My Love-Hate Relationship with Australia


1: The Landscapes
After Namibia and Mongolia, Australia is the third least densely populated country in the world. And given almost everyone lives in cities and the nation has the money to build roads, it has the most easily accessible big, empty landscapes on this earth.

Zac and his grandfather on the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere

The horizons are huge… The drives are long. It’s road movie territory par excellence, whether through the deep reds and rich blue of the outback, golden fields of corn, unimaginably ancient gorges or aeons of scrub, topped off with a big, big sky.

Even in the deep Sahara, where there’s a road there’s human life aplenty. Not here. In the intense, warm light that comes in the late afternoon, on a good day, there’s nowhere like Australia.


2: Utes
What’s a ute? It’s a pickup. A truck. A 4×4. It’s what you put your plants and patio furniture in when you’ve been to Bunnings, and your camping gear for the great wide open.

front end of Toyota Hilux ute heading out into the horizon

Stocking the esky, packing the tray and heading out high above those big, wide, empty roads is a quintessentially Australian experience. As is working the 4WD, up implausible tracks, through flooded creeks, over boggy, rutted mud…

3: The Language
Australian English knocks the socks off British or American English. Take “hoon”, the sound of a foot on an accelerator replicated as both noun and verb for speeding, or “rort” for benefit fraud. “Trifecta”, originally a type of three-way bet, is used for some hideous triple occurrence.

When it comes to booze, the language is especially rich. There’s “stubby” for a can of beer, “darts” and “nails” for cigarettes, “esky” for a cooler, “flat white” for milk coffee. Not to mention the late, much-missed “wowserism” as a term for temperance movements and general fun-spoiling, and the

*ing evocative “exy” for expensive.

4: The Friendliness
Coming out of amiable, chatty Indonesia, a place where, at times, we could barely move for mobile phone photographers, into an Anglo culture, I was half expecting the legendary Aussie matiness to be, well, a legend.

In fact, it’s not. At Scienceworks, Melbourne, with three kids in tow, one on crutches, the lady behind the counter drove us to the station when we couldn’t find a taxi big enough for five. We’ve had free lifts aplenty in Indonesia. In an Anglo culture, that small-country helpfulness stands out.

And, yes, male or female (in fact), you’re never alone in a bar.

different types of ball for children to touch with explanations about their functionality: Melbourne Scienceworks

5: The Good Sport Thing
Australians are obsessed with sport. Schoolchildren know which sports hold the possibility of making the Olympic team; tropical ice rinks advertise for kids to improve on the Vancouver medal team; science museums have whole areas devoted to various sports.

Matches, international and interstate, whether cricket, rugby league or Aussie Rules, are the main way both states and nations bond. And the sense of fair play, of being a good sport, is branded deeply into the national psyche from kindergarten stage.

Until, I guess, they start losing regularly. Then, my friends, we’ll see…

6: The Architecture
That first sight of Sydney Opera House (and, for that matter, the Harbour Bridge) is one of those wow! moments up there with the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. Though the optical illusion Customs Service building in Melbourne is pretty eye-opening too.

But there’s also grand Victorian architecture and later architecture, expanded during the time when a newly federal Australia saw itself as a serious rival to America for Pacific dominance. Beautiful Raj-style homes with elaborate ironwork. Pretty clapboard and picket fence bungalows.

And, yeah, some godawful out of town slab constructions, and some hideous shipping container edifices. But, on balance, especially in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, there’s a great deal of beauty on even the most mundane of streets.

7: Beer
This surprised me, quite a lot. But almost any bottle shop has an infinitely more inventive and better produced range of beers than the English equivalent, with craft-brewers around the nation knocking out seriously good beers in styles from lagers to ales. If you want to experiment beyond bland lagers, Australia is not that far behind Belgium and the US as a place to do it.

meat pie and tomato ketchup on a bar

8: Meat Pies
The quality of cooking varies widely across Australia. In Melbourne it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in any style, at any price. In parts of the bush the menu will put you off your food before you even get to the prices.

If there’s one thing that everywhere in this pastoralist country does well, and could count as the national dish? Pies. Meat pies. Aaaamaaazing.

9: The Wildlife
It would require a heart of stone not to melt when you see a koala with a baby koala in the wild. And there’s nothing quite like playing with kangaroos, or watching them hop off, balancing with that muscular tail, to bring home the fact you’re on a different continent.

1: The Male Body Beautiful

1940s Australian Speedo ad.
Discussing Australia over a cleanskin or several with a lady of an age to have been around the block quite a few times, she exclaimed, “But our guys! They’re so much better than your guys! Why are English guys so weedy?!”

She had a point. Not just in England, but in all of Europe, a guy with pectoral definition in a pair of tight Speedos is, essentially, gay. The body culture in most Australian states and cities (sorry, Melbourne) makes the beach a sight for sore eyes. Billboards advertise everything from protein shakes to workout systems with all the vigour that the diet industry targets European and American women.

And yet… I’m a feminist (which doesn’t, if I’m being honest, stop me from subscribing to quite a bit of body fascism, or make me like my post-baby breasts as much as I liked them before they’d gone from C to G and back again). And I’m mother to a son.

Do I want him, or his friends, to be facing all the body image issues that girls do as they head into their teens, with additional physical strength and sporting prowess concerns thrown in?

No. Australia may have leveled the playing field on this one but they should have knocked the damn thing down.

2: Sexism
I’m 36. Which tends to be the sort of age at which the type of sexist comment or joke which would have had one up on a chair making like a Spare Rib era Germaine Greer slips easily past the zen cloud. And I’ve traveled extensively amid cultures where the position of women is infinitely less equal than in Australia.

All the same. It is the default assumption that, say, women cook, wash up and do the childcare (and work, too). Men do the barbie and drive the ute. It’s not unusual to see a woman driving a male passenger in the UK. Here? It’s very rare indeed.

On some levels, there’s a gentlemanliness which is rather sweet. On the others? Well, thank you for opening that door for me, sir, and congratulations on your female PM and Governor-General. Now, how about sorting out that over 35% pay gap, chaps?

stormclouds incoming over sydney, australia

3: The Weather
The Australian climate is savage, harsh, extreme, with South Australia now experiencing the Biblical trifecta of droughts, floods and locusts. When it’s hot, it’s very hot. When it’s wet, it’s very, very wet. When it’s dry, it’s a drought.

Right now? Well, the weather sucks. In Queensland, once marketed as the Sunshine State, the first cyclone of a week in which two are expected is dumping gallons of grey drizzle into dams already filled beyond capacity.

It’s English weather. In a country a bit like England thirty years ago. Yet without the aeons of indoor entertainment we weather-whingers provide. Or even, so far, the drama of hiding in the basement from an oncoming storm.

4: The Empty Cities
Landing in Australia, ten months into a longterm trip that originated in crowded, cosmopolitan London, and passed through seven Asian nations, each with their own rich, vibrant and (yes) multicultural street life, the trip into Darwin from the airport felt like something out of 28 Days Later.

You know. The bit where Cillian Murphy wakes up in the locked room in the hospital and walks, bewildered, through a surreally abandoned CGI city (the odd welfare day wino made a satisfactory substitute for howling, RAGE-infected zombies but, sadly, the heaps of abandoned notes were AWOL).

A city lot which would, in London, hold, say, four tall terraced houses, converted into twelve or so flats, housing twenty-plus people here holds, well, a family of three. And everyone, nay everyone, drives everywhere…

On the one hand, it’s good to have space. On the other? The cities just feel dead.

5: The Burbs
If you’re old enough to remember Kylie as half of Kylie and Jason, Australia’s suburbs will be wonderfully familiar. Because Australia does suburbia like nowhere else.

Even inner-city neighbourhoods are called suburbs. And the outer suburbs, true burbs, stretch for mile upon monotone mile outside the cities.

On one level, the community spirit and good neighbourliness is lovely. It’s utterly charming that, say, a major ice rink can hold a raffle for sporting funds with prizes donated by the local quilting society. On another? No wonder so many Australians travel long-term or emigrate.

vintage poster advertising tawny cocaine port as a cure for drunks, with the slogan "drink more"

6: The Drinking Culture
Australians drink. They drink a lot. I’m British, with Polish heritage, I’ve travelled to forty-ish countries on five continents, worked in the drinks industry and hung out with a bunch of bartenders, and the only place I’ve seen more drunk people getting drunker faster than Sydney CBD in the run-up to Christmas is Reykjavik on a Saturday night. Any Saturday night…

On the one hand, this is nice. It’s actually good to see people relaxed enough to take a bona fide lunchbreak and go to the pub, or drink over a working lunch. And it’s good that the default mode of meeting someone new is a relaxed beer.

On the other? Record-breaking levels of alcohol-related violence (as in Iceland, drinkers are used to so much personal space that they bump into each other all the time, at which point the macho crap takes over and “mateship” dictates the rest pile in). Relatedly, high levels of drink driving and deaths on the road.


cover from a children's board game, the White Australia Game, c. 1920s

1: Racism
It’s relatively little-known that, at the same time as white South Africans were formulating the apartheid policy, white Australians were working on a similar policy called White Australia, which lasted until the 1970s.

Race is still a very obvious element in some political discourse. And the “whiteness” of Australia is visible, too, on the streets. Coming out of England, where people of every colour permutation are, well, English, end of story, it’s quite a shocker.

Negative stereotyping and offensive terms for indigenous people are horrifyingly common. It’s rare to see a non-white face in politics, business or an official uniform, and Aboriginal features are rarer still. While the official colour bar on immigration went in the 1970s, it is still far easier for citizens of Europe to enter Australia than for citizens of Asia.

I do not, of course, mean to say that all Australians are racist, and I’ve got no glib solution to the problems indigenous people face here. But Australia is the most segregated society I’ve visited since apartheid South Africa and there are more than a few discomfiting parallels.

2: Officiousness
Crikey! We’re in Australia! That’ll mean no jaywalking without a fine even if the road’s clear for miles, smoking only in designated outside areas at airports, no overtaking without two lanes clear on the other side of the road, plus a whole bunch of the sort of well-intentioned health & safety stuff that means children in the developed world are growing up incapable of managing risk; and, well, the dress codes.

I’ve mentioned before how particularly special I felt when a security guard at Darwin Airport took it upon himself to ask me to stay within arms’ length of my almost ten-year-old son (quietly reading a book in a cafe while I went upstairs) at all times otherwise “anything might happen”.

The problem, I think, is the national self-image as a nation of larrikins, along the lines of Ned Kelly, Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin. Which means, in effect, that officious instructions will be tagged with the word “mate”.

