tips on australia

m. werneburg, 2000

These are some tips for Canadians travelling in Australia. Sara and I are pretty much typical Canadians, though we've lived too long in Toronto, which makes us a touch more irritable about one or two things, which I'm sure will come out below.


Comparison Chart

Aspect Canada Australia
Size ~10 million km2 ~7 million km2
Climate Bitterly cold winters, warm summers, four seasons Hot summers (unbelievably hot in the interior), warm winters
Population 31 million 17 million
Languages English, French something like English
Cities Toronto (<5 million),
Montréal (2 million),
Vancouver (1 million)
Sydney (4 million),
Melbourne (3.5 million),
Brisbaine (1.6 million)
Animals 50 thousand polar bears 50 million kangaroos
pests cock-roaches (50 thousand in our building) raccoons (50 thousand in Toronto alone)
Other notable wildlife many large animals, mosquitos, biting flies in summer, (rabid) mammals &possums, bug-free (except for flies in the interior), but crawling with spiders, swarming with snakes, and flying with birds
Music rock &country pop, pop, pop.
dominant colours white, green, blue red, orange, brown
hazards hypothermia, insects, terrestrial animals that bite spiders, bluebottle jellyfish, blue box jellyfish, sharks, crocodiles, insects, snakes
Sports Hockey, soccer, softball, skiing, curling Footie, Australian-"rules" football, cricket, rally races, sport fishing, various forms of rugby, soccer, field hockey, swimming, surfing, skiing (believe it!), the list is endless.
Light switches Up is on, down is off Up is off, down is on (not kidding! It's like that in Fiji and NZ, too)
Accent Newfie through generic American (but spoken more quickly) Broad, quasi-British (but spoken without classist perfection)
Gambling 6/49, casinos (and video poker in limited places) lotteries, casinos, horse races, video poker, on and on
Facial hair (men) often never
Toilet flushes one speed suits all half or full
Driving (and escalators, revolving doors, etc) right side left side
Vacation cottage, camping beach
Kylie Minogue what, the one who remade Locmotion in the mid 80's? what, the one who sold out nine shows in Sydney in 2001?

Customer Service

Australians aren't here to serve you, even if they're behind a counter.

We've learned the hard way that business in Australia is NOT like business back home. You have to essentially behave as if you're dealing with people who don't want your business. Because they don't! These are things you can expect:

  • hidden charges: Telstra, the Aussie answer to Bell Canada (like anyone asked that question) doesn't mention the $50 hook-up fee, nor the $20 miscellany fee that come with setting up a new phone line. Just get used to it, I guess.
  • are you being served?: Don't be surprised if the folks with name tags in stores would rather chat than answer questions. It's all part of the Aussie charm: remember, she'll be right, mate.
  • I'll (not) get back to you: You won't get a return call from an Aussie company. In fact, you can expect busy signals, unanswered calls (voice mail is rare, here), and 'No, (s)he is not in the office' eight days in a row.
  • lies: Aussie companies would rather lie and give you an easy answer than do any real work. Just be persistant. Remember, if you wanted uptight, you'dda stayed back home.
  • bank hours: everything closes at 6 PM, even in large cities. Except for Thursday afternoon. At first this seems like an inconvenience, but it's surprisingly easy to get used to.
  • immunity: Australians who serve the public seem to have some kind of God-granted immunity from the sink-or-swim mechanism that seems to cull the bad ones quickly throughout North America. How else could you explain this one:
me: I'd like a burger with chips and a fork and knife.
girl 1: okay.
... (quarter of an hour elapses)
senior server: who wanted the chicken burger?
me: I asked for a burger, actually.
senior server: (groans, and snaps 'oh')
... (quarter of an hour elapses as a 'private' party wanders in around us and a few other confused patrons)
me: that's it. Let's go.
sara: why don't you ask that woman. I think a private party is being hosted.
me (approaching a woman who seemed to work there): Hello-
woman: you with such and such company?
me: um, no. Is this a private party?
woman: some of it is... (looking about vaguely)
me: Okay, I ordered a burger half an hour ago—oh, here it comes.
(a get back to the table just as the server—yet another server—is leaving. I notice that she's left no cutlery, and try to get her attention.)
me: excuse me? EXCUSE ME?
(she picks up the pace as she hurries out. I finally lunged after her and tap her on the shoulder. She looks over her shoulder as she walks away.)
me: Hi, yes! I ordered some cutlery with that burger?
girl 2: oh, try behind the bar, they might have some (walks away)
(fuming, I go to the bar)
me: Do you have cutlery?
girl 1: No.
(then I spot a male employee. I've learned that in Australia, males form all of the senior ranks.)
me: Hi. I ordered a burger with cutlery half an hour ago. The burger only just arrived, and there's no cutlery -
male: I'll get you some cutlery.
me: No, thanks, I just want my money.
male: Okay... (wanders off. I follow him, and find him fighting with the woman who'd first brought the chicken burger)>
me: Hi.
male: Hi, let's get your money.
me: Thanks.
male: (watching someone arrive with cutlery) Here's your cutlery.

