What's so great about Australia?

As the greatest contest in cricket begins today, Cahal Milmo investigates just what contributions the former British colony Down Under has made to the sum of human happiness

"Barbie"

Not the popular toy but the al-fresco grilling of food over charcoal embers. According to one survey, 66 per cent of the British population will have a barbecue this summer, doubtless repeating the catchphrase from an advert by Paul Hogan for Australian tourism: "Put another shrimp on the barbie."

Rolf Harris

Perhaps the Greatest Living Australian for most Britons. The bearded maestro who brought the world "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport" secured his status as a national treasure with the announcement that he will paint a portrait of the Queen.

Loyal allies

From the blood-soaked peninsula of Gallipoli in the First World War to more recent conflicts such as Iraq, the slouch-hatted Aussies have fought alongside the British for more than a century.

Crap telly

No afternoon or early evening spent slouching in front of the television would be complete without an instalment of Neighbours or Home and Away. The arrival of Australian soaps has enriched British cultural life.

Kylie Minogue

The original girl-next-door has mutated from poodle-permed soap actress to pint-sized sex goddess to the subject of a much-examined wax work in Madame Tussauds.

Gassy beer

From Australians "not giving a XXXX for anything else" to the original "amber nectar", the British pub-goer is now as likely to reach for a pint of Aussie brew as anything else. Britons consume 30 pints of Foster's every second.

Classy leading ladies

Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett. Sigh.

Great Barrier Reef

The word's largest coral reef, indeed the world's largest living organism, a gigantic colony of limestone-secreting coral polyps stretching for 1,400 miles off Australia's east coast - and a wonder of the natural world.

Sydney - Mardi Gras, Opera House Etc

With its architectural treasures (opera house and harbour bridge), multicultural prowess (Mardi Gras) and natural amenities (Bondi Beach), the city that many assume is the Australian capital has moved on since its founding as a penal colony in 1788. If there was any doubt, the 2000 Olympics sealed its status as one of the world's great cities.

We can beat them at rugby (Sometimes)

After what feels like decades of sporting subjugation at their hands, the Australians finally succumbed to their English rivals in the dying seconds of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final with Jonny Wilkinson's immortal drop kick. Victory was made all the sweeter by taking place on Australia's home turf - Sydney's Telstra stadium.

Elle Macpherson

The Body forever earned the affections of the British male for her, ahem, revealing role opposite Hugh Grant and Sam Neill in Sirens. Her underwear range, Elle Macpherson Intimates, is a top-seller.

Films

From The Story of the Kelly Gang, allegedly the world's first feature-length film, to such recent classics as Strictly Ballroom and Muriel's Wedding, the Australian movie industry has consistently punched above its weight to produce off-beat hits. The world will be forever grateful for the sight of Terence Stamp in full dress as a drag queen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Australian wine

Australian wine revolutionised drinking habits in Britain from the mid-1980s onwards, because the Aussie reds in particular were made in what for British imbibers was a completely new style: ripe, approachable and bursting with flavour - "sunshine in a bottle". They were also entirely reliable, and cheap into the bargain.

Germaine Greer

Anarchist and Mother Superior in equal measure, the ability of Germaine Greer to wrong-foot the establishment over the past five decades with her views on subjects from Byron to rape has made her Australia's most potent intellectual export to these shores.

Penal Colonies

Transportation ended in 1868 but provided Whingeing Poms with gibes to fling back Down Under ever since. As the writer A D Hope put it: "And her five cities, like teeming sores/ Each drains her: a vast parasite robber state/ Where second-hand Europeans pullulate/ Timidly on the edge of alien shores."

Barry Mckenzie

The hero of the eponymous Private Eye comic strip introduced the Brits to modern Australian with a number unforgettable words and phrases for activities such as vomiting ("technicolour yawn") and urinating ("pointing the python at the porcelain").

Unusual animals

If you like animals, you'll find Australia's different and eye-catching.

Pavlova

It may have been named after a Russian ballerina, but the world can thank an Australian chef for the fluffy meringue dessert that bears her name. Possibly. A New Zealand academic claims it was created in Wellington.

Clive James

The master of dry wit will forever retain the nation's thanks for seeing it through innumerable New Year's Eves in front of the television.

Bar staff

Pub owners across London would be forced into closure without the ready pool of bar staff provided by the regular influx of young Australians arriving at Heathrow to "do Europe".