Oh yeah. The amount of paperwork required for something so simple as, well, buying a secondhand car is eye-watering. And, yep, I’m an EU citizen.

3: Prices
Australia’s economy is currently turbocharged by a combination of ravaging the natural environment, selling houses to one another at hugely inflated prices and demanding pay rises from the state to pay for the next house.

This makes for a strong currency, and pain for the visitor. I’ve ranted about the prices in Australia previously, so I won’t go on. But…

Almost three dollars for a Kit-Kat?! Eight dollars for a cheese sandwich like the ones they used to sell on British Rail?! And, yep, the Australian dollar is worth more than the US dollar…

4: Rampant Consumerism
A natural Grinch, I honestly never thought I’d miss our tawdry, tinselly English Christmas, with carol singers, houses burning up the national grid with illuminated, inflatable Santas and fake snow in every shopping centre from the first of December.

Then I went late-night shopping for stocking fillers in suburban Brisbane. There was all the crass commercial misery of Christmas present and correct. Parking rage, an Australian speciality, was evident as drivers entirely unused to the concept of nipping into a space drove round and round and round several blocks trying not to bump into each other or get bogged down in the swampy grass…

Stressed women dragged kids round supermarkets and loading up on unimaginative gifts for people they hated… People mortgaged themselves to the hilt to keep up appearances in December…

Yet without any of the festive trappings and spiritual sense that make the British Christmas frenzy actually more than bearable. No sense, for example, that anyone here might be taking the kids to Midnight Mass… Not even, honestly, much by way of decoration…

acceptable and unacceptable dress codes for entry to the members area at Adelaide Oval

5: Dress Codes
Now, neither Z nor I have a problem with dress codes. We wore our sarongs and scarves correctly for our genders when we went to the funeral of the king of Peliatan in Bali; I’ll cover as many joints in as much drapery as respect requires, topping off with a headscarf if needed; and, no, I would not wear a skirt above the knee when going to the members area at Henley.

In Australia? Dress codes are a bloody minefield. The South Australian Cricket Association provides photos (above) to explicate the mystifying dress code which governs entry to the members area at Adelaide Oval.

So, collared shirt and the right kind of shorts? OK. T-shirt, suit jacket and the right kind of trousers? Not OK. Very short skirt? OK. Micro-mini skirt? Not OK.

Yet, for arsey dress codes, I’d say Sydney leads the world. Why on earth, in a tropical climate, in a first world city, in the twenty-first century, a man should have to wear a collared shirt, long pants and closed toe shoes to get into a bar beats me.

Where’s it coming from? Well, good old-fashioned snobbery, I guess. Stores here sell books on how to avoid being a “bogan” (you may be able to detect a few in the “Unacceptable” photo above), as the UK a few years ago majored on how to avoid being a “chav” and some Americans are keen to avoid being “white trash”. Which again sits oddly with the national self-image as a nation that’s moved beyond class snobbery.

Australia is half my son’s heritage and home to much of his family, also home to my aunt and my cousin, so I’m really working hard at liking it and I think I’m not doing badly.

But I’d be interested to know your take on things. Is Australia on your bucket list? Have you been? What do you love and hate about Australia? And, Australians, where am I completely off-beam? Are there other things I can add to my list of things to love? Like I say, I’m working on it…

79 Responses

  1. Snap says:

    T, I like your take on Australia…and I agree with many of the things that you’ve said. Racism: I agree that we have our fair share of ignorant, uneducated racists, but I believe it is slowing getting less, as more immigrants make Australia their home. We DO however hold on to the unofficial ‘if you don’t like it, go home’ policy! Something I think most countries have. Re: Indigenous people. Our government should take the blame for the current state of and attitudes toward the aboriginal population…after all, they have mishandled the whole affair since the landing of James Cook. The subject is very complex and way too big for this little comment box 😉 Hope you’re still having fun!

    • MummyT says:

      Yes, yes, we are. Though the weather really doesn’t help. As Z’s father, who is (dual-passport) Australian, said, “I feel a bit like a Pom on this. If the weather’s shit, why be in Australia?”

      I defer to you on the racism thing and I agree you’ve come a long way since Sylvania Waters (as a Brit, my first head-on encounter with that sort of thing).

      And, yes, fair point on the indigenous people issue (Z’s dad hauled me up on that too!). Though, in fairness to my colonial ancestors, Australian states were self-governing very early on in, long before federalism, so I figure the indigenous people problem is slightly less our fault than (eg) India and Pakistan, or the stupid bloody lines we drew down the Middle East, for that matter.

      BTW, are you guys on Twitter? I’d like to retweet your posts if you are.

      We’d really like to get to Wet ‘n’ Wild waterpark while we’re out here. Mind you, at this rate all we’ll need to do is set up a bit of piping in the back garden, and we’re away…

  2. Nice wrap up on the things to love and hate about Australia. I think I pretty much agree with them all. Having just returned from many years abroad these hate things really jump out at me on a daily basis. I’m quite shocked by a lot of them. I’m sick of the bloody rules and the high prices, the racism is shocking (although it isn’t everyone and many are trying to change) and I am appalled at the drunken violence our men. Craig and I often remark how we went out at least once a week for 3 years in the US and never saw one fight in a bar or club- and there were plenty of drunk people. Yet over here, every single time guaranteed you will see a fight. I don’t know what it is but Australian males are aggressive which is heightened by alcohol.
    I can’t stand it.
    I must say the Australian climate is harsh, but the weather this year has been very unusual. We have seven years of drought and then a year of flooding. We have to embrace the year of flooding as that is the water that will carry us through the next seven years of drought.
    All the love things you have outlined, I love about my country too. I have to really focus on these things so the other stuff doesn’t have me running for the nearest international terminal

    • MummyT says:

      Caz, I appreciate your heartfelt comment… I do appreciate that people are trying to change, but the racism hits you often.

      And, god, the drunken violence. I think it’s a bunch of things. One, you’re a big country. So people are not used to sharing space, at all. You don’t have an equivalent of the New York subway or the London Tube, when it comes to population pressure, so when drunkenness leads guys into the same space, crammed up at a bar, or stumbling outside a bar, it goes off. Two, there’s the mateship thing, the self-image as rugged, macho outsiders, that means some guys (again, not all), will yell and go off, and see that as the right thing to do, the manly thing to do, and I wonder how much of that ties into the whole sporting, body-con culture there is for guys out here.

      Also, point taken on the weather. I KNOW how unusual it is for Brissy to be underwater at this time of year. And I’m gutted for you that most of the water you’re now getting is utterly wasted (according to Z’s grandfather, water resources were at 16% and now everything’s overflowing so you can’t capture the best).

      Thanks for the RT, also, babe, and don’t hit international until your time is there…

      • It is really interesting to hear your comments about the whole drunken macho male thing. After spending a lot of time socializing in other countries I have noticed just how it is so much more mixed between the sexes. Friendships between males and females are a lot more common and normal. There is that division here of boys on one side of the barbie and girls in the kitchen. I really don’t like it now. The whole Aussie macho male, sporting culture is a little worrying. it really makes Craig and I think about raising our daughter elsewhere as we don’t want her exposed to it.
        Interesting to hear about is about the population pressure- never thought about that before!

        • MummyT says:

          Caz, I think Stray, who’s raised her adult daughters in Australia and is now trialling life in Chiang Mai, makes a great point that it is possible to raise girls well with the right guy (who you’ve clearly got). On a practical point, I’d say you have a very good state education system here: Z’s cousins’ school in Melbourne knocks the socks off his London school from many perspectives, and the Y12 testing system in Queensland sounds, in many ways, a better preparation for adult life, if not university, than what we have in the UK. (This is not research-based.)

          And, Stray, I’d agree with you that socialisation is much more gender-segregated in Asia than in Oz. My shock on the gender thing, and probably Caz’s, is from looking at Europe (and big city America) where gender roles have moved forward quite a lot further, i feel, than in Australia. Don’t worry about starting an argument. Discussion is why blogs have comments…

  3. Really enjoyed this post; read each sentence of each paragraph and really enjoyed it. I recall a similar experience with the dress codes in Texas. Having grown up in LA, putting on sox was dressing up; flip flops and a t-shirt are acceptable almost anywhere. I remember getting grief at the grocery store on Sunday because I wasn’t wearing a belt or a shirt with a collar.

    As for being body conscious; look at the alternative – America. 2/3rds of our population is obese. All of the Australians I know, while they are body conscious, they are just more “active” than your average American. They run, they swim, they play football & volleyball; they walk instead of driving their car. What’s a little body-image psychosis when you can actually live past the age of 45 without a massive heart attack or diabetes? :-p

    • Snap says:

      You know Caz, I’m the daughter of a Russian immigrant and an Aussie guy. I saw more segregation in my parent’s generation, than in mine (I’m 48). We have two daughters and have raised them to be strong and independent. I have just returned from a Thai Staff Christmas party on my hotel roof top…talk about segregation!!!!! The only mixed table was ours…the farang (westerners).

      I’m definitely NOT trying to cause an arguement here, but it DOES make a difference, depending on the circle of friends you have and how you socialise.

      PS. Their father, Stray, is your typical Aussie male on the outside, but when it comes to his daughters, that’s another story! He would have raised sons, just the same. 😉

    • MummyT says:

      The UK’s heading up towards you in obesity… We too are a nation of bloaters. Interesting you make the point about walking rather driving. As a Londoner, who’s rarely owned cars (not unusual for London), walking’s kind of my default, so Australians strike me as having a strong driving culture. You’re spot on about the sport thing, though…

  4. Scottraveler, as of 2008 Australia actually beat the US as being the country with the highest proportion of obese people in the world. Type two diabetes is off the charts, presenting in younger and younger people, along with many other health problems related to obesity, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking. While Australia may present itself as fit, tanned, and sport obsessed, the reality for the majority is something far different.

    MummyT I agreed with almost all of your points. I’ve bored you before with my criticisms of Australia, so I won’t go in to it again, but I will just say that while Australia has many, many good points, it is refreshing to see someone point out that we Australians (and the rest of the world) can be a little bit deluded about the realities some times …

    • MummyT says:

      Forrest, that’s fascinating, on obesity. And you have never bored me once.

      I can tell you now that obesity is going to hit Asia very hard. Cheezwhiz is marketed as a calcium supplement in the Philippines. In Indonesia, “growth supplements” packed with empty calories are marketed to parents with spurious graphs about increasing child’s height. The only reason the Philippines doesn’t lead the world in obesity is that there are still malnourished children there.

