BY ELIZABETH THOMAS
14th August, 2005
Australia is a nation that had its original aboriginal mien effaced by immigrant Europeans, the first of them British convicts shipped to this penal colony. On the 26th of January 1788, now celebrated as Australia Day, the First Fleet of 11 ships carrying about 1500 people, half of them convicts, arrived at the Sydney Harbour. From that day to the days of the gold rushes in 1850's and till the Commonwealth of six states was formed in 1901 and after, Australia has changed from a penal colony to a traveler's joy. The non-indigenous population, of the English, Scottish and Irish descent plundered the nation of its aboriginal treasures but did not forget to retrieve them and preserve them. The complex social systems and highly developed traditions of the Aborigines that reflected a deep connection with the land and environment have been carefully maintained and
Canberra, the capital city of Australia, means 'meeting place' in its aboriginal origin. Located in the northern part of the Australian Capital Territory, 300 km south-west of Sydney and 650 km north-east of Melbourne, Canberra was selected as the national capital after a tug of intense rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. And Canberra was handpicked as it was a midpoint between the two cities – this explains the aboriginal meaning. Canberra is the symbolic home of all Australians and the centre of political and administrative power in Australia. An ideal place for sailing, fishing, cricket, football and cycling, its climate is perfect for all these activities. An American architect Walter Burley Griffin designed the city with a multitude of gardens and parks. The key attractions of the Canberra city are situated within the Parliamentary Triangle towards the north and south of Lake Burley Griffin. The Australian War Memorial built to commemorate 102,000 Australian service men and women with the Hall of Memory features one of the world's largest mosaics, designed partly by war widows. The National Gallery situated on the south shore of the lake, has the best collection of art in the country ranging from the Aboriginal to the 20th century works.
The Opera House and Harbour Bridge are the images that first strike our mind as we think of Australia. Sydney, the centre of Australia’s travel and tourism activities, houses these two popular landmarks. With pleasant blue skies throughout the year, Sydney is the best place for cruises, outdoor adventures like wildlife and ecological tours. The mellow sunshine cascading the beaches even in winters and the Blue Mountains make Sydney the most-opted of all places in Australia. A meeting place of East and West, Sydney is rich in culture with diverse and beautiful people, arts, religion, languages, and traditions. Exploring Sydney Harbour, the most beautiful natural harbour in the world, and a busy one, gives one a feel for this city. On the southern side of Circular Quay, the hub of Sydney Harbour, is situated Australia’s pride, the Opera House. On the northern part of the quay is The Rocks, which is the oldest part of Sydney. Another major highlight is Darling Harbour, the world's greatest waterfront destination, just a few minutes’ travel from central Sydney. The Sydney Aquarium, one of the largest in the world, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Chinese Garden, the IMAX cinema, and the Powerhouse Museum are a few of the other spots here. Built from the shell of an old power station constructed in 1899-1902, the Powerhouse Museum is a "must visit" for those with a voracious appetite for knowledge and information.
3. Red Centre
The country-continent Australia can be broadly divided into New South Wales, Northern territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. Of these, the Northern Territory has most illustrated the imagination of the tourists with its rugged and bright red desert at the center of which sits the Uluru, Australia's famous icon, which is a giant stone monolith. The Red Centre is by far the most favoured of all regions in Northern Territory. With some of the finest natural scenery in the world, dating back to about 800 million years ago, the region is best known for its topographical uniqueness. The sediments of an inland sea that covered central Australia laid the basis of this topographical appearance. It is widely believed that the Aborigines have lived in this region for more than 30,000 years ago and their ancient tradition of rock painting is one of many tribal rituals still practised.
However, Northern Territory is not just made up of red and orange alone but is also hued in cool shades of greens and blues. The tropical rain forests, waterfalls, and splendid rock formations give the extreme color variation that makes Northern Territory a heavenly domain for adventure.
The capital Darwin at the north coast is a multicultural city, with more than 50 ethnic groups comprising Greeks, Italians, East Timorese, Indonesians, Thais, Filipinos and the town's original mix of Aborigines and those of Anglo-Celtic stock. Near the centre of Australia and about 1,500km south of Darwin is Alice Springs. The town named after the springs, now receives around 400,000 tourists a year. Since the European settlement in 1864, Darwin has experienced a century of colorful history. Blended with its present cosmopolitan mien, the city with restaurants, hotels, museums and art galleries also has a resplendent nightlife. With the Timor Sea and the greens of tropical wetlands, Darwin's boundaries have a unique charm. The major attractions of the city center includes the Old Darwin Town House, the Old Police Station and Courthouse, Lyons Cottage, and the notable Aboriginal Art Gallery.
