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.
1. 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 that was chosen by the BBC for its series Around the World in 80 Treasures. Even though he died of typhoid at age 59, Greenway’s face graced the Australian $10 note from 1966 to 1993.
2. A prime minster who attributed his political success to a championship beer drinking record. Robert Hawk, 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 times premier of New South Wales and an early advocate for universal suffrage, who, for 35 years, drank a pint of rum every morning before heading to work.
3. A prestigious opera house that pays tribute not only to the arts but to the country’s strong gambling industry, the highest per capita in the world. When Danish architect Joern Utzon, chosen to design the now-iconic Sydney Opera House, resigned after nine years and ongoing battles with the new conservative government over skyrocketing construction costs, a public lottery was conceived to raise the remaining funds. The 4.5 acre-complex took 15 years and a final price tag of $102 million, most of which was raised from the Opera House Lottery that remained in effect for 29 years. It was a gamble that paid off. Even though Uzon never set foot in Australia again, his revolutionary design is now a World Heritage Site that hosts some 1500 performances and 7 million tourists a year.
4. 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 that the largest ranch in the United States, King Ranch in Texas. Located in the Australian outback in 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 herds. On another ranch, a dingo fence, the world’s largest, is twice as long as the wall of China.
5. 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 can 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 for beer cans) and extra points are given for creativity. Lots of extra points if your vessel happens to be seaworthy. Now sponsored by the Darwin Lions Club, the wacky regatta, depending on the tide takes place on a Sunday in either July or August.
Where to stay:
Adina Apartment Hotels, Sydney Central. The perfect place to toss another shrimp on the Barbie, this magnificently-restored turn-of-the century landmark (it was originally an insane asylum and later served as a post office), is 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. And not only does it have all the regular amenities (heated pool, gym, spa) and spacious rooms with natural light, but it has DIY facilities for throwing your own barbie. Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Central, 2 Lee Street, Haymarket, NSW 2000, Australia.
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. Harbour Rocks Hotel, 34 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney.