Thinking of heading Down Under? Australia is famous for its beautiful beaches, rugged outback, ancient indigenous culture, laidback cities and towns, and an obsession with sport! But it’s a very big place, so you’ll find much more than just that. Before you go, read our mini guide; it has info on everything from money, weather and visas to Aussie slang and more.
Population: 26 million
Religion: Predominantly Christian
Emergency number: 000
- Australians eat both animals that feature on their coat of arms: the kangaroo and the emu.
- The world’s largest urban Greek population outside of Athens is in Melbourne.
- Australia’s unique football code, Aussie Rules, is believed to be based on the Aboriginal game of Mangrook.
- When Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t stop fighting over which of them should be the capital city, Canberra was selected instead. Despite the rumours, though, it’s not halfway between the two cities – it’s much closer to Sydney.
- 26 January: Australia Day; though there is controversy about the date, this is the country’s official national day.
- 25 April: Anzac Day, marking the anniversary of the major WWI military conflict at Gallipoli involving troops from Australia and New Zealand.
- First Tuesday in November: Melbourne Cup, the horse race that “stops a nation”.
- 31 December: New Year’s Eve is always done in style, and with plenty of fireworks.
Hot spots and itineraries
Popular destinations include Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays, Tasmania, Byron Bay and Alice Springs. Among the 19 World Heritage Sites are Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and the Sydney Opera House.
Some itinerary ideas
- Sun and surf: Brisbane – Sunshine Coast – Cairns – Great Barrier Reef
- Cool capitals: Sydney – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road
- Outback: Darwin – Kakadu – Alice Springs – Uluru
- Food and wine: Perth – Fremantle – Margaret River
Staying safe and healthy
Firstly, pack plenty of factor 50+ sunscreen, wear a hat, and avoid spending too long outside in rthe middle of the day; the Aussie sun can be brutal! If you’re driving in remote areas, tell someone where you’re going, and carry much more water than you think you’ll need. If you’re on the beach, follow the safety instructions applied by the lifeguards. Finally, be sure to check the lastest COVID restrictions and requirements.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- Touch any of the native flora or fauna without knowing what it is first! Australia justifiably has a reputation for having lots of creepy crawlies and other nasties. Case in point: 20 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world are found in Australia.
- Attempt to swim in rough conditions at any of the country’s beaches. Drownings are common – sadly, particularly among foreigners who fail to spot rips and sweeps.
Before you go, read …
- The Secret River, Kate Grenville – absorbing historical novel about an early 19th-century Englishman transported to Australia for theft.
- Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe – an attempt to reexamine colonial accounts of Aboriginal people in Australia; read the book (2014), but also take a look at the equally instructive debate about its merits (which still rages in 2022).
- The Shiralee by Darcy Niland – follows a father’s journey across New South Wales, and captures the spirit of the outback.
Before you go, watch …
- The Castle – filmed on minuscule budget, this comedy of a family trying to prevent their home from being demolished is loved (and heavily quoted) by locals.
- Mad Max – for an eye-opening view of a dystopian Australian future.
- Also, if you plan on doing a driving holiday in the Outback, Wolf Creek is a film you shouldn’t watch before you go!
They said it
“If I was whisked away…I think I could put up with anything, except not seeing the Australian landscape. It would be torture to have it cut off.” – Arthur Boyd, Australian painter
“Let no-one say the past is dead; the past is all about us and within.” – Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal
“You don’t really understand what makes the Australian nation tick unless you understand the great affection Australians have for sport.” – Former Prime Minister John Howard
Do I need a visa?
Unless you’re an Australian or New Zealand citizen, you’ll need a visa or Electronic Ticket Authority (ETA) to enter the country. NZ passport holders can apply for a visa upon arrival. For more detailed info regarding what type of visa you require, go to border.gov.au, or you can pay the Australian High Commission a visit at 25 Napier Road.
How long will it take me to get there?
Between 4 and 7.5 hours. The time difference from Singapore ranges from zero hours (Perth) to two or three hours (Sydney, depending on daylight savings periods).
What’s the money situation?
The Australian dollar (AUD) is the national currency of Australia. Foreign currency and travellers’ cheques can be changed at most banks or licenced money changers. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are readily available.
When’s the best time to visit?
Australia has four seasons, but the climate can vary greatly due to the size of the continent – check your destination before you go. The north generally has warm to hot weather year-round, while southern states experience cooler winters. Remember, too, that the seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere, so Christmas is in the summertime.
What’s the lingo?
English. Still, you may find yourself failing to understand a conversation or two thanks to the heavy use of Australian slang (or “Strine”). Here are some phrases that you might hear now and then, especially away from the cities.
- Fair dinkum: The real thing
- Having a Barry: Not going well
- Flat out like a lizard drinking: Busy at work
- Bludger: Lazy person
- Woop Woop / the back of Bourke: A long way away (like Singapore’s word “ulu“)
Last but not least
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
With five million immigrants from 160 countries, Australia has a rich cultural diversity, which generally means its people are friendly and relaxed around visitors. In fact, communication can be quite direct: first names are often used immediately, even for strangers, and there’s a tendency to get straight to the point. (Or to put it in Strine: there’s no beating around the bush!)
What’s a must-try dish?
A meat pie. You don’t always get a good one, but when you do it’s a memorable thing. Be sure to add lashings of “dead horse” (tomato sauce).
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Food-wise, it’s hard to go past a jar of Vegemite or a packet of Tim Tams – and a couple of bottles of Australia’s world-class wine, of course. Other than that, a didgeridoo or boomerang, or a clothing product made of leather or sheep’s wool.
Keen to read more? Head to our Travel section!