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Australia ,officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest urban area is Sydney.
For about 50,000 years before the first British settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians, who spoke languages classifiable into roughly 250 groups. After the European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers in 1606, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades, and by the 1850s most of the continent had been explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies established. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy comprising six states and several territories. The population of 24 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard.
Australia has the world's 13th-largest economy and ninth-highest per capita income (IMF). With the second-highest human development index globally, the country ranks highly in quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and civil liberties and political rights. Australia is a member of the United Nations, G20, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
The landmass of Australia is either the the world's smallest continent, or the world's largest island; making up most of Oceania's land area.
The nation of Australia includes the Australian mainland, as well as some smaller islands (such as Tasmania), and is the world's sixth largest country, with a land area of 7,682,300 square kilometres (2,966,152 square miles). It is comparable in size to the 48 contiguous United States although it has less than one tenth the population, with the distances between cities and towns easy to underestimate. Australia is bordered to the west by the Indian Ocean, and to the east by the South Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies to the southeast, separating it from New Zealand, while the Coral Sea lies to the northeast. Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia are Australia's northern neighbours, separated from Australia by the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea.
Australia is highly urbanised with most of the population heavily concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. Most of the inland areas of the country are semi-arid. The most-populous states are Victoria and New South Wales, but by far the largest in land area is Western Australia.
Australia has large areas that have been deforested for agricultural purposes, but many native forest areas survive in extensive national parks and other undeveloped areas. Long-term Australian concerns include salinity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.
As a large continent a wide variation of climates are found across Australia. Most of the country receives more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. Generally, the north is hot and tropical, while the south tends to sub-tropical and temperate. Most rainfall is around the coast, and much of the centre is arid and semi-arid. The daytime maximum temperatures in the tropical city of Darwin rarely drop below 30°C (86°F), even in winter, while night temperatures in winter usually hover around 15-20°C (59-68°F). Australian winters tend to be milder than those at similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere, and snow never falls in most parts of the country. Temperatures in high altitude areas of some southern regions can drop below freezing in winter (and sometimes even in the summer) and the Snowy Mountains in the South East experiences metres of winter snow. Parts of Tasmania have a temperature range very similar to England, and it is not unheard of for snow to fall in the summer in some mountainous regions of the state.
As Australia is in the southern hemisphere the winter is June–August while December–February is summer. The winter is the dry season in the tropics, and the summer is the wet. In the southern parts of the country, the seasonal temperature variation is greater. The rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year in the southern parts of the East Coast, while in the rest of the south beyond the Great Dividing Range, the summers are dry with the bulk of the rainfall occurring in winter.
Australia has a federal system of government, with six state and two territory governments, as well as a national government. It also has several overseas territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, which are given considerably autonomy, and often not fully integrated with the rest of Australia. Laws vary slightly from state to state, but are for the most part fairly uniform.
The national parliament is based on the British Westminster system, with some elements being drawn from the American congressional system. At the federal level it consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each Member of the House of Representatives (colloquially known as a Member of Parliament (MP)) represents an electoral division, with more populous states having more electoral divisions and hence, more MP's. On the other hand, similar to the US Senate, each Australian state has an equal number of senators, with 12 senators being directly elected by the people in each state, and 2 senators each from the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. The Prime Minister is head of the national government, and is the leader of the political party (or coalition of parties) which has the most Members in the House of Representatives.
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also Queen of Australia and the head of state, and is represented in Australia by the Governor-General. As recently as 1975, the Governor-General was able to dismiss the incumbent government and then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Since then the constitutional ties have weakened and the roles of the Queen and Governor-General are now largely symbolic, with the Prime Minister being the one who wields the most authority in government. A referendum to change Australia to a republic was defeated in 1999 (the idea to replace the Queen with a political appointee wasn't to the liking of most Australians). Republicanism in Australia remains a regular conversation point, albeit low on the list of real priorities.
State and territory governments are organised similarly to the national government with a state parliament serving as the legislature and the Premier (Chief Minister in the territories) serving as the head of the state government. There is also a Governor for each state serving as the Queen's representative in a mostly ceremonial role.
The two major political parties in Australia are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party, which operates in coalition with the National Party (referred to as just the "Coalition"). There are smaller parties such as the Greens, as well as independents. The Liberal Party is a centre-right conservative party, with the term liberal referring to a free market economy.
Australia has a multicultural population practising almost every religion and lifestyle. Over one-quarter of Australians were born outside Australia, and another quarter have at least one foreign-born parent. Virtually every large Australian city and town reflects the immigration from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific that occurred after World War II and continued into the 1970s. In the half century after the war Australia's population boomed from roughly 7 million to just over 20 million people. The cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth are culturally very diverse, and home to communities originating from all corners of the globe.
In all major cities you will find a variety of quality of global foods available in many restaurants. Melbourne especially promotes itself as a centre for the arts, while Brisbane promotes itself through various, multicultural urban villages. Adelaide is known for being a centre for festivals as well as German cultural influences, while Perth is known for its food and wine culture, pearls, gems and precious metals as well as the international fringe arts festival. Smaller rural settlements generally still reflect a majority Anglo-Celtic culture often with a small Aboriginal population. Most rural centre still welcome visitors and generally have a history and local produce to share.
There are approximately half a million Australians who identify as Aboriginal people. Most live in the major cities, but some live in Aboriginal communities scattered around the country. There are many opportunities and cultural activities for people wanting to explore their culture.
Contrary to popular mythology, descendants from convicts are a minority, and even during the years of transportation free settlers outnumbered convict migrants by at least five to one.
Australians can be socially conservative compared to some European cultures. They tend to be relaxed in their religious observance. Modes of address are casual and familiar and most Australians will tend to address you by your first name from first contact, and will expect that you do the same to them.
Until the Second World War, the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from the British Isles, and a majority of Australians have some British or Irish ancestry. In the 2011 Australian census, the most commonly nominated ancestries were English (36.1%), Australian (35.4%), Irish (10.4%), Scottish (8.9%), Italian (4.6%), German (4.5%), Chinese (4.3%), Indian (2.0%), Greek (1.9%), and Dutch (1.7%).
Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I, much of this increase from immigration. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants, meaning that nearly two out of every seven Australians were born in another country. Most immigrants are skilled, but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees. By 2050, Australia's population is currently projected to reach around 42 million. Nevertheless, its population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, remains among the lowest in the world. As such, Australians have more living space per person than the inhabitants of any other nation.
In 2011, 24.6% of Australians were born elsewhere and 43.1% of people had at least one overseas-born parent; the five largest immigrant groups were those from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, India, and Vietnam. Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism. In 2005–06, more than 131,000 people emigrated to Australia, mainly from Asia and Oceania. The migration target for 2012–13 is 190,000, compared to 67,900 in 1998–99.
The Indigenous population—Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was counted at 548,370 (2.5% of the total population) in 2011, a significant increase from 115,953 in the 1976 census. The increase is partly due to many people with Indigenous heritage previously having been overlooked by the census due to undercount and cases where their Indigenous status had not been recorded on the form. Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are, respectively, 11 and 17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians. Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having "failed state"-like conditions.
In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2004, the average age of the civilian population was 38.8 years. A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03; 1 million or 5% of the total population in 2005) live outside their home country.
Australia has no state religion; Section 116 of the Australian Constitutionprohibits the federal government from making any law to establish any religion, impose any religious observance, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion. In the 2011 census, 61.1% of Australians were counted as Christian, including 25.3% as Roman Catholic and 17.1% as Anglican; 22.3% of the population reported having "no religion"; 7.2% identify with non-Christian religions, the largest of these being Buddhism (2.5%), followed by Islam (2.2%), Hinduism (1.3%) and Judaism (0.5%). The remaining 9.4% of the population did not provide an adequate answer.
Before European settlement, the animist beliefs of Australia's indigenous people had been practised for many thousands of years. Mainland Aboriginal Australians' spirituality is known as the Dreamtime and it places a heavy emphasis on belonging to the land. The collection of stories that it contains shaped Aboriginal law and customs. Aboriginal art, story and dance continue to draw on these spiritual traditions. The spirituality and customs of Torres Strait Islanders, who inhabit the islands between Australia and New Guinea, reflected their Melanesian origins and dependence on the sea. The 1996 Australian census counted more than 7000 respondents as followers of a traditional Aboriginal religion.
Since the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in 1788, Christianity has grown to be the major religion practised in Australia. Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia. For much of Australian history the Church of England (now known as the Anglican Church of Australia) was the largest religious denomination. However, multicultural immigration has contributed to a decline in its relative position, and the Roman Catholic Church has benefitted from recent immigration to become the largest group. Similarly, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism have all grown in Australia over the past half-century.
Australia has one of the lowest levels of religious adherence in the world. In 2001, only 8.8% of Australians attended church on a weekly basis.
Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with other advanced economies.
The service industries, including tourism, education, and financial services, account for just over half of the Australian Gross Domestic Product – about 60%. Within the service sector, tourism is one of the most important industries in Australia, as it provides employment, contributes $73 billion to the economy each year and accounts for at least 11% of total exports.
Primary industry - mining and agriculture - has accounted for most of Australia's exports in recent decades. Iron ore and coal are by far the largest exports, along with wheat, beef and wool. The mining sector is sensitive to global demand for iron ore, with events in the Chinese and Indian economies having direct impacts.
Australia has a comprehensive social security system, and a minimum wage higher than the United States or the United Kingdom. Due to a lack of supply, tradesmen are well-paid in Australia, often more so than white collar professionals.
Transportation - Get In
Australia is a long way from anywhere else in the world, so for most visitors the only practical way of getting into Australia is by air.
Approximately half of all travellers first arrive in Australia at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport, (IATA: SYD). Significant numbers of travellers also arrive in Australia in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. There are also direct international services into Adelaide, Cairns, Darwin, the Gold Coast and Christmas Island.
Sydney is a 3 hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, a 7-11 hour flight from many countries in Asia, a 14 hour flight from the west of the United States and Canada, a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg, a 13-16 hour flight from South America, and up to a 24+ hour flight from western Europe. On account of long journey times from some destinations, travellers from Europe must have a stop-over, commonly in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
If you have to change to a domestic flight in a gateway city, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth all have distinct domestic terminals, requiring some time and complexity to transit: check the guides. Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast all have gates in the one terminal building or within easy walking distance of each other.
Australia's national carrier is Qantas, which together with its low cost subsidiary Jetstar operate many flights into Australia from all 6 inhabited continents of the world. Virgin Australia , together with its low cost subsidiary Tigerair flies several routes from North America, south-east Asia and the Pacific islands into Australia. For those coming from Europe, Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific make good alternatives to Qantas, British Airways or the Gulf airlines for flights into Australia. Some routes into Australia are operated by discount airlines such as AirAsia X, AirAsia Indonesia, Scoot, Tiger Airways and Jetstar Airways.
Cruise ships are available mostly in the November to February cruising season, and there are usually about 10 ships that arrive in Australia from other countries during this time. You can cruise to Australia, and then fly home. Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean all offer cruises to Australia across the Pacific.
Alternatively, you may sail to Australia in your own yacht, but beware of customs regulations. See Australian Customs for details.
There are no international ferry services operating.
By overland transport
There was a time when a couple of tour operators offered overland trips from London to Sydney, with only a short hop by air from South East Asia to North Western Australia while the bus went by barge. Currently, the only such tour operator is Madventure which runs 4 different routes: 26 weeks through Iran, Pakistan, and India; 26 weeks through the Caucasus & Central Asia; 64 weeks around Africa, the Middle East, & South Asia; and 64 weeks through Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, & Central Asia.
For those determined to travel overland as much as possible from Europe, you can travel independently to Singapore from Europe by train and/or bus on scheduled services, and fly from there to Perth (3,500 flight kilometres). For the truly determined overland traveller, you can get a ferry from Singapore to Indonesia and make your way across to Bali, where you can fly to Darwin (2,000 flight kilometres). For the intrepid, ferries to West Timor, a bus to Dili and a flight to Darwin will mean only 700 kilometres in the air.
In spite of what you may read in the forum, travel to Darwin by cargo ship/ barge by ANL and Swire (the only two routine cargo haulers between Dili and Darwin) is NOT permitted under any circumstances (June 2016). For determined travellers, you may be able to obtain passage from Singapore by freighter vessel, organized through a travel agent.
Transportation - Get Around
Australia is huge but sparsely populated, and you can sometimes travel many hours before finding the next trace of civilisation, especially once you leave the south-eastern coastal fringe.
Almost all modern Australian maps, including street directories, use the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA) as their grid reference, which is for all purposes identical to the WGS84 used by the GPS. You can locate most things on an Australian map or street directory if you just have the "GPS coordinates".
There are restrictions on carrying fruit and vegetables (including honey) between states and even between regions of states that are involved in fruit growing. If you are driving long distances or interstate, or flying between states, don't stock up on fruits and vegetables.
Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways, and cars are a commonly used method of transport. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by good quality highways. Some parts are dual carriageway but many sections are one lane each way. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre. There are no tolls on roads or bridges outside of the urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australia drives on the left. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right should take care when they first drive, and again when they are driving on country roads with little traffic.
Generally, overseas licenses are valid for driving in Australia for three months after arrival. If the licence is not in English an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to your licence. Licensing regulations and road rules vary slightly from state to state.
Australia's low population density and large size makes for long driving times between major centres. Some indicative travel times, not including any rest periods, are:
- Sydney to Melbourne by car: 9–10 hours (900 km / 560 mi)
- Brisbane to Sydney: 12–13 hours (1,000 km / 620 mi)
- Perth to Sydney: 45 hours (4,000 km / 2500 mi)
- Sydney to Canberra: 3.5 hours (300 km / 185 mi)
- Adelaide to Melbourne: 8–10 hours (750 km / 465 mi)
- Brisbane to Melbourne: 19–20 hours (1,700 km / 1056 mi)
- Melbourne to Perth: 40 hours (3,500 km / 2175 mi)
- Perth to Adelaide: 32 hours (2,700 km / 1677 mi)
- Brisbane to Cairns: 22–24 hours (1,700 km / 1,056 mi)
It is almost impossible to predict your travel time just by knowing the distance. Seek local advice for the best route, and how much time to allow. Averaging 100 km/h or more is possible on some relatively minor highways when they are straight and there are few towns. On other national highways that traverse mountain ranges and travel through small towns, even averaging 60 km/h can be a challenge.
While major highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed (paved) roads in inland Australia is advised to take advice from local authorities, check weather and road conditions, and carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tyres, matches, food and water. Some remote roads might see one car per month or less.
Cellular coverage is non-existent outside of major highways and towns and you should take some precautions in case of emergency. It is a good idea to advise a person you know and trust of your route and advise them to alert authorities if you do not contact them within a reasonable amount of time after your scheduled arrival at your destination. Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone should be considered when travelling in remote areas, especially where you may not be able to make contact for several days. Police will not automatically start looking for you if you don't report in. Make sure you get one with a GPS built in. These can be borrowed from some local police stations, such as those in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. If you want to hire one, sort it out before you leave a major city, as you won't find hire places in small towns. Expect to pay around $100 to hire for a week, or $700 to buy one. Don't expect an immediate rescue even if you trigger a PLB.
Heat and dehydration at any time of year can kill you. If stranded, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Do not take this advice lightly; even local people die out there when their car breaks down and they are not reported missing. If you do have to abandon your car (say you break down and then get a lift), call in quickly to the local police station, to avoid the embarrassment and cost of a search being started for you.
Major cities around Australia have multiple outlets providing a wide range of rental vehicles from major international rental companies. In smaller towns car rental can be difficult to find. One-way fees often apply from smaller regional outlets.
Conditions upon the use of rental vehicles usually exist on travelling into or out of Western Australia and the Northern Territory or on the car ferries to Tasmania, Kangaroo Islandand Fraser Island. Rental cars in capital cities usually have unlimited mileage. In small towns they usually only include 100 km a day before a surcharge is applied. Some companies allow travel on any gazetted road, while others forbid travel on a gravel/dirt road unless you hire a four-wheel drive. Always ensure you thoroughly check the vehicle for any damage, including all window glass and the roof panels, and document any found in detail with the renter before leaving the depot.
You must have a licence written in English or an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country to drive anywhere in Australia. Check the contract conditions carefully if you are under 25 and also check that your licence class matches the vehicle you wish to rent before you book it.
Smaller cars you can hire can be manual (stick-shift), whereas anything larger will mostly be automatic.
If you do not hold an Australian driving licence, some rental vehicle companies will require you to take a free driver knowledge test, aimed at tourists, that covers the basic road rules, or will take you on a short drive to assess whether you are competent behind the wheel.
A campervan is a vehicle, usually a minivan, converted into a motorhome (recreational vehicle), most often catering to the vast number of young European and American backpackers traversing the country. The East Coast from Sydney to Cairns is especially abundant with happy, hungover youths travelling around in these vehicles.
Campervans vary widely in fitting and quality, with some featuring showers, toilets, kitchens and more, while others have little more than mattresses in the back. It is generally suited for 2-6 travellers depending on the vehicle's size. Check the extra charges very carefully and make sure that you are not paying the same or more for a lesser quality vehicle.
Don't assume hiring a camper will be a cheaper way of seeing Australia. The cost of fuel varies greatly depending on where you are. Fuel costs in outback Australia are much higher than urban areas. Add on the cost of hire, etc., can often make travelling and staying in hostels a cheaper and more comfortable option — but the freedom of having your own four wheels may make up for it.
There is a substantial second hand market in cars and campers for backpackers wishing to do extended road trips around Australia. Take common-sense precautions if purchasing a car. Remember the importance of a thorough mechanical checklist, licensing, registration and insurance. State government services are available free of charge to ensure it is unencumbered by a finance arrangement and that it has not been previously written off as a result of an accident.
- Travellers Auto-Barn
- Gumtree has a backpackers guide to buying camper vans in Australia. It also lists vehicles for private sale and from dealerships.
- VINNER REVS Check by entering a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), a VINNER REVS Check report tells you if there is any money owing on a car, or if it's been previously written off or stolen. You can check against a VIN number, chassis number and it works for most states and terrorities including NSW, QLD, Vic and WA.
- Redbook is an Australian car pricing authority. Find out the market price of any vehicle.
Larger towns and cities have rather expensive taxi services. Uber is available here (along with the usual controversies), as well as smartphone applications such as myDriver, GoCatch which can be extremely useful for finding a licensed taxi when none are available on the street.
When travelling alone, it is customary for a passenger to sit in the front passenger seat, next to the driver, rather than in the back. However, if you prefer to sit in the back then it isn't really a problem.
Due to the large distances involved, flying is a well-patronised form of travel in Australia. Services along the main business travel corridor (Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane) are run almost like a bus service, with flights leaving every 15 minutes during the day.
The best fares are almost always available on the most competitive routes, whereas routes to remote destinations with fewer flights tend to be more expensive. It is worth noting that Qantas actually do often offer competitive prices, so don't ignore that option just because they are the national carrier. There are only a handful of main airlines in Australia, so it won't take long to compare their prices on domestic routes:
- Qantas, the only nation-wide full service airline, flying to major cities and some larger regional towns;
- Virgin Australia, a nation-wide airline, flying to major cities and a few larger regional towns;
- Jetstar, Qantas's discount arm with limited service and assigned seating.
- Tigerair Australia, Virgin Australia's low cost carrier with a hub in Melbourne and flying to Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Alice Springs, Hobart, Mackay, Perth and Canberra, prices are very competitive.
Several airlines service regional destinations. Expect discounts on these airlines to be harder to come by, and for standard airfares to be above what you would pay for the same distance between major centres.
- Qantaslink, the regional arm of Qantas, covering the smaller cities in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia;
- Regional Express, covering larger towns & cities on the eastern seaboard as well as country South Australia;
- Skywest, covering regional Western Australia, Bali and Darwin;
- Airnorth, covering the Northern Territory;
- Skytrans Airlines, covering regional Queensland.
- Sharp Airlines, covering several regional towns in Victoria and South Australia.
Scheduled aviation only flies to handful of the thousands of airports around Australia. There are numerous options to charter aircraft that may take you direct to smaller country towns or even offshore islands. The costs can be comparable to scheduled airlines if there are 3 or more people flying in a group. The Australian Private Pilots Licence permits private pilots to carry passengers and to recover the cost of the plane hire and fuel from passengers, but not to advertise for passengers or fly commercially. That said, if you check the web pages of local flying clubs, there are always private pilots willing to fly on a fine weekend if someone is willing to put in for the cost of the plane and fuel.
Visitors from countries with well-developed long distance rail systems such as Europe and Japan may be surprised by the lack of high-speed, inter-city rail services in Australia. A historical lack of cooperation between the states, combined with sheer distances and a relatively small population to service, have left Australia with a national rail network that is relatively slow and used mainly for freight. Nevertheless, train travel between cities can be very scenic and present opportunities to see new aspects of the country, as well as being a cost-effective way to get to regional towns and cities, which tend to have more expensive flights than those between the state capitals.
The long-distance rail services that do exist are mainly used to link regional townships with the state capital, such as Bendigo to Melbourne, or Cairns to Brisbane. In Queensland, a high-speed train operates from Brisbane to Rockhampton and Brisbane to Cairns. Queensland also has passenger services to inland centres including Longreach(The Spirit of the Outback), Mount Isa (The Inlander), Charleville (The Westlander) and Forsayth (The Savannahlander). There are also inter-city train services operated by Great Southern Railways on the routes Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) however as noted above, these are not "high-speed" services, so if you do not enjoy train travel as part of your holiday in its own right then this is probably not for you.
Tasmania has no passenger rail services. The Northern Territory has the rail line linking Darwin to Adelaide through Alice Springs only, and the Australian Capital Territory has a single railway station close to the centre of Canberra.
Long distance train operators
- Great Southern Railways - A private train operator running tourist train services, The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Overland between Sydney, Broken Hill, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Perth and Melbourne.
- NSW Trainlink Regional - Links Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, and regional connections to most New South Wales towns, including Dubbo, Coffs Harbour, and Wagga Wagga.
- V/Line - Train & coach services in Victoria, including combined Train and Coach services between Melbourne and Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra.
- Queensland Rail - Traveltrain - Long distance passenger train services in Queensland
- The Savannahlander - A Queenstrain service that links Cairns with the outback town of Forsayth, using old heritage trains, and providing overnight accommodation and tours on the way.
- TransWA - State government run, operating train services to Kalgoorlie and Bunbury. TransWA also operates coach services to much of the state where former rail services operated in the past, especially the South West of the state.
No rail pass includes all train travel throughout Australia. However, if you are a train buff that intends travelling extensively by rail, there are some passes that may save you money. Plan your trip carefully before investing in a rail pass. Country train services are infrequent and can arrive at regional destinations at unsociable hours.
- Pass. Use any NSW Trainlink services (trains and coaches). Get anywhere in NSW, as well as north to Brisbane and south to Melbourne.
There are four passes that all include Great Southern Railways (GSR) services and optionally NSW Trainlink and Queensland Rail that are available to overseas travellers only. Remember that NSW Trainlink operate the XPT services from Sydney to Melbourne, so passes that include NSW Trainlink can also be used on that service.
- Rail Explorer Pass- GSR only ($450 for 3 months)
- Trans Aus - GSR + NSW Countrylink. ($598 for 3 months)
- Aus Reef and Outback - GSR + Queensland Rail. ($672 for 3 months)
- Ausrail Pass - GSR + NSW Countrylink + Queensland Rail ($722.00 for 3 months, $990.00 for 6 months)
Local public transport
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Wollongong and Newcastle have train and bus services integrated into the city public transport, with trams also running in Melbourne and Adelaide, and ferries in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. The remaining capital cities have bus services only. See those city guides articles for public transport details.
Some regional cities and towns have local bus services, but see the destination guides for service information, as frequency can be poor and weekend and evening services non-existent.
Some trains allow you to carry your car with you on special car carriages attached to the back of the train.
The Ghan and the Indian Pacific allow you to transport cars between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, and Darwin. You cannot remove your car at any of the intermediate stations.
There are no longer any motorail services in Queensland.
Bus travel in Australia is cheap and convenient, although the distances involved for interstate connections are daunting. Greyhound has the largest bus route network. Note that there are no bus services from the other capital cities to Perth.
- Firefly Express, 1300 730 740 (local rate), , e-mail: (international callers)firstname.lastname@example.org. Firefly Express has services connecting Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
- Greyhound, 1300 473 946 (local rate), e-mail: email@example.com. Greyhound travels to over 1100 destinations in Australia daily every day of the year. It has a variety of ticketing options allow you to travel at your own pace, hopping on and off as many times as your ticket allows.
- Murrays, , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Murrays has services connecting Canberra with Sydney, the NSW South Coast and snowfields.
Many major Australian cities have ferries as part of their public transport system. Some smaller roads in the regional areas still have punts to carry cars across rivers and canals. The islands of the Barrier Reef have some scheduled services, and there are a few cruises that cross the top of Australia as well.
However, large inter city ferry services are not common.
- The Spirit of Tasmania. The only long distance ferry route connects Tasmania to the mainland and carries cars and passengers on the route across Bass Strait daily between Melbourne and Devonport.
- Sealink connects Kangaroo Island, Australia's second largest southern island with regular car ferries.
- Sea Saturday offers a short cut across the Spencer Gulf between Adelaide and the Eyre Peninsula, running daily car ferry services.
It is legal to hitch hike in some states in Australia, so long as certain guidelines are followed. However, it is less commonly done than in neighbouring New Zealand. In Australia hitch hiking is often frowned upon by locals and police, especially in metropolitan areas.
Hitch hiking is illegal in Victoria and Queensland. It is also illegal to stand on the verge or walk along freeways (often called "motorways" in New South Wales) in all states (effectively making hitch hiking illegal in many practical places, in all states).
If forced to hitch hike due to an emergency you may find a motorist willing to take you to the nearest town to obtain help. (Many major inter-city highways and freeways have emergency telephone units to request help.)
It is common to see a tourist hitching in rural areas. The best time to hitch hike is early morning. The best location is near, but not on, the main exit from the town you are in.
Cycling the long distances between towns in Australia is not common, and most long distance highways in Australia have poorly developed facilities for cyclists. In some states, former railway lines have been changed into rail trails. Rail Trail Australia website has good material of routes off the main highways that are much safer.
Nevertheless some intrepid travellers do manage to cover the longer distances by bicycle, and have a different experience of Australia. Long distance cyclists can be encountered on the Nullarbor and other isolated highways.
In Western Australia long distance cycle trails have been developed, and are well worth checking out.
Trips and routes need careful planning to ensure the correct supplies are carried.
To cycle between Sydney and Brisbane you would have to allow 2–3 weeks with around 80–100 km per day.
Walking through some parts of Australia is the only way to experience some particular landscapes. In Tasmania the Central Highland Overland Track and the South Coast Track are good examples of walking/hiking holiday to do items. The Bicentennial National Trail is one of the longest trails in the world, stretching from Cooktown in Northern Queensland, to Healesville.
Visa & Passport
All visitors - apart from citizens of New Zealand - require a visa in advance of travel.
If you are visiting for a holiday of less than 90 days, there are three types of visas you may apply for, depending on your nationality.
- Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) subclass 601 is available on-line to nationals of Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea (ROK), Taiwan and the United States. A service fee of $20 applies. This fee can sometimes be avoided if you obtain your ETA through a travel agent when booking your travel with them. Some online agents may also sell ETAs.
- eVisitor (subclass 651) for citizens of the European Union, EEA, Switzerland and a few European microstates. These visas are free, but otherwise effectively identical to the ETA. You must apply on-line.
- Visitor Visa (subclass 600). Passport holders of 55 countries, including all the ETA and eVisitor eligible countries and Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Kuwait, Maldives, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can make applications on-line. Other nationalities must apply using the paper form, and may need to visit an embassy or visa processing centre.
- Like the ETA and eVisitor, a Visitor 600 is by default issued for a three month stay. Unlike the other options however, a 600 visa can be issued for a longer stay of up to one year. That said, immigration is somewhat reluctant to approve tourist visas for more than three months, no matter how legitimate your reasons for staying so long. You will likely be asked for extensive supporting documentation about the reason for your visit and your ties to your country of origin and may need to attend an interview. Depending on your nationality, the embassy or visa processing centre may also require you to have an Australian sponsor before issuing the visa. The fee is $110. ETAs and eVisitors are valid for multiple entries within a 12 month period. If you're eligible for either, it may be easier to stay the three months you're initially allowed, go to New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand or some other country reachable by a low cost airline for a few days and come back - restarting the 90 day clock. Doing this more than once, however, may cause immigration authorities to become suspicious, so proceed with caution if you pursue this route.
- There is a special arrangement for parents of Australians including Australian permanent residents. The 600 visa can be valid for 18 months, three years, or five years and allow maximum stay of 12 months during 18-month period depending on the circumstances.
In most cases, ETAs and eVisitors are approved instantly and the visa will be issued and available for use immediately. If further enquiries are needed you may be asked to return to the application system later to see if you've been approved. In the worst case scenario your application can be diverted for manual checks that can take weeks. Best to apply early, just in-case.
If you are visiting Australia to work, study or for medical treatment you will check to make sure you have the right kind of visa, as tourist visa may not be sufficient. Breaching the conditions or planning to breach the conditions of your visa can result in visa cancellation, deportation, and/or a period of exclusion.
For all tourist visa classes you must be able to demonstrate your ability to support yourself financially for the time you intend to spend in Australia and meet character requirements. If you have a criminal conviction, contact an Australian Embassy or visa processing centre before applying or making travel arrangements.
If you are transiting through Australia, remain airside for a maximum of 8 hours, have a confirmed onward booking, have the correct entry documentation for the onward destination and are a citizen of New Zealand, the European Union, Andorra, Argentina, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Nauru, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, South Africa, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Korea (ROK), Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom(regardless of nationality status), the United States, Vanuatu or Vatican City, you do notneed to apply for any advance visa. All other passengers who transit through Australia must apply for a free-of-charge Transit Visa (subclass 771) before travel.
New Zealand citizens may travel to and work in Australia for any length of time without a pre-arranged visa - a Special Category New Zealand Citizen visa (subclass 444) will be granted to them on arrival. Non-citizen permanent residents of New Zealand are noteligible for visa-free entry. New Zealand citizens may still be denied entry on the basis of criminal convictions and should seek advice from an Australian diplomatic mission before travel.
At selected airports, visitors who are citizens of Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States may make use of the SmartGate for automated immigration clearance when entering Australia. Note that being able to use SmartGate does not exempt you from visa requirements.
When leaving Australia, there is a similar looking form to fill in as the one you got when entering. There they ask, among other things, how long you've stayed in Australia, in which state, where you're going next. If you have permanent residency or are a citizen then the answers can be used for tax residency purposes in future, so make sure you answer carefully!
