Australia has been known as a country where cultures intermingle for a very long time. Thousands of people arrived in Australia from all over the world and brought with them their world views, languages and customs, particularly through the wave of immigration around the time of the Second World War.
Hard to believe that the very existence of the country was disputed early on by European geographers, discussing “Terra Australis” as a mythical landmass said to be the fifth and final continent of the world. By the 15th century, as innovations allowed, Europeans were able to set sail and find out whether this mythical landmass existed. The first Europeans to encounter the continent were the Portuguese in the early 16th century and Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in the early 17th century. However, in 1770, Captain James Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to set foot on the land, exploring and mapping the eastern coastline. In 1814, the “terra australia incognita“ (the unknown country in the south) formally became known as Australia, although the wave of immigration from Europe had already begun.
Today Australia is an independently governed member of the British Commonwealth and is home to over 25 million people from all different cultural backgrounds, with over 400 languages spoken. On 26 January, people celebrate Australia Day, the day when the “First Fleet” reached the east coast in 1788, heralding the founding of Sydney, which was the first settlement and is now the country’s largest city. Once a day of pride over the expansion of the English Crown’s territory, 26 January is now known to many as "Invasion" or "Survival Day". In rallies and protests, in particular the few remaining members of Australia’s First Peoples draw attention to the suffering of their ancestors. For them the arrival of the British meant above all displacement, violence and the forced abandonment of their culture, which was already rich and diverse before the settlement of the Europeans.
Melbourne is a few years younger and somewhat smaller than Sydney, but it is still Australia’s second-largest city. A short walk along the inner-city streets will have you looking up at the ornate buildings from the Victorian era, now interspersed with modern skyscrapers. The Yarra River runs through the centre of Melbourne and is an iconic waterway that holds spiritual and cultural significance for local Aboriginal people. The river owes its original name “Birrarung” (which means “River of Mists”) to the Wurundjeri people, who, with other clans, have called the countryside around Melbourne their home for well over 40,000 years, long before the British occupiers arrived. The Aboriginal people had exchanged the land where the foundations were laid for what is now a cosmopolitan city with the British Port Phillip Association in 1835. Although later deemed invalid, it is the only land-use agreement that has sought to recognise European occupation of Australia and the pre-existing Aboriginal rights to the land. Two years later, in 1837, the settlement was given its name ‘Melbourne’ in honour of Queen Victoria’s mentor and British Prime Minister William Lamb, who resided in Melbourne, England. Queen Victoria’s impact didn’t stop here – she declared Melbourne a city in 1847, is the namesake for the Federal State of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and a multitude of sites around the city including Queens College, Queen Victoria Markets, Queen Victoria Hospital and Queen Victoria Gardens. Those all match the typically respectable ornate style – which is known as ‘Victorian’.
However, Melbourne’s times as a colonial outpost for Britain have long since passed, when in 1901 six British colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. The city is now home to a variety of cultures, trendy cafés, colourful street art and green parks, which are popular with locals and tourists alike.
The best way to discover Melbourne is by tram. The vehicles have been making their way through the city since 1885 and the tram network is now the largest in the world. You can even travel free of charge within the Central Business District (CBD), and fortunately many of the sights we highlight are located precisely here on the northern banks of the Yarra River. There is a great deal to experience here, ranging from indigenous culture and street art to the history of the colonial period and immigration and even urban architecture and parks for people to relax.
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In order to do justice to Australia’s rich culture, you should also gain insight into the history and lifestyle of the Indigenous peoples. Even if Melbourne became precisely what it is today as a British colony, it was the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin, who lived on this land for thousands of years in perfect harmony with their surroundings.
Widely recognised as the oldest continuing living culture on Earth,2 their beginnings stretch back about 75,000 years. In one period, more than 260 distinct Indigenous languages, including 500 dialects. were spoken.3
Considering how long the relationship of the first people with their environment goes back, naturally the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a close relationship with the land that has been central to their identity and to their way of life. They believe that the physical environment was created by their spiritual “Dreaming ancestors”.4 Because of the cultural significance of the natural landscapes to their identity and wellbeing, preserving cultural objects is as important to the First Peoples as the preservation and protection of nature.
However, under the repressions during the British colonisation of the country, the indigenous culture was forced back and the number of Indigenous Australians, who were not even considered official citizens until 1967, was drastically reduced. Until recent history, children were taken from their families and placed in orphanages for forced assimilation. Even today, children of Aboriginal background make up more than a third of all foster children in the care of the Australian state.5 They all belong to what is known as the "Stolen Generation", one of the darkest chapters of Australian history.
To cope with the past, various efforts are being made by the state as well as the First Peoples to bring the history and life of Indigenous Australians more strongly into the national memory. With the “Uluru Statement from the heart",6 the First Nations peoples from all over Australia declared the importance of truth-telling and remembrance in order to pursue justice, achieve reconciliation and maintain the rich Indigenous cultures for generations to come.