      Food marketing in Australia? More on the Asian scale of things than the European. You can still, for example, market sugar sweets here as “fat-free” (and, of course, they don’t contain fat, just gallons of sugar, though they are at least taxed)…

  5. Caitlin says:

    In my opinion, I think you’re off-beam on a few things…

    1. The drunken male macho thing. It’s not great but it’s a direct transplant from the UK, so it’s a bit rich coming from a Brit! Binge drinking and alcohol violence is a HUGE issue in Britain. In Australia, people tend to grow out of it fairly quickly.

    2. If Australia is the most segregated country you’ve ever visited, then it must be the only country you’ve ever visited! 😉 Seriously though, I’m baffled by a claim like that. I have just moved back here after 7 years living in the UK and the USA and both countries were far more segregated than Australia. Naturally, the ethnic and racial mix is different – for example, we have more East Asians but not many black (as in Negro not Aboriginal) people. But, um, that’s because we didn’t have slavery or colonial possessions so it’s hardly a bad thing and it’s not because they’re not welcome here.

    It’s not true that Europeans find it easier to emigrate to Australian than Asians and if it is true on average, it has absolutely nothing to do with race but might be about education levels and professional qualifications because of the points-based system for skilled migration. I’m not convinced it is true though – Australia has a great deal of Asian immigration.

    3. Sexism. What social circles have you been hanging out in? Women drive male passengers all the time – it generally depends whose car it is. When I moved from Sydney to London in 2004, I was shocked at how backward the gender politics were. In the UK, it was always presumed that my boyfriend/husband was the head of the household and I usually only had a choice between Miss or Mrs and women always seemed to change their names when they got married. Yes, there’s a pay gap and we need to work on that – but that’s partly because some women-dominated jobs such as nursing tend to be low paid. We had equal pay for equal work and equal opportunity legislation decades ago and led the world in much of those reforms.

    • MummyT says:

      Caitlin, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      1: I’m not sure the drinking thing is a direct transplant from the UK. If I were to theorise, I’d say that the period of Prohibition (six o’clock swill etc.( that you guys had but we didn’t is one of the elements that make the difference, along with mateship and that associated macho imagery. I do think you guys are worse, especially as regards drink driving, but I do agree it’s a British inheritance, even though with State self-rule from early in and federalism over a century ago you could have moved on from it faster.

      2: I said it was easier for Europeans than Asians to enter Australia, not to emigrate. The list of nationalities eligible for the simple ETA visa here — — along with the list of countries eligible for working holiday visas – – would bear me out on that. Asia is next door to Australia. Europe isn’t.

      My experience of living in London, and having a child at a London primary school is of a rainbow of ethnic origins, then coming to a country whose nearest geographical neighbours are Asian and whose original inhabitants were black, to a city so lacking in obvious ethnic diversity (or mingling) as Sydney was, well, surprise. The ethnic mix in Europe, not just England, is broad, and that’s not just down to colonial possessions. If you’ve lived both in Sydney and in London, then I’m really surprised that you found London less diverse than Sydney, while New York, too is ethnically very diverse.

      I also made this point in the context of the White Australia policy, which was policy until the mid-1970s, and which has significantly impacted the ethnic mix here.

      3: I don’t think it’s coincidental that female-dominated jobs such as nursing are low-paid, which is a problem we have in the UK too, where we brought in Equal Pay legislation around the same time as you and are still battling a pay gap, too.

      I’ll put my hands up to the car thing.

      As to social circles, I think the point about women in the kitchen was probably dominated by Christmas, and the Australians I know whinging about that… You do have a long, strong feminist tradition here, and some states were really quick off the mark with votes for women, etc.

      Viz the UK. Changing names? Plenty of women don’t, or don’t marry full stop: women who do opt for marriage tend to be on the more traditional side, I’d guess. I don’t know whether it’s more or less common here, or elsewhere. Though I can safely say that I’m a Ms and I’ve never had a problem checking that box on forms since I opted to be one in my teens, now far too long ago…

      • Caitlin says:

        Sorry for the long rant! I did sound a bit cross!

        I take your point that you were talking about tourist visas rather than immigration… but Australia tends to have bilateral reciprocal arrangements on that, so it would largely depend on the country of origin of those tourists as much as anything else.

        I never said that I found London less diverse than Sydney – I said I found the UK more segregated. Clearly London, as a major world city, is one of the most diverse cities in the world. That doesn’t mean that it’s integrated. I didn’t have the experience of children at school but I certainly found that working in media, nearly everyone was white. My husband worked in IT and that was much more multicultural.

        The “White Australia” policy ended before I was born and I don’t think it has much bearing on Australia’s current mix. By then we were already on our way to being a multicultural society through immigration from places like Greece and Italy and we had a wave of Asian immigration in the 1970s, especially Vietnamese refugees. That’s an unofficial name by the way – the real rules were about language testing, though were infamously applied to skew in favour of people with light skins.

        I don’t agree about drink driving. We’ve had so much public education about it and it’s really seeped into public consciousness. It’s just not the done thing any more, at least in cities. It’s probably a bit different in rural areas because people are more car-dependent. I don’t know what the limit is in the UK but it’s 0.05 here compared with 0.08 in most US states and there is random breath testing all the time.

        You’re right about votes for women. South Australia was the first in the world (about the same time as New Zealand). Australia became a country in 1901 and women had the vote federally by 1903. But obviously we can’t rest on historical laurels – there’s no doubt that there are many battles ahead for Australian feminism. I just don’t find it a particularly sexist place and I also feel that Australian women tend to be confident and assertive individuals who are more than able to hold their own.

        • MummyT says:

          You’re right about the British media being very, very white (also male, public school and Oxbridge): I wonder whether that’s primarily a class thing, rather than a race thing, though? People are working hard to improve diversity in media and there are many, many successful on-screen talents who don’t fit that profile.

          Behind the scenes? Well, just look at the hierarchy of the Beeb.. They’re working on it, but it’s overwhelmingly, like our current government, public school, Oxbridge, rich and white. I haven’t worked in your media, or even seen enough telly, to comment on how diverse the media scene is in Sydney…

          Drink-driving: I think it’s the rural areas I’m thinking more of, where it’s still shockingly prevalent. That said, talking to bartenders (while writing up bars) in the cities who’ve worked in London and Sydney or London and Melbourne, they have all said that drink-driving is massive here. In the UK, you’d normally not touch the stuff if you were driving. Here people will still have several, and drive.

          You’re also right about Australian women being, generally, more than capable of holding their own.

          I think White Australia (or whatever one wants to call it) does have a lot of bearing on the current mix, integration and colour profile. In the UK, we have a lot of third and fourth generation Britons of non-European ethnic origins. Here you don’t. Ergo, attitudes to race are, I think, different.

          And then there’s the aboriginal thing. The negative stereotyping and vocabulary still quite commonly applied to your indigenous people is a real shocker as an outsider. The Northern Territory and Sydney are very different places, but the type of sentiments expressed, the language used, the problems faced hit me as a strong parallel to South Africa (another place which is, on some levels, “our” fault as Brits)…

      • Caitlin says:

        On drinking, the 6 o’clock swill dates back to the 1930s and 1940s. I think the 11pm closing that was in place in the UK when I got there in 2004 (and still is, in most council areas) has far more impact. We tend to be more southern European – going out later and staying out later. In London it seemed like so much socialising revolved around the pub compared to here and tiny housing meant that people were less likely to invite you over to their house. Plus serving sizes – British pints are huge compared with Australian standards.

        By the way, when I say something is a British transplant, I’m not just hearkening back to colonial times. Modern Australia remains very influenced by the UK. There was massive British immigration in the 1950s (10-pound poms) and there are still significant numbers of both British backpackers and British immigrants.

      • Caitlin says:

        “My experience of living in London, and having a child at a London primary school is of a rainbow of ethnic origins, then coming to a country whose nearest geographical neighbours are Asian and whose original inhabitants were black, to a city so lacking in obvious ethnic diversity (or mingling) as Sydney was, well, surprise.”

        I think people expect a big black population but there are two reasons why we don’t. Firstly, as I said in my earlier comment, we don’t have the legacy of slavery that is the reason the US and the UK have so many black people of originally African descent.

        Secondly, the Australian Aboriginal population is small. It’s analogous to the native American population – only 1-2% of the overall population. Partly because they were a tribal nomadic people and not so numerous to begin with and partly because of disease and violence in colonial times. Also a lot of people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander may not look obviously black – sometimes they are quite fair-skinned. However, there’s no denying that we do have a lot of social problems to solve with indigenous communities and for relations between indigenous people and other Australians.

        In terms of Asians, I think Sydney has a huge Asian population and it’s pretty well integrated. Of course, by Asian we generally mean East Asian, whereas in the UK the term usually means Pakistani or Indian. (I remember an official UK form that actually had a separate tick box for Asian versus Chinese, which I found quite extraordinary).

        Anyway, I’ve scribbled all over your blog, and should probably go away now and leave some air for other commenters!

      • Caitlin says:

        I did a lot of work at The Guardian. It wasn’t particularly, male, public school or Oxbridge, but it was overwhelmingly white.

      • Matt says:

        I dont agree with this post.

        1. Australia and the UK as stats proove on average per person drink 10 letres of alcohol per year. Look it up, so its not worse here.

        2. Racisim, well we accept people of all nations, 25% of australians were actually born overseas. There is racisim world wide, its another issue you may think is a bigger issue here but probably just seems that way because as someone visiting you focus on it a little more than at home.

        3. Dress Code : Nothing wrong with a little dressup for some places!

        4. Consumerisim ? The entire paragraph could be discussing any country in the world to be honest.

        5. Prices : Well we have a smaller population and are int he middle of nowhere so importing goods costs more and companies need to raise prices as they arnt selling as many products here as say in the UK or USA

        6. Ive crossed roads all my 32 years living in Australia, infront of police cars and have never been pulled up for “Jaywalking”

        • Theodora says:

          We’re certainly no angels when it comes to drinking, I’d agree – and there are all sorts of reasons for high prices, none of which make them any more pleasant to deal with. I’m afraid there’s plenty of places where the consumerism paragraph does not apply, which is why it struck me; here’s a recent article on racism in Australia – Glad you’ve never been pulled up for jaywalking: I’ve been pulled up by security guards for leaving my son in an airport cafe with a book while I went upstairs to buy something, and a friend was pulled up by security guards for skipping with his kids.

  6. Caitlin says:

    PS You can get premium meat pies but generally meat pies are revolting with bits of grey, gristly meat. Yuk!

    Utes, I can take or leave. I’d never own one.

