I know a little bit about this country because I was born and raised here.
Australia is the world’s only continent nation. We don’t share our borders with anyone else, for which there are many benefits, and probably many drawbacks. However, Australia is a multicultural country in that, much like the U.S.A., we have people from all over the globe who have chosen to come and live and to thrive in Australia. Although I would never claim that we are the world’s nicest people, Australians do tend to be very tolerant of others. We are a nation whose people believe in giving others a “fair go”. Which means that we won’t interfere with you, unless you start interfering with us, and if you do – watch out, we bite back! As well, Australians are considered to be great travellers, and it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, even in the most remote recesses of the globe, you’ll often find that Australians are there.
The whole point of this website is to encourage people to travel, and as a proud Australian, I would encourage you to visit my country. If you do choose to come here, you’ll find that we are, in the main, very friendly people. And, if you are considering a trip to Australia, here’s a few things you should know:
Yes, we are a long way from anywhere else. Our nearest neighbours are Papua New Guinea, Timore Leste (East Timor), Indonesia, New Zealand and Norfolk Island (which is administered by Australia). You won’t be able to walk, or swim, to any of these places from Australia, you will need to catch a boat or train. By any stretch of the imagination, Australia is a remote place. If you are going to visit Australia from Europe or anywhere in the Americas, and even if you fly using the best possible connections, it’s still going to take you almost a day to get here. Even when you do arrive, there’s a hell of a lot more travelling if you wish to see the country properly.
If you only have a week or two to visit, then don’t plan to travel too far and concentrate on seeing just one part of Australia. Most people head to Sydney, Australia’s largest city, or they visit Queensland, Australia’s most popular State for tourism, primarily because they want to see the world’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef. Sydney is an international city, up there with Rome, Paris, London and New York, and it is also one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Sydney is a good-looking city, thanks to its harbour, its many beaches, it’s attractive central business district, the bushland and parks that have, sensibly, been preserved, and of course the famous synthesis of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which are two of the world’s must-see man-made objects. Australia has other cities worth visiting as well: Brisbane, Queensland’s Capital and the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, The Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. Then there’s Melbourne, Capital of Victoria, and Australia’s most European city, most famous for its trams and great sporting events. Just a few hour’s drive south of Sydney you’ll discover Canberra, Australia’s Capital City. Many international tourists miss out on visiting Canberra, but, much like Washington D.C., it is a fantastic place to visit if you like museums, art galleries and memorials. West of Melbourne is the city of Adelaide, Capital of South Australia, it is a smaller city, but is blessed with great restaurants and is really the heart of some of the best of Australia’s wine country. Australia’s western-most city is Perth, the second most isolated Capital city in the world after Honolulu. Perth is where I live, and it too is a breathtakingly beautiful city with its magnificent Swan River and Indian Ocean beaches. The flight from Sydney to Perth takes five hours, so you are looking at travelling serious distances in Australia. Many visitors I’ve shown around Perth, for instance, want to know if they can go to Monkey Mia for lunch, so they can interact with the dolphins there. The answer is no, it’s a ten-hour drive, without stops. I promise you that Australia is well worth the visit, in fact, it’s worth many visits. If you are planning to come here then plan to do the backpacker thing and hire or buy a campervan and see the country at leisure, or plan on visiting several times and seeing Australia in smaller bits.
LANGUAGE, CURRENCY, CULTURE
Yes, we do speak English, and no, we won’t ask if you want a shrimp thrown on to the barbie. We will throw a prawn on the barbie for you though, because that’s what we really call those tasty crustaceans. Our English is much closer to England’s English than America’s English, which is why if you are in North America and reading this you may be thinking why I am spelling some words a funny way – it’s because we inherited the British education system and because Benjamin Franklin, who thought he could improve the English language by removing letters from some of the words, had no bearing on the way we use English. Having said that, we do have rather a unique accent, probably brought about from the fact that we need to mumble because we can’t open our mouths too widely in case we swallow flies, which many people find cute and New Zealanders absolutely abhor (I used to live in New Zealand and there they use English without its vowels). Even if you don’t speak English, we are a multicultural country, and the odds are that you will find someone who can understand and translate for you. Our currency is the Australian dollar, each of which is made up on one hundred cents, except that the smallest coin we have is the 5-cent piece, so if you buy something for $5.98 you’ll actually pay $6 for it, unless you are paying by credit or debit card. Apart from our coins we have coloured money here so you can tell the difference between the denominations which are $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 in notes, the $2 and $1 are both coins. On the subject of money, there are ATMs everywhere, so you don’t need to bring a lot of cash with you when you visit – any of the better known debit cards (Visa, Mastercard, etc) work here quite well. If you have anything other than an international debit card, then you may have problems, so it may be worth your while getting a Visa or Mastercard to use whilst here. Culturally, we are ostensibly a Christian country, but Christianity is on the decline. There are many other religions freely practised in Australia, and a large percentage of the population don’t follow any religion at all. Australians tend to be very laid back and easy going, but we are also a country that has exactly the same problems of other first world countries, in that we have some poverty and issues with alcoholism and drug dependence. We are a country of people who love to play and watch sport, and we are, per head of population, the most successful sporting country in the world – probably because we are blessed to have a climate which allows us to spend a great deal of time outdoors for most of the year. We are also keen on the arts and theatre, music, dance, film, painting and sculpture are popular. Australia also has a relatively large number of talented indigenous artists whose style is quite unique, visitors may like to visit galleries which specialise in indigenous artworks for quality products to take back home with them.
