After a year of travelling around Australia, I thought I’d share some of the things that I learnt over there that may be of interest.
Firstly, Australia is pretty big. Ok, this shouldn’t really have come as a huge surprise, but the scale is a little bit more mind boggling than I had anticipated. You could happily fit England into Australia fifty eight times. If you wanted to that is. In a year, we drove 60,000km, which is about 1.5 times around the world. So yes, pretty big.
A lot of Australians are on the road a lot of the time. I mean, the country is so big, why not? Instead of retiring gracefully, heading into a retirement home and leaving everything to the kids, as parents are supposed to do, a whole bunch of Australians get to a certain age, sell everything they own, buy some form of camping vehicle and hit the road, doing laps of the country. Often multiple laps. There are up to 100,000 of these folks on the road somewhere in Australia at any one time, so many in fact that they even have their own name, the Grey Nomad.
Australians have their own slang. Again, not a huge surprise, but it’s handy to know what people are talking about. Ice boxes are eskies. Beer is held in stubby holders, an ingenious device made out of neoprene that holds your can or “stubby” bottle, keeping it insulated and stopping the heat from your hand warming it up.
Prawns are not as regular a feature on barbeques as you may hope. Steak is. McDonalds is the most ubiquitous fast food chain, Burger King is known as Hungry Jacks. Pizza Hut doesn’t get so much of a look in, KFC is fairly popular. Small businesses are all over the place, with the exception of some large brands, and Australian brands and home made products are really popular.
People are friendly, and not afraid of speaking their mind, or, “taking the piss”. Usually it’s good humoured. So if someone thinks I look like a clown from a travelling circus because I have dreadlocks, they’ll happily tell me. This did happen. I wasn’t sure how to respond. There is a national joke involving drop bears.
Fuel is cheap compared to Europe. It it wasn’t, no-one could afford to travel the distances involved in going anywhere. Tobacco is expensive. Food is roughly the same, portions, particularly in road houses where truckers stop to refuel, are insanely large. Internal flights are remarkably cheap and regular.
Wolfe Creek is a very very long way from anywhere, and is not as scary as the film would make it out to be. Any would be axe murderer would have to be fairly committed to travelling a long long way to get you.
Australian currency is the dollar and cent. Sensibly, they abolished the one and two cent coin, so the smallest denomination you get is the five cent coin. When paying cash, everything is therefore rounded to the nearest five cents. Sometimes this saves you a couple of cents, sometimes it costs more. It’s not the end of the world, compared to pockets full of shrapnel.
It isn’t sunny all the time, which confused the Brit in me, who thought Australia was the land of endless blue skies. Admittedly we arrived at the end of a seven year drought in the middle of Winter (some basic weather research could have helped here) and it rained a lot more than anyone had expected, but still. In Winter, which happens confusingly in June for those of us from the Northern Hemisphere, the southern states get positively chilly. We’re talking hats, gloves and fleeces, although not necessarily thermals, unless you’re camping in the mountains in the snow.
Vauxhall is called Holden. You either like Holden’s or Ford’s. I’m not sure why this is, but the rivalry is pretty intense. If you read a magazine interview with a celebrity, this always seems to come up.
Life is relaxed. If you’re under 30, and from an eligible country, you can visit for a year on a working holiday visa. If you do three months of eligible work (mostly pretty hard manual agricultural labour), you can extend this visa by another year.
The country is divided into states, and slightly confusingly, territories. There are six states and two territories. Each has different laws, which is a bit strange, particularly when it comes to speed limits. In the Northern Territory, road speed limits were only introduced relatively recently. I imagine it used to be fun being overtaken by 57 metre long road trains in excess of 130km/h, which is the current speed limit.
Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world. Road kill featuring camels is fairly surreal.
There is more, of course. It will follow.