Category Archives: Cultural Insight Into Australia

Here are some insights about the people, landforms, wildlife, and culture of my country: Australa.

Cultural Insight into Australia 23: Sport (iii)

As I mentioned in my last ‘Cultural Insight’ post, I’m from Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules Football, the only true football. I mentioned in Cultural Insight 21 that cricket is a summer sport, since it needs good weather. This caused a problem in the early days of my country. What could the cricketers do in the winter in order to stay fit? Answer: they needed a new game, and the first rules for the game were written in 1859. This is actually earlier than most other football codes in the world, including soccer!

Australian football is played on cricket grounds – large, oval-shaped, with natural earth and grass. If it is raining [this is a winter sport], this can make it quite muddy for the players. There are 18 players on either side trying to kick an oval shaped ball between ‘goal posts’ on either side of the large ground, and so it can move quite fast. There is catching, running, bouncing, and hand-passing, and the rules allow ‘tackling’, and thus the game is fairly rough and physical.

In the true spirit of the origins of the game, I have included some pictures of ‘local’ amateur football, rather than the professional AFL (the Australian Football League). These pictures show everything I have said: the fast, rough, muddy, but highly entertaining nature of the sport – now Australia’s most popular. If you are in my country, try going to an AFL game.

Local Football 1Local Football 2








Local Football 3Local Football 4


Cultural Insight into Australia 22: Sport (ii)

Australian are famous for their prowess at sport. It is truly impressive, particularly given the relatively small population of my country, and rugby is a better example than cricket (from the last ‘Cultural Insight’), since rugby is only played into two Australian states: New South Wales, and Queensland. This hasn’t stopped Australia from winning two Rugby World Cups (in 1991 and 1999), and always being a serious contender for the title.

Rugby 1Rugby 2

As for how it is played, I’m not really sure. As the pictures show, it is rough, tough, and involves beefy bull-necked heavyweight meatheads basically throwing themselves head on into each other. Sadly, this has resulted in a statistically significant number of broken necks

Forgive me for my attitude. I’m from Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules Football (the only true football, and the subject of the next ‘Cultural Insight’), so I’m not that interested in rugby.

Cultural Insight into Australia 21: Sport (i)

Australian are famous for their prowess at sport. It is truly impressive, particularly given the relatively small population of my country. A good example of that we won the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Cricket? Huh? You don’t know anything about it, do you? Well, here’s one interesting fact: it is the world’s 2nd most popular sport.

Cricket is played by many Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, and (especially) India. Cricket is a summer sport in Australia, since it cannot be played in the rain or in bad light, given how hard, small, and slippery a cricket ball is, and how fast it can travel when hit with a bat.

Cricket 2Cricket 1

The game is similar in concept to baseball, but, as the pictures show, the equipment is slightly different. A bowler (Picture 1, middle) bowls the ball; the batsman (Picture 2) tries to hit it away, and the fielders (Picture 1, front) try to catch it (making the batsman ‘out’), or throw it into the stumps (those three sticks in the middle of both pictures), while the batsmen run up and down the ‘pitch’ (the pathway between the two sets of sumps) in order to accrue runs.

Well, that’s cricket in a nutshell – a very popular sport in my country, and Australia is officially the best in the world [well, this year, anyway].

Cultural Insight into Australia 20: Art (iv)

In the previous ‘Cultural Insight’, we looked at a famous painting by the early Australian painter Tom Robert (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931). In contrast to Russel Drysdale (who came much later [See Cultural Insight 17]), Roberts saw the outback in a much more positive way.

Frederick McCubbin was a colleague of Robert’s, and they studied art together. McCubbin also saw the bush in a more positive, but often more reflective, way. Here is his most famous painting, called ‘The Pioneer’ (1904).



There is a story here, somewhat sad, and somewhat uplifting at the same time.

Picture 1:   The pioneers – a husband and wife – have arrived in a new area of bush land. Notice the expression on the wife’s face – not a happy one.

Picture 2:   Now these two people have a baby, a house (shown in the background), and the husband is clearing the forest for further agricultural purposes.

Picture 3:   Probably the son returns to visit the grave of (probably) his father or mother. Notice now that a small town can be seen in the distance. Time has passed; life moves on, and a country develops further. We are born, we live, and we die, eventually returning to the soil (from which we came).


Cultural Insight into Australia 19: Art (iii)

In the previous two ‘Cultural Insights’, we looked the paintings of Russel Drysdale. He painted the Australian outback in a sinister and uneasy way. Now, let’s look at probably the two most famous Australian paintings of all time, which see the world differently.

The first was painted by an early Australian painter named Tom Robert (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931). In contrast to Drysdale (who came much later), Roberts saw the outback in a much more positive way. Here is his most famous painting, called ‘Shearing the Rams’, painted in 1890. It shows real life, and celebrates ‘manly’ work, in this case, that of the wool industry, which was one of the first major industries of Australia.