    • MummyT says:

      Maybe I’ve been lucky with my pies?! Had one in the middle of South Australia nowhere from a bakery. Was delish. Also Shady Pines Saloon, on the posher end of things… Utes?! I guess that’s more the kind of thing that gets us Brits excited…

  7. Granted, I’ve only been to Australia twice–and just barely over a week each time–but it’s one of my favorite countries of the 90 or so I’ve visited due to its diversity in landscapes. But my absolute favorite thing about the culture and its people is the jargon: I couldn’t get over nicknames like “budgie smugglers” (Speedos) and terms like “camp as a row of tents”…we don’t have anything nearly that fun in the US!

    • MummyT says:

      I thought budgie smugglers and camp as a row of tents were British English, not Australian! How funny. Budgie smugglers would, I guess, have to be Australian. Our climate does not lend itself to either budgerigars or tight Speedos…

      On landscapes, I think you’re on the nail… I’m a bit gutted not to be able to get out in them more…

    • Camp as a row of tents is very British. Quentin Crisp, that quintessential Englishman, used it quite a bit …
      I have found that the British also have some fantastic venacular expressions, some very inventive (and no, I am not talking about Cockney rhyming slang!)

  8. Anna says:

    I agree with you on most things (especially the landscapes) but I would have put the sexism into the ‘hate’ category. I once thought about emigrating but the fact that I would never be able to find a man who I could bear was a big put off!!

    • MummyT says:

      LOL! Sexism, yes, possibly should have gone in the hate category. Though there’s a certain kind of gentlemanliness to some of it which leaves me with mixed feelings. A friend of mine moved to Oz, got married and divorced within the space about three months. As she said, “He was the only man in Australia who could make me laugh. So I married him. Why I didn’t leave Australia…”

  9. I think you have really hit the nail on the head with your observations of Australian culture. An an ‘outsider’ too–Canadian married to an Aussie living down’under for 8yrs, I too struggle with the ‘Things you hate about Australia’, although i also hate the ‘Six things that I Love and Hate About Australia (Do you hate the things you love??).

    Re: The Male Body–as someone else also pointed out, although there are those who strive to have the idealised body, the sad truth is that most regular aussies that you encounter (particularly out in the burbs and in the country) are obese. And sadly, many of those women also choose to flaunt their ‘sisters’ wayyyy to much. Never seen so much cleavage before in my life.

    re: Sexism: have you noticed too how people address complete strangers as ‘Doll’, ‘Sweetie’, and other overly personal terms of endearment? Hate that. and women also tend to address each other as ‘girls’, regardless of their age (eg 40, 50, 60 yr olds). ‘The girls at the office’ offends me because it seems to belittle the fact that we are grown women who have real jobs.

    re: the Dress code: funny story–i recently became an aussie citizen and at my swearing in ceremony, the mayor of my suburb, who officiated it and who went on and on about how the ceremony was ‘an act of law’, was all dress up in her mayoral robes…and her beach sandals (well, they may have well been!). Truly, while Aussie society hits me as strange with their emphasis on uniforms for most work places, regardless of the size of the business, they can be too casual too with their attire when it counts!

    re: racism–I wholeheartedly agree, society is very segregated, and yet they pride themselves on being so ‘multi-cultural’! Like you’ve remarked–the races here are many and varied, yet they do no mix with the overall ‘white’ australian society. and what is even more ridiculous is how they differentiate between ‘white’ (ie British immigrants) Aussies as being the ‘true aussie’ vs the mediterranean immigrants, who last time i noticed, are also white, but not by aussie standards so they are also discriminated against! very strange.

    re: rampant consumerism–very interesting point about christmas. it never occurred to me the disparity between the rampant consumerism on one hand and the lack of ‘true christmas spirit’ on the other, but its so true. i also miss just the simple things about christmas that are overlooked here, like showing christmas cartoons on tv in the lead up. in america, they’d show ‘Frosty the Snowman’, “the Grinch that Stole Christmas’, etc and you’d get excited that christmas was coming soon. nothing like that here–no traditions, no decorations!

    re: the drinking culture–its a REAL problem here. and the women, especially the younger ones, have no class. On one hand, they’d get all dolled up in $500 outfits to go to the races, only to end up stumbling around by the end of the day barefoot and in a heap because they’re blind drunk. people only seem to socialise here over drinks. when we were in canada a few years ago, my aussie husband noticed how strange it was that we’d socialise over coffee at night! but what makes it worse is that you can’t just have a ‘few drinks’ as it seems like it can only end with people drunk. AND they don’t seem to have any forethought as to how they’d get home afterwards, especially if one of them was the driver!!

    re: sporting culture–i also have a beef with this as the professional sportsmen seem oblivious to the fact that they are, by the nature of their status, role models. they go out, get drunk, get into fights, drink and drive, treat women badly, and yet everyone thinks that its ok. i’m so sick of them being headline news at least once a week. in america, professional athletes take their positions as role models seriously as do their clubs. while bad behaviour does occur occationally, it is rare.

    but there’s another ‘hate’ of mine that i’d like to mention: Australian’s hate of change. they are very satisfied with the status quo and do not seek/demand to have things/standards that those in other western cultures do. Australian culture is quite backwards in technology, civil rights, and general standard of living. have you noticed the lack of facilities for those who are disabled?? i’m not talking about the designated parking spaces, but what about the prevalence of handicap toilets, access ramps, automatic doors?? Coming from Canada/North America, the standards to which they build houses here are so poor. Only last year the residential building codes were changed to require 5 star energy rating for new houses! and a lot of day to day technology available as common place in north america for over a decade, are only making their way here! Our world is continually becoming smaller thanks to advances in aviation industry (lower airfares), telecommunications, the internet, yet aussies don’t seem to want to know about it. i find them VERY slow to change how they do things.

    while i have ranted about my issues about aussie society, i am still here because i have a good life here in spite of it all. but admittedly, we keep to ourselves. we aren’t rushing to live in canada either, as its not perfect there too and we haven’t sorted out which is the lesser of the 2 evils!!

    • MummyT says:

      Wow, what a passionate response, thank you!… I’ve heard there’s been a lot of nasty, drunken rapes by Aussie Rules players, but I guess, coming from a British culture, where footballers do dreadful things and we’ve basically given up on role models, I’m so desensitized to that side of the sporting culture I don’t link it. Not much fair play there, I guess.

      And the dress codes! Dear god. My parents, who are over here, were invited to a posh tennis club in Melbourne (won’t name it) for lunch. My dad was instructed to wear long pants, and closed toe shoes. Arrived to find a bunch of people, unsurprisingly, in tennis whites…

      I hadn’t touched on the environment, though I couldn’t help noticing at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary that the plan is to mine it for uranium, the sort of thing I’d expect of the developing world, but not of the developed world. But while we’re on the subject plenty of places have no recycling facilities, hardly anyone seems to compost, and houses are built to rely on A/C rather than use natural-led cooling. Disability hadn’t registered with me, either. It’s another gap.

      And the resistance to change. That’s not true of Australians, a high proportion of whom (as for that matter, of Canadians), travel extensively, but of Australia. Very slow to embrace wifi — Vietnam, say, is *far* more connected than Australia, despite the far lower income and Communist government — and online shopping.

      But I’m glad you have a good life here, with your Australian hubbie…

      • hehehe–‘passionate’ cus you hit upon most of my pet peeves about australia and managed to articulate them better before i! anyway, good point about the environment too. before i came here, i held an impression of australia as being environmentally conscious, healthy, full of surfers! SO WRONG!! the widespread use of coal for energy, how many homeowners burn wood in their fireplaces for heat with no thought to the carbon emissions they are adding to the atmosphere, the ‘american’ attitude towards big cars (more V8’s please), and the lack of recycling initiatives for common items such as soda cans and plastic water bottles (except in WA)–all very basic things that make a very big impact. and while there is an obsession with body image, i don’t think that its that much different than in america, probably less so. and the obesity rate is rivaling that of america’s too, especially with children. and not everyone surfs 😉

        as for resistance to change–those that travel are the ones who want to seek more. sadly, they are only a small percentage of the population. the rest really really are not that interested in what the rest of the world is doing–very ethnocentric. after you live here day to day for a while, you really start to notice how sluggish many systems are, and for no reason other than a lack of a committment to strive for better. when they DO decide to improve, they waste time and money re-inventing it, rather than adapting what’s already in place elsewhere in the world. i work in banking and some everyday processes are at least 20yrs behind that of Canada! and as for internet access –not only is there not widespread wi-fi here, but the transfer rate/speeds are ridiculous for a western developed country. our supposed ‘broadband’ speeds are like dial up speeds in america!

        The footballers really really upset me cus they are so idealised by EVERYONE here, yet their behaviour is so very very poor and still people just accept that they are above the law and beyond reproach. we really worry about raising our children in this society with these sorts of values and role models.

        as for our ‘good life’–while we’ve been fortunate to have a nice house, employment and a good community, we are just about the leave the country for 12 months in SEA and India. the ridiculously high cost of living here plus the need for ‘some fresh air’ are partly driving us to this as we know we will have a chance to afford other exoeriences while abroad. check us out at (we’re in touch with the family that you caught up with today)

        • MummyT says:

          I’ll pop by your site and check you out… Damn straight on not everyone surfing. One love I did miss out, though, are Red Rooster fries: like MacDonalds used to be before they stopped using tallow.

  10. I’m returning to Australia shortly after being an expat for more than 40 years. Many of the points you raise are of concern, especially the comment on segregation. I already worry about how I will manage in the white society of most of inland towns. Nor have I ever forgotten offering my hand to a young man when we were introduced in Darwin. Some 30 years ago now but still fresh in my mind.

    “Laydies don’t shake hands” he retorted, keeping his in his shorts.

    I will try to fit in, but options shall remain open.

  11. Nicole says:

    I haven’t been to Australia, and it wasn’t high on my go list but reading the beginning of your post made it sound fantastic, then reading further takes it back down. In all, I think I’d like to go, for the natural attractions and observation, if nothing else.

    • MummyT says:

      I think the natural attractions are phenomenal: though some of the wildlife also exists in Papua/PNG, there’s an extraordinary range of ecosystems. And, cheesy as it might be, and wrong as it is from an animal protection perspective, hand-feeding kangaroos and petting koalas at Australia zoo will have most adults, let alone children, melting…

  12. Forrest, interesting about the Australian obesity. As I’ve not yet been to Aussieland (coming this spring), my contact with Australians have been of the expat and military variety & all have been fit as a fiddle and love sport.

    I’m curiosity is quite piqued now… LOL

  13. Craig Makepeace says:

    Love the title of this post, it’s exactly where I’m at right now.

    I’m a proud Aussie and forever grateful for where I come from and the opportunities provided(there are SO many people worse off than us) and our landscape and natural beauty is amazing!