Customs and quarantine
Australia has strict quarantine requirements regarding importing animal and plantderived products (any food, wooden products, seeds, etc.) You must declare all such material, even if the items are permitted, and baggage is frequently scanned and may be examined by dogs. You may be fined $220 on-the-spot if you accidentally fail to declare, or even prosecuted in serious cases. Declared material will be examined and, depending on the circumstances, may be retained, disposed of, returned to you, or treated by quarantine at your expense. (You may have to pick the item up at a later time.) Processed and sealed chocolates and other confectionery are usually permitted after being declared and examined, as are reasonable quantities of infant formula with an accompanying infant. Different rules apply depending on the origin country of foods, as well as the state in which you are entering Australia.
Travellers who are 18 years old or older are allowed to bring up to 2.25 litres of alcoholic beverages and up to 50 cigarttes or 50 grams of other tobacco products (including cigars) into Australia duty free. These items may not be imported by anybody under the age of 18, and travellers who exceed their duty free allowance are liable to tax on all goods of that category, not just the amount in excess of the limit.
Some shells, coral and items made from a protected species are also prohibited to discourage the trade in items that may originate from a threatened ecosystem or species.
While there are no restrictions on the amount of money that can be brought in or out, Australian customs also requires you to declare if you are bringing $10,000 (Australian) or more (or its equivalent in foreign currency) in or out of the country and you will be asked to complete some paperwork. Not declaring may result in you being arrested and a possible seizure of the cash.
|New South Walesand Australian Capital Territory(NSW) & (ACT)|
Australia's most populous state also has Sydney, the largest city, and surrounds the purpose built capital city of Canberra. The coast of New South Wales is lined with beach-side communities; a little inland are the mountain ranges of the Blueand Snowymountains; further inland still are sweeping agricultural plains giving way to desert.
|Northern Territory (NT)|
From the red deserts surrounding Uluru and Alice Springs up to the tropics of Darwin and Kakadu National Park, the Northern Territory is stunningly beautiful, and easier to access than you might think.
Famous for its sunny warm weather, Queensland offers coastal exploration from the vibe of the Gold Coast to the tropics of the Great Barrier Reef to the bustling city of Brisbane. It is also home to tropical rainforests of the Daintree National Park, and the island resorts of the Whitsundays. Inland lies the ranges of the hinterland, and further on the vast expanses and beauty of outback Australia.
|South Australia (SA)|
Renowned for the fine wines of the Barossa Valley, the beauty of the Flinders Ranges and the outback and events and culture of the City of Churches, Adelaide.
Separated from the mainland by Bass Strait, the mountainous state of Tasmania has the rugged beauty of Cradle Mountain in the west, the beaches of the east, and the wilderness of the south. Hobart was the site of the second European settlement in Australia, and many historic sites are well preserved.
Small, vibrant and with something for everyone, Victoria has dramatic surf beaches along the southwest and central coast, green rolling farmland and photogenic national parks. Australia and Victoria's sporting, shopping, fashion and food capital is Melbourne.
|Western Australia (WA)|
A vast state. The south-west contains the state capital and major city of Perth. The wine growing and scenic destinations of Margaret River and Albany are towards the southern region. In the far north are the tropics and the beach-side destination of Broome. Small townships, roadhouses, mining communities and national parks are scattered around the long distances between.
Tasmania is the most significant island of Australia. Others include:
- Lord Howe Island - A showcase for nature two hours flying time from Sydney.
- Norfolk Island - Half way to New Zealand, with nature and beaches.
- Christmas Island - Famous for its red crab migration. Flights from Perth and Kuala Lumpur.
- Cocos Islands - Coral atolls, populated, accessible by flights from Perth.
- Torres Strait Islands - Indigenous culture between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, and requires permission from the traditional owners to visit. Flights from Cairns.
- Ashmore and Cartier Islands - uninhabited islands.
- Coral Sea Islands - largely uninhabited islands.
- Heard Island and McDonald Islands - uninhabited islands over 4000 km from the Australian mainland.
- Macquarie Island - An Australian Antarctic base, halfway to Antarctica.
- Rottnest Island - Rottnest Island located across from Fremantle off the coast of Western Australia, is a Class A Reserve, with 63 beaches and 20 bays.
- King Island - in the Bass Straight above Tasmania.
- Canberra — the relatively small, purpose-built national capital of Australia is home to plenty of museums
- Adelaide — the "City of Churches", a relaxed South Australian alternative to the big eastern cities
- Brisbane — capital of sun-drenched Queensland and gateway to beautiful sandy beaches
- Cairns — gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Daintree National Park, and many beautiful beaches and resorts; a great place for people to getaway and relax
- Darwin — Australia's tropical northern capital, at the top end of the Northern Territory
- Hobart — picturesque and quiet capital of Tasmania, the site of the second convict settlement in Australia
- Melbourne — Australia's second largest city, Melbourne is the country's sporting, shopping, food and cultural capital, while also being regarded as Australia's most European city
- Perth — the most remote continental city on Earth, on the south-western edge of Western Australia
- Sydney — Australia's oldest and largest city, famous for its picturesque harbour and natural beauty
- Blue Mountains — a mountainous region in New South Wales, including the "Three Sisters" natural feature
- Dandenong Ranges — these beautiful ranges offer world class gardens and picturesque villages
- Great Barrier Reef — see first hand this natural wonder, off the coast of Queensland and easily accessible from Cairns
- Great Ocean Road — a spectacular coastal drive in Victoria past many scenic icons including the "Twelve Apostles" rocks standing in the ocean
- Kakadu National Park — outback adventure travel, aboriginal culture and nature activities in the Northern Territory
- Nitmiluk National Park — includes the amazing Katherine Gorge, close to the town of Katherine
- Snowy Mountains — almost entirely protected within national parks and home to a number of ski resorts
- Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast — beachside and national park playgrounds north and south of Brisbane
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park — Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) are iconic rock formations in the "Red Centre" in the middle of the Australian desert
- Watarrka National Park — most famous for Kings Canyon, a mighty chasm reaching a depth of 270 metres
Accommodation & Hotels
Accommodation is readily available in most Australian cities and tourist destinations. As with everything else in Australia it tends to be on the expensive side by international standards.
All state capitals have a number of 4 or 5 star standard hotels, often with upmarket restaurants, bars, room-service, and other premium hospitality services. Other 2 or 3 star hotels are scattered around the inner-cities and inner suburbs. Best to check local guides and reviews to know what you are in for. Most hotels offer internet connectivity, but usually for an inflated fee. Most hotels (distinct from the country pubs known as hotels) have private bathroom facilities. It isn't unknown for all options to run out during major events in cities such as Melbourne and Adelaide.
Camping is a popular pastime. Most caravan parks will rent camping sites by the night, where you can pitch a tent, and these are available in most towns and cities. The caravan park will provide showers and toilets, and sometimes washing and cooking facilities. Sometimes for an additional fee. Expect to pay around $20 for a tent site, and a few dollars per person. You can even find caravan parks right on the beach, with lagoon swimming pools and playgrounds all free for guests.
National parks often provide free camping sites, which expect you to be more self-sufficient. Often toilets are provided and sometimes cold showers. Camping permits are sometimes required at popular parks, with some popular spots filling up during the holidays in summer. In Australia it is common to be within an hours drive of a national park or recreation area that will permit some form of camping, even in the capital cities. Expect to pay around $5–10 per night per person for a camping permit, and national park admission fees in the more popular national parks (e.g.: Wilsons Promontory National Park, Kosciuszko National Park, etc.), however entry and camping is free in the majority of national parks further from population and tourist centres.
Some other camping areas are run by government or even local landowners. Expect around $10 per person per night, depending on the time of year.
You can try your luck sleeping on a beach or pitching a tent overnight in a highway rest area, or out in the bush for a free bed. Most rest areas and beaches prohibit camping and many even prohibit overnight parking to discourage this. Generally the closer you are to civilisation or a tourist area, the greater the chance of being hassled by the authorities.
Camping in state forests is often preferable to national parks if you're after a camping experience over sightseeing, as collecting of your own fire wood is allowed (sometimes felling of trees is permissible dependent on the area) and camping is not restricted to camp sites. Some other activities that are generally allowed in state forests that are not allowed in national parks are: bringing in dogs/pets, open fires, motorbikes and four-wheel driving. State forests are generally free to stay in, although you will need to check locally if public access is allowed.
Hostels and backpackers
Budget hostel-style accommodation with shared bathrooms and often with dormitories is approximately $20–30 per person per night. Facilities usually include a fully equipped kitchen with adequate refrigeration and food storage areas. Most hostels also have living room areas equipped with couches, dining tables, and televisions.
There are several backpacker hostel chains in Australia. If you are staying many nights in the same brand of hostel, consider their discount cards, which usually offer a loyalty bonus on accommodation, and other attraction and tour discounts negotiated by the chain.
Most pubs in Australia offer some form of accommodation. It can vary from very basic shabby rooms, to newly renovated boutique accommodation. The price is usually a good reflection of what you are in for. It is still quite unusual to have a private bathroom, even in the nicer pubs.
Outside of the major centres, the pub is called a Hotel. A motel won't have a public bar. A motel that does have a bar attached is called a Hotel/Motel.
In very small towns local pubs offer the only accommodation available to travellers. Accommodation in these pubs tends to be budget-style with shared bathrooms but private rooms.
Pub accommodation is even available in the centre of Sydney, making getting back to your room after a beer a simple endeavour.
If you travel as a single, and want a private room, pubs usually have single rooms at a discount over a double room. Most motels will charge the same price for one or two people sharing a room.
Typically, motel-style accommodation will have a private room with a bed or number of beds, and a private shower and toilet. Many motels have family rooms, that will usually have a double bed and two single beds in the one room.
Motel rooms in the cities will generally cost upwards from $80. Usually the cost is the same for one or two adults, with any extra people charged an additional fee. Prices for additional children can range from free to $20 per child. During quiet times its not unusual for motels to offer standby discounts.
Most motels will serve a cooked or continental breakfast to your room in the morning, for an additional charge. Some may have a restaurant or serve an evening meal. Some may have a toaster in the room and kettles are widely provided.
Cabins are an economical way for families to stay while travelling. Sometimes built on private land, sometimes in caravan parks, cabins typically have a kitchen / lounge area, and one, two or three bedrooms.
Much as the name suggests, this usually involves a cabin or homestead accommodation on a working property. Suited for a stay of two or more days, this accommodation usually allows you to get a little involved in the running of the farm if you wish. It is common for dinner to be provided in the homestead, and a breakfast pack to be provided to your cabin.
Holiday homes are homes rented by their owners, often using local real estate agents or specialised web sites. Sometimes located in prime positions, but also sometimes in the residential sections of cities and towns. Minimum rental periods of at least 2 days usually apply, rising to a week during periods when they are busy. At a minimum will have bedrooms, a lounge, bathroom.
Bed and Breakfasts
Bed and Breakfasts tend to be a premium form of accommodation in Australia, often focused on weekend accommodation for couples. They certainly don't offer the discount form of accommodation they do in part of the United Kingdom, and the local motel will usually be cheaper.
Sometimes extra rooms in a person's home, but often a purpose built building. You should expect a cosy, well kept room, a common area, and a cooked breakfast. Possibly private facilities. Substantial discounts often apply for mid-week stays at bed and breakfasts.
There are many true resorts around Australia. Many have lagoon pools, tennis, golf, kids clubs, and other arranged activities. The island of the Whitsundays have a choice of resorts, some occupying entire islands. Port Douglas also has many resorts of a world standard.
Serviced apartments are widely available, for stays as short as one night. Amenities typically include kitchen, washer and dryer, and separate bedrooms.
Caravanning, campervan, motorhome and RV
Caravan parks exist in most towns and cities in Australia that will provide powered and unpowered sites for Caravans. You will commonly see the Grey Nomad brigade on their trips around Australia in motorhomes and caravans.
The camper trailer has also become very popular in Australia. It is perfect for the Australian camping lifestyle, whether it be weekends away or an extended trip into the great outdoors where no facilities exist. You will need to be self-sufficient and carry suitable spares and a good tool kit
Station wagons / Vans
In most parts of Australia it is illegal to sleep in your vehicle but it is possible to get around this by simply rigging up curtains all around the windows so no one can see in from the outside. Trade vans can be picked up for as little as $1,000, with a more trustworthy van setting you back no more than $3,000-$4,000. Add a mattress, pillow, portable gas cooker, cookware and a 20 lt water container and you are off. If you get caught the fine could be as much as $150 each, so do it at you own risk. But if you are strategic in where you stay you probably won't get caught. Just be sensible and don't disturb the locals. Also, be aware of parking restrictions in certain parts of the cities and town, although overnight parking restrictions are rare. The parking inspectors can be ruthless and a $100+ fine is not uncommon.
All cities and towns in Australia have free public toilets. Many parks, and most beaches have free electric BBQ's as well. Popular beaches have fresh water showers to wash the salt water off after you swim, so for those on a tight budget (or for those that just love waking up at the beach) simply wash in the ocean (please do not pollute the ocean or waterways by using detergents or soaps) and rinse off at the showers. Almost all taps in Australia are drinking water, the ones that aren't will be marked. Service stations (petrol/gas) almost always have taps, so these are a good place to refill the water containers each time you refuel.
Some of the best experiences you may have in Australia will be by taking that road on the map that looks like it heads to a beach, creek, waterfall or mountain and following it. You may just find paradise and not another soul in sight. And lucky you, you've got a bed, food and water right there with you.
Travelling in a small group lowers the fuel bill per head, as this will likely be your biggest expense.
Enjoy, and respect the land by taking your rubbish/bottles/cigarette butts with you and disposing of them properly.
Things to see
Australian flora and fauna is unique to the island continent, the result of having been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years. Amongst Australian animals are a large group of marsupials (mammals with a pouch) and monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). Just some of the animal icons of Australia are the kangaroo (national symbol) and the koala. A visit to Australia would not be complete without taking the chance to see some of these animals in their natural environment.
Wildlife parks and zoos
- Wildlife parks and zoos are in every state capital city, but also check out the animal parks if you are passing through smaller towns, like Mildura or Mogo, or staying on Hamilton Island. See the Warrawong Fauna Sanctuary if you are in South Australia, or visit the koalas with best view in the world, at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
In the wild
- Kangaroos and wallabies are in national parks all around Australia. You won't see any kangaroos hopping down the street in Central Sydney, but they're common on the outskirts of most urban areas.
- Wombats and echidnas are also common, but harder to find due to their camouflage and tunnelling. See lots of echidnas on Kangaroo Island.
- Koalas are present in forests around Australia, but are notoriously very hard to spot, and walking around looking upwards into the boughs of trees will usually send you sprawling over a tree root. Best seen during the day, there is a thriving and friendly population on Raymond Island near Paynesville in Victoria. You have a good chance on Otway Coast, on the Great Ocean Road, or even in the National Park walk near Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.
- Emus are more common in central Australia. You will certainly see some if you venture into the outback national park at Currawinya
- Platypus are found in reedy, flowing creeks with soft river banks in Victoria, Southern New South Wales, and the very southern region of Queensland - seen at dusk and dawn - you have to have a bit of luck to see one. Try the platypus reserves in Bombala or Delegate in New South Wales, or in Emu Creek at Skipton just out of Ballarat.
