Aussie’s are, by far, one of the most laid back groups of people I know; but that said, if you call our country a bit shit or “overrated” then you automatically become public enemy number two (second only to those that try to ban Vegemite).
One person who has been on the receiving end of this is Taylor, a travel blogger from Canada who wrote a post about Australia being overrated. Call it click-bait, call it true, it’s certainly struck a nerve with me.
She’s a millennial, so maybe I could blame her faux pas on that (I mean, millennials are ruining literally everything, right?!) or youth ignorance, but really, the conclusions she draws from her post, come down to one simple thing that many travellers are guilty of –
Travellers are incredibly ignorant about Australia
There, I said it.
We Australians try to stay away from the rest of the world. I can’t think of any other country that says “stay away” more loudly than Australia, with it’s 17.5 hour flight from London, 15 hour flight from Los Angeles, 6 hour flight from Singapore; all while making sure that you know that you WILL get the worst case of jet lag you’ve ever experienced in your life once you’ve arrived.
We may appear friendly in our tourism ads questioning “where the bloody hell are you?” and asking if you’ll join us for some ‘shrimp’ fresh off the barbie (that’s BBQ, not the Mattel toy you dirty perve). You might even give us a cheer when we’re quick to hand out generous working holiday visas even to countries that don’t offer us recipricol rights – I’m looking at YOU America – providing you brave the outback to pick some overpriced avocados; but have you seen those TV shows about Australian Customs? Yes, they were designed to scare you. Yes, you trying to sneak that apple into Australia.
While you might cringe then laugh about our oversized spiders, snakes, and countless other things that can kill you; you forget the easiest one which y’all all caused: the giant gaping hole in the ozone layer DIRECTLY over this beautiful sunburnt country.
Yet, you are all rushing to our doors.
You think you can visit ‘Australia’ in just two weeks
The most frequently uttered statement I hear from people, friends, and readers visiting Australia is that you’re going to “see all of Australia in two-weeks”. When any Australian hears that sentence, we glance at each other and chuckle at how ignorant that traveller is.
Look, I feel for you, especially you Americans who get only 10-15 days holiday every year, but you aren’t even going to scratch the surface of this country in that timeframe.
This is how big Australia is.
Your country is puny compared to us. So much so that we have earned the title of the world’s biggest island AND can be called a continent!
Of the 5 countries bigger than Australia, would you undertake seeing “everything” in in them just two weeks? Consider Canada or the USA – I could barely decide between two-to-three cities to see in that time, let alone a whole country! Neither could I for Brazil, China and Russia, the other countries rounding out the top 5.
I feel for countries that don’t get 20 – 30 days annual leave like we do down here – they don’t call us the ‘lucky country’ without good reason – and I totally understand why, with limited time, you’d stick to the well worn route hopping your way along Australia’s East Coast route.
This route is easy, with three of the countries biggest cities to fly-in or -out of, it’s an almost fool-proof plan requiring little research, knowledge that there are plenty of hotels at every price point and tours to show you the way to each of the cities biggest draw cards.
You get food, coffee and quasi-European culture in Melbourne, the beauty of Sydney Harbour, and the miles of beach that stretch along the Queensland coast. For those wanting to splurge, you can take a day-trip to Uluru/Ayers Rock, though a short jaunt like that will truly not do the incredible lands surrounding justice.
It’s exactly what those multi-million dollar tourism campaigns that Tourism Australia put in front of you sells.
While these ‘hot spots’ are beautiful and worth stopping by, I find people get stuck in them, or rather ‘trapped’ in them. (Get it, tourist ‘trap’?) Okay, let me explain…
This route is easy, but it’s also overpopulated, especially during our summer months. Very few people venture away from the beaten track in these cities.
In Melbourne, travellers flock to St Kilda; in Sydney, it’s Circular Quay or Bondi. In Queensland, it’s the Gold Coast or Cairns. In these places, prices are inflated, the queues are long, and almost everyone is a traveller.
Sure you can meet locals there but it’s likely we won’t be brunching at 10 am on a Wednesday like you are. We’ll be running on the beach at 7 am or 7 pm, or running to meet our friends in Northcote or Coogee for a Sunday session (that’s code for “drinking”) at the local pub; not sunning ourselves or out partying on a Thursday night.
There’s a reason people love those suburbs. They are part of the quintessential Australian experience that travellers feel they need to be part of, especially with the rise of social media probing us to share the highlight reel of our daily life; but it’s not the real Australia. It’s the whitewashed version that other travellers, other bloggers or influencers, will project to you as what they think you should want.
Whether you buy what they sell is up to you.
The real ‘cost’ of Australia
If I had $1 for every time someone told me that Australia is expensive, I’d have enough to buy a very nice house in the over-inflated Australian housing economy.
It’s true. Australia is, in many ways, expensive. It’s expensive to get here, it’s expensive to get from city-to-city, and it’s expensive to eat and drink here…. sometimes.
I find so many backpackers come to Australia, having spent some time travelling around Asia where $5 will feed you for a day, and then gasp at how a beer costs $6-12 here. Ladies and gentleman, maybe you should go to New Zealand or the Pacific Islands first and then come to Australia and complain.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been shocked too when I realised that they flog you $7 for a 600mL bottle of water at Alice Springs Airport.
Much in the same way Iceland‘s prices are ridiculously expensive because they need to import a lot of their goods; in certain areas of Australia, most notably the regional towns and outback, you’ll pay more for your food and drinks because it’s likely had to be trucked in across a long distance.
