suffered. Had such deals not been made, then perpetrators would not have confessed, and the history would be disputed. Secondly, after the end of apartheid, South Africa was on the verge of a racial war. By individualising the crimes, and ensuring there was no dispute about what happened, the ethnic groups that the victims and perpetrators came from did not get into a vicious cycle of punitive retributions and denial of culpability. Thirdly, the stories were used to support affirmative action campaigns for groups that suffered. Because there was no dispute about what happened, nor was there dispute about the injustices the blacks suffered, whites have been more open to addressing the legacy of history's wrongs. Likewise, because whites were also victims, blacks were more able to appreciate a shared humanity.

In Australia, reconciliation has been modelled on restorative principles; however, there have been some significant differences. Perpetrators and victims are almost never named. Instead, there are vague references to conflict on the “frontiers” in the 18th century. Not only is it possible to name those involved, it is also difficult to even verify that they occurred. This has in turn caused the history wars where different white academics have disputed interpretations of the past using morality rather than evidence. In such an environment, white society has been unreconciled and this unable to engage in reconciliation with Aboriginal society.


1)Robinson, N (2010, September 30). Indigenous urban dwellers better off but not happier The Australian  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/indigenous-urban-dwellers-better-off-but-not-happier/story-e6frg6nf-1225931996865 Accessed 2010


"Australia's culture has always been characterised by someone trying to make rules to live by, and someone else trying to break them."