AUSTRALIANS ARE USED to comparing their country with the United States and their countries of origin, whether the UK, Italy, China or any of the two hundred or so other nations from whence their families emigrated. Norway does not generally figure in such reflections – few Australians are of Norwegian origin; the countries are polar opposites and physically disparate. Australia and Norway are neither members of the same regional organisations, nor significant trading partners, nor even notable destinations for each other’s tourists.
Closer study suggests more similarities than might be expected with a partly Arctic country housing a population less than a quarter the size of Australia’s. Norway had the second-largest merchant navy in the world in 2001, so it is not surprising that a Norwegian ship, the Tampa, played a crucial role in the ugly drama about asylum seekers in that year. Australians have for some years been hearing about the maturity with which Norway handles income from oil and gas extraction. Many Australians were brought up eating Oslo lunches, studying Ibsen at school, hearing Grieg and identifying with the angst of Munch’s painting The Scream. More recently Australian environmental perspectives have been strongly influenced by the report on sustainable development prepared by the commission headed by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. Both countries have territory in Antarctica. In 2008, 1230 Norwegian students were studying in Australia.[i] Mutual interest, then, is growing.
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