New South Wales

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The original inhabitants of New South Wales (NSW) were Aborigines, or Kooris, as they call themselves. They have the world's oldest cultural history, which dates back to the Ice Age. The oldest archaeological evidence of their long history is available in the form of bora rings, circular areas of banked earth that were used for ceremonies. The rings can be found throughout New South Wales.

The first Europeans who settled in Australia landed in New South Wales and the Kooris were the first of Australia's indigenous people to have their land occupied and taken. A few efforts to land on Australia's western coast were undertaken, but Captain James Cook, ultimately arrived at Botany Bay in 1770 and claimed the entire continent for Britain. He wrongly claimed Australia to be terra nullius, or uninhabited land. He named the new British possession New South Wales.

Joseph Banks, Cook's naturalist, suggested that a colony should be founded in New South Wales to empty Britain's overcrowded prisons. On 26 January 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships with more than 750 convicts and 400 military personnel arrived at Botany Bay under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip.

The new colony struggled to grow enough crops to sustain itself and exploration of the hinterland became essential to the survival of early settlers.

It was not until 1813 that a path was found through the bush of the rugged Great Dividing Range. This allowed inland towns such as Bathurst to be founded. Crops could be grown there to sustain the capital, as well as further exploration into inland areas. By the 1830's, explorers had mapped out most of inland NSW. The last convicts arrived in NSW in the 1840's and after gold was discovered in the central west in the 1850's, a huge influx of free settlers began.

The settlers needed ever more land, which created tensions with the Koori people. The indigenous population was pushed off their lands and violence and European diseases, such as smallpox did the rest. Before the 19th century was over, the Aboriginal population was decimated.

In 1901, the continent's states united to form Australia. In 1908, an agreement on the site of the new capital, Canberra, was reached. It was positioned, exactly halfway between the rival cities of Melbourne and Sydney.

NSW's economy hit rock bottom when the Great Depression arrived and Premier Jack Lang defaulted on the state's loans from Britain. When wool prices rose and manufacturing picked up in the 1930's, NSW recovered rapidly. In 1932 the landmark Sydney Harbor Bridge was built.

Many inhabitants from NSW served in WWII, but the state itself was mostly untouched by the conflict. During the years after the war, construction boomed again and Sydney scored more unique architecture, including the world famous Sydney Opera House. In the south of the state, work began on the massive Snowy Mountain Hydro-electric Scheme. The project took nearly 30 years to complete, using a huge immigrant workforce that broadened Australia's mono-culture.

The postwar policy of assimilating Kooris into European Australia resulted in many children being taken from their parents. Thus the so-called Stolen Generation was created. The assimilation policy was finally abandoned in the 1970's.

During the 1970's , NSW was politically dominated by the ALP (Australian Labor Party) with its charismatic premier, Neville Wran. The 1980's brought another financial boom, but in the 1990's the economy slowed dramatically and threatened to eliminate the state's agricultural industry. Since 1996 economic and social improvement has been taking place and in 2000, Sydney hosted the Olympic Games. Nowadays NSW is heavily focused on tourism.

NSW is vast and has a varied landscape, ranging from alpine areas in the south, to desolate outback extremes in the west. Many towns in the state boast interesting colonial architecture, as well as a rich Aboriginal history. There are fantastic beaches and vast tracts of secluded bush replete with Australia's unique wildlife.

New South Wales measures about 800,640 km² and some 94% of its inhabitants is from European descent, while 4% is Asian and 1.8% Aboriginal. By the end of the 20th century the state's population was 6.2 million.

When to go

The north of NSW can be visited all year round, although the summers in the region around Sydney might be too hot for many, with temperatures rising to 40°C (104°F) some days. The outback can only be visited in the winter months of June, July and August. The rest of the year it's just too hot. During the winter you can also ski on the state's southern ski slopes.

Some of the most interesting events include New Year's Eve celebrations that feature spectacular pyrotechnics displays in Sydney. The first big celebration of the year is Australia Day, which commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove. Aboriginal people celebrate Survival Day, or Invasion Day, on the same day. Their festival includes music, dance and arts.

In February, Tamworth's Country Music Festival takes place. Other interesting festivals include Sydney's Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gra and Surfest, which is held each March in Newcastle. It is Australia's longest-running professional surf carnival. At Byron Bay the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival is celebrated in April.

The Bathurst 1000 touring car race is in October and after the Christmas celebrations, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race sets sail from the state capital and finds its way down the southern coast.

Places of interest

Some of the most interesting destinations in New South Wales include the capital of Sydney and the towns of Bourke, Broken Hill, Byron Bay, Gulgong, Tamworth, Tibooburra and White Cliffs. Other interesting areas are the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley, Lord Howe Island, Mungo National Park, NSW North Coast, NSW South Coast and the Snowy Mountains.

Activities

New South Wales has a wide array of bush walking possibilities. Most of the national parks in the state offer marked tracks and wilderness walking. If you stay in Sydney, you can visit the nearby Blue Mountains and the Royal National Park, as well as Kosciusko National Park, which boasts various breathtaking alpine trails. The Blue Mountains National Park has numerous cliffs and crags, where rock climbing and abseiling can be practiced.