    However, after traveling the world for 10 years and living in 5 countries I just wanted to weigh in on a few things.

    My wife and I have just returned to live in Oz with our 3 year old girl after recently spending the previous 4 years living the States.

    Firstly, if there’s one thing I HATE most about Australian culture it’s the “Tall-Poppy-Syndrome!” It’s often mentioned Australia has one of the best educational systems in the world, yet it’s “un-cool” to want to be successful at school, but “cool” to be a dick head in class.

    My wife, who just happens to be a primary school teacher and has taught in both Oz and the States, will back me up on this. Whilst the education system in Australia seems superior, she found the kids in America had a better attitude and respect for education, which we would prefer for our daughter.

    This may not be the case in every school in every state in Oz, but from personal experience going through school you constantly heard the terms “ya nerd”, “teachers pet”, “book worm”, and anyone who strives to achieve is constantly “cut down” and made fun of! It’s the whole attitude of “who do you think you are” and “good on ya you hero”. Whereas it’s cool to be the class clown and disruptive. My wife is having a terrible time with the behaviour of the students in Oz, their lack of manners and respect for authority, and their whole “you can’t tell me what to do” attitude.

    On the other hand, in the US it was so great to see the positive attitude and praise for achieving at school. Even parents would have bumper stickers on their cars saying things like “My child is a Grade A Student”. If that were to occur in Oz, you would get teased so badly and almost run out of school.

    Because of this, I can honestly say that I would rather have my daughter go through school in the States than Oz. I would rather her have positive reinforcement, praise from her peers, and good role models, than a so called “superior” system. It just seems to be getting worse in Oz and almost impossible for the kids to learn anything due to constant behaviour problems and disruptions in class.

    This toll-poppy thing not only plays out in regards to education, but all aspects of life in Oz. I remember at my year 12 graduation ceremony our names were called out and what we wanted to do after leaving school, and my dream was to be a professional Rugby League footballer (which I achieved) and upon hearing that I was, well, let’s put it this way, pretty much jeered by all 800 students. I will never forget that. In America, I would have been idolized!

    I was very fortunate to be a gifted athlete growing up and remember not always performing to my best out of fear of being hassled. What a horrible situation.

    Now I don’t mean to stereotype, but in the states they idolize and look up to success at any age. In Oz, you are cut down at the first opportunity.

    I remember watching an interview with Bono (from U2) who was talking of his love for America. He was mentioning the different attitudes of Americans to say Irish and Aussies. His comment was…”if there is a mansion on a hill an American would say, I want to be that person someday, whereas an Irishmen or an Aussie would say, I’m gonna get that bastard!”

    I just wish this cultural attitude wasn’t so prevalent in Oz, and it’s one of the main reasons we currently desire to move back to America.

    The other reason is the general lack of manners and respect for authority from the youth in Oz. Teenagers seem to have a chip on their shoulders and once again it’s this attitude of it’s cool to be a dick head.

    Teachers, as well as the Police, have lost a lot of power with regards to authority. When I was at school I was intimidated by the principal and a policeman. The youth of today don’t seem to care less and it worries me.

    This is not the culture I really want my daughter to grow up in. I much prefer the good manners, the respect, and the positive re-inforcement towards success at school in the States.

    Finally, I’m also concerned about the alcohol fueled violence by Australian males. I’m out there at the bars and clubs and you can feel the tension and sense the aggression. You can’t even look sideways at someone these days and they want to go you. Like my wife said above, we went out constantly in the States and can barely remember an altercation, whereas here, it is every weekend. There is a running joke here that says…”I went to the nightclub to see a fight and a disco broke out”. It is almost expected that there will be trouble.

    Well, I will leave it at that. Like I said, I love my country, there are many worse off, but it can always be better and I just wish people would realise that and not have the attitude, oh well, that’s just the way it is!

    • MummyT says:


      Thanks for coming here. I think the Aussie male booze violence thing is impossible to miss — like I said, I’m British, my family’s Polish and I’ve worked in the drinks industry, but even your big city centres, let alone those medium-sized towns (and prob the smaller towns are worse!) shock me senseless.

      As a Brit, I agree that in neither of our countries could you wear a Grade A Student bumper sticker, or have the sports team whole-heartedly announced. I’m not sure what we do about this. On some levels, I like the sort of cynicism that we have in both our countries, not exactly tall poppy syndrome, but the tendency to take the piss out of over-achievers, take someone down a peg. It’s wrong, but I like that deflationary urge. I respect it. But then I see what it does…

      Then again, my son’s 10, now, and always had the sense to be shy about putting his hand up in class and spent most of his primary years concealing what he knew. Would an American approach be better? I don’t know. I kind of figure he could have put his hand up a few more times, which wouldn’t have stopped him being bored, but it’s hard to be the smart kid in school in any non-Asian culture, even if you’ve got, as he had (and children shouldn’t have to have) the smarts to disguise he had the smarts…

      Not sure I was going with that. Just, I guess, to say, thanks for your comment, agree, and hope someone finds a good answer, if not for our lot, for our kids’ lot. Where they don’t have to disguise their abilities to get on in life. It’s probably a bit late for Z — he’s 10 — but your Kalyra has the world ahead of her. And I’m hoping that wherever you choose for her, well, delivers for her…


  14. Gaz says:

    My two cents on the Australian weight issue: Everyone loves sport (except if your gay (thats one thing you forgot to bitch about I think) and usually even if you are female). Most people play it when they are in primary school (school sport programs etc.) but many stop once they reach senior school, even more stop when leaving school.
    This basically means that you have a large portion of the population who regard themselves as sporty, are used to playing sport and taking regular exercise, who don’t actually do anything. They eat and drink like they used to, but now it goes straight to the waistline. Everyone, even if they are good at sport, is a dominant armchair specialist who could retake the ashes in no time (>.<) if they were the chairman of selectors etc…

    On the tall poppy syndrome, which definatley exists, I think that while it is prevalent in the lower grades, by the time anything starts to matter (year 11+) it has died out (in the privilaged private school I went to anyway, I could however see tall poppy syndrome remaining in more bogan environments).

    Just my 2 cents, which (apparantly) inflation adhusted for Australian conditions is about 85 billion quid.


    • MummyT says:

      Hello again, Cuz,

      I didn’t bitch about homophobia as I’m not sure you can treat Australia as an entity as especially homophobic: there’s thriving gay scenes in Sydney and Melbourne, though some public discourse around homosexuality is abysmal and I wouldn’t want to grow up gay in a small Aussie town.

      I can’t comment on the youth culture around homosexuality, but I’d imagine it’s easier to come out as gay as a teen in a British city school than in an Aussie city school… Unless you’re black British of Jamaican descent, in which case you get into a whole new minefield.

      Also, homophobia isn’t something that’s struck me about Australia in the way the sexism — or male-female friendship gap — has done.

      I did omit to bitch about ageism, something I recalled when on the phone to Z’s Australian grandmother earlier, but which I’d missed, as, while I’m too old to be allowed in on young people’s visas, I’m not so old as to be forced into retirement before I’m ready…

      I also omitted to mention two positives. 1) Your junk food is great — or perhaps that’s not so good when we’re talking obesity. I’m thinking Red Rooster fries in particular.

      And 2) good manners. Watching kids at the waterpark yesterday hand over their tubes to the next person in line when they got off the slide rather than dump and run as a London kid would was great.

      Tall poppy syndrome — it’s interesting that it’s an Australian term (rather as it’s interesting that Australia had so many pioneering feminists)…

      And, as Craig and Caz’s daughter’s only three, I think the Tall Poppy issue is going to matter to her — and hence to both her parents — for 400% of the time she’s been alive to date, before she reaches the magic cutoff of Y11.

      I’d agree that private schools are generally more accepting of success, which is as it should be given the amount parents pay for their children to visit there…

      But I witnessed some absolutely lovely, whole-hearted applause and great listening to keyboardists at Zac’s cousins’ Catholic primary in Melbourne, which gives me hope that some schools do it right…

  15. I couldn’t help but laugh at your comments regarding dress code and the South Australian Cricket Association. As a proud Adelaideian I am a little ashamed of how strict our dress code is. A couple of summers ago The Advertiser – the local newspaper- had paper collar cutouts after a member of the Australian Cricket Board was denied entry because his top didn’t have a collar. Truthfully, I think in the effort to not be seen as bogans we come a across a little stuck up!

    • MummyT says:

      LOL. Yeah, I think Adelaide has an image outside South Australia — probably not helped by the pristine Victorian beauty of much of the city, the rolling parklands &c — as being a little uptight, which SACA doesn’t help… The girl at the members gate got an older steward to come and give my skirt a second opinion the first day we went down there, but he did let me in.

  16. Lorie says:

    I agree with most of what you have here.Having lived in Melbourne for just over a year, I also remember being culture-shocked when I arrived. The reason? Empty streets, too! I have to agree with you though with the Aussie landscapes and unique wildlife. I still am amazed when I see them. I think we have to owe it to the empty cities. I can’t imagine seeing more people than kangaroos now 🙂

    • admin says:

      That’s a good point. We saw a herd of wild camels driving up through the red centre, also wild horses, and, yes, of course, the roos. Which are amazing…

  17. Lubi says:

    Great post!

    “On the one hand, this is nice. It’s actually good to see people relaxed enough to take a bona fide lunchbreak and go to the pub, or drink over a working lunch. And it’s good that the default mode of meeting someone new is a relaxed beer.”

    I wouldn’t say most of us are genuinely relaxed, I think it is a surface image and the reality is we are a nation of mostly emotionally numb people.

    We are sedated. There is no passion, no feeling of life in most of Australia.

    IT feels like a ‘dead’ country.

    No one wants to talk about anything of substance, anything that might ignite passion or emotion, we would prefer strongly to keep conversations light and shallow.

    We then “deal” with our suppressed emotions by drinking ourselves to a stupor.

    I only really realised this when I came to Europe, especially countries like Greece, Italy, Spain etc, where people have the freedom to drink before 18 but there are very few problems with alcoholism.

    People are free to have their emotions and no one judges them. It is considered part of being human. In fact if you rarely show emotion, they think there is something wrong with you.

    One thing shocked me was that restaurants and bars leave their furniture out on the sidewalk and still find it there in the morning – every time!

    If you did that in Australia, some drunk redneck would grab a chair and smash a few windows.

    Did you sense this feeling of numbness in Australia? It is similar in the UK I think.