In the city, it’s about finding balance. Often those Insta-famous cafes with the long lines will be charging you $4 for a coffee and $22 for a stack of pancakes – ex-squeeze me?! No, I am not kidding. Believe me when I say that most cafes are wising up and the little known cafe down the road is likely to serve a stunning breakfast that tastes as good as it looks for half the cost.
Expensive food sucks, but it’s all about finding balance. At home you wouldn’t eat out every night without complaining about your empty wallet, so why do so here?
If you want cheap food, head to a market. Not Paddington Market or Queen Victoria Market, but any other market that isn’t geared around tourism. Australia is teeming with the things to buy at a great price.
Head to your local pub for a giant chicken schnitty and have a pony with the locals – yes, locals!
Head to Chinatown. I can tell you that my $12 Chilli Pork Dumpling and Chinese Broccoli & Garlic feast at Shanghai Village is going to trump your sushi and avocado bullshit that you overspent on.
The reason your food costs so much more than mine is convenience. When you are staying in the most expensive areas of the city, of course, some smart vendor is going to work out they can charge extra, and you will pay.
Sidenote, even after living there for 3 years, I still can’t tell you where you can find a great meal in central London for less than £20/$35? Anyone?!
The Melting Pot that is ‘Western’ Culture
One of Taylor’s points in her post is that “When you go to a new country you expect to find mostly the locals there. That is not the case in Australia.” Sorry, Taylor; gone are the days of Australia’s White Australia Policy. We welcome people from around the world and around the block. (Was that joke too soon?)
Later in her post she writes that “since Australia is so far away from everyone else you expect it to be widely different… for the most part I was sadly disappointed. Western culture is a huge part of Australian culture.”
This just confuses me. Australia and Canada – Taylor’s home country – are both byproducts of the same motherland, England, settled in 1788 and 1607 respectfully. We are both countries settled by white Europeans, speak English, have similar political and social ideologies, and, therefore, we both share ‘western culture’.
While Canada is closer to the motherland (we are, afterall, still part of the Commonwealth), and their states and territories a by-product of wars between the French and British, should I not be more saddened that the Canadian culture is so “western” and only Europeanized in the French-quarters of Winnipeg and French-speaking territory of Quebec?
The same goes for Australia. Should I – an Australian local – be more disappointed that Australia does not brim with more diversity from our Indigenous population or closest neighbours, British settled New Zealand which has deep Polynesian roots and Portuguese- and Dutch-settled-now-Muslim majority Indonesia? After all, had the Dutch not thought Australia as inhospitabile upon landing in seemingly barren Australia as opposed to spice laden Indonesia, it is likely they would have colonised western Australia before the British had reached the east.
Post World War I and II, Australia welcomed huge numbers of immigrants from Europeans and Jewish populations. Still today, Melbourne has the biggest population of Greeks outside of Athens; but Australia’s demographics are changing again.
With strong immigration and first generation children from Asian migrants, Australia is seeing a rise in it’s Asian and Middle Eastern populations. Economists have predicted that by 2050 I – a Smith – may no longer have the most common surname in the country, as Australia becomes a dominantly Asian nation.
How to experience Australia ‘like a local’
If you want to experience the ‘real’ side to Australia, or any country, one of the easiest ways is to become part of the sharing economy. Many of the services for travellers are geared around helping people feel more connected and local.
Take airbnb, a website and app that you can use to rent people’s homes or spare rooms in destinations around the world. I first used airbnb 7-years ago in Paris, and now I’m a host in Melbourne. After a fantastic first impression by my French host, I decided to show people how to experience Melbourne like a local, like Segundo and Kari, in the picture above. You can also save a ton of money by getting out of the tourist neighbourhoods and into somewhere a little more local.
My suburb is not the trendiest, but it’s not far from the city, beach and other cool spots. It’s interesting. It has the biggest Jewish population in Australia (something I didn’t learn until I had a halal guest asked me where the halal food stores were…) and it borders a University.
I tend to host lots of students new to Australia, but also value driven visitors attending any one of the cities major sporting or cultural events who realise Caulfield is not really that far from the city, well connected and will save them hundreds compared to a booking in the trendy suburbs.
Some hosts will give you the keys and leave you be, others will want to hang out and show you around. It will say on their profile which they are. Regardless, it’s highly likely they’ll give you some pointers on where to find the best coffee or other cool must-see sites. They did choose to live in the suburb for a reason!
Other ways to meet locals can be as simple as going to a meetup.com event. You’ll find these in tons of different cities around the world. For travel aficionados, Travel Massive might be your cup of tea and runs in dozens of cities around the world.
If you don’t want to meet people and just experience each city, check out local bloggers or Instagrammers for suggestions on what to do. Sure, many will be chasing the likes but a lot will share genuinely useful tips.
For families visiting Sydney, I highly recommend Hello Sydney Kids which is a bible for everything family friendly. For a stylish take on the city, and lots of talk about food and cocktails, Mr & Mrs Romance is the place to go.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that Australia is far from a perfect country. In some ways maybe we are a little overrated, but despite our imperfections, I’m proud of this giant beautiful country/island/continent that I call home.
So, “where the bloody hell are you?” I’ll put some extra prawns on the barbie and sort out a pav(lova) ready for your arrival.
In case it wasn’t evident, this is a satirical opinion piece.
OH, and that hole in the Ozone layer? It’s not a real hole. Just ‘thinning’.