Shearing the Rams


An interesting fact is that the ‘tar-boy’ (the smiling figure in the centre of the picture) was actually a girl. Her name was Susan Davis, and she lived until 1979.











An interesting fact is that the ‘tar-boy’ (the smiling figure in the centre of the picture) was actually a girl. Her name was Susan Davis, and she lived until 1979.

Cultural Insight Into Australia 18: Art (ii)

In the previous ‘Cultural Insight’, we looked at two painting from the 1940s. Here is another painting from the same artist – and it has the same themes. This work, painted in 1948, is called, ‘The Cricketers’ and has been described by the National Gallery of Australia as “one of the most original and haunting images in all Australian art.” Here, even the buildings provoke uneasiness and foreboding, as if something bad is soon to happen. There is that same silent and threatening power in the objects and landscape.

Russel Drysdale 2

So, who painted these paintings?

His name was Russel Drysdale. He was born in England in 1912, arrived in Australia in 1923, and died there in 1981.

The Australian outback, and its inhabitants, would become his lifelong artistic subject matter, but the images would always be ominous and uneasy.

Although Drysdale would be knighted for his efforts, one wonders if he had a happy life. Both his son and his wife would commit suicide. He would re-marry, though, but the life of an artist may never be an easy one.

Cultural Insight to Australia 17: Art (i)

Australia is well known for animals and beaches, but we have artists, too, as does all countries. Given the range of scenery available, perhaps we have more artists than other countries – although none of them have really achieved worldwide fame.

The Australian ‘outback’ has always been one source of inspiration. My country struggled hard and long to conquer this difficult landscape, so it is usually celebrated in painting, as a magnificent and inspiring place, but one artist saw it very differently. Here are two of his paintings, from 1940s.

Russel Drysdale 1

Russel Drysdale 3








Notice here how big the tree-trunk and cliffs are, dwarfing the people below. Notice the eerie shadows. One senses the silent and threatening power of the landscape, and that the human beings somehow do not really belong there. This second picture shows the same themes: the change in the normal sizes of objects, and other surrealist elements. The tree-trunk here has a monstrous form, with a gaping mouth as if in a silent scream.

In the next ‘Cultural Insight’, I’ll explain about the painter who produced these works.

Cultural Insights to Australia

Hello Everyone.

In the ‘IELTS Vocabulary’ section, I mentioned seven rules to learning vocabulary. Rule 7 is by reading. And here is some light, easy, and interesting reading pieces – all about … the country shown below.



Yes, Australia. My country is huge, diverse, and has a fascinating history, which all means there are many insights I can give.

So, relax, and scan through these factual, sometimes reflective, sometimes thought-provoking, but always interesting insights into my amazing country.

Andrew Guilfoyle

Cultural Insights to Australia 16: Remnants of the Past (iv)

Insight 16: Remnants of the Past (iv)

Australia was colonised as a new country – and that meant things came and went, lived and died, flourished and declined. This has left many old constructions, some listed as historic ruins; others just crumbling shapes on the landscape.

13. Old Chimney stackDerelict Farmhouse

Here is another couple of remnants, the first showing an old chimney stack. A wooden house was once there, but it has long disappeared. Like dinosaur bones, all we have is the hard part: the brick work from the fireplace. Sights like this raise questions. What sort of house was it? What did it look like? Who lived there? What was their life like? What happened to them?

The second photo is an old farmhouse. You can see the chimney behind it. Maybe, in 50 years time, it will look like the previous picture. Looking at this photo, the same questions arise.

When I see these places, I always want to explore inside them, wondering if some lost treasure or antique from the past will be found.

Cultural Insights to Australia 15: Remnants of the Past (iii)

Insight 15: Remnants of the Past (iii)

In the previous ‘Cultural Insight’ we looked at the historic cemetery at Walkerville, and reflected on the hard lives of those who lives in this town during the ‘lime-burning era’, from 1878 to 1926. Newborn babies and young children lie in this historic cemetery, as do adults and the elderly.

21g Cemetery721e Cemetery5

A sign nearby reads,

Please respect this cemetery and help protect the graves by not touching the headstones. Only a few families could afford headstones. The timber crosses have long since turned to dust or been destroyed by bushfires. The recent white picket fence replicates the original seen in photographs.

The early photographs show this area as bare and empty of trees. That same sign explains:

Most of the original trees were cut down to fuel the lime kilns. Later, the vegetation was often burnt to encourage new growth for stock to feed on.

Now this place is a pleasant forest, but when I see these pictures, I always feel great respect for the pioneers of early Australia. Rest in peace. We owe you a great debt.

