The moment has arrived: I’m leaving Australia. After spending almost nine months here, I must admit I will miss it. Yes, Australia is easy to mock. You drive around in those ridiculous looking utes and the didgeridoo is a ludicrous, unwieldy instrument. But there is definitely a bigger upside to this land down under and I have enjoyed my stay immensely.
I remember arriving in Melbourne November last year with just some shorts, tops, one sweater, loads of bug spray and factor 50+ sunscreen. Australia is always hot right? Wrong! Sun is not always guaranteed especially in the south. I never expected that one of my first purchases would be an umbrella. But since then I’ve grown a lot wiser and experienced that this originally British colony has since evolved along quite different lines…
Some things I’ve discovered while traveling in Oz:
It already starts as you’re entering the country. When you are arriving from over overseas, expect to be brutally strip-searched by Customs just in case you’re trying to sneak in fruit, muesli or, in my case, some traces of dirt on your tent. Once you have managed to successfully enter the country you need to get around and the best way to do this is by car. If you want your transport to say ‘outback’, there are few vehicles that fit the bill but seated in a Toyota Land-cruiser or one-tonner ute, you’ll be sure to make a statement.
Accommodation is quite expensive here so I was thankful that my tent made it through customs. I have camped a fair bit around the country. In the beginning my main concern was the critters. After all, Australia is home to the world’s deadliest animals whose sole purpose in live is to kill you. Snakes, crocs, killer bees; death lurks around every corner. But little did I know that there were other far more real dangers for a bush-camper:
When someone would have told me to beware of the trees, I would have probably laughed at them. But down under is a strange place. In Europe when fall comes the trees start shedding their leaves. Not in Australia though, here they shed their bark and sometimes even their branches! That’s why you never want to pitch your tent in the cool shade of a gum tree unless you want to be crushed by a bloody big branch. I can think of more glorious ways to die.
2. Drop Bears
Another danger from above is the Drop Bear (Thylarctos plummetus); an arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the koala. Drop Bears hunt by ambushing ground dwelling animals from above. Once its prey is within view, the Drop Bear will drop from great heights to pounce on top of the unsuspecting victim. Campers have been known to be ‘dropped on’, resulting in serious injury. Some folk remedies include putting Vegemite (see ‘Tucker’) behind your ears; however there is no evidence to suggest that this repellent works. If only they were as sensitive to chlamydia as their cousins. Anyway, another reason not to pitch your tent under a tree!
When you are traveling like a cheap-ass and you don’t pay for staying at the various campgrounds in the national parks, you are bound to bump into the occasional ranger demanding an explanation for your lack of a permit. Of course the best approach is to avoid this situation by leaving at the crack of dawn, or by camping outside of the campgrounds at a concealed spot (but not under a tree, see point 1 and 2). Otherwise it will usually suffice to pay on the spot. Just to be clear; I have nothing against rangers and sometimes when I stayed on campsites that had facilities I would pay because that seemed fair enough. Also I am trying to sound less like a conscienceless freeloader 😉
If you are camping in the park, even on a clear night, you can still get wet; especially when you decide to pitch only the inner tent in order to enjoy the cool night breeze. My most valuable camping lesson: always check for sprinklers! And sometimes even that’s not enough, as I experienced in Darwin where there are sprinklers in the park that rise up from the ground at 3 pm, sending me running through the wet grass clutching my soaked mattress and sleeping bag under my arm :S
Although I love camping and the bush telly usually provides me with endless entertainment, especially if there are marsh-mellows involved, the weather does not always allow for it.
On those rainy days I’ve watched my fair share of Aussie movies. Some of my personal favs are: Muriel’s Wedding, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Gallipoli, Ten canoes, The Castle and Two Hands (but basically anything starring Heath Ledger will do 😉
The country has also produced some famous actors like Kate Blanchett and Russel Crow, or is he Kiwi? You see, that’s another thing you should know about Aussies: they seem to believe that all famous Kiwis are actually Australian, until they stuff up, at which point they become Kiwis again.
Just like most of us, Aussies like their sports. Soccer is not their their strong point though (I was in the pub watching some Aussie ass being kicked by my fellow country men). Down here they love ‘Footy’ and this is played by the Aussie rules, which still puzzle me so I won’t get into that. Also if you watch a game here it would be better not to ‘root’ for your team, unless you are looking to get fucked. On a related note: if someone tells you to get fucked they are not advising you to have a romantic escapade.