Surfing is possible along the entire east coast of NSW. The most popular places are Coffs Harbor, Byron Bay and Noosa. At Coffs Harbor you can also enjoy white-water rafting and canoeing on the Nymboida River. This is also possible on the upper Murray near Khancoban. Diving can be arranged at Port Stephens, Forster, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbor, Byron Bay, Jervis Bay and Merimbula. There is good fishing along the coast too. The Myall Lakes area, the lakes of the Snowy Mountains and New England's trout streams are also good for fishing. Hang-gliding is popular off the Illawarra escarpment near Wollongong and at Byron Bay, while para-sailing is available at a number of beach resorts, including Coffs Harbor and Port Stephens. During the winter, you can snowboard and ski in the Snowy Mountains. Less tiring activities include whale-watching in Eden and wine-tasting in the Hunter Valley.

Events

The Tamworth Country Music Festival takes place in the New England town of Tamworth. It is celebrated over Australia Day weekend in January. The Hunter Valley Vintage Festival is during the grape harvest in March and involves grape-picking and wine-treading contests. The ski season opens in the Snowy Mountains in June and lasts to September, depending on the snow situation. Surf carnivals are held up and down the coast throughout the summer.

Culture

NSW has always been important to Australia's culture. The NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) in Sydney has seen alumni like Mel Gibson and Nicole Kidman and several Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed in NSW.

Sydney and Newcastle are important centers of grungy pop rock, while country music is popular west of the Great Dividing Range, especially in Tamworth. Some of Australia's most important painters and other artists live in New South Wales.

Until WWII, the inhabitants of NSW were mainly of Anglo-Celtic descent, but the influx of immigrants from countries like Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Turkey and numerous places in southeast Asia, has dramatically changed that. NSW is also home to Australia's largest number of indigenous inhabitants.

Environment

New South Wales is on the eastern coast of Australia. It is bordered by Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south and South Australia to the west. Australia's Capital Territory is an enclave within NSW. The Great Dividing Range is in the east of the state. It includes Australia's highest peak, 2228 m high Mount Kosciusko. West of the mountains are the endless plains, while the northwest of the state takes on the deep red soil of the outback. The major rivers are the Murray and the Darling, which meander westward across the plains.

Many of Australia's 700-odd species of flora and fauna can be found in NSW, including Australia's unique eucalypt, or gum tree and plants such as wattle, grevilleas, hakeas, banksias, tea trees, bottlebrushes and the state flower, the waratah. The state includes lush rainforests, as well as arid deserts.

Animals that live in NSW include kangaroos, possums, wombats, koalas, platypuses, emus, echidnas and dingoes, as well as a wide variety of bird species, such as parrots, cockatoos and kookaburras and indigenous reptiles and insects. Some of the animals, such as the redback and Sydney's funnel-web spiders and taipan and tiger snakes, can be dangerous.

There are more than 140 national parks in New South Wales. The largest one is Kosciusko, while the smallest consists of the scattered pockets of bush land in the Sydney Harbor National Park. The outback expanses of the Mungo and Sturt national parks are also very interesting.

Weather in NSW has many variations. In general, the further north you go, the warmer and more humid it gets and the farther west you go, the drier it gets. In the winter, the Snowy Mountains are covered with snow. Summer starts in December, autumn in March, winter in June and spring in September.

Transportation

Most foreigners who come to New South Wales arrive at Sydney's international airport of Kingsford-Smith. The airport offers many connections with Asia, Europe and the USA. Because of Australia's remoteness, flights are often quite expensive. International flights have a departure tax that is often included in the price of the ticket. Flying is a good way to get around NSW, because its size make train and bus travel lengthy expeditions. Many flights are heavily booked, so make plans well in advance. Most flights go through Sydney, so you will be seeing a lot of Kingsford-Smith airport.

Major bus lines run services into and out of most of NSW. Some of them offer bus passes with good discounts. Interstate and regional trains run from Sydney's Central station to most cities and towns throughout NSW, as well as to all Australian capitals. The NSW government's Countrylink rail network is the most comprehensive in Australia. Trains, and connecting Countrylink buses, run quite quickly and frequently to most sizeable towns, including Albury, Armidale, Broken Hill, Dubbo, Moree and Murwillumbah. Major roads in NSW run from Sydney. You can go north along the coast to Newcastle and further on, west into the Blue Mountains and south to Melbourne, Canberra and Wollongong.

Despite the good public transportation, it is better to have a car if you want to do a lot of touring. Most visitors who stay for a decent length of time, purchase a vehicle and sell it at the end of their stay. You can rent cars in most sizeable towns. There is no need to get a 4WD unless you're tackling the state's far west, but even then, many unsealed roads are suitable for 2WD vehicles.

Accommodation and food

Tourists from Europe or the USA will find NSW pretty cheap. Food and accommodation can be found at friendly prices. Especially if you are staying in hostels, or on-site caravans, or it you are camping and you are cooking your own meals, you don't need much money while staying in NSW. Travel will be the biggest expense, as distances are vast.

Tipping is getting a foothold in NSW, particularly in upper-crust cafes and restaurants in Sydney, but you won't be looked down upon if you don't tip.

Other facts

The time in New South Wales is 10 hours ahead of UTC (during the summer 11 hours, as daylight savings time is used). Electricity is 220-240V. The local currency is Australian Dollar and foreign currencies can be exchanged at almost any bank or exchange bureau without any problem. Banks are available in most towns, except in the most remote outback stations. Credit cards are widely accepted and there are ATM's across the state.


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