Cultural Insights to Australia 14: Remnants of the Past (ii)

Insight 14: Remnants of the Past (ii)

In the previous ‘Cultural Insight’ we looked at the old ruins of ‘lime burning kilns’ left on an isolated beach in Southern Victoria. I said I would explore, in this ‘Cultural Insight’, the lives of the people of those times.

Good quality lime was found in the cliff of an isolated beach in the early 1870s. This material was valued for the building industry in fast-growing Melbourne, thus, a town developed to mine the lime. This town, called Walkerville, was only significant during the ‘lime-burning era’, from 1878 to 1926.20a Path the Cemetery 1


It was a hard, lonely, and primitive existence, as can be seen in the ‘historic cemetery’. There are about 35 people buried there from that past time.




21a Cemetery1

Notice the young age of some of the deceased. James Newbould was aged 11, and research shows that he drowned in a small dam. But we don’t know what killed the little baby girl Myrtle May Dewar, aged 1 day? And how did Marie Walsh die? She was only 13 years old. What about Frederick James Watson, only five years old? And Hazel Wooster, aged 16?Yes, life was obviously hard in those times, and perhaps we should all reflect on this, spoilt as we are in our modern existence. On this theme, we will see some of the actual graves in the next ‘Cultural Insight’.

Cultural Insight to Australia 13: Remnants of the Past (i)

Insight 13: Remnants of the Past (i)

Australia was colonised as a new country – and that meant things came and went, lived and died, flourished and declined. This has left many old constructions, some listed as historic ruins; others just crumbling shapes on the landscape.

24g Lime Kilns Renmants 713. Lime Kilns Renmants 5

These two pictures are of a historic ruin, the remnant of ‘lime burning kilns’ from over 100 years ago. Lime was a material mined from the beach-side cliff. It had to be roasted at very high temperature, then ground into powder to make an important building material for early Melbourne. However, plaster and concrete soon replaced this, and the industry died.

Ruins like this speak of past time, past existences, and they were not that easy. In the next ‘Cultural Insight’, we will explore the lives of the people who made and operated these kilns, and how they lived and died.

Cultural Insight to Australia 12: Coastal Erosion

Insight 12: Coastal Erosion

There’s not much about culture here – but then there is something interesting and eye-catching.

As mentioned before, Australia has lots of coastline, and with the constant forces of erosion (wind, rain, and waves), there are sometime very strange results.

The two pictures are of  ‘Bird’s Nest Beach’ in Southern Victoria. Notice, there is, in fact, a bird in the second picture. Look closely.

10c Bird Nest Beach 313a Rock Formations 1

Cultural Insights to Australia 11: ANZAC Day Marches

Insight 11: The ANZAC Day March

When World War I started in 1914, the rather new country of Australia responded. So did New Zealand. The Inspector-General of Australia’s army decided to put all the soldiers into one single force (rather than sending them over to Europe piece by piece). When the New Zealand soldiers joined this force, there had to be a name for this combined force. They were eventually called the ‘Australia and New Zealand Army Corp’, but the army clerks were soon using stamps which said ‘ANZAC’.

On April 25th, 1915, this force landed on a Turkish beach under heavy fire. The British and French landed further south. It was a complete disaster for all, and nine months later they left, with the French and ANZACs having lost over 10,000 men each, the British 20,000. The landing day is still remembered, though. ‘ANZAC Day’ is a public holiday, and veteran soldiers (from more recent conflicts) will often march through the streets. You might find the following pictures interesting.




Cultural Insight to Australia 10: Riverboats

Insight 10: Riverboats

The history of white settlement of Australia is just over two hundred years – not that long, really, but still, there were a lot of interesting aspects and events, since Australia is was such a strange and interesting place. Bushrangers, exploration, gold rushes, cattle drives, aboriginal conflict, and the development of a new civilization in a place which had no civilization or infrastructure whatsoever.

Speaking of infrastructure, in the 1880s, the Murray River saw the riverboat days, when steam-powered paddle-wheel riverboats cruised up and down, transporting wool, wood, and human necessities. Eventually the railways killed off this trade, but the town of Echuca still has a riverboat or two for the tourists to ride on. You might find this photograph interesting.

10. Riverboat






Cultural Insight to Australia 9: Birdlife

Insight 9: Bird Life

Australia has lots of coast, lots of gardens, lots of trees, and consequently lots of ….. birds! Actually, the noise of all the birds very early every morning can drive one crazy. My little boy’s first words were ‘ya ya’, since the mother would always say in Chinese, ‘Listen to the birdies’ [“Ting ya-ya de shun-ing”].

Well, birds are not so interesting, but near Melbourne there is a site where the local fishing co-operative feeds the pelicans every afternoon. The pelicans accumulate, wait, and so do the spectators. You might find these two pictures interesting.

9. Pelican Feeding II9. Feeding Pelicans