    • admin says:

      Coming out of Asia, the numbness is pretty obvious, but, yes, it’s something we have too in the UK: not generally comfortable with emotions or passion. What we do have in the UK, which you don’t, is street life: there’s a lot more interaction. The car culture, and the alienation that brings with it, has notes of JG Ballard to it. Though, that said, when you’re out in the country there is a genuine warmth and interest…

  18. Vishal says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this. I was actually planning to move to Australia. Being from Nepal and living in the States for the past 4 years and after reading this, I don’t know how I feel about working in Oz for a year or more now.

    • Theodora says:

      Well, I think it’s worth reviewing the comments here before you take a big leap one way or the other. But it might well be a culture shock after the States.

  19. Andrew C says:

    Some great points there, but you missed out on the biggest thing to love about Australia: the beaches! Have you ever been up to the NSW Central Coast? It’s an amazing part of the world.

    • Theodora says:

      That is a major omission, Andrew! You’re right. In my defence, we were there during the period of Australia’s worst weather in many decades. Queensland was flooding, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast rained out: in the Flinders, in December, I needed a warm jacket because it was below 20C. But, yes, Australia’s beaches are rightly famous for their scope and scale, and I really should have highlighted that.

  20. Beth says:

    Well as an Aussie who has been living overseas for over a year now I did a sort of double take when I read comments about all the drinking. Admittedly there is a lot of it but I have always managed to make friends with people who only drink upon occasion and actually we never socialise over alcohol. Perhaps I am not the norm but here in Japan the expat group from my company, made up of people from Canada, Australia, USA and England and elsewhere, all they do is go out drinking to socialise and the worst offenders are not Aussie. There is a certain negative culture surrounding drinking but I would argue that most travellers if they frequent bars etc. have never had a chance to meet all of those who don’t drink to crazy excess.
    I also thought it is a bit rich to say that all Australians idiolise sports people. I can barely remember the names of many of the famous sports players let alone actually care how they do. I also think it is abhorrent what the young sports people do when drunk and the pack mentality that targets women. I think saying that Australians dont care is wrong. A lot of us do and do not look up to people who condone or participate in behaviour like that. However I do think that more could be done to prevent it.
    I do get the segregation thing, but I think it depends on where you live. I grew up in a smaller city and my school was predominantly white but I have university friends of Asian descent who went to schools in Sydney that were predominantly Asian so there is definitely a bit of a split. But by university I think lines have blurred and at least for me I have a variety of friends from different backgrounds.
    Australia is a small country with a small population so it is hard to have very vibrant exciting cities, like those found in other parts of the world. That is one of the reasons I love traveling overseas. I have to say that I do find life in the Australian suburbs a bit dull and I would ideally like to live overseas but for some people suburban life has it’s appeal.
    One of the things I do like about Australia which is a positive not mentioned is the decrease in smoking. In Japan smoking is still everywhere, cheap and so many people smoke. I think in Australia it is more stigmatised, restricted and expensive. As a non-smoker I like being able to go out and about and not come into contact with so much smoke. Perhaps this is not a “like” if you actually do smoke though…

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks for your comment. I didn’t register smoking as a pro or a con in Australia, really, although I was surprised by odd limitations on outdoor smoking — I’m a smoker, and the smoking situation struck me as on a par with the EU, which is probably roughly accurate. I’d agree it’s better than Asia if you’re not a smoker.

      I’m a Brit and we also drink a lot, but the number of people who were stumbling, vomiting, fighting drunk by 11pm in Sydney CBD — not the backpacker bars, the normal bars (though I’d imagine backpacker bars are worse) — was worse than I’ve seen even in London (which is pretty bad). But, yes, of course not all Australians drink to saturation point and beyond.

  21. Allyson says:

    Oh dear, I’m exhausted by the sweeping statements and negativity.

    I’ve been living in Sydney for almost 20 years and have frequented many watering holes over that time would have seen lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) to see a handful of fights if that.

    Pop in to a school or two in Marrickville and you will see a massive cross section of cultures playing well together.

    I also know many women who are successful and respected in their chosen careers, some even come with loving and supportive husbands.

    Generally I have found people honest, open, friendly and warm…

    • Theodora says:

      Well, I guess if you live in Sydney you’d stay out of the CBD during office party time, as Londoners stay off Oxford Street… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bar fight in London, but that’s a function of going to the right places.

      I think the Australian understanding of a massive cross-section of cultures is different from a European one: there were north of 40 languages spoken at my son’s London primary and the largest identifiable single ethnic group was Turkish with Black Caribbean second. When you did a pie chart of the make-up of that school it looked like a rainbow.

      And, no question that many Australian women have rewarding careers and happy marriages. I’d also agree with you on the friendliness, which I spent several paragraphs on in the Likes section of my negative and sweeping post…

      • Joanna says:

        From Wikipedia: At the time of the most recent UK census, conducted in April 2001, 8.3 per cent of the country’s population were foreign-born.[2] This was substantially less than that of major immigration countries such as Australia (23 per cent), Canada (19.3 per cent) and the USA (12.3 per cent).[3]

        Melbourne, where I’m from, celebrates itself as a multicultural city, and the stats suggest that this is not ill-founded. I think it is worth considering that many of the observations made by this blog are based on the bloggers experiences of particular, minority experiences of Australia: Darwin, the suburbs of Brisbane– and then compared to London as a whole, or similar. I would not go to the suburbs of Brisbane for an experience of European Christmas culture, for sure. Actually, I wouldn’t go there at all if I could avoid it. But please don’t tell me that this means that Australians don’t celebrate Christmas. This is happening in the comments, too.

        While the experience of Darwin or Brisbane is Australian, it is not the life that the majority of Australians lead. Most of us live in Sydney or Melbourne. So if you talk about what ‘Australians’ are like on the basis of those experiences, you’re bound to raise the ire of a lot of people.

        Finally: two things– no Christmas decorations and no women driving men???? I don’t know a single person who would assume that the man had to drive. Sorry. And Melbourne is riddled with Christmas decorations in the lead up to Christmas. Not that I really think this matters. But this was obviously a case of having a very specific experience that is not typical (again– I think if you want typical you have to look to the major cities).

        Finally: re drinking culture– this is highly subjective. When I lived in Essex I was pretty surprised and grossed out by the drinking culture I experienced. But I won’t assume that this means that England has a drinking problem….

        • Theodora says:


          Firstly, I’ve actually spent time in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in addition to Darwin, the Red Centre and Brissy. A couple of points here:

          1) I didn’t say “no Christmas decorations”. I said “not much by way of Christmas decorations” and an absence of the slightly more spiritual side of Christmas: carol singers, midnight Mass etc.

          2) I didn’t say “no women driving men”. I said, in the context of observations on traditional gender roles, that it’s highly unusual to see women driving men, but that’s probably a misobservation based on your high levels of car ownership.

          3) I am talking about ethnic diversity. Staying with the London comparison: London is an ethnically diverse city, by which I mean that around 30% of Londoners are not white.

          The immigration statistics you cite say little about ethnic diversity — for starters, 19% of foreign-born Australians were born in Britain and 9% in New Zealand — which is disproportionately low given high immigration levels and the country’s geographical location.

          Also, if I had a penny for the number of Australians who have said, “Oh we’ve got loads of ethnicities here! Huge Greek population! Loads of Italians!” I’d be wealthy: last time I looked, Greeks and Italians were white Europeans.

          Yes, Melbourne does have a large Greek community, as well as a visible Vietnamese community. Yes, it’s not as Anglo as the rest of Australia. No, it’s not ethnically diverse. A friend of mine who lived and worked in Sydney for three years said it was always really easy to spot his black friend when he was meeting him, because he’d be the only black person in the bar.

  22. Chris says:

    Wow what a racist post.
    Commenting on the lack of visible aboriginals is in itself a racist concept. You do realise they make up 2% of the population right?
    And to say we make our money from destroying the environment? We have the highest environmental standards in the world!

    • Theodora says:

      Taking this one point at a time:

      “We have the highest environmental standards in the world?” What on earth do you mean by this? Where is your source for this statement? Your carbon-equivalent usage per head of population is huge — multiple cars, A/C, and under 7% of your energy comes from renewables.

      Check the UN Environmental Qualities Indicators for more hard data: You’ll probably be up there with Namibia on air quality, because you have a low population density, but, seriously, I think if you check some facts you’ll find that claim hard to sustain.

      What I meant by “destroying the environment” is things like ripping up Arkaroola National Park for uranium mining, and resource extraction, even in parks, which is what, apart from the house price bubble, is currently driving your economy.

      “Racist post”? I’ve just re-read this. I make a number of points in the section on racism, which clearly struck a nerve, dating things back to the White Australia policy, one of which is that it is rare, unlike in Europe or the US, to see a non-white face in a position of authority.

      Since when has it been racist to observe that non-whites are under-represented in Australia? For most countries, observation of ethnic participation is a cornerstone of equality policies. Racism is discriminating against others on the grounds of their race. Who do you think I am discriminating against, here?

      And, yes, I do realise, without going into the reasons why, that Indigenous now make up only 2.5% of the population of their home country. You don’t need to be a large minority to be an under-represented minority.

  23. Colleen says:

    Your comments on racism certainly are worth a reply. This country accepts immigrants from all nations, under a range of circumstances. Your assertation that it is easier to gain residency if you are from Europe compared with Asia is incorrect. There are several different visa types with which to enter the country, including business visas, skilled migrant visas and refugee visas. None of these visas give favor to Europeans compared to those from other continents. In WA (where I am from) our highest immigrant intake in 2006 was from Sudan. My coworkers are a mix of Australians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. Yes, we had a white Australian policy until the 1970s, but at least we have tried to rectify it with established multicultural policies. Whilst we have slang terms for our indigenous Australians, but we also have similar terms for other races eg: daego, wog, nip. These terms may have been offensive in thier origin but are often now used as terms of humour and endearment, as is calling the Aussies “skips”. We also call people with red hair ‘blue’….perhaps that is also racist (hair-ist maybe?) It seems to me that maybe you just didnt ‘get’ parts of our culture….As for the 35% wage gap between the sexes, we have parity among the professions; eg male and female geologists doing the same job are paid the same. Male and female nurses are paid the same for the same role…The pay disparity is more likely to reflect that certain professions are more likely to be female dominated (eg nursing), not a reflection of say, an individual organisation paying staff differently solely on the basis of thier sex, which I what I suspect you were inferring. Well paying jobs are prevelent in the mining industy, which is male dominated, however that is rapidly changing as more females are graduating into these professions (eg engineering). I disagree with your inferences that this is a country of overt and covert racism and sexism. As for the environment, we have some of the largest national parks in the world, and some of the most stringent environmental controls for development. This includes rehabilitation of land, and environments and archeological surveys before proceeding with new developments. Unfortunately, sometimes the powers that be do get it wrong (such as that mine you refer to in SA), but we also get a lot right.

