Fair Dinkum

In geographic area Australia is roughly the size of the continental United States, with a coastline of 22,000 miles, but only 9% of the land is arable. The entire national budget, including defense, is about the same as California's state budget. The population is 16 million, only 58% of California's. As a former British colony, its national craze is cricket, although sailing got a considerable boost when the Aussies took away the America's Cup in 1983. They have excelled internationally at swimming and tennis. And their country began under the most dismal and difficult of circumstances.

That beginning 200 years ago was celebrated today, the anniversary of the arrival of the first 11 convict ships from England carrying 1,400 people. Half were prisoners and the other half were jailers. During the ensuing 80 years about 160,000 prisoners were taken to Australia to ease the terrible overcrowding of jails in the mother country, where stealing just a loaf of bread could result in a long prison term and possibly deportation. Ultimately prisoners and jailers alike became settlers on the harsh and unforgiving land.

Australia is known for many things: the vast Outback, the strange animals, its herds of sheep and cattle. The best of all, however, are the Australians themselves: hardy, brash, fun-loving, hospitable, energetic, entrepreneurial, and loyal allies. Perhaps self-doubting Aussies envy America's national achievements and leadership in the world. Americans in turn can admire the Australian personality and character, and the ability to appreciate a good beer and consume plenty of it. Happy Bicentennial, Mates.

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