You need to know that Australia is a democracy that has a Federal Government, which is based in Canberra, and each State and the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (which administers Canberra) also have governments. All States and Territories, with the exception of Queensland, have bi-cameral parliaments, meaning that they have both an Upper House and a Lower House. The Upper House in the Federal Parliament is called the Senate, and the Lower House is called the House of Representatives. The Prime Minister is the highest political office in Australia, and the Governor-General represents Queen Elizabeth II, as she is our Head of State, and Australia is part of the Commonwealth, an organisation of nations who were once part of the British Empire. Unlike in the U.S.A., where the Office of the President is revered and the incumbent treated with great respect, we like to rip into our Prime Minister, in fact, all politicians, for our respect must be earned, it simply doesn’t come with the title. We also have a judicial arm called the High Court of Australia which can make decisions regarding the meanings of Australian laws. Voting in both Federal and State elections in Australia is compulsory (and you may be wondering how that makes it democratic? In fact, you just have to turn up to the Polling Place to receive your voting slip, but you don’t need to fill it in). We have a preferential voting system, so that you have to give each candidate a number (starting from 1) and if your chosen candidate is knocked out early, your second choice then gets your vote, and so on and so on until one candidate has more than 50% of the votes. Anyway, that’s enough about Government, what’s important for you to know is that even though we may have robust political debate in Australia, it is just that – debate, it never gets heated enough for violence to break out.
This depends on how long you intend to stay in Australia, and how far you wish to travel. It is not uncommon for tourists who wish to visit Australia for a significant period (many under-35s can get a visa that enables them to stay for one year) to buy a van which they use to drive around Australia, then sell before they depart. All of our cities have good transport systems which utilise rail, buses, trams, ferries and monorails. If you are travelling long distances it is best to fly, and we have a number of low cost airlines: Jetstar, Virgin Blue and Tiger. Sometimes, you can get ridiculously cheap flights, so it is worth getting email subscriptions from the airline websites so they can advise you when the special fares are on. We have some fantastic long distance train services in Australia, the best ones being the Indian Pacific, which runs from Sydney to Perth, the Ghan, which runs from Adelaide to Darwin, and there are some great services in Queensland too. We used to have many inter-city coach services, but cheap airline fares have seen many of these disappear, but there are still some regional bus services around. Of course, you can always pick up one day and multi-day tours, just go to any tourist bureau for more information on these. If you do have your own transport, a campervan or hire car, Australia has many hotels, motels and caravan parks in which to stay. Australians are great travellers and caravanning and camping are very popular here. Once you get out of the major cities, some of the best places to saty are the caravan parks as they are usually located in prime positions right next to beaches or rivers. These caravan parks normally have onsite vans and cabins available, and facilities are usually excellent.
I include this because many people get paranoid about the drinking water in foreign destinations. The tap water in Australia is normally very safe to drink – although Adelaide water does taste horrible, it is safe. Apart from remote places where there is no scheme water, I know that the water is safe to drink, because the various government water authorities regulate the standards. Many people still buy bottled water, and there is the convenience factor when you’re travelling. But, if you wish to make a cup of tea or coffee in your hotel room (most Australian hotels do have tea/coffee making facilities), or you need to brush your teeth, all you need do is turn on the tap.
Probably better than you are used to. Australia is an exporter of foodstuffs, so our produce has to be good. Most of our food is produced in Australia and our meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables have to meet very high standards in order to be sold. Australians love to eat out, and you can get practically every cuisine in Australia, at prices that shouldn’t frighten you. Anything from fast foods to fine dining is available here and we have many supermarkets, farmer’s markets, specialty food stores from which to choose great produce when you want to cook your own meal. Bear in mind that Australia is a hot country and our growing periods are usually much longer than for the northern hemisphere. By law, supermarkets have to tell you where the fruit and vegetables come from, which encourages them to buy local as we Australians are very parochial and do like to support our local growers.
COME ON DOWN
There’s some basic information for you. I’ll probably update this from time to time as I think of more stuff, but you can get more information about specific areas in my other blogs. If you are thinking of visiting Australia, make the effort, you will be so delighted that you did.