Touring Australia - What to Expect Part 1.
collage of Australian images

Australia is still regarded as one of the safest countries to visit with great weather, a multitude of unique sights and a vast range of experiences on offer. More people than ever before are taking to the highways - land surfing from one tourist hot spot to the next and camping or finding casual accommodation one night at a time. We've put together a bit of a primer to help get you off on the right foot.

The Language

British English has been adopted as the de-facto national language. It is the reason Australian's speak and spell differently from the Americans - who refuse to accept they were colonised by the British and consequently made a mess of their own version of the language.

Because of the multi-cultural diversity here there are hundreds of other languages spoken in peoples homes. You'll also find very little English being spoken in the Italian or German Clubs or even at the Vietnamese grocery in China Town.

In the cities you will run into people who will speak German, French, Japanese or one of the major languages but, by and by, people in Australia communicate solely in English.

The Australian adaptation of British English has been altered, modified and influenced by dozens of generations of migrants and sounds different to the way Margaret Thatcher or Queen Elizabeth speak - essentially it's still English.

Pointing, gesticulating and drawing pictures all helps to get your message across.

Most government agencies can provide an interpreter if necessary.

The People

By and large the people here are reputed to be a helpful and friendly lot.

If you get lost, get into trouble, don't understand how something works - ask someone for assistance. You'll find you'll get the information you need and probably a smile.

Big cities are big cities anywhere and the peoples of Melbourne and Sydney are generally head down, bustling about their business. Deep down, no one really likes working in big cities and this usually manifests itself in a surly business like attitude. However pull them out of their shell and you'll generally find them ready to help.

In the rural regions the pace slows down instantly and people have more time, are more inquisitive about you, are friendlier and more informative.

You may find attitudes a little different in isolated roadhouses and the like, where the employees see the same sorts of passing faces day after day and go through the same monotonous cycle of questions and answers.

Money and the Cost of Things

Australia uses dollars and cents. Australia’s currency comprises coins of 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent and one and two dollar denominations; and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar denominations. The coins are simple - the English Queens head and value on one side usually with an Australian animal or identity on the back. 1 and 2 dollar coins are gold while all the rest are silver. The notes are pretty simple because they are all different colours making them easy to identify. The currency works on the decimal system - 1 dollar equals 100 cents.

Counterfeit money is rare and if you receive change you can be confident you have got the real thing.

What is it worth? Well, it depends where you come from and the exchange rate of the day. Australia has a high standard of living and wages are high.

Meat and vegetables tend to be reasonably affordable compared to other countries while a prepared restaurant meal may cost a little more than you are used to.

Overall fuel is cheaper than Europe and more expensive than the U.S. while accommodation costs fluctuate from town to town with seasonal trends affecting prices.

Australian Service

If you're looking to pampered, thanked and thoroughly fussed over you probably need to visit Japan. If you're looking to get the things that you require in reasonably efficient and friendly manner then you'll get along fine. Low unemployment, a diminishing labour market and the general Australian 'take it easy' attitude means your custom may not always be appreciated in the manner you'd like.

Australia's slower, laid-back lifestyle translates to a more casual way of doing business. Melbourne is great - efficient friendly service and a genuine feeling of being appreciated. The further you get from the larger centres the slower things become.

Things really hit the brakes in the north above the 26th parallel. Draw a line across the top half of the country from Broome in Western Australia to Cairns in Queensland and you've stepped into a service void. Broome is renowned for operating on 'Broome Time', meaning the mechanic might get around to fixing your car - sometime. Broken promises are the order of the day and delays and disruptions are the norm. The further north and more isolated you get the worse things become. Don't expect anyone to come rushing from the back of the solitary town shop. It's not going to happen, in fact, you may have to wake them up first.

It's not all bad though. The slow service will usually be accompanied by a friendly smile and conversation. Expect to pay much more for things up here than in the big centres. Freight and having a captive market both contribute to the sense of sometimes being ripped off. Sometimes pricing in northern Australia can be extortionate.

Tipping

Tipping in Australia is not regularly practised although it is becoming more common in higher priced restaurants and parts of the hospitality industry. If you've had reasonable service in a restaurant and the food was good then 10% is about the normal rate. If you've had poor service then save your money. Tipping in fast food restaurants is rare.

It's not uncommon to see a hopeful glass of coins on a cafe counter and dropping some change in is entirely up to you. Minimum wages and conditions are protected by law and consequently 'tips' don't constitute part of someones regular income.

It's not uncommon to tell a taxi driver or bar tender to 'keep the change' if you've had a reasonable experience in their cab or pub although it's not expected and it's not customary.


Next - Part 2. Food, Water, Animals & Insects, Weather & Disasters ►

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