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My Impressions of Australia


April 7, 2002


I've been in Australia now for about two months.  During that time, I've decided that I really like this country and that I'll definitely come back here some day.  I've listed some of my opinions and impressions of this country on this page which will hopefully give American readers some insights into Australia and Australians.


The Country

Australia is a BIG country, as large as the continental U.S., and it takes a long time to get from one place to the other.  Compared to New Zealand and the U.S., there isn't as much scenic diversity here, but the roads are pretty straight and in good condition, so it's possible to drive over 400 miles in a day without getting worn out, unlike in New Zealand, where a scant 300 miles will wear you out.  


The wildlife is fascinating and there are a lot of weird things here, some of which are hazardous to your health, like saltwater crocs.  However, and despite what you may have read (including in this website), the "nasties" really aren't much of problem because, in general, they'll leave you alone if you don't bother them.  Unfortunately, the vegetation isn't nearly as diverse here as in the U.S., one of the reasons the scenery here is rather drab, at least compared to the U.S.  Driving through the ubiquitous eucalyptus groves on the east coast of Australia is, frankly, pretty darn boring.


In general, it's easy to travel around Australia, even more so than I thought.  It's a wonderful and fascinating country with lots of interesting places, so if you're at all curious about Australia, come on down and check it out for yourself, mate.



This is one hot, dry, and sunny country.  However, there are some places such as the "Top End" that can get really, really wet and cloudy, and there are other places, like Tasmania, that can get pretty cold.  Even though I was here during their summer, the weather hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be.  102 degrees in Alice Springs isn't any worse than 102 in Southern California and if you have air-conditioning in your car or motel, the heat's not difficult to deal with.


Because the country is so large, anytime is a good time to visit Australia.  From November through March, the weather is nice in the southern half of the country and from April through October, it's really nice in the northern half.  And don't be afraid to visit someplace "out of season" because there'll be a lot fewer tourists then, and lower lodging rates.



Australian drivers are the best I've encountered anywhere, and they may be the best in the world.  For the most part, they're polite, tolerant, and they almost always use their turn signals.  And unlike in the U.S., where the norm is to drive quite a bit faster than the posted speed limit, most Australians drive at or even below the speed limit.  That's a reflection, perhaps, of their unhurried attitude, at least compared to the U.S.


There’s a real mixed bag of cars here.  The two most popular brands are Toyotas and the Australian home-brand, Holden.  For some reason, the only American brand that’s common is Ford.  The models have different names, though, such as the Toyota Hi-Ace (Previa) and the Hi-Lux (Tacoma).  Unlike in the U.S., single-cab pickups here are virtually non-existent but dual-cab pickups are quite popular, an oddity that I haven’t figured out yet.  A lot of cars have “roo bars” installed on the front grill, since running over kangaroos is a big problem here, especially in the Outback.


Except for around the major cities, there aren't many American-style freeways here (or "motorways" as they call them).  For the most part, Australian highways have two lanes (i.e., one lane in each direction), but they're generally in good shape.  However, there are some highways in the Outback areas which, although paved, have only ONE lane.  Now that's something I've never seen before!


2-3352_Rotary.jpg (48656 bytes)  

Left:  Roundabouts are common throughout Australia but they freak out a lot of Americans.  They're simple, really... just yield to the traffic on your right.  In fact, they work a lot better than 4-way stops.  Just remember to get off!




The Aussie accent is a little different than New Zealand's and took me a while to get used to.  Of course, I'd seen "Crocodile Dundee" and "Crocodile Hunter" and other such Aussie things on TV and in the theatres, so I knew what an Aussie accent sounded like, but still, it's different if you spend two months here and are saturated with it.  After a while, though, I got pretty used to it.  In fact, after being in Australia for nearly a month, I bumped into an American tourist in Alice Springs (and also from Portland, no less) and talked to her for a while.  As I was talking to her, I thought about how strange it sounded to hear an American accent again. 


Getting back to the New Zealand accent, Kiwis pronounce the "ehh" as "ee."  For instance, "best" sounds like "beast" and "west" sounds like "weast."  Also, Kiwis pronounce "yes" as "yiss."  When I first got to New Zealand, I felt like a moron because I had a hard time picking up the accent.  During my first week, I bought some gas as a quick-mart and walked inside to pay.  The guy behind the counter spoke pretty fast and asked me if I wanted AA stamps or something (as I learned later, they're like S&H green stamps in the U.S.).  I didn't understand what he was saying and just stared at him.  He said it again and I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.  He probably thought I was from Lithuania or something.  Anyway, after a few weeks in New Zealand, I caught on to accent pretty well and didn't have any more embarrassing encounters like that.