5. Kakadu National Park
The name "Kakadu" comes from "Gaudju", which is the main Aboriginal language used in the area. Aboriginal people have continuously lived in the area defined by the National Park for the past 50,000 years. The area covers around 19,804 sq. km. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage area, the Kakadu National Park has diverse scenic wonders with a panoptical vision of red escarpment cliffs, waterfalls, long twisting rivers, stony plateaus, and huge galleries of Aboriginal rock art. It is also home to a quarter of all Australian freshwater fish, over 1,000 plant species, 300 types of birds, 75 species of reptiles, mammals, and countless insects. For a good view and a better introduction to Kakadu’s natural glory, it is adivsed to take a cruise on the Yellow Water. The area Nourlangie and Ubirr Rocks, near here, have some Aboriginal paintings dating more than 20,000 years old. The earliest paintings at Ubirr Rocks are up to 23,000 years old which would make them the oldest art works known anywhere in the world.
6. Tennant Creek Back
Situated in the heart of Northern Territory is another major vacation spot, the Tennant Creek. This is also the home of Australia's last gold rush in the 1930s and at present, it is the third largest gold producer in Australia. Tennant Creek is blessed with a remote charm of its past which has a Creek Stamp Battery, a Telegraph Station, both now converted to working museums. In the Tennant Creek Stamp battery, one can see how the 130-year-old stamps crush ore to extract gold. A mining museum and an underground tunnel with working machinery with special sand and lighting effects can also be found here. It was the discovery of gold by a linesman in 1925 that led to the establishment of the present Tennant Creek township. The Devil's Marble Conservation Park near the place is another attraction, where there is a collection of gigantic, spherical, and red granite boulders scattered across a shallow valley in the Davenport Ranges. It was the result of some geological activity that occurred 1,700 million years ago.
7. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Almost all the major aboriginal areas of erstwhile Australia have been converted into national parks. Places where the natives lived their mundane lives were converted to exotic ones for the sake of tourism and are now showcased and projected as if from alien times. Famous for its world's biggest rock monolith, the Uluru and the deep gorges of Kata Tjuta, the whole area, now converted to a park, is a sacred area to the Aboriginals. In fact, the Northern Territory has the most Aboriginal-owned land in Australia. It was only in 1987 when this area was handed back to the Aborigines and the sites reassumed their traditional names. Now a heritage site, the extensive knowledge of Aboriginal culture also amazes tourists and provides them an unforgettable experience. The traditional tribe owners of Uluru are the Anangu people who believe that ancestral spirits formed these sites during the creation period. Uluru is also has a spectacular natural phenomenon, where a giant rock changes colors according to the weather.
8. The Great Barrier Reef
Queensland is the 'Sunshine State of Australia'. Sunny and bright throughout the year, it encourages outdoor adventures, such as beach sports, scuba diving, and exploration of National Parks. And Queensland is where one finds the Great Barrier Reef - the world's largest coral reef. The majestic coral structures that make up the Great Barrier Reef stretch over 2,500 kilometers and the world's most unusual plants and animals are found here. The rainforests of the Wet Tropics near here, have remained untouched for millions of years and are rarely found elsewhere. A masterpiece of nature, it is a delight for scientists and nature lovers. Floating in a hot-air balloon, rafting a foaming river, skydiving, or racing across the outback into the setting sun on a wilderness, trailbike safari etc. are a few other things that one can engage in.
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia. A city of green gardens and historic sites, it is also known for being tidy and elegant. Its colorful celebrations and festivals extending throughout the year makes the stay totally festal. South Australia is the most urbanized state in the world and a vast majority of its population lives in its capital city, Adelaide. This city was also home to the Aborigines for over 10,000 years. The place is highly fertile, with the high rainfall as well as irrigation from Australia's largest river, the Murray River. It also features the Fleurieu Peninsula, the beautiful Coorong National Park and Kangaroo Island. The city centre attractions include Victoria Square, Adelaide Town Hall, Edmund Wright House, Central Market, National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Tandanya, and Ayers House. The Victoria Square is filled with government buildings of colonial days. The coastline south of Adelaide is rich and varied with beautiful beaches, magnificent coastal scenery, and abundant bird-life. Attractions in this region include Warrawong Sanctuary, Strathalbyn and Barossa Valley. Little penguins are found around Australia's southern coastline.
The Aborigines first discovered this area 30,000 years back. It matches the English countryside with a diverse landscape of glacial mountains, dense forests and dashing green hills. It has remarkable historical wealth apart from its landscape, equally remarkable, with buildings reminding of colonial decadence. The settlers had a bloody battle with the Tasmanian Aborigines before they started to claim land and draw territories. This genocide of the Tasmanian Aborigines in 1828, remains one of the bleakest chapters of Australia's grim colonial past. The major attractions in Tasmania include the cities Devonport, Launceston, Hobart, Richmond, and Port Arthur. Apart from the cities, Cradle Mountain Lake St. Clair National Park and Flinders Island are also popular tourist attractions. Aboriginal rock paintings mark the entrance of Tiagagarra, a Tasmanian Aboriginal art center located 1km from the city center. This cultural center, linked by a coastal reserve, features a collection of over 2,000 ancient aboriginal artifacts.
BY ELIZABETH THOMAS