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Colleen,

      Not quite sure where to go with the argument that it’s OK to call Indigenous people Abos because it’s also OK to call black people “wogs”, Latino people “dagos”, Asian people “nips” and, I’d guess, perhaps Jewish people “kikes”, last heard in the UK in the late 1970s. In most cultures, and even to many Australians who have travelled outside Australia, that counts as racism. Why? Because you are defining someone by the colour of their skin and using a negative term to do so. The big question, as ever, is “OK for whom?”

      I’m guessing you’re white. Now, some racist terms have been reclaimed by the people of whom they are used — cf the “n” word in the US, and, for some Indigenous, “blackfella”. But until I get a comment from a black Australian, or even a black visitor to Australia, saying, “Yeah, I love it when people call me ‘wog’, it makes me feel like I belong here!”, I’m feeling that I have “got” the culture. I just don’t like it. Either the overt, or the covert racism.

      And, no, I’m not inferring (or, for that matter, implying) that women and men are paid less for the same jobs, just that “women’s work” is less valued in the culture than male: one thing that pay disparity measures. (Another thing it tends to indicate is that there are fewer women in senior roles.)

      And, yes, you do have large national parks. As one of the biggest countries in the world and the most sparsely populated after Namibia — which also has huge national parks — you have the space to do so. But with an economy that runs on resource extraction, huge per capita energy use and rapidly emptying river basins, I think that’s actually a very small part of a broader picture.


  24. S says:

    I thought this was interesting. however there are number of things here i STRONGLY disagree with

    Firstly being that Australians drink more than the English – barring any alcoholics, I would say this is absolutely untrue. one of the biggest things i remember moving to the UK was my absolute shock that the streets were full of drunk (or well on their way) guys early on a tuesday night. I was shocked because this is not the norm in Australia. Australians may (thought this i doubt) drink less often, and not necessarily to get drunk like people in the uk do. In London the norm is to go out any and every day of the week – however this is held to weekends in Australia. – level that out .. and you’ll find that the English (and i would say the Irish) leave Australians for dead on this one.

    The body beautiful thing is merely a product of the environment. you will find much the same (and worse!) in any warm climate be it LA, Miami, Brazil, – its the fact that its hot and people want to be able to put beachwear on without feeling self conscience that perpetuates this – but it also perpetuates healthy eating and lifestyle – so is it really that bad?

    UGH the racism debate. this whole thing makes me laugh if it wasnt so frustrating and awful. i have travelled the world being told by people that they think Australians are the most racist people (without ever having been here). Are we politically correct? no. does this make us racist? no. unfortunately a byproduct of bygone days when there was racism (BY THE OCCUPYING BRITISH!!) which has somehow stuck with us in spite of the fact that its part of our history not who we are. Its ironic then to have British people telling us how racist WE are. yes there are a lot of cultural divides, however we are a country made up of a HUGE refugee/immigrant population. people who came here and clung to their friends and relatives from the old country and its taking generations to assimilate. but we embrace this. we LOVE having the choice to have whatever kind of GOOD food from around the world we can and having interesting friends from interesting places with interesting backgrounds – and in case your wondering – im from an immigrant family. IM SICK AND TIRED of people judging on history, thats not fair and its just pathetic – speaking of, isnt it about time France and England got over their old feud? (cos thats racism right there) should we drag up what the US did to the native indians and judge all americans on that. should we drag up all the things the colonial british got up to (oh wait that brings us back to australia!) Coincidently, i have experienced racism first hand.. and its been by british people every time. one who thought my dark features signified i was middle eastern and deserved to be threatened for it (im not by the way, not that i deserve that treatment no matter what nationality i am), but thats one of many times.. so i find it ludicrous that im the racist one. yeah ok. As for not seeing anything but white people.. maybe you need to get out of bondi… Ha I just read your comment about calling people by pet names. wow are you sure you arent American? The amount of Americans that get offended on behalf of people. WOW. this just cracks me up. I have people call me a wog, and so what. if i dont mind, mind your own business. i also call my Philippino friends Filos. and you know what they dont care, they call each other that, and i grew up with them, im part of the family they love that i am close and part of the family and dont stand on ceremony.. British and Americans tiptoe around people. Australians embrace them the good the bad and the ugly and have a laugh about it and also at themselves because actually we all live here we are all Australians. we are family and yeah do we have a joke with each other? sure but thats what families do? Are there cases of racism? no doubt like there are in all countries. but is it the norm? NO. seriously these comments are just ignorant. If you are looking for somewhere to tip toe around and never say what you mean, you came to the wrong place.

    Dress codes? this i found amusing. unless you are going into some ridiculous club (which is the same anywhere in the world) which probably has a ridiculous cover charge, then there isnt much in the way of dresscodes.. make sure you put your flipflops on?? LOL I have NO IDEA where you got this one from .. i work in an office and am allowed to wear shorts a singlet and flip flops.. and get into most places wearing this… yeah dress code is SOOO uptight..

    Officiousness. again, unless you are talking about the taxation paperwork (in which case I agree wholeheartedly), im not sure where this came from. the UK is leaps and bounds above us in demanding paperwork and having things just so. Australians are much to relaxed to be bothered. As for the incident in Darwin, i wouldn’t be surprised if there had been some crime in the area at that point and he was worried about your child’s safety – how is that a bad thing?

    I do agree its ridiculously expensive, and ridiculously consumer focused. we do however get paid a hell of a lot more. our economy is one of the strongest and its all part and parcel of that. theres a lot of pressure to buy house, car etc. its unfortunate and personally i dont buy into it. And my other least favourite thing – the tall poppy syndrome. its really sad that as a nation we cant celebrate success instead of trying to bring someone down or try to make them fit the mould.

    Sexism i partly agree with. I think relationships wise, Australian males leave a lot to be desired, but i dont think that this impacts business. The door opening thing? i got that much more in England and i loved it. I much prefer british boys anyway. The pay – thats pure and simple up to you. if you are good and worth the money, own it. i dont get paid less than male colleagues. the girls that do, generally work for people that have no idea, and they never speak up and do something about it. pure and simple.

    im not saying its perfect. far from it.. but if you are going to criticise, at least get it right.

    • Theodora says:

      As to drink, I’d agree all Anglo cultures are pretty bad. And, as to body beautiful, you have a point that that’s not unique to Australia, although there are plenty of hot climates where men and women strip down which somehow survive without a whole industry based around it.

      As to racism — yes, Australia is overwhelmingly an immigrant society, since WHITE AUSTRALIANS are the immigrants, here, no? It is the most racist society I’ve been in outside of South Africa (during apartheid) and, in a benevolent way, China. A few points on this: the French and the English are not different races. They are different nationalities (like Italian and Australian). This is a basic fact that few Australians comprehend. “Oh, we’re not racist! We don’t like abos, but we’re happy with the French and the Greeks. We laugh about it.”

      And, funnily, I’ve had a lot of white Australians explaining (on this comment thread, and in person) how great it is that people can have a laugh about races. I’ve not had one non-white Australian saying how much they love it that their ethnicity is a subject for hilarious banter.

      I don’t call my black friends wogs, or my Middle Eastern friends wops, or my Asian friends Pakis, or my Chinese friends Chinks, or my mixed-race friends half-caste, etc, etc, not because I’m tiptoeing around an issue but because… Well, because their ethnicity isn’t an issue. And until Australia can move past the point where “you’re not white” is a subject for hilarious playground banter using derogatory terms rather than just a fact like eye colour, hair colour, weight, sexuality etc, it’s going to remain horrendously racist. I don’t understand why you think you’d NEED to comment on someone’s cultural or ethnic or religious background unless it was relevant to a topic, and then why not just say “Oh my god. I’m sorry about the earthquake. Did you have any family there?” eg.

      I’m British. My family are from various different places. My identity is simply not an issue. I’m just British. I don’t know WHERE Australians get this idea from that they have a uniquely multicultural society. Yes, you have Vietnamese restaurants, and Korean restaurants, and Italian restaurants. But, hell, tell me any capital city or second city in any first world or second world country that doesn’t have multinational foods.

      Let me also make this very clear. The White Australia policy was brought in, and maintained into the 1970s, by an Australian government, not “the occupying British”. And the land the British were occupying belonged to the aboriginals,

      Club dress codes — no, they’re not the same all over the world, which is why I mentioned it. I’ve worked, on and off, reviewing bars for much of my adult life, and have never, ever been in a capital city outside Australia where guys have to wear a smart white shirt and trousers to get into an allegedly posh club. In the provinces, yes. In a capital city, no.

      Officiousness — no, again, this is a feature of Australian experience. An Aussie friend of mine got told off for skipping with his kids outside a museum in Brisbane. Unless the crime in Darwin had been the abduction of a child from an airport cafe, which would not have happened with my child, it was just random, petty, officialdom, which happens more in Australia than anywhere I’ve visited (yes, even China).

      You probably did have to fill out more paperwork in the UK because — guess what?! — you’re a short-term visitor, with no existing paper trail, so you have to start it all from scratch. The same would be true for a Briton visiting Australia and working. They’d find more paperwork because, well, it’s not their home.

      All of which is to say: please, lady, get a grip. You get called a wog in Australia, and that’s just banter? But when someone thinks you’re Middle Eastern in England that’s racist?

      In terms of getting out of Bondi — I’ve spent more time than I’d like to in Australia, a lot more. I’ve visited Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Alice, Darwin, various points in between. And, no, it didn’t look like one big happy family. I’ve seen buses not stop for Indigenous. I’ve been in bar after bar with nary a non-white face to be seen. I really think you should get out, travel more, and come back again once you’ve seen a bit more.

      • Leisha Young says:

        I think some of these statements are a little ignorant…sorry.

        You seem to resent Australia for something, perhaps for not being the same as England, Europe or the US? There’s nothing wrong with that, we are allowed to be different, and if it was really that bad do you honestly think we would be one of the most multicultural countries in the world?

        The fact that Australia is not completely PC doesn’t make it one of the most racist countries outside of South Africa. The fact that our immigrant population is not the same as England’s doesn’t mean that we are not ethnically diverse.

        Australia doesn’t have to conform to the way things are done in the US and Europe, and we don’t, and nor we should be expected to considering our geographic location and our history.

        Is it really wrong? Or just different?

  25. Hannah says:

    I loved Australia when I went travelling before I had my son, It was beautiful, full of wander, animals I’d never seen, people I’d never seen; but even I have my reservations! Now I have a mixed race son I do feel more protective at the thought of visiting here (I’ve heard NZ is more racist)!