Much of Australia's modern history was as a penal colony for convicts from the United Kingdom, and there are many historical sites that still stand as a reminder of the days of convict transportation. Perhaps the most famous of these sites are Port Arthur in Tasmania and Fremantle Prison in Fremantle, located near Perth, Western Australia. There are also many other sites scattered throughout the country.
Australia has many landmarks, famous the world over. From Uluru in the red centre, to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in Sydney.
Sport is an integral part of the Australian culture from the capital cities to country towns. As a testament to this, Australia has a track record of being one of the best performing teams at the Olympics despite its relatively small population. The majority of games are played over the weekend period (from Friday night to Monday night). Australian sports fans are generally well behaved, and it is not uncommon for fans of two opposing teams to sit together during a match, even if the teams are bitter rivals. While the cheering can get really passionate, actual crowd violence is extremely rare.
The term "football" can be ambiguous in Australia, and differs in meaning depending on where you are and who you are talking to. However, the term on its own is almost never used to refer to association football, which is known as "soccer" in Australia. In general, "football", or the slang term "footy", refers to rugby league in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, while it refers to Australian rules football anywhere else in Australia.
- In the winter in Victoria Australian Rules Football (Aussie Rules, or in some areas just "footy") is more than just a sport, it is a way of life. Catch a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Although originating from and most popular in the state of Victoria, the premier national competition, known as the Australian Football League (AFL), has teams from Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and the Gold Coast as well. The AFL Grand Final, held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground either in late September or early October each year, is one of the most important events in the Australian sporting calendar.
- In summer, international cricket is played between Australia and at least two touring sides. The games rotate around all the capital cities. To experience the traditional game catch the New Year's test match at the Sydney cricket ground played for 5 days starting from the 2nd of January, or the Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne. Or for a more lively entertaining form, that only takes a few hours, try a twenty-twenty match. The final form is "One Day" Cricket, international matches generally start at 13:00 and finish at 22:00 or 23:00 (a "Day-Nighter"), with most domestic and occasional international matches played from 11:00 to 18:00. The Australia Day One Day International is held in Adelaide every 26 January. The Ashes is a series of five test matches played between the Australian and English national teams. It is held in Australia every three or four years, and is one of the highlights of the cricket calendar. Whenever Australia hosts the series, the five matches are held in the five largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
- The Australian Open, one of the tennis Grand Slams, is played annually at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Or the Medibank International in Sydney Olympic Park in January.
- Catch a rugby union Super Rugby game, with teams playing from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney during late Summer/Autumn. The Australian national team, the Wallabies, also host international teams during winter, including New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina for The Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri Nations tournament).
- Rugby League is a winter game played mainly in New South Wales and Queensland, with the National Rugby League (NRL) competition being the premier competition. Teams include Melbourne in Victoria, Brisbane, North Queensland and the Gold Coast in Queensland, a team from New Zealand, with the rest of the teams coming from suburban areas in Sydney, and some in regional areas of New South Wales such as Newcastle and Canberra. The competition culminates in the NRL Grand Final, which is held every year in the Stadium Australia in Sydney.
- Netball is Australia's largest female sport, and there are weekly games in an international competition between Australia and New Zealand teams.
- Soccer is a growing sport that is aspiring to reach European levels. Many immigrants and second generation Australians hail from European countries where passion for the sport is very high. The Australia national team (the Socceroos) won the Asia cup for the first time in 2015 and have raised the sport's profile significantly. There is a national A-League, which is a fully professional league involving teams from Australia and one from New Zealand, with games played weekly during the summer. Most cities have a semi-professional "state league" played during winter, with most clubs being built around a specific ethnic/migrant community, for example a Newcastle league side Broadmeadow Magic, which was built around the cities' Macedonian population.
- F1 Grand Prix The Melbourne Grand Prix in March takes place on a street circuit around Albert Park Lake, only a few kilometres south of central Melbourne. It is used annually as a racetrack for the Australian Grand Prix and associated support races.
- V8 Supercars are a popular form of motor racing unique to Australia involving powerful cars, comparable to NASCAR racing in the United States. Events are held all over the country between March and early December. The famous Bathurst 1000 is traditionally held in October.
- Gibb River Road
- Gunbarrel Highway
- Oodnadatta Track
- Stuart Highway: crossing Australia north-south
- Military museums and sites in Australia
Things to do
- in the surf. Australia has seemingly endless sandy beaches. Follow the crowds to the world famous Bondi Beach in Sydney, or Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Or find a stretch all for yourself (but beware of dangerous rips on beaches, it is considerably safer to find a patrolled beach). The surf is smaller and warmer in the Tropical North, where the reef breaks the swell, and larger and colder in the south with waves rolling in from the Southern Ocean. (And yes, in the middle it is just right).
- in calm tropical oceans. Cable Beach in Broome is swept pristine daily by the tide, has perfect sand, and warm water - go in winter.
- in thermal pools. South of Darwin there are many natural thermal pools such as Berry Springs & Mataranka, surrounded by palms and tropical foliage. The most expensive resort in the world couldn't dream of making a pool this good.
- in freshwater lakes. Inland Australia tends to be dry, but there are freshwater lakes where you would least expect them. Explore inland of Cairns at the Atherton Tablelands, or head outback to the Currawinya National Park.
- in rivers. If its hot, and there is water, there will be a place to swim. Wherever you are, just ask around for the favourite swimming spot, with a waterhole and rope to swing on.
- in man-made pools. The local swimming pool is often the hub of community life on a summer Sunday in the country towns of New South Wales and Victoria. Many of the beachside suburbs of Sydney and Newcastle have man made rock/concrete pools called 'baths' where you can swim beside the ocean beaches.
- on the beach! Find your spot by the water, and get out the towel. Tropical north in the winter, down south in the summer. As always when in Australia, protect yourself from the sun.
Bushwalking is a popular Australian activity. You can go bushwalking in the many National parks and rainforests.
- Snorkelling take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef on the Queensland coast, or the Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Western Australia. Or take a trip out to Julian rocks off Byron Bay, or just dive in off the beach to see the tropical fish in Bundaberg.
- Scuba Diving
- Rock Climbing
- Mountain Biking. Try the trails in the Snowy Mountains or black mountain in Canberra, or cycle for days along the Munda Biddi Mountain Bike trail in Western Australia.
- Horse Riding. The horse has a rich tradition in the settlement of Australia since the arrival of the first European settlers. Relying on the horse to travel the vast distances and harsh environments of Australia was the foundation of a strong and lasting relationship between Australians and their horses. Today horse riding in Australia includes many recreational and occupational activities from cattle musters on vast stations, to the multi-million dollar racing industry. On the outskirts of towns and cities and out in the rural landscape, you will see the many pony paddocks and much loved horses that are a testament to the ongoing passion and commitment Australian horse owners have to their horses and the enjoyment they bring.
- Skiing. New South Wales and Victoria have well developed ski facilities. Tasmania can also have skiing for a few months of the year, given the right weather.
- Surfing. If you think Australia is the most unpopulated and most remote place on earth were you can go to escape any trace of human contact, just find a good surf break in the most remote corner of Australia and you will be guaranteed to find someone surfing it. Australians love to surf and wherever there is surf there are Aussie surfers, any time and under any conditions. Virtually every coastline, except along the top end from Cairns across to Karatha has surf and surfers there to ride it.
- Sky Diving, all around Australia
- Hot Air Ballooning, in Canberra, Brisbane or in the Red Centre.
- Kitesufing and windsurfing in and around Geraldton, Western Australia and at Coronation Beach, the windsurfing and kitesurfing capital of Australia
It has been said that if there are two flies crawling up a wall, then you just need to look around to find the Aussie who will be running a book.
- Casinos. Crown Casino in Melbourne is Australia's largest, located at Southbank, but there are others scattered in every capital city as well as Cairns, Launceston, the Gold Coast and Townsville.
- Day at the races. All capital cities have horse racing every weekend, with on-track and off-track betting available. They are usually family occasions, and fashion and being seen are part of the event. Just about every pub in New South Wales will have a TAB, where you can place a bet without leaving your chair at the bar. Greyhound racing and trotting happens in the evenings, usually with smaller crowds, more beer, and less fashion. Smaller country towns have race meetings every few months or even annually. These are real events for the local communities, and see the smaller towns come to life. Head outback to the Birdsville races, or if you find the streets deserted it is probably ten past three on the first Tuesday in November (the running of the Melbourne cup).
- The unusual. Lizard races, cane toad races, camel races, crab races. Betting on these races is totally illegal and you'll find the TIB (Totally Illegal Betting) around the back of the shed.
- Two up. If you are around for Anzac Day (25 April), then betting on coins thrown into the air will be happening at your local RSL club, wherever you are.
- Australia has almost a quarter of all the slot machines (locally known as "pokies" or "poker machines") in the world, and more than half of these are in New South Wales, where most pubs and clubs have gaming rooms (labelled "VIP lounges" for legal reasons) where one can "have a slap" and go for the feature.
- If none of this appeals, and you just have too much money in your pocket, every town and suburb in Australia has a TAB. Pick your sport, pick a winner, and hand over your money at the counter.
Gambling is illegal for under-18's. This can often restrict entry to parts of pubs, clubs, and casinos for children.
Money & Shopping
The Australian currency is known as the dollar ($)which is divided into 100 cents (¢). The dollar is called 'the Australian dollar' usually written as 'AUD' or A$.
Coins come in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and the tiny $2. They are rather similar to the size and shape of coins issues in the United Kingdom. Notes come in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 (all in distinctive colours). $100 notes are rare and may be occasionally hard to use in shops. Australian notes are printed on plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents the amount will be rounded to the nearest five cents if you are paying in cash. The exact amount will be charged if paying by card.
The dollar is not pegged to any other currency, and is highly traded on world foreign exchange markets, particularly by currency speculators. Its exchange value to other currencies can be quite volatile, and 1-2% changes in a day are reasonably regular occurrences.
Money changers in Australia operate in a free market, and charge a range of flat commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees built into the exchange rate, or a combination of all three. You can avoid rip-off rates by using banks in major centres, and staying clear of airports and tourist centres. However, both the best and worst rates come from the small private sellers, and you can certainly save money over the banks by shopping around. Always get a quote before changing money. You'll usually need to have photo identification with you, although you may be exempt if only changing a small amount.
Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These exchange outlets - especially the ones at the airport - can charge 10% over the best exchange that can be obtained from shopping around. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate around 2.5% from the current exchange midpoint. A flat commission of $5–8 can be charged on top. Some outlets advertise commission free exchange, usually accompanied by a worse rate of exchange. Don't assume every bank will offer the same exchange. A simple calculation will let you know what offers the best deal for amount you wish to exchange. There are vouchers for commission free exchange at American Express available in the tourist brochure at Sydney Airport.
International airport terminals will have teller machines that can dispense Australian currency with Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa cards.
Opening an Australian bank account is fairly straightforward, and in some cases can be done online. You will need to provide evidence of your identity, such as a passport, to the bank in order for your application to be processed. The largest retail banks in Australia are National Australia Bank (NAB), Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank and Westpac.
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may impose a surcharge over what is charged by your bank or card issuer. The fees can vary between institutions and between locations, but are usually around $2. The ATM will display the charges and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank as to what additional fees they apply to withdrawals in Australia.
|Fast changing currency valuations|
The Australian dollar is one of the world's more dynamic currencies, partly because of its relation to commodity prices such as iron and coal. Within the past 10 years the 'Aussie' has swung between 50¢ to $1.50 to the United States Dollar, making the cost of visiting reasonable or very expensive depending on exactly when you are there. As of August 2016 it is currently 76¢ to the US Dollar.
Australia is generally an expensive place to visit, with some recent surveys having ranked Australia as the third most expensive country in the world in terms of consumer prices, only behind Norway and Switzerland.
Dorm accommodation in a capital city is around $30, but can run as low as $15 in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres. A basic motel in the country or in the capital city suburbs would cost around $100 for a double. City Centre hotel accommodation in capital cities can be obtained for around $150 upwards for a double. Formule 1/Motel 6 style hotels (which are not common) can be around $60–90 for a double.
Car hire will cost around $65 a day. Public transport day passes from $10–20 per day depending on the city.
A café meal costs around $10–15, and a main course in a restaurant goes from around $17 upwards.
A basic takeaway meal - a burger, fancy sandwich, or couple of slices of pizza would cost $5–10, a Big Mac costs $4.50, and you can usually grab a pie for around $3, or a sausage roll for $2.50. A takeaway pizza from Pizza Hut big enough to feed two costs around $10.
A middy/pot (285mL) of house beer will cost you around $4, and a glass of house wine around $6 in a low end pub. To take away, a case of 24 cans of beer will cost around $40, or a bottle of wine around $8.
An airfare between neighbouring eastern capitals is around $120 each way but can get as low as $60 if you book at the right time, or around $350 to cross the country assuming that you are flexible with dates and book in advance. A train trip on the state run trains will usually cost slightly less. A bus trip, a little less again. A train trip on the private trains will be the most expensive way to travel.
There is usually no admission charge to beaches or city parks. Some popular National Parks charge between $10 and $20 per day (per car, or per person depending on the state) while more out of the way National Parks are free. Art Galleries and some attractions are free. Museums generally charge around $10 per admission. Theme parks charge around $70 per person.
Australia has a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) that applies to all goods and services except unprocessed foods, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of any consumer purchases. Receipts (tax invoices) will contain the GST amount.
Tourist Refund Scheme
If you buy goods over $300 at one place at one time you can obtain a refund of the GST if you take the items out of Australia within 60 days. Make sure you get a tax invoice from the supplier (which will have the goods itemised, the GST paid, and the ABN of the supplier). Pack the items in hand luggage, and present the item(s) and the receipt at the TRS, after immigration and security when leaving Australia. Also allow at least an extra 30 minutes before departure, and if possible enter the details online before you arrive at the airport. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card. There is no refund available for GST on services. Remember the goods are now considered duty-free, and you'll have to pay GST on them if you bring them back into Australia and they are in excess of your duty-free allowances.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. VISA or MasterCard are the most universally accepted cards, then American Express, then Diners Club with other cards either never or very rarely accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at major supermarket and department store chains.
Smaller shops may have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card, due to the fixed transaction costs they have. Others may simply discourage use of cards for small purchases.
All Australian issued cards use a PIN for purchases. If you have an overseas issued card without a PIN you can still sign for purchases, however, shopkeepers unused to dealing with overseas cards may not be aware of this. If you can, try to have a PIN on your card if your bank allows it. If not, you may have to explain that you have an overseas card at places that expect you to have a PIN - and wait while they find a pen.
Credit card surcharges are imposed at all car rental agencies, travel agents, airlines, and at some discount retailers and service stations. Surcharges are far more common and higher for American Express and Diners Club (typically 2%-4%) than they are for VISA and MasterCard (typically 1.5%).
UnionPay credit cards are becoming more common in tourist shops and restaurants due to the the rising number of Chinese visitors. It is difficult to use them in other businesses however.
Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though vendors are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It's also worth asking for a "best price" for high-value goods or purchases involving several items. For example, it would not be unusual to get 10% off an item of jewelry that was not already reduced in price. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.
Tipping is never compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. It is acceptable to pay only the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment (usually as a convenience so the change does not hang around loose on someone's person - not as a gratuity), rather than a fixed percentage.
In higher end restaurants, staff will certainly take a tip should you decide to leave one, but it is not expected, and locals usually do not leave any. In a cafe or more informal restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist centres, leaving a tip is unusual. Sometimes there is a coin jar by the cashier labelled 'Tips', but more often than not, diners do not leave one. Bartenders are rarely tipped.
