Interesting things about Australia

November 07, 2014

Many of you have been asking about our impression of Australia and whether we thought it was very different from North America. While we felt that Australia is like a mixture of British / North American influences, a number of things stood out that are worth mentioning; some informative and others just for fun. Enjoy! 

  • In the year 1770 Captain Cook and his explorers reached the massive land now known as Australia and claimed it for Great Britain. 
  • Shortly after that, the British gov't figured this far away land would be the perfect place to send their convicts to. It took eight months to travel from Great Britain to Australia. These were the original settlers.  
  • Aboriginal people inhabited Australia for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Brits. When the first Europeans were sent to Australia they were instructed to "live in amity and kindness" with the Indigenous Australians. That did not go too well. While the relations started out friendly, different lifestyles led to misunderstandings which eventually escalated to bloody fights (to put it mildly). 
  • Australian isolation allowed for some interesting species of animals to survive for thousands of years. Many Australian animals such as koalas, kangaroos, and cassowaries do not appear anywhere else in the world (except for at zoos). "Eighty percent of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, exists nowhere else. More than this, it exists in an abundance that seems incompatible with the harshness of the environment."  Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
  • Lots of creatures can kill you in Australia, more than anywhere else in the world. Poisonous snakes, venomous spiders, caterpillars, crocodiles, sharks, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis ticks, stonefish and even seashells can kill you. Yes, seashells. And some plants! Add to that list the strong currents and extreme heat in certain parts of the country (the outback) and you may ask yourself why anyone sane would want to visit! Short answer - it's a beautiful, breathtaking place. If you exercise some common sense, and take proper precautions to learn about these dangerous, it really is not so bad. Worst case scenario - there are anti venoms available for many (nut not all) poisonous bites. Australians learned to cope with many of these dangers over the years in various ways. The most popular beaches have preventative nets installed underwater which are supposed to block sharks from getting in (not a 100% fool proof method) and they have warning signs posted which people take seriously. Australians also tend to avoid places where dangers are likely to be present or wear protective clothing, such as body suits, while in the water during jelly fish season (their summer). You all know what a cautious person I am, and if I wasn't scared in Australia, it's safe to say the country is not that dangerous. 
  • Australia has the world's largest camel population (most live in Western Australia's outback but you can still spot them in other parts). They are not native to Australia; they were brought over in the early 19th century, mostly from India and Palestine. Camels thrived in hot Australian conditions and were often used for expeditions and transportation. Today the number of camels is estimated to be as high as a million. We saw a few of them while driving, very close to the highway.
  • Rabbits also appear in large numbers in Australia and are considered pests. Although we have never seen one, apparently they are a problem in this country. It all started with one dude - Thomas Austin, who in 1856 decided he wanted to hunt for bunnies, just like he did in England, and had them imported and released into the wild. And as you may know, bunnies are famous for one thing - their cute tails. Oh, and humping...! They multiplied like crazy. 
  • The same thing happened with blackberries (minus the humping).
  • Only 20 million people live in Australia, which is just a tad more than the population of NY state. 80% of Australians live on the coast.
  • Some of the most famous and largest cities in Australia are: Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin & Perth.
  • Perth is the world's most isolated city. It is located on the west coast of Australia and it's closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney. 
  • Alice Springs is another interesting and remote place as it is located in the middle of the country. The only thing "near" Alice Springs is Uluru aka. Ayers Rock
  • Some of the most known places are: the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), Whitsundays, Twelve Apostles, and the outback. 

Photo source: the internets

  • Australian national sports are rugby and footie (Australian rules football) 
  • Not all of Australia is hot all year round. The south of the country gets pretty cold


Photo source: the internets

  • Australian seasons are reversed to those in North America and Europe. 
  • Australians, just like the British who colonized this country, drive on the left, and cars have steering wheels on the right side. Even radio knobs are reversed with volume being on the right.

  • While driving on highways we noticed many signs that help drivers stay awake such as few trivia questions and directions to "Driver Reviver" rest stops where sometimes you can even find free coffee. There are also harsh signs that say things like "Drive and Survive" or "Rest or RIP". 
  • Signs warning drivers of koala or kangaroo crossings do exists and you can sometimes see these animals in the wild. 

  • You can also see many kangaroo roadkill. I believe we saw about 15 of them (in different states of decomposition) during our 11 hour drive from Airlie Beach to Hervey Bay. 
  • Pedestrian crossing signs looked to us like "Watch out for Michael Jackson crossing". 

  • There are many American chain stores and restaurants which sometimes make the Australian landscape look very American. McDonalds, KFC, Subway, K-Mart, and Target are a frequent sight. I have to say I disliked it. I'd much rather see original Australian chain shops. 
  • Ordering coffee can be a bit of a challenge. Let this quote from one of my favorite books, and one I am re-reading while in Australia, explain why: "I didn't even know how to order coffee. It appeared that you had to specify a length (principally long or short), a color (black or white), and even an angle of orientation to the perpendicular (flat or not), and these could be put together in a multitude of permutations - "long black," "short black," or even "long short black." My own preference, I discovered after many happy hours of experimentation, was "flat white." It was a moment of the sublimest happiness."  Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
  • There is no filtered coffee here (think regular drip $1.50 coffee in North America). Everything is espresso based so it costs quite a penny to feed one's (Vlad's) daily coffee habit. 

  • Australians use Kilojoules instead of Calories as units of energy. Imagine the look on my face when I saw 2,200 on a menu next to a simple veggie burger I just ordered! Thankfully I quickly realized it was in kJ and not in calories. Four kJ is about 1 kcal. 
  • Tim Tams are super delicious Australian cookies. Vlad, who doesn't even like sweets, was very impressed by these. We tried a few flavors but the original was our favorite. Yum. 

  • Ketchup is called tomato sauce. It comes in packets that took us a few tries to master. Also it's almost never free, you usually have to pay 40-60 cents per one. 

  • Australians have some words and terms that North Americans do not use, such as heaps =lots; good on you = good job / good for you; How you going = How are you. 
  • Australian light switches are tiny and the outlets have an on/off switch.

  • Australians love Vegemite (food paste made from leftover yeast and vegetables). We gave it a try but did not like it. 

  • They also eat kangaroo meat. Wild kangaroos are killed as a means of population control. 

  • Kangaroos can be spotted in a wild in many places around Australia. 
  • Australian coins are of unusual size. Two dollars is much smaller and lighter than 50 cents. 

  • Australia was the first country in the world to make their bills out of plastic (polymer). 

  • Architecture in certain parts of the country was very different than what we are used to. Melbourne was the most shocking with its Victorian style houses. 

  • Australians are real friendly people 
  • The country is beautiful and there's tons to explore. If you ever get a chance, visit the land down under and you will not regret it.