    When I went back packing I remember a black guy (very dark skinned) backpacker from Europe. He was nice and friendly, stayed at our hostel and came out with us. Ausies and bouncers were watching him all night, even though he wasn’t doing anything. At the end of the night they kicked off with him and had him arrested (he truly didn’t do a thing) It was purely because he was so black.

    Indigenous people drunk all over the place because they’ve lost their roots and have no place anywhere. (They have set up schemes where people can go back to living the old ways; I do hope things progress).

    Even the lady with the strong views about her country referred to other black cultures as ‘Negros’ (says something lol).

    I always thought I’d like to emigrate to Auss, but since I had my boy I’ve had my doubts with worry regarding his future.

    On a brighter note, I did actually make a few Aussy friends who didn’t think I was just a pom lol 😉

    • Theodora says:

      I think Australia would be difficult with a mixed race child, honestly. A fellow Pom who’d lived in both said he had no problem finding his black friend whenever they went to meet up, because he’d always be the only black guy in the bar. Fundamentally, as many of the comments on this thread show, yours would be on the wrong end of “friendly banter” about his skin colour from the get go, and you’d probably get some “friendly banter” about your taste in men, and as and when you flipped your lid about this you’d then be dunned as a humourless Pom, because it’s not racist, just mateship, right?

      Not saying that ALL Australians are racist, but it is the most racist culture I’ve experienced outside of South Africa (and Mauritania).

      The term “wog”, for your reference, is used in parts of Australia to refer to people of Italian descent. Really sets my teeth on edge.

  26. Leisha Young says:

    I think a lot of English people come to Australia with pre-conceived ideas of what it’s going to be like. I also think English people tend to think that Aussies will be just like English people but living on a different continent.

    There is a common misconception that Australia has no culture (or that it was merely transplanted from England to Australia), this actually isn’t the case, and when some English people arrive they are shocked that Australia really does have quite a strong culture of its own and can react negatively. In fact, I believe that Australia’s culture is far more aligned with the Irish than the English (as so many of the convicts shipped to Australia were Irish). There’s even some really interesting scholarship at the moment around the concept of larrikinism actually coming from the Aboriginal influence on our culture (very interesting idea I think), as there is a very strong ‘take the piss’ culture amongst our Aboriginal communities.

    The insinuation always seems to be that Australia is backward but with little attempt to understand the origins of this culture and what drives it. We are a huge isolated continent on the other side of the world, wedged between Asia and America and subject to the will of both (not an easy situation to reconcile politically or socially), with the most humble beginnings of any country on Earth. Our ‘way of doing things’ is going to differ considerably to the way things are done in England or American or any part of Europe and our history plays a huge part in this, and I think very often that gets lost in these discussions.

    I was really happy to read Caitlin’s comments, as I largely agree with her. I would never suggest for a minute that Australia doesn’t have its problems but we are also doing a great deal to address those problems (it may not always be visible to the naked eye, but there is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to address many of these issues). The main one being the ‘closing the gap’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

    Great article though, really enjoyed reading it. 🙂

    All the best on your further travels.

    • Theodora says:

      I’d agree that there is an issue that Britons have with Australia, and, to be honest, I have with Anglo cultures in general — I find non-Anglo cultures generally more interesting than Anglo ones — about patterning Australia on home. I’d say that’s the case with most: Australians going to America, Australians going to England, English to America, one compares and contrasts one’s home Anglo culture with the Anglo culture you are visiting. That doesn’t mean I think Australia should be more like the UK, just that that’s the natural point of comparison.

      And, yes, the position between America and Asia does underlie a lot of Australian history, in particular the White Australia policy, and Australia’s status, like apartheid South Africa, of a majority-white country founded on the displacement, marginalisation and, often, servitude of the original indigenous culture does present its own unique challenges. I’d be inclined to say, though, that Australia’s history supports the racism point, rather than undermining it.

      • Leisha Young says:

        I don’t deny there are strong racist elements to our past that fester today, but we can say the same of America, who are far more racist (in some parts of their country) than Australia. They are the home of the Ku Klux Klan after all and the appalling racism around the Obama administration has been very telling.

        As was mentioned earlier, Australia doesn’t have the African population of Britain and America because we didn’t import slaves in colonial times, we certainly exploited our native population in the same way (as did America), but we didn’t bring slaves from Africa, so naturally we are not going to have the strong African communities that Europe and America have, but that is changing with the influx of Sudanese immigrants.

        In addition, the Americans exploited and denigrated their native people (who are all but invisible in their culture today) and I can say (having visited the native American museum in Washington DC a couple of years ago and having done the tour),that they are not doing anything near what our government is doing for our indigenous people in terms of ‘closing the gap’.

        As England never had a native people to exploit it is impossible to know if England would have treated them any differently (had they existed), England certainly has a shocking past when it comes to the annexing of territory and destruction of native people and cultures in the name of empire building. It was Captain James Cook that declared Australia Terra Nullius which was overturned by Australia in the Mabo case of 1992.

        I guess my point is that I think Australia gets unfairly labelled as ‘more’ racist when other bigger and more powerful countries have just as much of a problem with it as Australia and perhaps even more in some ways, but because it’s America it’s insinuated that they are far more developed in those areas than Australia, it quite simply isn’t true…and somewhat of a myth.

        As I said, I don’t deny that there are racist undercurrents that still exist in Australia today, but to say that it’s the most racist country outside of South Africa is going a bit too far, in my opinion.

        • Theodora says:

          Ooh, I think you make fair comment on Europe and America’s colonial past — our hands are steeped in blood. One point re: slavery. Britain participated in the Atlantic Slave trade but we had very, very few slaves in Britain: we exported them to our colonies, and used our own people to work our lands back home (small, populous, old country). To be honest, the overwhelming majority of non-white Britons, or their ancestors, settled in the period post-WWII as we lost empire — we also had a good track record on giving asylum to people in need. So, the historical context in which many non-white Britons, or their ancestors arrived, tends to be more complicated.

          Britain has been shaped by wave after wave of migrant, most of whom ended up merging into the population, with a brutal amount of rape, murder, extortion, etc — off the top of my head, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans were the main ones. That happened a very long time ago, though.

          I didn’t say that Australia was the most racist country in the world after South Africa — there are many worse spots (like Sudan and Mauritania, for example). But the discourse on race and ethnicity in Australia is extremely upfront, and the discrimination, it appears from that data very real. And it is the single country in the world where I’ve heard most racist language after South Africa: it really is quite shocking, as an outsider.

          I’m going to try and unpick this a bit more. My heritage, for example, includes Polish, French and Roma, but I’m British/English/a Londoner; I have friends of different colours and different ethnic surnames and different ethnic identities; and point of family origin really isn’t an issue. It’s just not. We don’t lump people of Polish heritage together and call them X comedy name; we don’t lump people of Italian origin together and call them wogs; we don’t lump people of Asian origin together; etc. When I was growing up, in the 70s and 80s, people DID use racist language, and it was OK for the people using it (the white, Anglo majority), but extremely unpleasant for those on the receiving end of it.

          My son, like a lot of his generation of urban Britons, grew up colour-blind (my generation didn’t) — by which I mean that he’d describe a friend as having “brown eyes and curly hair” with ethnicity not being an issue (and it’d take a while for the penny to drop with me that his friend was black). The UK is by no means a racism-free society — we’ve got a right-wing nationalist party doing horribly well at the moment, called UKIP — but we don’t go around taking the piss out of other people’s ethnic origin. Why? Because most of us don’t really register it, and, also, being from somewhere else originally/ancestrally isn’t a source for amusing insult. It might be a topic of conversation if it comes up, but it’s just like my son saying “Oh, my dad’s Australian”: it’s just a fact, not an implied negative.

          Let me try and explain it a different way. I might ask someone who’s obviously/who I know to be of Turkish origin/Turkish/British-Turkish where they’d recommend going in their home country, or where’s a good shop to get baklava, or what they think about the current riots in Istanbul: so in that way I’m registering their difference of origin. But it’s not something to take the piss out of, because, well, what’s wrong with coming from Turkey? What’s funny about coming from Turkey? Ditto with Polish friends I might talk about shared heritage and experience and family history; ditto with friends who grew up in Jamaica I might ask about (eg) what it’s like growing up gay in Jamaica. And that wouldn’t be the main thing I talk about with them.

          That said, in China, I’m by my skin colour laowai or waiguoren (not Chinese), and in Indonesia I’m by my skin colour bule (not Asian). Neither of these terms, though, are used as insult or banter: they’re just catch-all phrases a bit like “foreigner”.

  27. Andrew says:

    It was interesting to read so many different views about Australia. Yes, there is obvious racism here once out of our major cities but I am not sure that it is quite as overt as I discovered outside of London earlier this year. I think many Australians would have felt quite uncomfortable about some of the things I heard. Thoughtful Australians just wring their hands about our aborigines. There seems little political will to much about what seems at times to be an insurmountable problem. As for no history of slavery, indentured and kidnapped labour from Pacific islands to cut sugar cane comes pretty close.

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Andrew. And, yes, you’re right that outside major cities in the UK – particularly in our current political climate – racism is a real and genuine issue.

  28. David says:

    Am not shocked at the vitriolic comments you have received, as there always exist those who in the face of criticism pull out their most absurd, baseless and idiotic arguments. I could not agree with you more on your criticisms of Australian culture, it is indeed a backwards, racist, and highly sexist society. It is a land of country hick mentality with no culture, no cinema, no literature, and the television is worse than even in Russia. The government, while not as corrupt as many Asian nations, certainly is a facade, a reflection of the immensely isolated society that the Australian people perpetuate. Often you hear on streets and people saying, “Let’s return back Australia to the Australian people”, or “Australia is our country” – bloody hell they haven’t a clue of their own country’s founding. Aboriginals? 40,000 years of history on the continent. Modern day Aussies? Less than 300 years of being immigrants or degenerates of England.

    I could go on and on…

    But I do want to remark, that while Australian tourists and students on study holiday are visible a mile away (even more so than American and Japanese tourists) by their loud and brash nature, English students who travel and work overseas (It makes over 7 million of us) are of the most embarrassing and least cultured of form of creature to leave the Isle. They are even louder, more brash, and so deeply ignorant and arrogant of the cultures they move to – always comparing how much “better Britain is”, “how we do things in England”, “the culture and TV are so much better”… Brits abroad have the Union Jack tattooed to their chest and love to flash it to everyone and anyone, in a way much more embarrassing and deeply lacking in any intellectual foundation than the way Aussies respond to foreigners in their country.