Other types of hospitality workers, including hotel staff, porters and tour guides do not expect to receive tips.
Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers will typically return your change to the last 5 cents, unless you indicate that they should round the fare to the nearest dollar (it is not unusual for passengers to instruct the driver to round up to the next whole dollar).
Casinos in Australia generally prohibit tipping of gaming staff, as it is considered bribery. Similarly, offering to tip government officials will usually be interpreted as bribery as well and may be treated as a criminal offence.
Australia's base trading hours are Monday to Friday, 09:00-17:00. Shops usually have a single night of late night trading, staying open until 21:00 on Fridays in most cities and on Thursdays in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Sunday trading is common but does not exist in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these base hours vary by the type of store, by location, and by state. See our localised guides for more local information.
Major supermarket chains in main centres are generally open at least until 21:00 on weekdays (and often until midnight), but generally have reduced hours on weekends. Convenience stores such as 7/11 are open 24 hours in major centres.
Fast Food restaurant chains are commonly open 24 hours or at least very late. Many food courts in city centres typically close by 4PM and completely closed on weekends if targeting office workers, but other food courts in shopping centres have longer hours.
Fuel/Service stations are open 24 hours in major centres, but often close at 6pm and on Sundays in country towns.
Australia's weekend is on Saturday and Sunday of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal in larger cities on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. Again, Western Australia is an exception with restrictions on large stores opening on Sundays. In smaller country towns shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.
Tourist-oriented towns and shops may stay open longer hours. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney have longer trading hours every night.
Australian banks are open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:00 only, often closing at 17:00 on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.
Places to eat
- Restaurants, Australians eat out frequently, and you will usually find one or two options to eat out even in small towns, with a wider range in larger towns and cities.
- BYO restaurants, BYO stands for Bring Your Own (alcohol). In many of the urban communities of Australia you will find small low-cost restaurants that are not licensed to serve but allow diners to bring their own bottle of wine purchased elsewhere. This is frequently much cheaper than ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant. Beer can be taken to some BYO restaurants, others allow only wine. Expect to pay a corkage fee which can vary from $2–15, or may be calculated by head. BYO is not usually permitted in restaurants that are licensed to sell alcohol.
- Pubs, the counter lunch is the name for a lunch served in the bar of a pub. Traditionally served only at lunchtime in the lounge. Today most pubs provide lunch and dinner and many have a separate bistro or restaurant. Meals of steak, chicken parmigiana, nachos are common.
- Clubs, clubs, such as bowling clubs, leagues clubs, RSLs are in many towns and cities. They are most common in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Most allow visitors, and sometimes offer good value meals. Some offer attractive locations, like the water views from the Twin Towns in Tweed Heads.
- Cafes, most towns and suburbs have a cafe or coffee shop, serving breakfast and light meals and cakes throughout the day. Not unusual for them to close before dinner.
- Bakeries, usually a good place to buy bread rolls, a pie or a sausage roll. Some, like the Beechworth bakery, or the bakery in historic Gundagai offer an experience as well.
- Fast food restaurants, McDonalds, Subway and KFC are common. Burger King is known as Hungry Jack's. Red Rooster is an Australian chain, offering barbecued chicken and other mostly chicken-based items.
- Take-away, milk bars or take-away stores usually sell pies, barbecued (rotisserie) chicken, hamburgers, fish and chips, gyros, and kebabs. Ubiquitous in every town and suburb.
- Food courts, most shopping centres have a food court, even in country towns.
- Picnic, the Australian climate is usually amenable to getting whatever food you can, and heading to the nearest park, river, lake or beach.
- Barbecue, is a popular Australian pastime and many parks in Australia provide free barbecues for public use. Contrary to the stereotype, Australians rarely "Throw a shrimp on the barbie" (also, in Australia a shrimp is more commonly referred to as a prawn). Steaks, chops, sausages, chicken fillets, fish, and kebabs are popularly barbecued.
It may come as a disappointment that native foods are not actually available that much in Australian restaurants, and rarely considered by Australians themselves. It is available in supermarkets and in some of the remoter parts of the country.
- Kangaroo, if you fancy some, it is commonly available from most supermarkets and butchers shops. Head to the nearest park, and barbecue it until medium rare. Best not to overcook as it may become quite tough. It tastes much like beef. It occasionally makes it onto the menu in restaurants, mostly in tourist areas. Kangaroos aren't endangered, and kangaroo grazing does far less damage to the sensitive Australian environment than hoofed animals, and far less carbon emissions too. If you are not ready to go vegetarian, kangaroo is the best environmental statement you can make while barbecuing.
- Crocodile, meat from farms in the Northern Territory and Queensland is widely available around the top end, and occasionally elsewhere. At Rockhampton, the beef capital of Australia, you can see the ancient reptile on a farm while munching on a croc burger.
- Emu, yes, you can eat the Australian Coat of Arms. Emu is low in fat, and available in some speciality butchers. Try the Coat of Arms in a pie in Maleny or on a pizza in The Rocks.
- Bush tucker, many tours may give you an opportunity to try some bush tucker, the berries, nuts, roots, ants, and grubs from Australia's native bush. Macadamia nuts are the only native plant to Australia that is grown for food commercially. Taste some of the other bush foods, and you will discover why.
Vegemite, a salty yeast-based spread, best spread thinly on toast. If you aren't up for buying a jar, any coffee shop will serve vegemite on toast at breakfast time. It may not even be on the menu, but the vegemite will be out the back in the jar next to the marmalade. If you do buy a jar, the secret is it to spread it very thin, and don't forget the butter as well. It tastes similar to Marmite in the UK or Cenovis in Switzerland. Australians are quite used to the taste, and may spread the Vegemite very thick; but this is not recommended for first-timers.
The Tim-Tam is a chocolate fudge-filled sandwich of two chocolate biscuits, all dipped in chocolate. You can buy a packet (or two) from any supermarket or convenience store. Tim-Tams are required to perform the Tim-Tam Slammanoeuvre. This requires biting off both ends of the Tim-Tam, then using it as a straw to drink your favourite hot beverage, typically coffee. The hot drink melts the fudge centre and creates an experience hard to describe. Finesse is needed to suck the whole biscuit into your mouth in the microseconds between being fully saturated and dissolving. Tim-Tams are sold in packs of 11, so be sure to agree on the sharing arrangements before buying a packet with your travel partner, or onward travel arrangements may be disrupted. During summer, Tim-Tams are often stored in the freezer, and eaten ice cold.
The lamington is a cube of sponge cake covered in chocolate icing and dipped in desiccated coconut. It's named after Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. The home-baked form can be found at a local Saturday morning market, or you can buy one from a bakery if you are desperate. Avoid at all costs the plastic wrapped varieties sold in supermarkets.
The pavlova is a meringue cake with a cream topping usually decorated with fresh fruit. Served on special occasions, or after a lunchtime barbecue. Often the source of dispute with New Zealand over the original source of the recipe.
ANZAC biscuits are a mix of coconut, oats, flour, sugar and golden syrup. They were reputedly sent by wives and care organisations to world war I soldiers in care packages, but the story is likely apocryphal. They are available from bakeries, cafes and supermarkets, and are popular in the lead up to ANZAC day (25 April).
Damper is a traditional soda bread that was baked by drovers and stockmen. It has basic ingredients (flour, water and perhaps salt) and usually cooked in the embers of a fire. It is not routinely available in bakeries and only commonly served to tourists on organised tours. Best eaten with butter and jam or golden syrup as it is dry and bland.
A pie floater is a South Australian dish available around Adelaide. It is a pie inverted in a bowl of thick mushy pea soup. Similar pie variations are sometimes available in other regions.
A Chiko roll is a deep-fried snack inspired by the egg roll or the spring roll. Despite the name, it contains no chicken. Its filling is boned mutton, vegetables, rice, barley, and seasonings. Its shell is thicker than an egg roll, meant to survive handling at football matches. Available anywhere you can buy fish and chips.
The Australian Meat Pie is considered to be the national dish by many.
Cuisines widely available in Australia, often prepared by members of the relevant culture, include:
- British, Australia's colonial heritage is perhaps best represented by the ubiquity of fish and chips, and virtually every neighbourhood and small town in a coastal area will have a local fish and chips shop. Common types of fish used in Australia include flake (various types of small shark), flathead, barramundi and King George whiting. British and Irish style pubs are common throughout populated areas of Australia, although they feature Australian staples such as chicken parmas, schnitzels and pasta.
- Chinese, synonymous with the term "takeaway" in the past generations. Many Chinese restaurants still cater to takeaway addicts today, mostly of the Australianised Chinese variety, but major cities have small "Chinatowns" or suburbs with a large number of ethnic Chinese residents, that have excellent restaurants serving authentic Chinese food. Cantonese Dim Sum is available in dedicated restaurants in most large shopping malls.
- Thai restaurants have exploded in number over the past decade. Sydney in particular is known as one the the best destinations for Thai food in the world.
- Italian, the Italian community is one of the largest ethnic communities of non Anglo-Saxon origin in Australia, and they have contributed greatly to the cafe culture that has flourished across the major cities over the past few decades. Restaurants either serve Italian food that has been adapted to suit Australian tastes, or authentic regional Italian food, with the latter tending to be pricier and in more upmarket surrounds. Head to Lygon street in Melbourne or Leichhardt in Sydney if you're a fan.
- Greek, as above.
- Lebanese and other Middle Eastern, especially in Sydney.
- Indian, especially North Indian.
- Japanese, including bento takeaway shops, udon restaurants and sushi trains. They are often operated by Koreans, whose own cuisine is also well represented in the major cities.
- Vietnamese, Pho and Cha Gio (spring rolls) are easy to find in the major cities.
- Asian fusion, refers generally to Asian-inspired dishes.
Eating vegetarian is quite common in Australia and many restaurants offer at least one or two vegetarian dishes. Some will have an entire vegetarian menu section. Vegans may have more difficulty but any restaurant with a large vegetarian menu should offer some flexibility. In large cities you will find a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as in the coastal backpacker-friendly towns along the east coast. The market town of Kuranda or the seaside towns of Byron Bay are a vegetarian's paradise. In other regional areas vegetarians are often poorly catered for, but most towns will have a Chinese restaurant that will provide steamed rice and vegetables. Sydney and Melbourne in particular cater well for vegans and vegetarians with a large number of purely vegetarian restaurants, vegan clothing stores and vegan supermarkets.
People observing kosher or halal will easily be able to find specialist butchers in the capital cities, and will also find a number of restaurants with appropriate menus and cooking styles. Outside the capital cities, it will be much more difficult to find food prepared in a strict religious manner.
All of the capital cities and many regional towns in Australia host a "farmer's market", which is generally held each week in a designated area on a Saturday or Sunday. These markets mostly sell fresh fruits and vegetables, as hygiene standards in Australia forbid the selling of meat directly from market stalls. Butchers who set up shop at a farmer's market would usually trade their wares from a display cabinet within their boot (trunk). The attraction of markets is the lower prices and freshness of the produce. The attraction for the traveller will be the cheap and excellent fruits on offer - depending on the region and season. In regional areas the market is usually held outside the town itself in an empty paddock or sports field, markets in capital cities are easier to reach but the prices are typically more in line with those you would find in supermarkets. See the destination guides for details.
Drinking beer is ingrained in Australian culture. Although Fosters is promoted as an Australian beer overseas, it is rarely consumed by Australians in Australia, and is almost impossible to find. Beers are strongly regional and every state has its own brews: Coopers and West End in South Australia, Carlton and VB in Victoria, Tooheys in NSW, XXXX (pronounced "fourex") in Queensland, Boags and Cascade in Tasmania, and Swan in Western Australia. There are also local microbrew choices, which can be harder to find, but are often worth seeking out. A range of imported European and American bottled beers are available in all but the most basic pub.
Light (Lite) beer refers to lower alcoholic content, and not lower calories. It has around half the alcohol of full strength beer, and is taxed at a lower rate, meaning it is also cheaper than full strength beer. Low calorie beer is sold as low carb.
Because Australians like their beer to stay cold while they drink it, draft beer glasses come in a multitude of sizes, so that you can drink a whole glass before it warms up in the summer heat. The naming of beer glasses varies widely from state to state, often in confusing ways: a schooner is 425mL everywhere except South Australia, where it's only 285mL, a size that's known elsewhere as a middy or pot, except in Darwin where it's a handle, but in Adelaide a "pot" means a 570mL full pint, and a pint means what a schooner does elsewhere, and... you get the idea. The local beers and the local descriptions are covered in detail in the state guides.
Bottle naming is a little easier: the standard sizes across Australia are the 375 ml stubbyand the 750mL long neck, or tallie. Cans of beer are known as tinnies and 24 of them make up a slab, box, carton, or a case.
Australia produces quality wine on a truly industrial scale, with large multinational brands supplying Australian bottleshops and exporting around the world. There are also a multitude of boutique wineries and smaller suppliers. Very good red and white wine can be bought very cheaply in Australia, often at less than $10 a bottle, and even the smallest shop could be expected to have 50 or more varieties to choose from.
The areas of the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, and Margaret River are particularly renowned for their wineries and opportunities for cellar door sampling, but northern Victoria and Mudgee also have a large variety. You are never too far from a wine trail anywhere in southern Australia.
Try the local wines wherever you can find them, and ask for local recommendations. Try not to get taken in by the label, or the price tag. The best wine is rarely the one with the best artwork, or the most expensive price. However, it is probably wise to avoid the house wine if it comes straight from a cask (4-litre container). Wines at the cellar door are almost invariably sold at around 20% premium to the same wine in the shops in the local town.
If you still prefer overseas wines, the Marlborough region of New Zealand is usually well represented on wine lists and in bottle shops in Australia.
Bundaberg Rum (Bundy) is an Australian dark rum particularly popular in Queensland and many Queenslanders will not touch any other brand of rum. It is probably the most famous Australian made spirit, mass-produced in Bundaberg and available everywhere.
You will have to search much harder to find other Australian distilled spirits, mostly from niche players, but there are distilleries in every state of Australia if you look hard enough. Drop into the Lark Distillery on the scenic Hobart waterfront precinct. Pick up a bottle of 151 East Vodka in Wollongong or after a few days in Kununurra you are definitely going to need an Ord River Rum.
Mixed drinks are also available, particularly vodka, scotch, bourbon and other whiskey mixers. Spirits are also available as pre-mixed bottles and cans but are subject to higher taxation in this form, so it is cheaper to mix them yourself. Spirits are served in all pubs and bars, but not in all restaurants. A basic spirit and mixer (vodka and orange juice for example) will cost you about $7 at a bar or nightclub, but can vary ~$5–12.
The legal drinking age throughout Australia is 18 years. It is illegal either to purchase alcohol for yourself if you are under 18 years of age or to purchase alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18 years of age. The only legally acceptable proof-of-age is an Australian drivers licence, state-issued proof-of-age card or a passport, and it would be wise to carry one if you want to purchase alcohol or tobacco and look under 25. It is illegal to go into a gambling area of a pub or club when under 18.
Often there is a lounge, restaurant or bistro area in a pub or club that permits under-age people provided they are accompanied by a responsible adult over 18 and don't approach the bar or wander around. Some city pubs even have video games and playgrounds for children. Some country pubs have large open areas out in the back where kids can run and play.
