What is Australia really like? Australia is one of those destinations that most travellers seem to end up in at some point
You will always find someone to give you advice before making the long trip to the other side of the world. Even people who have never visited seem to have an opinion about it. But what is fact, and what is fiction? What is Australia really like? Here, we’ve laid out 8 lies and 1 half-truth about Australia that we have uncovered during our time here.
Before you head out, get a copy of Lonely Planet’s Australia guidebook – always super helpful to have and you’ll find yourself thumbing through it more than once on your travels!
So, what is Australia really like? And what is a lie?
Lie #1: It Is Always Hot
We arrived in Western Australia in April 2018, fully aware that the Southern Hemisphere does everything backwards. This meant that we would be arriving in time for Australian winter. ‘Us hardy Brits live in almost 365 days of winter!’ we thought ‘We’ll be absolutely fine!’ Oh, how wrong and naïve we were.
The south of the country isn’t vastly dissimilar in climate and seasonal behaviour to some parts of Europe. In fact, a quick Google search shows that the average annual rainfall for Margaret River (where we were) is significantly higher than the average annual rainfall in Brighton (where we come from). There were some days when the log burner in the living room was almost constantly in use.
Generally, those in southern parts of the country head north or up to Indonesia for winter, to avoid the weather. But, in summer, the northern parts of the country can get hit by severe cyclones. The tropical areas of the Northern Territories, Queensland, and Western Australia follow more of a wet/dry season pattern, so areas can flood and be battered by some pretty severe weather.
But what about the East Coast? As I am writing this, we are in Sydney. It is January, and we have been in Sydney since the middle of December. During this time, we have seen hail the size of eggs, fog that obscures anything more than three meters ahead of you, and downpours so strong that some areas of the city have flooded.
So what is my point? If you are planning to visit Australia, pack for all four seasons. Melbourne is famed for getting all four in one day, but from what we’ve experienced it isn’t localised to just Melbs. Rainfall can be sudden and heavy, nights and mornings can be freezing, and storms seem to pop up out of the blue. Just be prepared, kids, and pack some waterproofs like this
Lie #2: Everything Can, And Will, Kill You
We will admit that we fell for this one HARD in the early stages of our time in Australia. A friend picked us up from Perth Airport. During the short drive to our city-centre hotel, we were on high alert expecting to see spiders the size of dinner plates just chilling on walls everywhere. On our first day at the beach we were almost disappointed to not see multiple shark fins scooting about in the sea like you see in cartoons. We were scared to go for a walk anywhere remotely ‘in nature’ in case we were accosted by large, angry snakes.
We’ve spent fifteen months in Australia. In that time, we have seen one poisonous spider (a redback in WA), one venomous but not lethal snake, two harmless snakes, one jungle spider, a few huntsman spiders, and two saltwater crocodiles. We’ve seen no sharks, no aggressive, dangerous snakes, no stupidly huge spiders. Although, if you ask Kez, all spiders are stupidly huge. Most of these creatures were seen during our time up in a very remote, inaccessible part of Queensland called Cape York (read more about that here). We lived in a caravan in the jungle for ten weeks so it was kind of to be expected. Most of the snakes we encountered were pythons, and most of the spiders were tiny, harmless ones that collected in the corner of rooms.
That is also where we saw the crocodiles. It’s important to take heed of local advice and any signs around water. If it says there are crocodiles there, even if you cannot see them, there will be crocs there. Trust us.
Lie #3: It Is Easy To Get A Backpacker Job
Whilst this isn’t a complete lie, it also isn’t totally true. Sure, in some areas there are lots of backpacker jobs, usually around fruit picking. And where there are backpacker jobs, there are backpackers applying for those jobs.
Our first regional job was vine pruning in Margaret River. A team of six was selected for the season out of something like 15-20 applications. Sometimes it’s a case of first come first served, sometimes it’s based on your proficiency with the English language, sometimes (unfortunately) it’s based on your gender.
If you are looking for a job, try to go over and above the competition. Drop your CV in personally, make sure your skills and expertise are aligned with those needed for the role, and include a cover letter even if one isn’t required. You need to be prepared to do what it takes to stand out in the sea of backpacker job seekers.
If bar work is more your thing, make sure you get a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate before you start applying. And make sure it’s the correct one for the state you are applying to work in. Rules vary between states, so you will need a different one for New South Wales than you will need for Western Australia, for example.
If you want to work in construction or labouring, as a minimum you will need a White Card. Other industries require other qualifications and Cards, so read up before applying. Many jobs don’t want Working Holiday Visa applicants as it costs too much to hire and train someone for the job, only for them to leave a month or so later. Essentially, always have a plan B.
Lie #4: It Is Really Expensive
This one depends entirely on where you are and how determined you are to live a lavish lifestyle. We have found that the further north you are, the cheaper things are. However, the exception to this is very remote areas.
As a rule of thumb, the further away a place is from ‘civilisation’, the higher the cost of living for things like fuel and food. This is down to the fact that it costs more to transport items to remote locations. Whilst land can be dirt cheap (sorry not sorry for the pun), it is often counteracted by the daily expense of living in the middle of nowhere.