Here in Australia, they do strange things with the "ay" sound, which is, of course, pronounced like "oi."  So eggs are "oigs" and day is "doi."  And, in a real tongue-bender, railway is pronounced "rye-al-way."


Yes, they really do say “No Worries” here, though the American “No Problem” is catching on (unfortunately, American-everything seems to be catching on over here).  Other popular phrases include "Good on ya" (meaning "good for you" or "good job") and, of course that classic greeting, "G’day" (pronounced “gudday”).  I haven't said "G'day" yet, because it sounds stupid when an American says it.  



I've listened to the radio a lot over here.  As I've discovered, Australians are very proud of Australian musicians, and rightfully so, because there is a LOT of good Australian pop, country, and rock music here that you never hear in the U.S., which is really a shame.  For instance, I've been listening to a great pop-folk-country singer here named Kasey Chambers for the past several weeks on the radio and I even bought her CD yesterday to take it back to the U.S., because they don't play Kasey in the U.S.


Then there are the oldies-but-goodies.  During my first few weeks here, I couldn’t figure out why they played so much Bee Gees music on the radio stations, but after hearing “Jive Talkin’” and “How Deep is Your Love” for about the millionth time, I remembered that the Brothers Gibb are from Australia.  Another song they keep playing here is “Georgy Girl”.  I hadn’t heard that song in 30 years but they play it everywhere here:  it’s on the radio, in grocery stores, and even in the restrooms… I can’t get away from it.  I couldn’t figure out why “Georgie Girl” was so popular here but then I learned that the ‘60’s group who sang it, “The Seekers”, are Australians.  It may be old music, but by God, it’s Australian music!


Of course, they play a lot of American and British music on the radio, too.  However, and unlike in New Zealand, they don’t play too much from “The Monkees”.  Why Kiwis like “The Monkees” so much is something I still haven’t figured out.


Perhaps not surprisingly, country music is popular in Australia and there are a lot of good Australian country singers, though some of them are, um, a bit different.  When I was in the Outback town of Tennant Creek last week, the country radio station there played a touching song called “She’s My Butcher and I Think I Love Her”.  Yes, I’m serious.  As the guy sang it, “…she has nice thighs, firm breasts, sells me t-bones and pot roasts…”.  And I thought American country music was corny.


The Australia equivalent of National Public Radio is very popular here, much more so than in the U.S.  Talk Radio is also popular but on a more intelligent and less antagonistic level than in the U.S.  Australians seem to love talking things to death, especially anything involving the latest political scandal, of which there have been several during the two months that I’ve been here.  



They broadcast both American and Australian television shows here, with a few English shows thrown in to keep the Poms happy (Australians call the English “Poms”; I’ve heard various explanations why).  Fortunately, I get to see my favorite American shows including “Ed”, "Judging Amy," and "E.R." every week, though the episodes are about six months behind the schedule in America, maybe because this being in the southern hemisphere, their Fall television season is six months behind ours. 


Other popular American shows here include “Everyone Loves Raymond”, “60 Minutes”, and for some reason, “The Gilmore Girls”.  Unfortunately, American television has inspired a number of Australian spin-offs like “The Weakest Link” (with a look-alike host), “Australian Survivor” and “Australian Temptation Island.” 


I'm not proud to admit this, but one of my favorite shows here is an Australian series called “McLeod’s Daughters” which I got hooked on in New Zealand a few months ago.  "McLeod's Daughters" is a campy hour-long drama series about a woman who’s raising her four stunningly-beautiful daughters on a cattle ranch in the Outback.  Although the plots are usually corny or downright odd, it’s a cute show and would probably be a hit in America.  However, as an Aussie once said to me, "I've been to the Outback a lot and I've never seen women who look like that out there."  Come to think of it, neither did I... but who cares?



Left:  The cast of McLeod's daughters, my favorite Aussie TV show (can you tell why?)



Just about anything goes in the cities.  In the Outback, there’s more of a dress code where the standard for guys includes a long-sleeved, collared work shirt (often plaid), either jeans or shorts, leather boots, and of course, a floppy brown leather “bush hat”.  Wearing a t-shirt, I fit in well in the big cities but felt out-of-place in the Outback (kind of like in west Texas).  Next time I come over here, I’ll bring some long-sleeved plaid shirts to wear in the Outback, if I can find some. 



