1. Personally, what makes Rails special?
For me firstly it's that it does things the right way whilst still keeping the architecture simple and clean, and secondly the community.
Every experience I'd had with best-practice web app architectures pre-Rails involved a lot of repetition for adding simple things like database fields and a lot of scaffolding for problems which I'd yet to need to solve. I work with small teams who need to hand-craft everything from the URL structure, user interface and the data models, and Rails provided a nice balance of best-practice, flexibility and productivity without forcing too much of a particular structure on the final result. I've found with Rails (that) it's quite often easier to do things the right way than to do things the quick or hacky way.
The community was probably what I saw as being most special about Rails. Here was a bunch of people rethinking assumptions by building tools to demonstrate how they thought web apps could and possibly should be built. No doubt we will and are rethinking all the assumptions used to build Rails applications and Rails itself, but for now it still seems to be the boiling pot of innovative tools, techniques and ideas.
2. Are there barriers towards a broader Rails adoption? If so, how (can they be overcome)?
I think one of the biggest barriers is gaining the critical mass to form a development community. Once a community is formed you get local champions who blog, organise events, share knowledge and speak at conferences which would no doubt encourages take up through marketing and education. Online activity no doubt has a great effect, and the large number of Rails bloggers in the US, and the feedback effect of blogging encouraging blogging, has no doubt helped their growth.
3. Any other things you would like to see happening as a member of the Rails community in Australia?
I'd love to see the other cities ramp up their communities. Sydney and Melbourne have quite large communities but the other cities are still gaining critical mass. Events such as Railscamp attract people from all over Australia and are probably key to building a wider community.
Rails sure sounds easy, while community is difficult. Online activity? I promise to do my share even whilst I begin to bust my wits to learn some RoR fundamentals. Any patient Ruby developer out there willing to take me on, as a student that is? Please.