15 Things About Australia You Won’t Read in Lonely Planet

Posted on January 31, 2012

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The Big Banana

Read Part 1 first: How Are You Going, Australia Day?

A couple years ago we spent three weeks in Australia criss-crossing the Eastern coast as we stopped in on multiple friends who had returned from Shanghai. If I had been a kid in school assigned to write a report on my vacation, I would have reported the following observations:

1. Australians are humans just like you and me, as long as you and me are the type of humans who shorten every single word into a colloquialism and give everybody a nickname, as though they’re too busy to bother with multi-syllable words. It’s not just that they use colloquialisms, it’s that they use them a lot, actually I should say ‘heaps’ since ‘a lot’ is twice the syllables.

If an Australian asks if you want to meet at ‘Maccas,’ you might quickly agree while thinking Maccas sounds like the name of somewhere classy, before you learn you’ll be meeting at McDonald’s.

Chuck a sickie? Maccas' cuppa?

If you ask an Australian why she missed work, she might reasonably answer, “Bad cuppa at Maccas and had to chuck a sickie.”

If an Australian offers to top off your glass of ‘Chardie,’ you could be excused for your confusion if you assumed a wine-tasting might constitute a high-brow, cultural atmosphere that might escape slang terms.  Anything called ‘Chardie’ isn’t going to win any Sommelier awards.

It adds up to a whole lot of cutting things short for a famously laid-back people who don’t exactly give the impression of being in a rush.

2. Australia is an absolutely beautiful country.

Australia is also a country of beautiful women.

I’ve visited almost twenty countries and Australia has the highest percentage of beautiful women of anywhere, hands down. Multiple friends had given this report over the years, but I was still surprised when I first visited Melbourne and encountered amazingly attractive girls all day long. With my wife and kids in tow, I’ve never done so much pretending-not-to-look in my life. I also visited Sydney, Brisbane, and a dozen other cities and the results were always the same.

3. Australians don’t drink Foster’s Lager. Paul Hogan lied to you. Crocodile Dundee played a big part in Americans wanting to visit Australia, and then he ruined all that goodwill by doing those Foster’s commercials so every American tourist would feel like an idiot when he walked into a bar, loudly asked for a Foster’s, and was met with an eye-roll. Try ordering a VB, Crownie, or anything Cooper’s.

(Check out Invisible Mikey’s post about being an extra in a Paul Hogan Foster’s commercial.)

4. And speaking of alcohol, Australians can knock back their share. Alcohol was extremely cheap in an otherwise expensive country where a date at Macca’s costs more than a wedding in America. For all I know Americans might drink just as much, but I’m inclined to give this victory to Australians after watching the Boxing Day cricket test when then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned against binge-drinking, especially at sporting events.

5. Everything is brighter in Australia. I kept trying to look at the sun to see if Australia might have two, but the sun is so bright you can’t even look at it (my wife says you can’t look at the sun in other countries either). All the colors were brighter. Everything seemed so cheerful. Maybe this is why the women seemed so attractive.

Australians have to think about the sun a lot. We wore hats, reapplied 40 SPF sunblock multiple times throughout the day, but still received sunburns–even when we just walked to the car, drove to the store, shopped, and drove back, somehow we got burned. Their television is full of public service announcements reminding Australians ‘there’s no such thing as a healthy tan’ and everybody knew the jingle, ‘Slip! Slop! Slap!‘ as a reminder to slip on long-sleeved clothing, slop on sunblock, and slap on a hat.

6. Because so many Australians wear hats to protect from the sun, I observed a higher percentage of hat hair than other nations. We even hiked at a national park called Hat Head and I assume the park was named for this phenomenon.

7. Vegemite is excellent. I ate some today. It’s extremely expensive here in Shanghai, but it’s worth it.

8. Australia has a lot of flies. A whole lot. Flies everywhere. On the food, on your face, flying up your nose.  Nowhere did we see flies on any tourism material. I even heard people joke that waving a hand across your face to shoo away flies is known as the ‘Aussie Salute.’

9. I wonder if the abundance of flies is connected to the abundance and ample girth of the spiders. You’ve probably heard Australia has many of the world’s most poisonous spiders and snakes, but I’m not sure anybody mentioned the spiders were so, so huge. We took four hikes in different regions and on any one of those trails we could pause at any time and point out multiple spiders of such size that the sight of even one of them in my house would be enough motivation to move. But the Australians just shrug.

10. Everybody told us not to be afraid of snakes, spiders, sharks, or giant jellyfish because the chances of an encounter were so remote. And then every single person who told us not to worry, followed with a reassuring story of when they had encountered the animal you were worried about. “Sharks at this beach? No worries. Why, I was out m’ board the other day and a shark circled me a few times. He was just havin’ a look. No worries.”

11. If you make it to Australia, make sure and see the big things, a series of large, kitschy sculptures and statutes like the Big Banana and the Big Pineapple. A friend gave us a book of the most famous 50 big things, we’ve seen 10 and we plan to see the remaining 40 on subsequent trips. We’ve seen the Big Pineapple, the Big Avocado, the Big Axe, the Big Banana, the Big Oyster, the Big Prawn, the Big Macadamia Nut, the Big Mower, the Big Pie, the Big Joint, and the Big Redback.

12. I never had the definition and territorial boundaries of ‘the bush’ explained to my satisfaction. Sometimes it seemed to mean the wilderness, but sometimes it seemed to mean a suburb really far away from downtown.

13. The Australian original version of the TV show Kath and Kim is pretty funny. Don’t base your opinion on the American remake.

14. The TV drama Packed to the Rafters is a guilty pleasure. I still get choked up when I think of when Mel died. I haven’t finished season 4 so don’t tell me what happened like I just told you what happened at the end of season 3.

15. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Americans and Australians love sports more than any other countries as measured by school-sponsored athletic programs and teams, which aren’t nearly as common in other countries. Yet for all that sport, we’re also the two fattest nations. What does that mean?

Answer: Exercise doesn’t work and I’m giving you permission to start taking it easy.

I’ve heard statistics projecting  Australia will overtake  America as the fattest country in the world, but I assume that’s because America’s weight gain has leveled off in recent years as we’ve reached the upper limits of what a scale can measure, and the Australian rate of increase looks higher since they have a lot of ground to cover to catch up. Of the current US Presidential candidates, I’d like to hear one of them mention a plan to encourage Australia to overtake us. This would be a huge boost to the American psyche at a time we could use a victory. Just like France gifted America the Statue of Liberty, maybe America could gift Australia bigger cup-holders.

Posted in: Travel