In general, you can take alcohol (say a bottle of wine or beer) to consume at a park or beach. Alcohol consumption is banned in some public places as 'street drinking'. These are often indicated by signs and is particularly the case in parks and footpaths where public drunkenness has been a problem. However, if you are a family with your picnic basket and blanket out at lunchtime with a bottle of wine, you are unlikely to encounter any problems.
Alcohol can be purchased for consumption on premises only in licensed venues: pubs, clubs and many restaurants. You can purchase alcohol for private consumption in bottle shops, which are separate stores selling bottled alcohol. In some but not all states you can buy alcohol in supermarkets. In those states where you can't, bottle shops and major supermarkets are often found in very close proximity. Although licensing laws and hours vary from state to state, and individual stores have different trading hours, as a rule of thumb, alcohol is generally available in towns to take-away seven days a week, 08:00-23:00, from bottle shops, supermarkets, licensed grocers/milk-bars and pubs. Outside of these hours though, it is almost impossible to buy alcohol to take home; unless you're in the middle of Sydney or Melbourne, so if you're planning on a party at home; it's a good idea to stock up and check on the local trading hours so you don't run out at 00:30 with no opportunity to buy more. Alcohol is not available at petrol stations or 24-hour convenience stores anywhere in Australia.
Public drunkenness varies in acceptability. You will certainly find a great deal of it in close proximity to pubs and clubs at night time but much less so during the day. Public drunkenness is an offence but you would only likely ever be picked up by the police if you were causing a nuisance. You may spend the night sobering up in a holding cell or be charged.
Driving while affected by alcohol is both stigmatized and policed by random breath testing police patrols in Australia, as well as being inherently dangerous. Drink driving is a very serious offence in Australia, punishable by a range of mechanisms including loss of license. The acceptable maximum blood alcohol concentration is 0.05% in all states, often lower or not allowed for operators of heavy vehicles and young or novice drivers. Police officers are also empowered to randomly test drivers for the recent use of prohibited drugs. The operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of prohibited drugs or alcohol will always result in arrest and a required court appearance many weeks from the date of arrest and it can comprehensively disrupt travel plans. Random breath testing is common early Saturday and Sunday mornings, and many people are caught the morning after.
Buying a round of drinks is a custom in Australia, as in many corners of the world. It is generally expected in a pub that when you arrive and make your first trip to the bar that you will offer to buy a drink for others you are drinking with. Similarly this will likely be done to you when someone else joins the group. This is called a shout, and incurs an obligation that you will generally return the favour in a following round, and that also you will generally maintain the same drinking pace as your associates in the round throughout the evening. If someone in the same round as you has an empty glass, who is ahead of you in drinks bought, you should declare that it is your shout, and make your way to the bar. If someone offers to buy you a drink, but does not offer to buy for the person who already has bought you a drink, you should say you are already in a shout, and decline. If they buy you and the people in your round a drink, they have joined the shout. Its generally not polite to switch between shouts during an evening. It you are in a large shout, and you decline a drink, you still have to buy a drink for the round when it comes to your turn. You are well advised if you wish to skip a round, to do so on your shout. It is generally poorly received to buy a round, and then to refuse a drink when one is purchased for you. Often the drink will just be bought for you without even asking. Don't be surprised if someone who bought you a drink earlier in the night, later says that it is your shout. Not joining a shout can be awkward in some groups. The best way is to say you are driving, and you will buy your own drinks. This is also an acceptable way to drop out after one round, when the score is even.
Festivals & Events
The national holidays in Australia are:
- 1 January: New Year's Day
- 26 January: Australia Day, marking the anniversary of the First Fleet's landing in Sydney Cove in 1788.
- Easter weekend ("Good Friday", "Easter Saturday", "Easter Sunday" and "Easter Monday"): a four day long weekend in March or April set according to the Western Christian dates.
- 25 April: ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps), honouring military veterans
- Second Monday in June: Queen's birthday holiday (celebrated in Western Australia in September, with WA observing Foundation Day a week earlier)
- 25 December: Christmas Day
- 26 December: Boxing Day
Many states observe Labour Day, but on different days. Most states have one or two additional state-wide holidays, with Victoria and South Australia having a day off for a horse race (The Melbourne Cup and The Adelaide Cup). Western Australia has Foundation day typically the first Monday in June (recognising the founding of the state since 1829) but also celebrates the Queens Birthday at a different date to the rest of the country, either at the end of September or early October, due to the usual June date is such close proximity to Foundation day.
When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) are usually declared holidays in lieu, although both the celebrations and the retail closures will occur on the day itself. Most tourist attractions are closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Supermarkets and other stores may open for limited hours on some public holidays and on holidays in lieu, but are almost always closed on Christmas Day (25 December), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and ANZAC Day morning.
Peak holiday times
Most attractions in Australia remain open year-round, some operating at a reduced frequency or shorter hours during the off-peak season.
Salaried Australians have four weeks of annual leave and school children in the major population centres have January as a long break. Domestic tourism is strongest after Christmas and throughout January and the Easter school holidays.
Summer tends to be the peak travel season through much of the south, with the winter (dry) season the peak travel season in the tropics.
Australian teenagers celebrate the end of school at the end of November and early December for the 3 weeks known as schoolies. The volume of teen revellers can completely change the nature of some of the cities and towns they choose to visit, especially coastal towns like Byron Bay in New South Wales, the Gold Coast in Queensland and various localities along the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
Australia offers many Internet access options for travellers:
Internet cafés are available in most tourist areas and normally cost $4–5 per hour. However, many internet cafés have 12-20 computers sharing a single broadband connection, sometimes making the internet painfully slow. If possible, ask if you can check the speed of a café's connection before forking out $4–5 for an hour.
Public libraries usually offer some form of Internet access to travellers, either free or for a small fee. Some prohibit access to email, promoting research use of their facilities. Others offer both Wi-Fi and terminals, with Wi-Fi usually being free of restrictions.
Major hotels offer Internet access, usually for an exorbitant fee. Most youth hostels and backpacker accommodation have at least an Internet terminal at reception. Some other accommodation providers offer Wi-Fi to their guests, almost always with a charge. It is still common to find motels and other smaller hotels without any Internet offering to customers.
- Many coffee shops offer Wi-Fi free to their customers.
- McDonalds has free Wi-Fi in just about all their stores.
- Internode has free Wi-Fi hotspots, including much of Adelaide city centre.
- Telstra has partnered with Fon to create an extensive network of WiFi hotspots around Australia that utilise Telstra telephone boxes and Telstra broadband customers to create hotspots that go by the name Telstra Air with the slogan 'Australia's largest WiFi Network'. Look for a distinctive white WiFi logo on solid pink and the words 'Telstra Air' to indicate major hotspots. The networks appear in WiFi lists as 'Telstra Air' or 'Fon WiFi'. Expect good coverage in city centre areas although it may require some searching to locate a hot spot outside of CBD areas. Hot spot maps are available on both the Telstra and Fon websites.
- Access can be purchased for $6.60 for 1 hour, $10 for 1 day or $23 for 5 days.
It is unusual to stumble upon open Wi-Fi hotspots.
There are three mobile networks in Australia. All of them provide 3G/UMTS and 4G/LTE mobile data services.
As the data is carried over the mobile network, the advice about frequencies, obtaining SIMs and using a foreign device in the Mobile Cellular Phones section applies.
If you intend to use your phone with your home carrier, check with them for data roaming fees (likely quite expensive). If your handset isn't locked, it may be much cheaper to buy a local SIM.
Several carriers offer prepaid mobile data access with no contract from around $20-$30 per month with various bundles and inclusions. For around $50 you can get a USB modem or Wi-Fi dongle. There are thousands of plans available through hundreds of resellers. Using an internet comparison site will direct you to the current best deals.
Calling overseas from Australia
The main international access code or prefix is 0011. (When using a mobile phone the plus symbol "+" can be used instead of the 0011 prefix.)
The country code for international calls to Australia is +61. When dialling from overseas, omit any leading '0' in the area code.
For example, the local number for the Broken Hill tourist information is 8080-3300. The area code is 08 as Broken Hill is in the Central & West area code region. To dial the number from Adelaide or anywhere else inside the same area code region you can optionally omit the area code, and just dial 8080-3300. To dial the number from Sydneyor anywhere in Australia outside the area code region, you will need to dial 08 8080-3300. If you don't know your area code region, you can still dial the area code, and it will still work. To dial the number from overseas you will need to dial your local international access code (00 for most of Europe or 011 in the USA and Canada) and then dial 61 8 8080-3300, that is drop the leading '0' from the area code.
Australian area code list:
- 02 = Central East (New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and north-eastern fringe of Victoria)
- 03 = South East (Southern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania)
- 04 = Mobile phones Australia-wide (higher call charges apply).
- 07 = North East (Queensland)
- 08 = Central & West (Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and far Western New South Wales)
Local calls are about $0.25 on most fixed lines and $0.50 on all Telstra Pay Phones.
- If calling an Australian number from a mobile phone outside Australia it is best to use the format +61880803300 with no spaces and no (0) prefixes included.
- If making an international call from your mobile phone from within Australia use the '+' followed by the country code, followed by destination area code, followed by the local number at the destination. Omit all leading '0' prefixes and do not include any spaces.
- If dialling from a mobile telephone in Australia it is not necessary to use an international dialling prefix (such as 0011). The '+' symbol followed by the destination country code is all that is needed to access the international telephone system from your handset.
- Numbers commencing with 13 are charged at a local call rate, and what they connect you to can vary according to your location. They can be 10 or 6 digit numbers. For example 1300 796 222, will connect you with the Albury tourist information, no matter where you are in Australia. However, 131 008 will connect you with a different local taxi service depending on where you are. 13 22 32 will connect you to New South Wales Railways in Sydney or Victorian Railways in Melbourne. Calling these numbers internationally can be problematic.
- Numbers commencing with 18 are free when dialled from a payphone or fixed phone, and commonly used for hotel reservation numbers, or tourist information numbers.
- Numbers commencing with 19 are premium numbers, often with very hefty call charges (make sure you check before dialling).
- Numbers commencing with 12 are carrier services, and are dependent on what network you are connected to. For example 12 456 is a general information number for Telstra. Vodafone offer a similar services on 123. These numbers can be premium services as well.
Calling special numbers internationally can often work - just try dialling the number prefixed with the +61 country code. Many locations will give an alternative direct number for use in international dialling.
You may make reverse charge calls by using the number 1800 REVERSE (1800 7383773).
Mobile cellular phones
Australia has cellular networks operated by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, and each of the networks have several resellers with different price plans. All three operate GSM (2G) and UMTS/HSPA (3G), with varying levels of LTE (4G) deployment.
There are no restrictions on overseas residents obtaining Australian prepaid SIM cards, although you will require some form of photo ID such as your passport for identification.
All three 2G networks operate on the 900/1800 MHz bands. Telstra and Vodafone have 3G HSPA+ services on 850/2100 MHz, and Optus on 900/2100 MHz. Telstra and Optus also have 4G LTE services at 1800 MHz; Vodafone rolled out 4G at 1800 MHz in a few large cities only in 2013-14. 4G coverage is very limited outside city areas; as 4G LTE is primarily a high-speed data service, most handsets will 'fall back' onto the 3G frequencies provided by the same carrier.
CDMA phones (phones without a SIM card) will not work in Australia.
With foreign SIM cards, international roaming is generally seamless onto Australia's GSM 900/1800 and 3G (UMTS/W-CDMA) networks, depending on agreements between operators. Check with your home operator before you leave.
All major cities and their suburbs have decent coverage on all three networks, as do many country towns except the smallest. Telstra's 850 MHz 3G network provides the best rural coverage (though it is also the most expensive), but unpopulated or sparsely populated areas away from major roads are unlikely to have service at all. If you are heading way out into the bush then a satellite phone may be your only option. Remember all mobile phones can be used for emergency calls on all networks, even if they don't have a local SIM or aren't roaming. This applies to satellite phones too.
A cheap prepaid mobile phone with a SIM retails for around $40 in most Australian retail outlets, supermarkets, and post offices; a SIM alone for an existing phone is around $2–3. Prepaid credit is added using recharge cards available at all supermarkets, newsagents, some ATMs, and other outlets.
You can buy a seemly infinite variety of packages, SIM cards, and phone bundles, with varied combinations of data, SMS and call time. Some carriers make calculating included calls difficult, by giving you a dollar "value" that is included in your package, and you then need to find the call, sms and data rates to calculate what is included. These rates can differ from plan to plan. Make sure the plan you choose includes what you need, because using data or making calls outside of the package allowance is often orders of magnitude more expensive.
If you need comprehensive coverage in rural and remote areas, you can use a satellite phone. Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya satellite services are available in Australia. Expect to pay around $120 per week to hire a satellite phone, plus call costs. Satellite messaging units, which send your location and a help SMS or email, can be hired for around $80 per week.
These units are only available from specialist dealers, often only in major cities (away from the remote areas you may be visiting). You should be able to acquire or hire these units in your home country before departure if you wish.
Satellite phones can be used to make emergency calls without a SIM card or subscription plan. The cheapest cost around $300, or just a little more than a PLB.
Most towns and suburbs have at least one public phone. Most railways stations will have a public phone. Text messages can be sent from many public phones, using the keypad in much the same way as a mobile phone. Follow the instructions on the phone display.
Australia Post runs Australia's postal service. Letters can be posted in any red Australia Post posting box, which are found at all post offices and many other locations. All stamps can be purchased from post offices, and some stamps can be purchased from newsagents and hotels. Posting a standard letter costs $1 within Australia (up to 250g), $1.85 for Asia/Pacific (up to 20g) and $2.75 for the rest of the world (up to 20g). 'Domestic' and 'international' stamps are different, as international is tax free, therefore, so make sure you use the right stamp. Parcels, express post and other services are also available.
Addresses in Australia are generally formatted in the following way, which is similar to addresses in the United States and Canada
Name of recipient
House number and street name
(If needed) Suite or apartment or building number
City or town, two or three-letter state abbreviation, postcode
You can receive mail via Poste Restante in any city or town. Mail should be addressed to your full name c/o Post Restante, and you simply call into the post office with ID to receive your mail.
The English language is universally spoken and understood in Australia. Nevertheless, as Australia is a global melting pot, particularly in the major cities, you will encounter cultures and hear languages from all around the world, and you will often find areas and suburbs that predominately reflect the language of their respective immigrant communities. Foreign languages are taught at school, but students rarely progress past the basics.
It is rare to find signs in a second language, except in urban areas with a high population of Asian immigrants and students, where signs and restaurant menus in Vietnamese and Chinese are a common sight; and also around Cairns and the Gold Coast in Queensland where some signs (but not road signs) are written in Japanese or Chinese, due to the large number of tourists. Some warning signs at beaches are written in several foreign languages.
Australian English generally follows British spelling conventions and vocabulary choices, although it is also known for its own colour and colloquialisms. People in rural areas still tend to speak in a strong accent, using some of the slang words that have become outmoded in metropolitan areas. Australian slang should not present a problem for tourists except possibly in some isolated outback areas. Australians understand different varieties of English, and you may look foolish in your attempts at the local slang.
There is very little provincialism in Australia, although accents tend to be broader and slower outside of the large cities. There are only small pronunciation differences in the cities but these are becoming more common. For example the word "you", which is often rolled off the tongue sharper on the south east coast, almost as "ewe" as opposed to the west coast and other regions. Variations in accent mostly reflect the linguistic heritage of the speaker.
Visitors who do not speak basic English will find communicating with Australians difficult, and should do some advance planning. Some tour companies specialise in offering package deals for Australian tours complete with guides who speak particular languages.
