Scotlands History\|Scots and Australia

Ten things you didn't know about Australia

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What is Australia’s deadliest creature? How many Scotlands would fit into Australia? What is a drop bear and what is a billabong? Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about Australia.

How big is Australia?

Australia is very, very big. Its land mass covers 7,617,930 sq km. Scotland only covers 78,722 sq km so you could fit almost 100 Scotlands into Australia.

How many people live in Australia?

Note: The following information on Australian and Scottish populations was correct at the date of publication (September 2009).

Australia has the lowest population density in the whole world - just two people per sq km. The total population of Australia is approximately 21,262,641 men, women and children. The vast majority of Australians live in cities near the coast (and the beach).

Scotland’s population is around 5.1 million and there are 67 people squished into each sq km.

About 4,336,374 people live in Sydney in New South Wales.

In comparison, the population of the City of Glasgow is about 578,790, Edinburgh about 448,624, Aberdeen 202,370 and Inverness 50,000. So you could fit the entire population of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness into Sydney more than three times over.

Why does Australia have so many unusual animals?

Tens of millions of years ago Australia was part of the giant super-continent Gondwana. When it broke away, more than 50 million years ago, an amazing collection of unique creatures started to evolve – each adapted especially to Australia’s varied habitats.

Here are some creatures that you only find in Australia:

  • Koalas - they’re small and furry. They eat eucalyptus leaves and sleep for about 18 to 20 hours every day.

  • Wombats - big marsupials with long sharp claws for digging and an armoured bottom to stop dingoes from eating them as they are burrowing underground.

  • Quokkas - small marsupials that were once thought to be extinct. A colony of quokkas on an island near Perth, in Western Australia, was mistaken for huge rats by a Dutch explorer who named the place ‘Rottnest Island’ - rat nest island.

  • Numbats - the only marsupial anteaters. They also eat termites. Numbats have striped fur and are active during the day. Most marsupials are nocturnal.

  • Bilbies - small marsupials about the size of a rabbit. The bilby has large ears that help it to lose heat and to listen for predators. In Australia the Easter Bunny is often replaced by the Easter Bilby as rabbits are an introduced pest species.

Can you find Australian creatures in Scotland?

Yes. Edinburgh Zoo has Australian animals and birds including wallabies, koalas, long-nosed potoroos, inland bearded dragons, lesser sulphur-crested cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets.

Wallabies can also be found at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park and Camperdown Wildlife Centre. The spiny seahorse and the big bellied seahorse can be found at the Loch Lomond Aquarium.

Scotland also boasts a colony of wild wallabies. In the 1970s Lady Arran Colquhoun introduced wallabies on the island of Inchconnachan in Loch Lomond.

Fiona Bryde Colquhoun, Countess of Arran, sped into the record books in 1980 as the fastest woman on water when she reached 102 mph in a power boat on Lake Windermere. She became the first person to go over 100 mph in an offshore boat. Lady Arran instigated the Badger Protection Bill and was a friend of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Descendants of the original wallabies still roam the island.

What are billabongs?

A billabong is a waterhole - specifically a waterhole that forms at the bend in a river. The word ‘billabong’ is thought to have originated from the Wiradjuri term ‘bilabaŋ’. Wiradjuri is the traditional language of the Wiradhuri people of New South Wales. 

Other Aboriginal words and names you might know:

  • Kylie - a Noongar word meaning ‘throwing stick’, a boomerang.

  • Canberra - Australia’s capital city is named after ‘Kanbarra’, which means ‘meeting place’ in the Ngunnawal language of the Ngabri people.

  • Didgeridoo or didjeridu - a wooden wind instrument traditionally made from eucalyptus wood hollowed out by termites. Only men play the didgeridoo during ceremonies.

  • Witchetty grub or witjuti grub - the big, fat, white larvae of a moth. A ‘wityu’ is actually the Adynyamathanha name for the hooked stick used to dig for grubs. Witchetty grubs are bush tucker; they can be eaten raw or cooked, are an excellent source of protein and taste a bit like almonds.

What is Australia’s deadliest creature?

It’s not sharks.

It’s not crocodiles.

It’s not the deadly funnel-web spider.

Australia’s deadliest creature is the box jellyfish. It is so dangerous that it has killed more people than crocodiles and sharks combined.

Never put your hand in a hole in the ground. Australia is home to nine of the world’s ten most dangerous spiders.

Look out for drop bears. They are the fierce cousins of koalas. They lurk up in the branches of gum trees waiting for unwary tourists to walk by. Drop bears have sharp teeth and claws, and are, in general, imaginary.

What are monotremes?

The platypus and the echidna are such unique creatures that they are the world’s only monotremes; they are egg-laying mammals.

Platypuses have bills like ducks and tails like beavers. They are small and furry but not harmless. Male platypuses have a small venomous spike that they use to protect themselves. Their venom can kill a small dog and makes humans very ill for months.

Echidnas are spiny anteaters, much larger than hedgehogs. They live on termites and ants. Female echidnas lay a single egg that they place in their pouch. Young echidnas are called ‘puggles’. They suck milk from their mother’s milk patches.

What kind of tree is as old as the dinosaurs?

The Wollemi Pine.

In September 1994, the Wollemi Pine was discovered in Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains.

The oldest Wollemi tree fossil has been dated to 200 million years ago - it shared the earth with plesiosaurus in the Jurassic period. The Wollemi tree is more than 100 million years older than Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The Wollemi Pine is incredibly rare. Fewer than 100 adult Wollemi Pine trees are known to exist in the wild. Botanic Gardens around the world are working together to safeguard its survival. You can now see Wollemi Pine trees growing in Scotland at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, in the Kibble Palace glasshouse at Glasgow Botanic Gardens, and in the David Welch Winter Gardens in Aberdeen.

What do the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander flags symbolise?

The Australian Aboriginal flag was designed by Indigenous artist Harold Thomas in 1971. It was a flag of protest; it was first flown on National Aborigines' Day in Adelaide, then becoming the official flag of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.

Many buildings, including town halls, fly the Australian Aboriginal flag alongside the Australian flag.

Harold Thomas stated that the black in the flag represents the Aboriginal people of Australia; the red represents the red earth, the red ochre used to paint in ceremonies and the Aboriginal people’s spiritual relation to the land. The yellow circle represents the Sun - the giver of life and protector.

The Torres Strait Islander flag was designed by Bernard Namok. It was adopted in 1992, after winning a design competition run by the Island Co-ordinating Council. It was recognised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), who gave it equal prominence with the Australian Aboriginal Flag.

The black represents the Indigenous peoples, the green represents the land and the blue represents the sea. The white represents peace. The white dhari - headdress - represents the Torres Strait Islander people while the five-pointed star represents the five island groups found within the Torres Strait.

In July 1995, the Australian Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag were given official recognition as ‘Flags of Australia’ by the Australian government under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953.

What is the Southern Cross?

There are six stars on the Australian flag. One is the Commonwealth star. The constellation of five stars is the Southern Cross.

The five stars of the Southern Cross are: Alpha Crucis, Beta Crucis, Gamma Crucis, Delta Crucis and Epsilon Crucis. The Southern Cross is used for navigation in the Southern Hemisphere.

The bright stars of the Southern Cross were very important to the First Australians. Some see it as an eagle’s claw.

The Torres Strait Islanders tell of Tagai, a warrior from the Torres Strait, who holds a fishing spear in his left hand. Tagai’s fishing spear represents the Southern Cross.

Picture credit: Photo of flags of Torres Strait Islands and Aboriginal Australia on Sorry Day. Taken by strangejourney and published on Flickr.