By Briana Seftel
The land of kangaroos and koalas is a surprising place. Not only is it home to some of the world’s cutest (and deadliest) animals, pristine beaches, modern cities and the world’s largest coral reef, it’s also one of the happiest countries in the world. Even if you think you know everything about Australia, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with these ten facts that will make you want a book a trip to the Land Down Under.
1. It’s a country founded by delinquents
Did you know Australia was originally a British penal colony? In the late 1700s, British colonizers arrived in New South Wales, bringing with them delinquents meant to live in Australia as punishment (joke’s on them). In fact, Australia Day, which is celebrated on January 26, honors the first arrival of the prisoners to Port Jackson. Even the country’s first police force was made up of the most well-behaved convicts.
2. The Great Barrier Reef is half the size of Texas
Okay, so you knew the Great Barrier Reef was big, but you probably didn’t know it was roughly half the size of Texas. The world’s largest coral reef system spanning over 1,400 miles can even be seen from space! If you want to see this incredible natural wonder, you better go soon - climate change is the biggest threat to the reef.
3. Vegemite is banned in some Australian prisons
Australia’s favorite condiment is actually banned in prisons in the state of Victoria to prevent inmates from brewing alcohol. Officials claim the dark brown paste, made from leftover brewers' yeast, can be used to make alcohol using the paste's high yeast content (although you need live yeast to make beer). In addition to the prison ban, it was rumored around 2006 that the U.S. had banned Vegemite, even though this proved to be completely false.
4. There are more kangaroo and sheep than people
Australia is the most sparsely populated continent In the world with approximately 24 million residents. But that’s not it: there are twice the amount of kangaroo, and three times the amount of sheep! To help curb the kangaroo population, eating kangaroo meat has become commonplace, while sheep are used for meat as well as their wool.
5. Melbourne was once the richest city in the world
When gold was discovered in Victoria around the 1850s, the capital of Melbourne was transformed from a small port town into the richest city in the world, and by the 1880s, Melbourne was christened “Marvelous Melbourne.” The region's gold rush history can still be seen Ballarat, home to Sovereign Hill, and in Melbourne's elegant Victorian architecture. Today, Melbourne is one of the world’s most liveable cities, famous for its coffee culture and abundant street art.
6. An Australian man invented the term “selfie”
In 2002, an Australian man named Nathan Hope coined the term “selfie” after he posted a photo of his busted lip online after a night out drinking. On an online forum, Hope said “I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie," thus coining the now famous term. Clearly, Hope was on to something: in 2013, Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” its word of the year.
7. The Sydney Opera House was inspired by an orange
It all started with an orange. Before the Sydney Opera House became one of the most recognizable structures of the 20th century, it was a dream of architect Jørn Utzon. While many believe he was inspired by sailing yachts, Utzon was actually inspired to design the opera house by peeling an orange and being left with the segments, all in similar shapes. Utzon’s genius design allows for all the roof sails to create a perfect sphere, just like an orange. Talk about a sweet success!
8. Aboriginal culture is the oldest on Earth
Dating back some 50,000 years, the Aboriginals are considered the world’s oldest civilization. Australia’s indigenous people now make up only 3% of the population, but traces of culture and tradition can still be seen in pockets of rural Australia. Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, is believed to have been created by ancestral beings and is one of the most sacred places for the Aboriginal people.
9. Australia has more than 10,000 beaches
You could visit a different Australian beach every day for over 27 years and still not see them all - that’s a lot of beaches! From Bondi Beach in Sydney to Catseye Beach on Hamilton Island, Australia has a beach for every kind of taste and traveler.
10. Tasmania has the world's cleanest air
Tasmania, an island state 150 miles off the coast of Australia, may be famous for its Tasmanian devils, but it also has the world’s cleanest air. Go ahead, take a deep breath of cool, crisp air and explore the island’s many beautiful places, from Freycinet National Park to Cradle Mountain.