Hardly classified as being ‘off the beaten track’ in terms of backpacker tourism, I was pretty sure I knew most things about Australia before I got here.
I mean english-speaking, part of the Commonwealth and similar, culturally and economically, to the UK, what could I have been in the dark about?
Turns out quite a bit!
Here are 10 things I never realised before coming to Australia.
1. That Winter Exists Down Under
That’s right, not only do winters exist here, they are cold too.
I know, cold, in Australia!
This is especially true down in Victoria or South Australia where daytime temperatures can sometimes hover below 10 degrees. Brrrr!
In fact, this year saw records being broken with snowfall in both New South Wales and Queensland.
Moral of the tale is don’t expect Australia to be the permanent sea, sun and surf image they sell you in the tourist brochures.
Bring jumpers and be prepared!
After all, where do you think Ugg Boots come from?!
2. That You Can Snowboard Here
Talking of snowfall, did you know that you can ski or snowboard in Australia?
No, neither did I!
They keep that one quiet in the European tourism adverts too!
Turns out the Snowy Mountains, (never too mysterious in their naming of places Australians) down in New South Wales, get a decent chunk of the white stuff every year.
When they say Australia is a whole continent in its own right I guess they’re not joking.
3. That Fishing is Big Cheese
Along with snowboarding, the other secret hobby Australians don’t tell us they love, is fishing.
That’s right, the old rod, line and tackle number.
Generally fobbed off in the UK as the sport of rather weird old men, turns out fishing in Australia is wildly popular and strangest of all, sort of cool.
I say this, because even the kids are getting in on it down under and not in an ironic way either.
Spend your weekend dangling a bit of string in some water? Sure I’d love to.
I blame the fact that almost always large amounts of beer is involved.
This also applies to lawn bowls, which is another decidedly older generation sport loved by the hip and trendy young things of Australia. Weird!
4. That Everyone Has a Tattoo
So in stark contrast to the conservative and rather drab, dusty image of fishing and lawn bowls, you might be surprised to learn that the tattoo gets a huge look in here in Australia.
Yes, that’s right, this symbol of rebellious youth and artistic anarchy is loved by almost everyone.
Find me someone in Australia without a tattoo and I’ll give you a dollar.
Or how about a Chinese symbol that I think says “hope”, but probably says “chicken” instead.
5. That Hipster is Massive
Yes, it used to be jungle, but now it’s hipster.
In keeping with the tattoo theme, let me tell you that the hipster is at large and loose in Australia.
Spot them looking like wizards with beards and funny hats at craft beer pop-up bars or vintage-esque coffee shops.
Especially prevalent in Melbourne.
6. That I Didn’t Know How to Make Coffee
Despite having been a barista for over 2 years, turns out that I didn’t know how to make coffee when I got to Australia. (Those hipsters have got something to answer for!)
Coffee is like another language here, it’s all flat whites and double ristrettos, so be prepared if you’re planning on ordering anything beyond a tea when you visit a café.
Also schooners – they smaller than pints, but larger than halves if you’re planning on drinking something stronger than coffee.
7. That Barramundi is a Fish
When I first arrived into Australia and went in search of some sort of veggie snack to munch on, I came across a café with a barramundi burger on the menu.
Thinking it might be some sort of falafel-type substance I asked the waitress what a barramundi burger was.
Looking at me in utter disbelief and semi-disgust she said, “It’s a burger made of barramundi”.
Turns out it’s a fish. A white fish.
Expect to see it on every restaurant, café or bar menu.
8. That Magpies Can Be Highly Dangerous Animals
From unfamiliar fish to strange birds, let me tell nothing is quite what it seems in Australia.
You are probably are aware that the spiders can be pretty nasty here and you’re definitely aware that the sharks and snakes can, but let me warn you that dangerous predators in the land Down Under are not confined to the reptile or insect worlds.
No my friends, one of the most violent animals in the whole of this country is the neighbourhood magpie.
Despite appearances suggesting these black and white birds are exactly like their harmless European counterparts, come springtime (when they are protecting the nests of their young) these common flyers become vicious attackers.
Often cracking people’s skulls open with their beaks or occasionally taking peoples’ eyes out with their swooping pecks, these dangerous birds are certainly worth watching out for.
9. That Towns with Only 4 People Exist
While I suggest you keep your eyes peeled for magpies, you also want to make sure you don’t blink too often in Australia, especially if you’re on a road trip.
This is because you’re likely to have missed the last town for the next 1500 km.
In a country where a ‘town’ can consist of only 4 people (Cooladdi, QLD) and where one shop can act as the supermarket, post office, gas station, motel, cafe and bank, it’s worth keeping your eyes open!
Cities here only have a couple of million people at best, sometimes more like a few hundred thousand, and often what you see on maps aren’t villages, but peoples’ houses.
In other news, Australia has farms the size of European countries. I drove past one in the Northern territory. It was the size of Wales.
10. That Half the Country is Populated by British People
That’s right, Australia is actually full of British people, and I’m not just talking ancestrally.
In some suburbs almost 50% of people seem to have emigrated directly from the UK in this lifetime and pommie accents, products and people fill the streets and shelves.
What a delightful thought!
So those are 10 things I never realised before coming to Australia. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!