In the time it takes to read this sentence, an estimated 92 thousand selfies will be snapped for imminent posting on Facebook. And even though the Oxford English Dictionary chose the now-ubiquitous word as its 2013 word of the year, it was invented 11 years earlier in Australia when a drunk 21-year-old, eager to show off a drinking injury, apologized for his photo’s fuzzy focus, because it was — as is the Australian custom to add an “ie” to innocuous words — a “selfie.”
Australians also invented the wine cask (they call it a goon sack), spray-on artificial skin, the underwater torpedo, and Vegemite, a brown food paste made from leftover brewer’s yeast that’s unlikely to ever gain much of a following past the country border.
Here are five more things you can only find in the rowdy, fun-loving country that also happens to be the sole continent without a volcano.
A Cattle Ranch Bigger than the State of New Hampshire
Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle ranch in the world, has six million acres and is seven times larger than the largest ranch in the United States, King Ranch in Texas. Located in the outback of the state of South Australia, Anna Creek has its own pub, its own once-a-week mail delivery, and its own small airplane fleet to keep tabs on livestock. Anna Creek’s scrub, sand dunes, and savannah started as a sheep station, but dingoes kept decimating the herds (and probably eating babies). On another ranch is the world’s largest dingo fence, measuring twice the length of the Great Wall of China.
A Convicted Forger on a Bank Note
Francis Greenway, a British architect and one of the 164,000 convicts sent to Mother England’s newest penal colony between 1788 and 1868, received a pardon in 1819 when the colonial governor, Lachland Macquarie, fell in love with Hyde Park Barracks, a building Greenway designed to house fellow convicts. Greenway went on to design many significant buildings in the new colony, including the Macquarie Lighthouse, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and St. James Church — which was chosen by the BBC for its series Around the World in 80 Treasures. Even though he died of typhoid at age 59 in 1837, Greenway’s face graced the Australian $10 note from 1966 to 1993.
A Prime Minster Who Attributed His Political Success to a Beer-Drinking Record
Robert Hawke, Australia’s longest-serving Labor Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991, was immortalized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1954 for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. At the time, he was a student at Oxford University, and in his memoir, Hawke suggests that this feat may have single-handedly contributed to his political success. Perhaps he took his cue from an earlier Australian politician, Sir John Robertson, five-time premier of New South Wales and an early advocate for universal suffrage, who, for 35 years, drank a pint of rum every morning.
Boats Made Entirely out of Beer Cans
On Boxing Day 1974, Hurricane Tracy practically wiped out the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin. Work crews rebuilding the town were unaccustomed to the humidity and ended up consuming larger than normal quantities of beer. Since recycling hadn’t come into vogue just yet, mountains of empty beer cans began piling up. Lutz Frankensfeld, one of the territory’s many colorful, larger-than-life characters, hatched a scheme of holding a boat race with vessels fashioned from empty beer cans. The inaugural 1975 race not only eliminated the litter problem, but was so much fun that they’ve held it every year since on Darwin’s famous Mindil Beach. Boats are constructed entirely out of stubbies (that’s Aussie slang for beer cans) and extra points are given for creativity — and even more if your vessel happens to be seaworthy. Now sponsored by the Darwin Lions Clubs, the race usually takes place on a Sunday in either July or August.
Paul Hogan Throwing a Shrimp on the Barbie
If you watched TV at all in the late ‘80s, you probably saw Paul Hogan slipping an extra shrimp on the barbie in an ad campaign for the Australia Tourism Commission. When the campaign started, the popular movie Crocodile Dundee hadn’t yet hit the silver screen, so most people had no idea the loveable Aussie who encouraged us to ‘Come say g’day’ would become an iconic movie star and lauded screenwriter. What we did know, is that a barbie, one of many popular Aussieisms, is slang for a barbecue, a tradition as Australian as kangaroos, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and Ayers Rock.
Having a barbie is a must-do for anyone visiting Australia for the first time. If you aren’t lucky enough to make the acquaintance of a real shrimp-tossing Australian (the actor playing Mick Dundee has of late been tied up with a nasty divorce and tax problems), you should consider booking a room at Adina Apartment Hotels, Sydney Central. Not only does this hotel have all the regular amenities (heated swimming pool, gym, spa, etc.), but it has facilities to throw your own barbie, Australian style. Because each suite is an apartment — complete with kitchen, washer/dryer, and a handy place to hang out when your traveling partner is sleeping off jet lag — you can pop into any Woolies (another Aussieism for Woolworth’s, a popular grocery chain), pick up your shrimp (or “prawns”) and barbie away.
From this magnificently-restored turn-of-the century landmark (it was originally an insane asylum and later served as a post office), you are literally minutes from anywhere you might want to go. The Central Train station is adjacent to the front door with regular trains to the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef.
While there’s a Buckley’s chance (Aussie for no chance at all) that Paul Hogan himself will be available for a barbie or an earbash (a long-winded conversation), Adina Apartment Hotels are ready and waiting.
As for Paul Hogan’s commercial, it worked. Before its launch in the United States, Australia was number 78 on the list of American’s most-desired vacation destinations. Within three months of airing the spot, it moved to number three, and for two decades it became number one or two on many Americans’ bucket lists.
Where (Else) to Stay:
Sydney’s Harbour Rocks Hotel, a 59-room boutique hotel in the heart of “The Rocks” (the landing site of the first English settlers) is a mere 10-minute walk from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Opera House, and Circular Quay. Once a stone warehouse, the historic hotel was built by 12 of the early convicts who, with little but their sweat and tears, cut the stone for this three-story masterpiece. There’s even a resident ghost.