Australia faces hard truths

For 232 years, Australians have relied on Britain, and then America, to keep Asia safe for them. Now, they are increasingly on their own as they confront a complex of epidemiological, economic, environmental and strategic problems.

Kangaroos in a field amid smoke from a bush fire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma, Australia, in January last year. Australia began last year with the most catastrophically widespread bush fires it has ever seen. The fires offered Australians the most compelling proof yet of the reality of climate change, but the country’s political leadership has refused to see them in those terms, says the writer. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Australians marked the New Year on Jan 1 with a small but important change to their national anthem. Just one word was altered, so that the second line of the song no longer describes Australia as "young and free", but as "one and free".

Why? Because while the British settled in the continent only 232 years ago, the Aboriginal society they encountered is not young. In fact, it is the world's oldest living culture - 60,000 years old.

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