In Melbourne specifically, you can learn more by attending the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum or by joining a guided walking tour hosted by the Koorie Heritage Trust.7 The First Peoples exhibition at the Melbourne Museum presents the traditions of the First Peoples of Melbourne as well as their clash with British settlers. Conversely, The Birrarung Wilam Walk of the Koorie Heritage Trust takes you on a stroll along the “misty Yarra River” and explains its significance for the life of the Kulin people, the five Aboriginal clans in Victoria. Another saunter along the Aboriginal Heritage Walk leads through the Royal Botanic Garden. By observing the plants growing there more carefully, visitors learn how Australia’s First Peoples made use of the local natural surroundings and can also enjoy the varied greenery at the heart of the city.
A long sightseeing tour will undoubtly lead to tired legs and a rumbling stomach, but visitor’s won’t have any great problems in finding a solution in Melbourne. The high concentration and quality of its cafés, restaurants and bars has given Melbourne the unofficial nickname of “city of food”. The food scene in Melbourne is dominated by the multicultural background of its residents, just like the rest of Australian culture. The Italians, Chinese, Greeks, Irish, Croatians and Vietnamese in particular who have taken up residence there, arrived with many good recipes and delicacies from their home countries and they now make them available in the many restaurants and at various markets. Anyone who would like to try typical Australian food can try out a wide range of local specialities including kangaroo, crocodile, ostrich or Vegemite, a salty spread that looks rather like chocolate cream in its colour, but is made from concentrated yeast extract. Vegemite is beloved by many and is described as having a savoury meat-like umami flavour. If you’re willing to give it a try, it’s important to know that “less is more” with this spread.
Australians are passionate about one special way of preparing food: the “Aussie barbie” is a social event that is an essential part of the true Australian experience. There are public barbecue spots with excellent equipment in Melbourne where you can organise your barbecue party with friends and family. If you still fancy a dessert after all that (there is always room for dessert, as they say), you can try out some of the Australian sweet dishes that also reflect the city’s multicultural influence. First on the dessert menu is the lamington – a small cube of cake covered with chocolate or strawberry flavour and coconut, which has its roots in the Balkan region. Second on the menu is pavlova – arguably the more popular of the two, even if Australians and New Zealanders do not completely agree about the origin of this cake. This meringue pie, which was created in honour of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, is a sweet temptation firmly associated with the region.
Australia offers outstanding wines to go with the wide range of delicacies one finds here. The Yarra Valley has a reputation for being one of the best wine regions in the country and demonstrates how good it is with high-quality grape varieties, which grow in the relatively cool and wet climate there. Those who prefer to try the many small cafés instead of a wine bar will discover a wide range of specialities, because the many Italians who have emigrated here have also left their mark on the culture. Ranging from a flat white to a short black – the people of Melbourne are real coffee connoisseurs and call themselves supporters of the “third wave coffee movement”. Instead of mass-produced goods from coffee shop chains, people here prefer select, carefully prepared varieties and enjoy the pure quality of this hot drink.
So whether you like things sweet, salty, exotic, classical, or with or without caffeine and alcohol: the culinary scene in Melbourne has something for everyone and definitely makes it hard for people to decide what they want, given the enormous variety that is available.
Having brekkie, wearing sunnies, eating avo, playing footie, drinking a frothy… anybody who ends up in a conversation with the locals in the hustle and bustle of Melbourne will quickly discover that Aussies love abbreviations. Some are obvious while others are so distorted that you no longer recognize the original. Abbreviations are just so much more efficient – and they sound amusing, too.
Here is a list of the most popular expressions so that you can blend right in with your friends like a real Aussie.
Large department stores, stylish boutiques, aspiring designer labels – the multicultural, creative flair of the city has long since had an effect on the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Melbourne. However, very different companies have also been making their way to the Yarra River from outside the country for years in order to do business from here. There’s a reason that Melbourne is known as the fashion and retail capital of Australia.
The infrastructure here offers particularly good connections – the Port of Melbourne is Australia’s largest container and cargo port with three terminals and there are four airports in the wider metropolitan area. Thanks to a high concentration of intermodal goods terminals, the capital of the state of Victoria is also well connected with the road and railway networks. This means that Melbourne provides ideal conditions for guaranteeing trouble-free goods traffic services, whether within the region, the country or at an international level. And the authorities have high ambitions to expand the facilities: they are aiming to increase the number of containers handled by the Port of Melbourne to approx. 5.4 million TEUs by 2035 and port rail shuttles will increasingly be used to transport them to and from the port.
Rhenus also launched business operations very close to the CBD, near the Port of Melbourne and the international airport in 2017, and it offers all-round solutions to handle supply chains and transport goods manufactured in sectors such as the automobile, textile or food industries from its base there.
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