We’ve found that fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive. Wherever possible, we try to stick to seasonal veggies to help reduce the cost, but sometimes we just have to go for the tinned varieties instead of fresh food. If you’re willing to compromise on quality and variety, then you can feed yourself for a week for under $40.
Alcohol can be expensive, but a lot of places have happy hour. Accommodation can be expensive too, but things like fuel and transport can sometimes be really cheap. Fuel is actually cheaper in Australia than it is back in the UK. Days out can be made affordable too, as things like picnics, hikes, and beach days are free or inexpensive activities. Get an esky and a picnic blanket, and you can pretty much go anywhere.
Lie #5: Everyone Is Beautiful, Tanned, And Fit
Don’t get us wrong, the Bondi Beach Lifeguards are like walking Action Men. It also isn’t hard to literally bump into an incredibly toned jogger around a corner in any city or town, and many of the free workout stations councils provide are often teeming with the fit and honed.
But you get that in London (perhaps not the Lifeguards). You get that in Brighton. You get people who take meticulous care of their bodies anywhere you go in the world.
Australia has its fair share of fit, beautiful people, but it has a hell of a lot of Average Joes too. So don’t be intimidated.
Also, surprisingly to us, a lot of Aussies don’t spend hours soaking up the sun’s rays and developing a deeper shade of mahogany. Because the sun is so strong in this part of the world, Australians are very aware of the dangers of sun exposure. Many go out of their way to AVOID getting a suntan. On any given beach,
Lie #6: Backpacker Jobs Suck
We’ve all seen #88DaysASlave going around on social media. We’ve also all heard the horror stories of dodgy farmers, low wages, and shoddy accommodation. It certainly pays to be cautious and
However, the jobs we have done have actually been pretty good. We loved the fact that vine pruning required us to use our brains. We loved the wilderness experience of being up in Cape York. Even the four days of potato harvest work we did wasn’t completely unenjoyable.
If you can get an hourly wage job instead of piece work, take it. Also, make sure you know your stuff when it comes to award rates, overtime rates, and weekend/bank holiday work. You don’t want to blindly agree to a flat hourly rate only to find out later that you were entitled to time and a half on weekends.
Lie #7: You Won’t Want To Leave
Whilst this is definitely true for some people, it isn’t true for others. Us included.
We love the experiences we have had whilst travelling around Australia. But contrary to what everyone seemed to think before we left, we haven’t found anywhere that we would actually want to live in. Sure, the beaches are lovely. Sure, there is more space for you to build your own dream home. But for us, it just isn’t home. Our friends and family aren’t here. We aren’t prepared to sack off everything we have back in the UK to start all over again in Australia.
It depends what you are coming out here for: we are here for an extended honeymoon as part of
Lie #8: The Beaches Are Always Crowded
What a delight it was to find out this is a lie, let me tell you. Coming from just outside Brighton, we are used to summer days spent packed like sardines on trains and sitting towel-to-towel on the pebbles as hordes of Londoners escape the city heat.
Logically speaking, 24.6 million people live in Australia. 66 million live in the UK. Now compare the size of the UK to the size of Australia, and you begin to see why the beaches are not crowded. There is PLENTY of sand to go around. Beaches like Bondi always have people on, and as this is one of the more famous of Australia’s beaches, perhaps that has contributed in some way to the expectation that all the beaches will be like that.
In reality, we spent Christmas on Bondi and even then had space to play with. We’ve also spent days on beaches in Tropical North Queensland and WA when we have literally been the only people there. It isn’t hard to find your own slice of paradise.
One Half Truth: Aussies Hate Backpackers
Let’s be very clear: we are in no way in the game of making sweeping generalisations here.
Before we arrived in Australia, we thought that we’d be looked upon favourably because we are British, and because English is our first language. In some aspects, that did indeed happen. But in others, we were rejected for jobs because we are backpackers, regardless of where we were from.
There have been countless job applications that begin with ‘NO TRAVELLERS’, even for casual part time food service roles. There have been comments left on forums by people who clearly aren’t happy with the influx of backpackers into their country. Last year, an aggressive, racist sign was posted in Ayr, a well-known backpacker destination for farm work. There have been angry exchanges in the comments section of WikiCamps review pages, where people have hit out at backpackers, and backpackers have hit back.
But, for every person who is anti-backpacker, there are at least two Aussies who will stand against this. It’s been genuinely heartwarming to find that whenever a nasty comment is made, there is nearly always someone out there who is ready to counter the argument in an articulate way.
The reality of the situation is that we come from a country which has voted to leave the EU. Some people voted to leave because they believe that this will reduce the traffic of immigrants to the UK. Without getting into a political debate over whether this is right or not, all we are saying is that Australia isn’t the first country to have residents who do not want foreigners coming and working in their country. And just as not everyone voted for Brexit, there are also Aussies who will treat you like family, put a roof over your head, and give you a chance to work hard. We’ve been fortunate enough to experience the best side of what it means to be Australian.
Even if occasionally they think we all live in high rise buildings and have never spent any time outdoors…
What have you found to be different to your expectations when coming to Australia? Has it been as you expected? What surprised you the most?