Over a hundred Aboriginal languages are still known and spoken by Aboriginal people, particularly those living in rural outback communities, as well as those in the Torres Strait Islands. These languages are all different, so you won't see an "Aboriginal" phrasebook in the travel bookshops. Many Aboriginal place names derive from Aboriginal languages that have been lost, and their meanings remain uncertain. Almost all Aboriginal people speak English as well, although residents of some remote communities may not be fluent in the language.
The standard sign language is Auslan (standing for Australian Sign Language). When a sign interpreter is present for a public event, he or she will use Auslan. Users of British and New Zealand Sign Languages will be able to understand much, though not all, of the language. Auslan and NZSL are largely derived from BSL, and all three languages use the same two-handed manual alphabet. Users of sign languages that have different origins (such as the French Sign Language family, which also includes American and Irish Sign Languages) will not be able to understand Auslan.
Since 1788, the primary influence behind Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic Western culture, with some Indigenous influences. The divergence and evolution that has occurred in the ensuing centuries has resulted in a distinctive Australian culture. Since the mid-20th century, American popular culture has strongly influenced Australia, particularly through television and cinema. Other cultural influences come from neighbouring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.
The rock art of Australia's Indigenous peoples is the oldest and richest in the world, dating as far back as 60,000 years and spread across hundreds of thousands of sites. Traditional designs, patterns and stories infuse contemporary Indigenous Australian art, "the last great art movement of the 20th century"; its exponents include Emily Kame Kngwarreye. During the first century of European settlement, colonial artists, trained in Europe, showed a fascination with the unfamiliar land. The naturalistic, sun-filled works of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and others associated with the 19th-century Heidelberg School—the first "distinctively Australian" movement in Western art—gave expression to a burgeoning Australian nationalism in the lead-up to Federation. While the school remained influential into the new century, modernists such as Margaret Preston, and, later, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, explored new artistic trends. The landscape remained a central subject matter for Fred Williams, Brett Whiteley and other post-World War II artists whose works, eclectic in style yet uniquely Australian, moved between the figurative and the abstract. The National Gallery of Australia and state galleries maintain collections of Australian and international art. Australia has one of the world's highest attendances of art galleries and museums per head of population.
Australian literature grew slowly in the decades following European settlement though Indigenous oral traditions, many of which have since been recorded in writing, are much older. 19th-century writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson captured the experience of the bushusing a distinctive Australian vocabulary. Their works are still very popular; Paterson's bush poem "Waltzing Matilda" (1895) is regarded as Australia's unofficial national anthem. Miles Franklin is the namesake of Australia's most prestigious literary prize, awarded annually to the best novel about Australian life. Its first recipient, Patrick White, went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. Australian winners of the Booker Prize include Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally and Richard Flanagan. Author David Malouf, playwright David Williamson and poet Les Murray are also renowned literary figures.
Many of Australia's performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each state, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, well known for its famous soprano Joan Sutherland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world's leading opera singers. Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.
The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), the world's first feature length film, spurred a boom in Australian cinema during the silent film era.After World War I, Hollywood monopolised the industry, and by the 1960s Australian film production had effectively ceased. With the benefit of government support, the Australian New Wave of the 1970s brought provocative and successful films, many exploring themes of national identity, such as Wake in Fright and Gallipoli, while "Crocodile" Dundee and the Ozploitation movement's Mad Max series became international blockbusters. In a film market flooded with foreign content, Australian films delivered a 7.7% share of the local box office in 2015. The AACTAs are Australia's premier film and television awards, and notable Academy Award winners from Australia include Geoffrey Rush, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger.
Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services, and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Each major city has at least one daily newspaper, and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. In 2010, Reporters Without Borders placed Australia 18th on a list of 178 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (8th) but ahead of the United Kingdom (19th) and United States (20th). This relatively low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; most print media are under the control of News Corporation and Fairfax Media.
Most Indigenous Australian tribal groups subsisted on a simple hunter-gatherer diet of native fauna and flora, otherwise called bush tucker. The first settlers introduced British food to the continent, much of which is now considered typical Australian food, such as the Sunday roast. Multicultural immigration transformed Australian cuisine; post-World War II European migrants, particularly from the Mediterranean, helped to build a thriving Australian coffee culture, and the influence of Asian cultures has led to Australian variants of their staple foods, such as the Chinese-inspired dim sim and Chiko Roll. Vegemite, pavlova, lamingtons and meat pies are regarded as iconic Australian foods. Australian wine is produced mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country.
Sport and recreation
About 24% of Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities. At an international level, Australia has excelled at cricket, field hockey, netball, rugby league, swimming and rugby union. The majority of Australians live within the coastal zone, making the beach a popular recreation spot and an integral part of the nation's identity. Australia is a powerhouse in water-based sports, such as swimming and surfing. The surf lifesaving movement originated in Australia, and the volunteer lifesaver is one of the country's icons. Nationally, other popular sports include Australian rules football, horse racing, basketball, surfing, soccer, and motor racing. The annual Melbourne Cup horse race and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race attract intense interest.
Australia is one of five nations to have participated in every Summer Olympics of the modern era, and has hosted the Games twice: 1956 in Melbourne and 2000 in Sydney. Australia has also participated in every Commonwealth Games, hosting the event in 1938, 1962, 1982, 2006 and will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Australia made its inaugural appearance at the Pacific Games in 2015. As well as being a regular FIFA World Cup participant, Australia has won the OFC Nations Cup four times and the AFC Asian Cup once – the only country to have won championships in two different FIFA confederations. The country regularly competes among the world elite basketball teams as it is among the global top three teams in terms of qualifications to the Basketball Tournament at the Summer Olympics. Other major international events held in Australia include the Australian Open tennis grand slam tournament, international cricket matches, and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. The highest-rating television programs include sports telecasts such as the Summer Olympics, FIFA World Cup, The Ashes, Rugby League State of Origin, and the grand finals of the National Rugby Leagueand Australian Football League. Skiing in Australia began in the 1860s and snow sports take place in the Australian Alps and parts of Tasmania.
Human habitation of the Australian continent is estimated to have begun between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago, possibly with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now Southeast Asia. These first inhabitants may have been ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians. At the time of European settlement in the late 18th century, most Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, were originally horticulturists and hunter-gatherers.The northern coasts and waters of Australia were visited sporadically by fishermen from Maritime Southeast Asia.
The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland, and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent, are attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River near the modern town of Weipa on Cape York. The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines and named the island continent "New Holland" during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement. William Dampier, an English explorer and privateer, landed on the north-west coast of New Holland in 1688 and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain. With the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the "First Fleet", under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales. A camp was set up and the flag raised at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on 26 January 1788, a date which became Australia's national day, Australia Day, although the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was not formally promulgated until 7 February 1788. The first settlement led to the foundation of Sydney, and the exploration and settlement of other regions.
A British settlement was established in Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, in 1803, and it became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Western Australia (the Swan River Colony) in 1828. Separate colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia. South Australia was founded as a "free province"—it was never a penal colony. Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts. A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.
The indigenous population, estimated to have been between 750,000 and 1,000,000 in 1788, declined for 150 years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease. Thousands more died as a result of frontier conflict with settlers. A government policy of "assimilation" beginning with the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 resulted in the removal of many Aboriginal children from their families and communities—often referred to as the Stolen Generations—a practice which may also have contributed to the decline in the indigenous population. The Federal government gained the power to make laws with respect to Aborigines following the 1967 referendum. Traditional ownership of land—aboriginal title—was not recognised until 1992, when the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the legal doctrine that Australia had been terra nullius("land belonging to no one") before the European occupation.
A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s and the Eureka Rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence, and international shipping.
On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonieswas achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting. This established the Commonwealth of Australia as a dominion of the British Empire. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed.The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911. In 1914, Australia joined Britain in fighting World War I, with support from both the outgoing Commonwealth Liberal Party and the incoming Australian Labor Party. Australians took part in many of the major battles fought on the Western Front. Of about 416,000 who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded. Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation—its first major military action. The Kokoda Track campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II.
Britain's Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK. Australia adopted it in 1942, but it was backdated to 1939 to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during World War II. The shock of the United Kingdom's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector. Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US, under the ANZUS treaty. After World War II Australia encouraged immigration from Europe. Since the 1970s and following the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also promoted. As a result, Australia's demography, culture, and self-image were transformed. The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States, and closing the option of judicial appeals to the Privy Council in London. In a 1999 referendum, 55% of voters and a majority in every state rejected a proposal to become a republic with a president appointed by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of the Australian Parliament. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus in foreign policy on ties with other Pacific Rim nations, while maintaining close ties with Australia's traditional allies and trading partners.
Things to know
Australia can have up to five different time zones during the daylight savings period, and three at other times.
In the east, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria always have the same time. Queensland doesn't observe daylight saving, so it is an hour behind the other eastern states during that period.
In the centre, South Australia and the Northern Territory are half an hour behind during the winter, but the Northern Territory doesn't observe daylight saving while South Australia does. During daylight saving South Australia remains half an hour behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, but moves half an hour ahead of Queensland. The Northern Territory remains half an hour behind Queensland, but moves an hour and a half behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
In the west, Western Australia is two hours behind the eastern states in winter, and also doesn't observe daylight saving. It moves three hours behind the eastern states that observe daylight saving (remaining two hours behind Queensland).
There are no official abbreviations or names for Australian time zones, and you may see a few variations used. EST, CST, WST along with EDT, CDT are sometimes used. Sometimes AEST, etc., with the 'A' prefix distinguishing them from the North American time zones with the same names. In conversation, the abbreviations aren't used. People tend to say Sydney time, Brisbane time, or Perth time. Expect blank stares from most if you start talking about Central Summer Time.
In those states which observe daylight saving, it commences on the first Sunday in October and ends on the first Sunday in April.
|State/Territory||Standard Time||Daylight Saving Time|
|New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania. ACT||UTC+10||UTC+11|
As of 2000, the mains supply voltage specified in AS 60038 is 230V with a tolerance of +10% -6% and 50Hz. This was done for voltage harmonisation – however 240V (and less commonly 250V) is within tolerance and is commonly supplied. Mains voltage is still popularly referred to as being "two-forty volts". Bathrooms in hotels will often have a type I, C and A socket marked "for shavers only" as pictured on the right, along with a standard 3 pin (earthed) plug; two pin (the two angled pins) unearthed plugs are also common. Three phase (415V) is also used, for larger appliances.
Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents of Australia can work in Australia without any further permits, but others will require a work visa. It is illegal for foreigners to undertake paid work in Australia on a tourist visa. Be aware that any form of compensation for services performed, monetary or otherwise (eg. room and board), counts as payment in Australia, meaning that such work would be illegal on a tourist visa. Volunteer work is allowed provided it is incidental to the trip (i.e. not the main purpose for the trip). Foreigners in Australia on a student visa are allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week during term time, and full-time during the school holidays. Working illegally in Australia runs a very real risk of arrest, imprisonment, deportation and being permanently banned from re-entering Australia. All visitors who do not hold Australian permanent residency or citizenship (including New Zealand citizens who aren't also Australian permanent residents or citizens) are not allowed to access Australian social security arrangements for the unemployed, and will have limited, or more usually, no access to the Australian government's health care payment arrangements.
Payment and taxes
Most Australian employers pay via direct deposit to Australian bank accounts and therefore you should open a bank account as soon as possible. Some banks allow you to open account from abroad, for example Commonwealth Bank and HSBC.
You should also apply for a Tax File Number (TFN) as soon as possible. You can apply on-line for free at the Australian Tax Office website, though you can generally get it quicker if you just go to one of their offices. You can start working without one, but you are advised to get one as soon as possible as your employer would have to withhold 45% of your salary as tax should you not provide one. Register your TFN with your bank as soon as possible, otherwise any interest you accrue will be taxed at the highest rate. The Australian financial year runs from 1st July to 30th June, and tax returns for each financial year are due on 30th October, four months after the accounting period ends. Check with Australian tax agents about Australian tax liability and filing an Australian tax return.
Australian employers will make compulsory payments out of your earnings to an Australian superannuation (retirement savings) fund on your behalf. Visitors on temporary working visas who are not citizens of Australia or New Zealand should claim this money when they leave Australia. This payment is known as a Departing Australia Superannuation Payment (DASP) and you can apply online. New Zealand citizens can transfer their superannuation money to their New Zealand KiwiSaver account; contact your provider to arrange this.
Working holidaymaker scheme
Australia has a working holidaymaker program for citizens of certain countries between 18 and 30 years of age. It allows you to stay in Australia for 12 months from the time you first enter. You may work during that time, but only for 6 months at any one employer. The idea is for you to take a holiday subsidised by casual or short-term jobs. If you're interested in a working holiday, some useful skills and experience might be: office skills to be used for temp work; or hospitality skills to be used for bar or restaurant work. An alternative is seasonal work like fruit-picking, although much seasonal work will require that you work outside the major cities. Working for 3 months in seasonal work will allow you to apply for a second 12 month visa.
You can apply online for a working holiday visa, but you must not be in Australia at the time. It takes just a few hours to process usually and it costs about $360 (as of April 2013). On arriving in Australia ask for the working holiday visa to be "evidenced", so you can show your future employer.
Work visas in Australia change frequently and sometimes with out any notice, so always check with your local Australian High Commission, Consulate or Embassy and the Immigration Department's website.
The most straightforward way to get a work visa (subclass 457, 186 & 187) is to find an Australian employer who will sponsor you. Your employer will need to demonstrate that they cannot hire anyone with your skills in Australia. Locally advertised jobs are usually explicit in requiring a valid work visa before your application can be considered. Getting the visa might take a couple of months from the beginning of the application process and you will need a medical examination by a doctor approved by the immigration officials before it can be granted (among other things, you will need a chest x-ray to show that you do not have tuberculosis). An employer with a good background and efficient immigration lawyers could get your 457 approved within a week. Note that your work visa will only be valid for the employer who sponsored you and you will have to leave within 30 days of your employment ending.
Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa (subclass 187) is the easiest employer nominated visa to acquire, although you will have to live and work in a designated 'regional' area. These areas are mostly rural and far removed from the larger cities, although Adelaide does count in this scheme.
Skilled independent visas (subclass 189, 190, 489) may be pursued if you have a valuable specialised skill and don't want to be tied to a specific employer.
There is also a temporary graduate visa (subclass 485) which allows graduates of Australian universities to stay on and work in Australia, and is usually valid anywhere from 18 months to 4 years depending on your level of education, and your major field of study. Your major must be from a list of skilled occupations for which there is a labour shortage in Australia. This list is updated every year, and whether or not you qualify for this visa is dependent on the list at the time of your graduation, not at the time you begin your studies.
You can apply to immigrate as a skilled person or business person, but this process will take longer than receiving a work visa. You can also apply for permanent residency as the holder of a work or study visa, but your application will not be automatically accepted. If you have a lot of money, there are several investor's visas available which allow you to live in Australia with a view of obtaining permanent residency. After four years of legal residency which must include one year as a permanent resident, you are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship.
There are several volunteer opportunities in Australia. Many worldwide organisations offer extended travel for those wanting to volunteer their time to work with locals on projects such as habitat restoration, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, & education programs such as Australian Volunteers, World Wildlife Fund, International Student Volunteers Australia, Youth Challenge Australia, Gap 360 and Xtreme Gap Year.
Unless you are actively trying to insult someone, a traveller is unlikely to insult or cause offence to an Australian through any kind of cultural ignorance.
