I lived in Australia for a year a decade ago in Chatswood, on Sydney’s ‘exclusive’ North Shore (as a backpacker the notion of living anywhere with such a description tickled me) with various housemates including Kiwis, a South African as well as some Aussies. Visiting on a Working Holiday visa, I had several jobs from the sublime – working at the Opera House – to the ridiculous (which I walked out of after 30 minutes).
Here’s my run down of Down Under’s perks and foibles, in no particular order of importance:
1. It’s very hot (most of the time). I arrived in Sydney in April, having spent two months in the heat and humidity of South-East Asia. The temperature, in the low 20s, was pleasant shorts and t-shirt weather. The locals looked at me strangely and I likewise looked at them askance, rugged up as they were in coats. Fast forward a year, having been through the heat of an Australian summer I too was wrapped up to deal with the breezy 20 degree chill. It’s all relative. The sun is a real danger for most of the year, so slip, slop, slap is rightly taken seriously – I was once told off by a GP for my pink arms.
2. Having ‘the shits’. It took me a little while to figure out this meant someone was ‘pissed off’, not that they were sharing news about loose bowels.
3. Thongs. Pubs that like to think they are upmarket bear signs reading ‘no thongs’. Thankfully the bouncers don’t check your choice of underwear – they mean flip-flops. Talking of pubs, a lot of them boast the black springy stuff you get at children’s playgrounds so you don’t hurt yourself if you fall over after too many stubbies. Very thoughtful.
4. Doctors. While Erinsborough Hospital’s doctor extraordinaire Karl Kennedy is GP, oncologist, obstetrician, neurologist to name but a few specialities, my time working at Royal North Shore Hospital revealed Australian hospitals do boast more than one doctor. Phew.
5. Drive-thru bottle shops. The frank and graphic ‘Drink, Drive, Bloody Idiot’ campaign seems at odds with drive-thru bottle shops, where you can literally fill up your car boot with booze without having to trouble to walk far. The news programmes even held state-by-state death tolls of road accidents at the end of bank holiday weekends. Scary stuff.
6. Spiders are HUGE. If you’re an arachnophobe (or in Aussie parlance, ‘great souk’) like me, you need to be prepared for the eight-legged monsters. They terrorised me at work: at Telstra, I had the pleasure of being sat next to a poster bearing life-size pictures of the beasties that might be awaiting technicians in enclosed spaces.
In another job, I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when a colleague exclaimed ‘cor, look at the size of that spider!’. I looked down to see a massive huntsman (they’re big and furry, like a tarantula) about a metre away. You’ve never seen anyone move so fast, much to the amusement of the mainly male workforce. Spider-spotting colleague gathered up the embodiment of evil using the time-honoured paper-and-glass trick, saying I’d upset the spider as he he was about to start crawling up my leg because he wanted to be my friend. So. Not. Funny.
7. Sport. Everyone knows about rugby and cricket, but Aussie Rules (footy) is puzzling. I still don’t get it and if my sister-in-law, a die-hard Bombers fan is representative, their supporters turn into crazed lunatics while watching it. On the positive side: girls, the players look hot in their short shorts. Appeal for guys: they have some pretty good punch-ups on the pitch. Uninitiated Poms can check it out on ESPN when the new season starts next month.
8. Size matters. A lot of Aussies are outdoorsy-sports lovers, which the climate helps. However, obesity is a lesser-known problem. I had no less than three McDonalds less than 20 minutes’ walk from my home and due to such circumstances, Oz isn’t far behind the US in the obesity ratings.
9. Chocolate tastes revolting. Perhaps it’s just as well considering point 7 above, but chocolate lovers should be warned. Don’t let the Cadburys wrappers lull you in to a false sense of security either – it’s all foul. Do your taste buds a favour and get your family to send aid packages from the UK. However, my Melbourne-based brother says his local supermarket now stocks Minstrels, so it’s not all bad.
10. Films. Some of my favourite films are from Oz. You’ll all know the classics, but a few highlights include the funny and charming (Red Dog); the poignant (Somersault or Proof) and the contemplative (Lantana), while Animal Kingdom is just messed up. Check them out if you get a chance.
So, all in all, Australia isn’t a bad little country. Have a good one folks!