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« Memorial Day - Let us Not Forget | Main | Youth Civic Entrepreneurs »

Introduction to Australia - 101

By Lisa Attrill
May 25, 2009

As a visitor to Australia, there are so many differences from the United States that I decided to try to give you a quick guide. I hope this information will be helpful to you as it was certainly fun to create this list.

Cultural Differences in Australia – Course #101

When I arrived in Australia back in December, I had no idea as to the varied cultural differences. Below is a list compiled of random thoughts for travelers.


Everyone says “Good Aye” (for Good Day) as a greeting. If you are a friend, they say “Good Aye Mate”. I still can’t say it since it seems unnatural to me. I just say “hello” which is a dead giveaway that I am what they call a “yank” (short for “Yankee”)

If they like what you say instead of “congratulations” they say “Good on Ya” which really threw me for a loop since I wasn’t sure if David was telling me he liked my outfit or whatever he was saying. Just go with the flow, and say “good on ya” back.

Other word facts: If you are neurotic like me about spelling, you had better overlook quite a bit since they use “old English” spellings. For example, “draught” for “draft” and “arse” for “ass”. So, for example, “Carlton Draught” is a Draft beer and Victoria Bitters is another beer. I have yet to see ANYONE drinking “Fosters”. In fact, if you substitute an “o” or an “ie” on the end of words if will usually give you their pronunciations – thus the phrase “Barbie” for a BBQ.

Traveling around the city without transportation:

I have found that without a car here in Melbourne, I am not stuck in the house. They have a fabulous mass transit system in Melbourne in which you can take a bus, tram, or train all on one ticket. You can buy a ticket for the day, week, month or whatever. There are discounts for seniors and students but full fare is approximately $6.00 for a 1 day pass; and approximately $25.00 for a 5 day pass.

Note: Beware of the routes. You can go online at MetOne and tell the software where you want to go but the Stop #’s are sometimes off. Some bus drivers and tram drivers will help but not always. However, everyone in Australia is friendly so you can ask anyone directions and they will help you.


“Good on ya” if you can drive in Australia from the states! You need to know you better drive on the “left” hand side of the road with a “right” handed steering wheel and seat. I cannot get used to it yet, especially having to shift with my left hand. There are “roundabouts” at almost every corner and you’d better learn to go left around them or watch out for your first accident. The roads are narrow and you need to be fearless!

Good to Know Facts:

  • Toilets have two flush buttons on the top of the tank (1/2 symbol and full symbol)
  • At a movie theatre, they do not have butter except what it is already cooked in and if you ask for salt, they will throw a boatload on your popcorn…beware!
  • Footie is the national obsession. It is short for “football” but it has no correlation to American Football. They don’t throw the ball (which is shaped like a regular football); they hit it like volleyball underhanded to each other. They also kick the ball to other players. If it goes through the two main goal posts, it is “6” points and if it goes through the outer two goals or hits the post it is worth “1” point. Don’t joke with them about their game – they take “footie” extremely seriously. In fact, the main topic everyday is on the game and the players are big celebrities. People wear the team colors to events and it draws over 30,000 spectators per game in Melbourne. As far as I can tell, there is no “American football” here. Over 6 million people are registered “sports enthusiasts” in this country (not bad for a population of 21 million).
  • Cricket is another very big sport here in Australia. I don’t understand the game yet but it does resemble slightly the game of “baseball” although only slightly.
  • Clothes Dryers – Very, Very few people use them or dishwashers. Instead, people line-dry their clothes which I am not comfortable with as it not only looks unsightly but it doesn’t create the fluffy towels, etc.
  • “Pom’s” or people from the U.K. are not popular as a group since the Queen recalled the Australian Prime Minister a few years ago.
  • “Chips” are “French fries”. This only gets confusing when you ask for chips (i.e.: potato chips). Chips are iconic here.
  • The Band AC/DC is from Australia.
  • The accent is beautiful but you must listen closely and even then you may not understand what they are saying due to the many colloquial sayings.

Animals in Australia:

No one has heard of a “skunk” unless they have been to the United States. I’ll never forget David’s face when he saw and smelled a “skunk” in the U.S. (Very funny!). Instead they have Kangaroo’s (which are nearly in plague status in some parts), Wallabies (a smaller version of a Kangaroo), Koala’s (they make awful noises at night), possums (we have a nightly visit by one who proceeds to make a lot of noise walking across the fences to the next tree – he usually falls at some point or knocks into something), and other unusual creatures.

You don’t want to run into a “Huntsman” spider unless you have a strong heart. They are bigger and hairier than a tarantula and are the size of your fist or bigger. While they aren’t poisonous, I have a heart attack every time I see one.

I won’t go into the snakes – suffice it to say, that the late Steve Irwin listed at least 5 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world in Australia. This is one reason why I thought I would never visit Australia and how ironic that I love it here! But, you won’t see them in the city (or at least I haven’t yet and don’t anticipate that happening in Melbourne).


According to the Australia tourism website, Australians invented a number of things including the following: notepads (1902), aspirin (1915), the pacemaker (1926), penicillin (1940) the Hills Hoist clothesline (1946), the plastic disposable syringe (1949), the wine cask (1965), the bionic ear (1978), dual-flush toilet flush (1980)anti-counterfeiting technology for banknotes (1992) and long-wearing contact lenses (1999). From what I can tell, they also have the following companies that are purely Australian: Ugg Boots, Vegemite, Fosters Beer.

The Big Secret:

Back about 50,000 years ago (during the last Ice Age), according to the tourism Australia website, the Country was first settled by Aboriginals from S.E. Asia with 300 clans and speaking 250 languages and 700 dialects. In 1770, Captain James Cook arrives to the country and claimed it for Great Britain. Yes, it is true that Britain used Australia for a “penal” colony in 1788 by shipping their inmates here until 1868. Gold Fever also struck Australia bringing different nationalities along with the settlers.

What Britain didn’t realize was that Australia was a “paradise” and that ever since it has drawn all kinds of visitors, travelers and immigrants to the amazing country. Australia became a country for its six different states in 1901 and the land is roughly the size of the United States.

These are just a few of the random differences that I have discovered so far! You will not find a more gracious, friendly citizenry with all mixes of nationalities.

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