I hope that by writing about Australian culture it will help people to understand a little about what makes Australia unique and truly wonderful.
Being a young country, but old country we have lots to be proud of. Australia was inhabited by the English in 1788. 1,530 people arrived and settled in what is now known as Sydney. Aboriginal people had been living in Australia for tens of thousands of years prior to English settlement. I am not going to get into the debate of the English invading and taking their country away or any of the atrocities the Aboriginal people suffered as a result. This is a piece about how we are where we are now. Understanding our very young history is a part of truly understanding the culture.
Europeans visit and wonder what the culture is. We don’t have hundred-year-old celebrations that have been handed down from one generation to the next and what we call Australia Day is basically what they perceive as a National holiday for BBQ’s throughout the country.
We do have culture. Our culture is greatly influenced by so many different cultures. Australia is home to the highest population of both Greek’s and Italian’s outside of their own countries? More than the states! Amazing huh?
80% of the Australian population live on or within a stone’s throw of the eastern sea board. From Melbourne to Port Douglas, that’s 80% of the population. Don’t think that is a small distance from that statistic. It is 2,894.2 km via Mitchell Hwy from one point to the next. I have added some graphical representation of that distance.
As a result of the vast majority living on or near to the coast, we swim. We learn to swim as children and we swim all summer long – in some parts of Australia summer lasts for 9 months, some all year. My kids swim throughout the winter to ensure they maintain their skills. It’s considered to be part of life and a skill that we all need to have. Many immigrants to Australia soon realise how essential being able to swim is and you will see adults learning to swim next to their children. What’s more, the ocean is free. It costs nothing more than your parking ticket to spend a few hours, or a day at the beach. Its easy entertainment and something the whole family can be involved.
Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA)
With everyone swimming, there needs to be some sort of safety at the beaches. This is where Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) comes into so many people’s lives. SLSA now has more than 160,000 members in more than 300 clubs.
William Gocher defied law by swimming (or bathing as it was once known) in daylight hours at Manly Beach in 1902. His actions forced changes to the law and created the Australian culture of surf swimming. As the popularity of surf swimming grew and many baths were built along the beaches, the dangers of the surf were recognised. Small groups of experienced surfers began to assist those that needed it. These groups increased in numbers and so rapidly, that by 1907, the New South Wales Bathing Association was formed with funding from local and state governments.
Surf Life Saving is now just as much about water safety as it was previously, but there is much required of these volunteers beyond all the water safety training they commit to.
Beaches that are lucky enough to have a surf club are patrolled from September to April each year. In NSW alone, over 500,000 hours of voluntary time is spent patrolling the beaches along the coastline. Some busier beaches like Bondi and Manly will have additional paid resources added to their beach patrols. My beach has 2 paid lifesavers during the week and the volunteers manage the weekend.
More than 345,000 lives have been saved since recording started in 1949 and there are hundreds or thousands of additional preventative rescues in additional to that.
To keep our beaches safe, surf lifesavers patrol beaches from September to April. Each year surf lifesavers spend in excess of 500,000 voluntary hours patrolling most of the accessible beaches along the New South Wales coastline. Click here to read more statistics on SLSA.
Nippers is the way in which most clubs drive membership to their club. I think the country equivalent would be Pony Camp. In America, I guess it may be summer camp in a way. New Zealand and South Africa now copy the Australian model.
The skills a child learns at nippers will carry with them throughout their life. I became a surf lifesaver relatively late in life. I was 27 and competing with 18 years old’s. No sure-er way to get really fit. I had not only found a sport I loved but a community or rather family I adore. My social life excelled and I now have the most beautiful group of girlfriends as a result of over 10 years patrolling my beach.I want my kids to embrace the comraderies’ and enjoy the fitness they get form it. I want them to have great surf skills and be comfortable in the water. I want them to get aboard and come paddling with me. Being in the water soothes my soul.
You know when people say to help you relax take your head to your happy place. Mine is lying on a board, out past the break and feeling the sun on my back or my front and just relaxing in the sun as the waves roll in. Watching the fish below and simply enjoying the simplest thing in life. The beach and the friendship I have from there is my community. I moved away from my birth origin and this is now my new roots.
As soon as my son was old enough to enrol in nippers, I had him at the beach. I don’t think he loves it. He doesn’t hate it either. Sometimes, running on the sand on a hot summer’s day is not the most enjoyable thing on the planet. Sometimes, getting in the water when it is cold and dark is not fun either. Regardless, he can now read the surf and the waves. He is greatly aware of his own capabilities and he now knows he can swim 1km in open water. He is 8. The 2 year is busting to get in there and on many a weekend we sit in the water off the shore and watch nippers from within the water. He is a fish and he loves the action and watching his brother.
I may not be painting a gloriously happy day. Some weekends it is not. Many a time I have had a glass or two too many wines and greatly wished we didn’t need to be at Nippers on a Sunday am.
TIP – There is no greater cure for a sore head than salt water!
If you are looking for a reason to get fit, do your Bronze medallion and get involved in your child’s club. Family activities on the beach that involves all of you are hard to find, but surf life saving gives you an option. Perhaps you are looking for friendship and team environments for your kid, if so, join a club. You may be looking to increase their confidence and instil community spirit at its very core, then join a club. If you are visiting from overseas, don’t miss it. Nippers is an amazing cultural event that happens along the coastline each Sunday throughout summer. There are activities and events each week. It may not be the running of the bulls or carnival in Rio, but it is part of the Australian way of life. Experience it. You won’t regret spending a morning watching.
Every summer I hear people say ‘I’m going to get to the beach more this year’ join Nippers – you’re there for all the spectacular weather and you have a reason to get outside early and make a day of it every weekend. The most extraordinary of all of it, it’s built on volunteers. Almost in its entirety. Find me a similar organisation worldwide and you will not. Australian culture is one of giving and being a part of it. That’s the culture right there.