Which bring me to my next point: the language.
Now, I’d like to think my English is pretty decent. But as it turns out my vocabulary is mostly based on Hollywood movies. I quickly discovered that down here they have a bit of a different lingo. You see, Aussies have the tendency to replace words with a slightly shorter version, musquitos become mozzies, sunglasses are sunnies etc. The dress code is a bit different too: here thongs go on your feet and if you’re chilly you put on your jumper.
It took me some time to get used to this but by now when we are in the park on a Saturday arvo throwing some roo bangers on the barbie while listening to Acca-Dacca, and someone asks me: “Mate, could you pass me my sunnies? They’re on top of the esky and while you’re at it would you pass me a stubby too? Ta!” It no longer sounds like mumbo jumbo to me. I understand that stubbies (if you’re not wearing them) are kept cool in the esky until you drink ‘m, at which point you will transfer them to a stubby cooler to keep your hand warm and the beer cold.
Stubbies and bangers are just a few examples, but Oz has so much more to offer for the refined palate:
Aussies have a great “cuisine” or tucker as is the more proper term. Some classics:
True Aussies start the day with Vegimite. A dark brown, gooey, salty vegetable yeast extract. Who else but Aussies would eat a brewery’s leftovers? If, like me, you can’t manage to swallow this, you can try the Weet-Bix. But be warned; no amount of saliva will help ease that down, I tried, so mix it with milk (or water for the real low budget traveler).
First thing that springs to mind when thinking about Aussie food is of course the barbecue or ‘Barbie’. There are free barbeques located in pretty much every corner of the country. Roo, croc, emu, you can just pop into the supermarket and buy some pre-marinated steaks or skewers. Or be more fancy and visit the local butcher to pick up some premium Australian beef or lamb.
I hate to admit it, but when you’re on the road it’s sometimes very convenient to take a little detour via the drive-through at Macca’s to get a Beet-root burger (works surprisingly well!). If you want fries with ketchup you should order chips with tomatosaus, if you like chips you should look for chrisps. Just another example of some lingo differences.
“Strange to have a whole aisle dedicated to lolly pops?” That was my first thought when I walked around Coles. As it turns out ‘lollies’ is just a collective term for everything that’s sweet and good in life. The licorice for example, which unfortunately does not come in the salty variety, and of course biscuits. There’s no substitute for Tim Tams, Scotch Fingers or Arnott’s Biscuits.
Aussie like their alcoholic refreshments. Only here you can’t buy it in the supermarket, you have to go to the Bottle’O, which sometimes even comes with a drive-through! Be warned, it’s not cheap here. Getting drunk on a budget is possible if you go for Goon (silver sack filled with cheap wine which is sold in a cardboard box). Its not terrible if you mix it with some juice or lemonade (which, by the way, you have to find in the aisle under ‘cordial’. There is one thing I tasted and found more disgusting than the goon and this was Bundaberg rum. Sorry guys.
I cannot go a day without my coffee but luckily there is a big selection, although filter- coffee is not that common as in Europe. If you want black coffee you can either go for a ‘short black’ or a ‘long black’, which is basically a short black with water added (so don’t think you’ll get more coffee for the same price). If you want cheap and reasonably good coffee you go to 7-eleven where you can get a cup for 1 dollar and if you feel like splurging you can add a slice of banana bread for an another dollar. Aussie coins are a strange thing by the way, I never quite got why it was decided to make a $1 coin that’s twice as big as its $2 coin? It’s very counter intuitive.
If you rather prefer other warm beverages like a hot chockie for example, you should check out Milo (Australia’s cheap version of hot chocolate, made from malted barley). I found it’s best enjoyed when you cook it in a billy over the campfire and make some proper Tim Tam Slams.
Jummy! Good stuff 🙂
But now the time has come to say goodbye to all of this.. 🙁
Australia seemed a bit odd to me at first, with its creative vocabulary, strange plants and even stranger animals and some dishes that are more of an acquired taste. But I have quickly come to appreciate the upside of Down Under and I have enjoyed my stay immensely. I will definitely be back some day 😉