Bugs &other dangerous critters

My then-girlfriend was bitten by a spider when we'd only been here a few weeks. She described the ordeal as the worst pain she'd ever experienced. This is what happened:

  • Thursday night, she noticed a small bite on her stomach.
  • Friday morning, and the pain had worsened to the point where she was considering staying home from work.
  • Saturday: she felt awful, both in pain and sick. We went to a walk-in clinic, and they gave us a prescription for antibiotics.
  • Sunday: feverish and writhing in pain, she was unable to sit up. I danced around in distress, and ran back and forth to the Chemist, getting painkillers and whatnot. The bite was a red, raised area on her stomach, with the same footprint as a mobile phone (and not a particularly small one).
  • Monday: I had to go to work, as my first contract in Oz had just started. We were in constant phone communication. She stayed home except to see another doctor.
  • On Tuesday, she went to work, but the bite had swollen to a big puffy red area the size of my hand! The test came back, so she went in to see the doctor: the first doctor at the clinic had put her on the wrong pills!
  • The point at which the spider had bitten her had become blackened and contracted. The infection beneath was still causing puffiness, and her skin had become hard.
  • On Thursday, the black cap fell off. thick green jelly began to ooze from her side. For four days!
  • A month later, things had returned to normal. She remains permanently scarred.

We've done a little research, and there are A LOT of nasty things on this continent. The short list is:

  • Red-backed spiders: akin to the Black Widow of North American fame, but much more toxic. Bites from this one can kill small children.
  • Funnel-web spiders: these are the real killers. They're big (about 5-10cm across), and very toxic. They routinely kill people every year. (Thanks to David Hughes for pointing out that I had this entry incorrectly describing the Trap-door spiders!)
  • Crocodiles: fresh- and saltwater varieties grow here. Both are quite capable of inflicting any level of damage, and the things know no fear.
  • Sharks: Even Sydney Harbour is home to a dozen varieties of dangerous sharks. In our first weeks here (we arrived in Summer), there was a shark bite every week! The return of sharks to the Harbour is viewed as a good thing: it means the toxicity of the water itself is down. Sharks, by and large, do not attack people. Shark attacks are not a real problem.
  • Brownsnakes: a strong contender for most lethal Australian critter. Kill you dead. Do not touch.
  • Bluebottle jellyfish: tiny but capable of inflicting a lot of pain. These are called 'stingers' in the local parlance, and can cause considerable (and tell-tale) scarring due to the tendency of inflicted skin to necrotise.
  • Box jellyfish: probably the deadliest thing in Australian waters. There is simply no swimming north of Cairns during the Summer months.
I've seen hilarious 'no swimming' signs in Australia that had diagrams of crocodiles, jaws agape, with separate diagrams with box jellyfish killing people.

rand()m quote (In which I leave the final word to someone else.)

A man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing.

-Somerset Maugham

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