Although fish and chips are popular in Australia, it’s not the national dish here like it is in New Zealand.  The national dish here seems to be roasted chickens – just about every grocery store and take-out place sells them, so my diet has shifted accordingly.  McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King (or “Hungry Jack’s” as they call Burger King here) are, for better or worse, popular and ubiquitous in Australia.  You can find some American processed foods in the grocery stores, like (thank goodness) Nacho Doritos, Oreos, and Chips Ahoy, but they use different recipes here with more fat, but less sugar and salt.  Compared to the American versions which I'm used to, these foods taste a bit like crispy lard.  Oh, and they're not "tor-tee-ya" chips, they're "tor-till-a" chips.


You've probably heard of "Vegemite," which Australians are passionate about.  Vegemite is a spread that looks like tar, smells like yeast, and tastes like salt, and many Aussies love to smear it on crackers and bread.  I tried some Vegemite a while ago and it's nasty... definitely an acquired taste.  Then I learned that you have to spread it very THINLY, and it's actually not too bad.


2-3325_Vegemite.jpg (33013 bytes)  

Left:  Kids, don't try this at home.  This is the famous Aussie staple, Vegemite, smeared on a cracker (oops, I mean biscuit... no wait, a "biscuit" is a cookie...).  The trick, as I learned later, is to spread this salty concoction very THINLY.  When applied correctly, it's not too bad.



Cost of Living

In general, Australia is cheaper than America but more expensive than New Zealand.  Houses are pretty cheap here as are services, like haircuts, but imported goods, like cars, are a little more expensive than in the U.S.  Gas (oops, I mean petrol) costs around US$1.50 a gallon and milk is about US$2 a gallon, both about the same as in the U.S.   By the way, the Australian dollar is currently worth about 50 U.S. cents and the New Zealand dollar is worth about 40 U.S. cents, so every time I see a price here, of course, I cut it in half to get the American equivalent.  Having spent several years in college, I can do that without too much trouble (usually, anyway).



Cricket, rugby, and horse racing are all popular in Australia, as they are in New Zealand.  The big sport here, though, seems to be an unusual game called Australian Rules Football, or “Footy”, which is something like rugby but a bit odder.  Run with the ball… punt the ball… run with the ball… punt the ball – that’s Footy.   When a team scores a goal, the referee doesn't raise his arms, like in American football.  Instead, he -- now get this -- acts like he's drawing two pistols, like in an old Western movie.  It's hilarious.


The People

Most of the Aussies I've met during the past two months have been really friendly, generally more than Americans and about on par with Kiwis, though they're a bit more brash and outgoing than both.  To be honest, I was expecting Aussie guys to be even more outgoing than they actually are, figuring they'd be slapping me on the back everywhere I went, but that hasn't happened once.  Nevertheless, most Aussies are quick with a smile and a handshake, and they'll often throw in a "G'day, mate" for free.  Aussies generally believe in hard work and hard play and will give just about everyone a "fair go."  


Most of the Aussies I've met during the past two months have been very honest, open, and trusting, even more than Americans.  Some Americans over here might considering them to be "naive," but personally, I prefer a "naive" Aussie to a cynical or duplicitous American any day.  They generally don't like pretension and class barriers, which may explain some of the barbs I've heard directed at the British, or "Pommies," whom many Aussies consider to be stuffy and aloof.  Compared to America, there's more of an emphasis on personal responsibility and independence in Australia, and less on litigation, which is refreshing.  The idea of someone suing McDonald's because the coffee was "too hot," or suing Burger King because "they got fat" wouldn't fly in Australia.  


What Australians Think of Foreigners

I always thought Australians and New Zealanders got along well, but there’s actually quite a rivalry between the two countries -- Australians don't think that highly of Kiwis and, from my two months in New Zealand, I'd say that the feeling is mutual.  Australia was at one time a British colony and there are still strong ties to England, but those ties seem to be dwindling and many Aussies think of English as being pompous, though their closest foreign ties are still with England. 


Bush_At_Podium.jpg (48224 bytes)  

AboveNot a real popular figure in Australia.


Most Australians have a pretty positive image of the United States, due partly to our assistance during World War II, when Australia was threatened by a Japanese invasion.  It seems that over the past 20 years, ties between Australia and the U.S. have generally strengthened, although many Aussies I've talked to wonder about the intelligence and leadership ability of President George Bush.  


I won’t say that all Australians like Americans, but a lot of them do.  I was surprised at how much news coverage there is here on the United States, especially regarding U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. economy and, believe it or not, a lot of Australians know who Alan Greenspan is -- maybe more so than Americans do. 


However, sometimes Aussies view the U.S. as a bull in a china shop and not always being sensitive to the needs of other countries, including their own.  From the media coverage of the U.S. that I've seen here, I'd have to agree with them.



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