And 20 reasons why they drive us mad

Ashes

The name of the biennial cricket contest comes from a mock obituary of the English game after Australia's victory in the 1882 Oval test, which read: "The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia." To date, Australia have 39 series victories to England's 27 and have held the Ashes since 1987.

Strewth, what have you done to our lingo mate?

Little raises the hackles of purveyors of the Queen's English than an Australian doing violence to Her Majesty's vowels and consonants. "Strine" is responsible for adding such terms as "tinny" (can of beer) and "uni" (college or university) to common parlance.

Pom Bashing

Little more, that is, than the apparently innate belief born to many Australians, especially those of the sporting variety, that they occupy a higher plain than the benighted Poms. Mel Gibson even twists the facts in his movies (Braveheart, The Patriot) to have a go at the old enemy.

Crap telly(2)

For all their popularity, the arrival of Neighbours and Home and Away is regarded by aesthetes as the bane of TV.

They even beat us at football

As if more than a decade of defeat in the cricketing arena were not enough, the Mother Country lost its claim to superiority in football on a dank evening at Upton Park in February 2003 when they beat us 3-1.

Vegemite

A thick, brown, salty sludge, this by-product of brewer's yeast is recorded by Australians as a national delicacy infinitely superior to, Marmite. It's not.

Rupert Murdoch

Need we say more?

Aussie theme pubs

These premises should be considered no-go zones for the rest of the summer - unless it is to rub in an upset in the Ashes series.

Hands off the Queen

Australian prime minister Paul Keating was widely perceived to have broken protocol in 1992, when he touched the royal back during the Queen's tour to Australia. The breach earned Mr Keating the sobriquet "Lizard of Oz".

Republicanism

You'd have thought they might have fully gotten out from under, but no. Despite years of polls stating their desireto remove the Queen as their head of state, in a 1999 referendum, the "no" side won with 55 per cent of the vote.

Paul Hogan

Not satisfied with torturing the nation with his Outback red-neck persona to sell lager, Hogan starred in Crocodile Dundee, in which played... an Outback red-neck.

Cheating Aussies (1)

The ability of spin bowler Shane Warne to collect English wickets is surpassed only by his knack for attracting tabloid headlines. Dubbed the chav of cricket, the blond-haired player was last month the subject of reports about three alleged infidelities, including a two-month affair, largely on the bonnet of his BMW. His long-suffering wife, Simone, announced the couple were separating.

Didgeridoos

And the buskers who "play" them.

Cheating Aussies (2)

Sledging, the verbal intimidation of batsmen by fielders in cricket, is widely accepted as part of the game. Except the Australians take it a whole new level. During one Ashes series, wicket keeper Rodney Marsh is reputed to have asked Ian Botham: "Hey Both, how are your wife and my kids?"

Poisonous creatures

There are lots of creepy crawlies in Australia that will not only give you the creeps, they will kill you. Nine out of the world's ten most poisonous spiders occur in Oz, including the funnelweb which hides under toilet seats. Try to escape to the bush and you'll find some of the world's most poisonous snakes awaiting you. Try to escape to the sea and you'll find deadly marine creatures such as the stonefish, the box jellyfish and the blue-ringed octopus which is the size of a golf-ball and has a fatal bite.

Bodyline - what was wrong with it?

For a nation which complains about Whingeing Poms, a surprising amount of noise was made by the Australians in 1932 when an England side won the Ashes thanks the use of a new tactic of bowling directly at the body of the batsman. England captain, Douglas Jardine, said Bodyline was within the rules, adding: "I've not travelled 6,000 miles to make friends. I'm here to win the Ashes." When he did, such was the level of Aussie pique, diplomats had to intervene to prevent a political rift.

They can't even build us a stadium...

Plagued by spiralling costs and delays, Australian firm Multiplex's dithering over the new Wembley Stadium has been Herculean in scale.

Swans

Not content with outdoing us in sporting aggression, the Australians are intent on forcing their Pom rivals out of their home - at least as far as a group of antipodean black swans in a Lincoln pond are concerned. The swans last year fought with English mute swans in a grab for territory. A member of the Swan Preservation Society said: "The white ones are a fair bit bigger but these little black ones are dirty fighters."

Lynton Crosby

The 48-year-old adviser to Australian premier John Howard was recruited to mastermind the Tory bid for power in this year's election. Famed for his willingness to "go negative", he was credited with the decision to focus on immigration and the slogan: "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" Apparently we weren't.

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