Australian modes of address tend towards the familiar. It is acceptable and normal to use first names in all situations, even to people many years your senior. Many Australians are fond of using and giving nicknames - even to recent acquaintances. It is likely being called such a name is an indication that you are considered a friend and as such it would be rare they are being condescending.
It is generally acceptable to wear revealing clothing in Australia. Bikinis and swimming attire are okay on the beach, and usually at the kiosk across the road from the beach. It is normal to wear at least a shirt and footwear before venturing any further. Most beaches are effectively top optional (topless) while sunbathing. Just about all women wear a top while walking around or in the water. There are some clothing optional (nude) beaches, usually a little further removed from residential areas. Thong bikinis (more commonly called g-string bikinis in Australia as thongs refer to flip-flop footwear) are fine on all beaches and some outdoor pools for both women and men although they are not as common as conventional beachwear. Some outdoor pools have a "top required" policy for women.
Cover up a little more when visiting places of worship such as churches. In warm conditions casual "t-shirt and shorts" style clothing predominates except in formal situations. Business attire, however, is considered to be long sleeved shirt, tie, and long trousers for men, even in the hottest weather.
Using Australian stereotypical expressions may be viewed as an attempt to mock, rather than to communicate. If you pull it off well, you might raise a smile.
Australians are often self-deprecating; however, it is rude to ever agree with a self-deprecating remark. Boasting about achievements is rarely received well.
Most Australians are happy to help out a lost traveller with directions, however many urban dwellers will assume that someone asking "Excuse me", is going to be asking for money, and may brush past. Looking lost, holding a map, looking like a backpacker or getting to the point quickly will probably help.
Aboriginal Australians likely arrived in the Australian landmass 50,000 years ago and number over half a million people today. They have faced significant discrimination over the years since European settlement took their traditional lands, and sensitivity should be given at all times. Aboriginal people actually come from many different 'nations' with distinctive cultures and identities that spoke up to 250 different languages before European settlement.
Many areas of Aboriginal land are free to enter. Some areas carry a request from the Aboriginal people not to enter, and you may choose yourself whether or not to honour or respect that request. An example of an Aboriginal request is climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock). No law prohibits people from climbing the rock (except in heat, rain or strong winds), however, local indigenous communities (The Anangu) request that you do not climb. Uluru holds great spiritual significance to the Anangu. The Anangu feel themselves responsible if someone is killed or injured on their land (as has happened many times during the climb) and request tourists not to place themselves in harm through climbing. Many people who travel to Uluru do climb, however, so you certainly won't be on your own if you choose to do this.
Some Aboriginal land requires permission or a permit, and some areas are protected and illegal to enter. You should check before making plans to travel off the beaten track. Permits are usually just a formality for areas which regularly see visitors, or if you have some other business in the area you are travelling through. Often they are just an agreement to respect the land you are travelling on as Aboriginal land. Some Aboriginal Land Councils make them available online.
If you need to refer to race, the politically correct term is Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal people is usually okay and referring to sacred sites and land as Aboriginal sites, or Aboriginal land is okay too. Avoid using Aborigine or Aboriginal as a noun to describe a person, as some people see negative connotations in these words. The contraction "Abo" is deeply offensive and should never be used. The word Native is also offensive.
Other areas to consider when interacting with indigenous Australians are:
- Australia Day is considered a day of invasion by many Aboriginal people
- It is best not to mention the name of a deceased person to an indigenous Australian. Though Aboriginal custom varies, it is best to avoid the possibility of offence.
- Permission to photograph an Aboriginal person should always be asked, but in particular in the more remote areas such as Arnhem Land. There is an old belief among them that the flash of a camera will steal their soul.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Australia has an equal age of consent set at 16 for all states except Tasmania and South Australia where the age is 17. Queensland outlaws 'sodomy' for under 18s, but is generally supportive of homosexuality. Although a strong majority of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage, the current law does not yet permit this. Nonetheless, Australia officially recognises a 'de facto relationship' for gay couples that is equal to that offered to straight couples - a special Interdependency Visa exists as a gay counterpart to the traditional marriage-based migration route.
Attitudes to homosexuality are similar to those found in most western countries. Although inner Sydney is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, caution is still advisable in conservative rural areas, including rural parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory. Australia has outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and legal recourse may be available should you experience discrimination.
Sydney is Australia's gay capital, and hosts one of the world's most famous gay pride festivals - the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras - annually during February and March. The festival culminates in a huge parade through central Sydney which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators. Alice Springs celebrates the "Alice Is Wonderland Festival", a gay and lesbian pride festival in late April/early May. Melbourne has a "Pride March " every year on the first Sunday of February.
Stay safe / healthy
The number 000 (called 'triple zero' or 'triple oh') can be dialled from any telephone in Australia free of charge. This number will connect you with the police, fire brigade, coastguard or ambulance service after you tell the emergency operator which service you need.
If you want to contact these services but the situation is not an emergency, don't call 000: you can call the police assistance line on 131 444. Poisons information advice, which can also advise on snake, spider and insect bites, is available on 131 126. Information on locating the nearest medical services can be obtained by calling 1800 022 222 (except for Tasmania).
If you require assistance during a flood, storm, cyclone, tsunami, earthquake or other natural disaster you can contact the State Emergency Service in each state (except for Northern Territory) on 132 500. You will be connected with your local unit and help can be organised from there. If the emergency is life-threatening, call triple zero instead.
You can dial 000 from all mobile phones. Mobile phones sold in Australia recognise it as the emergency number and will use any available network to place the call. However, if you have a phone obtained outside Australia, using the universal emergency number 112is a better idea. Using 112 will use any available network, will work even if your phone is not roaming, and will work even if the phone does not have a SIM. 112 works from Australian purchased phones too.
Hearing or speech impaired people with TTY equipment can dial 106. Those with Internet connectivity can use the Internet Relay Service, via the website.
Calls from fixed line (landline) phones may be traced to assist the emergency services to reach you. The emergency services have limited ability to trace the origin of emergency calls from mobile phones, especially outside of urban areas, so be sure to calmly and clearly provide details of your location. Because of the number sequence for emergency calls, around 60% of calls to the emergency numbers are made in error.
Nobody will likely respond to your call unless you can effectively communicate to the operator that you need assistance. If you are in need of assistance, but cannot speak, you will be diverted to an IVR and asked to press 55 to confirm that you are in need of assistance and have not called by accident. Your call will then be connected to the police.
Except for 112 from a mobile, Emergency numbers from other countries (for example, '911') do not work in Australia.
Keep a sense of perspective. Tourists are far more likely to be killed or injured as pedestrians, drivers or passengers on Australian roads than all the other causes of death and injury combined.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Most states use a prescribed standard of alcohol in the blood to determine whether driving is criminal. The prescribed (allowed) content ranges from zero to 0.05. Random breath testing for blood and alcohol is carried out.
Australia is a huge country and driving between cities and towns can take longer than you expect, especially if you are used to freeway or motorway driving in Europe or North America. While the major highways are comparable to those overseas, secondary highways in rural areas need to be treated with some care. Speed limits vary by location, road and by state. Avoid the stresses of fatigue by not planning to drive too far in a day. Authorities strongly recommend a break (with some walking outside the car) every two hours.
Driving between towns and cities comes with a risk of hitting or crashing due to swerving to avoid wildlife. Kangaroos have a habit of being spooked by cars and then, bewilderingly, jumping in front of them. Take extra care when driving through areas with vegetation close to the road and during dawn and dusk when wildlife is most active. Wildlife is not usually an issue in major urban areas (with the exception of Canberra where a series of parks provides ample habitat for kangaroos, which often cross major roads).
Urban Australians jaywalk, dodge cars, and anticipate the sequence of lights. Although most drivers will stop for a red light, running the amber light is common, so ensuring the traffic has stopped before stepping from the curb is always a good idea. People from countries who drive on the right will take a while to get used to looking the correct way when crossing.
Around 10-20 overseas travellers drown in Australia each year. Most of these drownings occur at ocean beaches, where statistics put visitors at significantly higher risk than locals. Check the Beach Safety website.
Beach goers should swim between the red and yellow flags which designate patrolled areas. Beaches are not patrolled 24-hours a day or even during all daylight hours. In most cases the local volunteer surf lifesavers or professional lifeguards are only available during certain hours, and at some beaches only on weekends, and often only during summer. If the flags aren't up, then there's no one patrolling. Many beaches in rural areas aren't patrolled at all. If you choose to swim, be aware of the risks, check conditions, stay within your depth, and don't swim alone.
Hard surfboards and other water craft such as surf skis, kayaks etc., are not permitted between the red and yellow flags. These craft must only be used outside of the blue 'surfcraft permitted' flags.
Australian ocean beaches can sometimes have strong rips that even the strongest swimmers cannot swim against. Rips are invisible channels of water flowing away from the beach. These channels take out the water which the incoming surf waves bring into shore. Beach goers can mistakenly use these channels or areas since they can appear as calm water and look to be an easier area into which to swim. Problems arise when the swimmer tries to swim back into shore against the outgoing current or rip, tire quickly, and end up drowning. Rips can be recognised by one or more of these signs: a rippled appearance when the surrounding water is fairly calm; foam that extends beyond the break zone; brown, sandy coloured water; waves breaking further out on either side of the rip.
If you are caught in a rip at a patrolled beach, conserve your energy, float or tread water and raise one hand. The surf lifesavers will come out to you. Don't wait until you are so tired you can't swim any more. You will probably find that local swimmers or surfers will also quickly come to your aid. Usually the flags are positioned where there are no rips, but this isn't always the case as rips can move.
If you are caught in a rip at an unpatrolled beach stay calm to conserve energy and swim parallel to the beach (not against the pull of the current). Most rips are only a few metres wide, and once clear of the undertow, you will be able to swim or catch a wave to return to shore. Never swim alone. Don't think that the right technique will get you out of every situation. In the surf out the back of the beach, treading water can be hard with waves pounding you every few seconds. Unless you have seen it happen, its hard to appreciate how quickly a rip can take you 50 m out to sea and into much larger wave breaks. If you are at an unpatrolled surf beach, proceed with great caution and never go out of your depth.
Beach signs often have a number or an alphanumeric code on them. This code can be given to emergency services if required so they can locate you quickly.
Crocodiles and Box Jellyfish are found on tropical beaches, depending on the time of year and area. Sharks occur on many of Australia's beaches. See the section below on dangerous creatures. Patrolled beaches will be monitoring the ocean for any shark activity. If you hear a continuous siren, go off at the beach and a red and a red and white quartered flag is waved or held out of the tower as it indicates a shark sighting, so make your way to shore. Once it is clear, a short blast of the siren will be sounded, which usually means that it is safe to return to the water.
Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) occur in the tropics (the northern part) of Australia between November and April, and you should understand how a tropical cyclone may impact you during the tropical wet season. The impact of cyclones varies with their intensity and your proximity to them. Weak cyclones may just cost you a day or two of your holiday to rain and wind while you stay indoors in your hotel, and an hours drive from the cyclone centre can still have good weather. More severe tropical cyclones can be deadly to the unprepared, and may cause you to evacuate an areas and can seriously disrupt your travel plans. Even low intensity cyclones or tropical depressions in more remote areas can close roads for days to weeks at a time.
On average a town in the tropics experiences a tropical cyclone every 30 years or so. The sparseness of population in Australia's north and north-west (where cyclones are most prevalent) means that many cyclones pass the coast with little impact on towns.
Still, if you are planning to travel to the tropics during cyclone season, you should understand and review the Bureau of Meteorology's information page before you set out, and keep a general eye on the page while you travel for early alerts of any problems developing.
In the tropical north the Wet Season occurs over the summer months of December, January and February, bringing torrential rains and frequent floods to those regions. It is not unusual for some coastal areas to be cut off for a day or two while the water recedes. It can still be a good time to visit some of the well populated, tourist-oriented areas, and, except in unusually heavy flooding, you can still get to see the pounding waterfalls and other attractions that can make this an interesting time to visit.
Floods in outback and inland Australia are rare, occurring decades apart, so you would be unlucky to encounter them. However, if you are planning to visit the inland or the outback and the area is flooded, then you should reconsider. The land is flat, so the water can take weeks to move on, leaving the land boggy. Insects and mosquitoes go crazy with all the fresh water pooling around, and these things eat insect repellent for breakfast and are still hungry. Roads close, often adding many hours to driving times. Many attractions often lie on a short stretch of dirt road off the main highways, and these sections become impassable, even if the main road remains open. Plan to return in a few weeks, and the land will still be green, the lakes and rivers will still be flowing, and the bird life will still be around.
The wettest period for the south of the country is usually around the winter months of June, July, and August. There is rarely enough rain at one time to cause flooding. The capital cities are rarely, if ever, significantly affected by floods.
National parks and forested areas of southern Australia, including some parts of major cities next to national parks and forests, can be threatened by bushfires (wildfires) in summer.
If the fire risk is extreme, parks may be closed, especially the backcountry areas, so you will need to have an alternative plan if you intend to camp or hike in parks during summer. If there is a fire in a park, it will usually be closed entirely.
Entire country towns can sometimes be evacuated when there is a bushfire threatening them. Often there can be no signs of the fire at evacuation time, but you should leave early, as evacuating through a fire front is dangerous. The best advice is just to move on, and not stay around to watch.
Make sure any fires you light are legal and kept under control. The fire service operates a fire ban system during periods of extreme fire danger. When a fire ban is in place all outdoor fires are forbidden. Most parks will advertise a ban, and it is your responsibility to check the local fire danger levels. Fines or even jail terms apply for lighting fires that get out of control, not to mention the feeling you may get at being responsible for the property, wildlife, and person damage that you may cause.
If you are caught in a bushfire, most fires will pass over quickly. You need to find shelter that will protect you from the smoke and radiant heat. A house is best, then a car, then a clearing, a cave, or on the beach is the best location. Wet everything that you can. Stay low and cover your mouth. Cover yourself with non-flammable (woolen) clothing or blankets, and reduce the skin directly exposed to the heat. If you have access to a tap gather water early; don't rely on water pressure as the fire front approaches. If your holiday goes no further than cities, major towns, and beaches, this won't really concern you.
Australia is a very dry country with large areas of desert, and can also get very hot.
When travelling in remote areas, away from sealed roads, where the potential to become stranded for up to a week without seeing another vehicle is very real, it is vital that you carry your own water supply (4 gal or 7 L per person per day). Do not be misled by entries on maps such as 'well' or 'spring' or 'tank' (or any entry suggesting that there is a body of water). Nearly all are dry, and most inland lakes are dry salt pans.
Many cities and towns have water restrictions, limiting use of water in activities like washing cars, watering gardens, or public showers. It is common to see signs in accommodation asking visitors to limit the length of their showers.
Poisonous and dangerous creatures
Although Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of insects, reptiles and marine life on the planet, the traveler is unlikely to encounter any of these in an urban environment, and even in the bush these creatures try to avoid humans for the most part. The vast majority of deaths from bites and stings in Australia are due to allergic reactions to bees and wasps.
Some of the information spread about Australia's dangerous wildlife is blown out of proportion, often jokingly by Australians themselves. However, you should take warnings about jellyfish and crocodiles seriously in the tropics, and keep your distance from snakes in the national parks and bushland.
If travelling in rural areas it would be a good idea to carry basic first aid equipment including compression bandages and to learn what to do after a snake or spider bite.
It's not common to encounter snakes in urbanised areas in Australia, but they are common in grassland, national parks and other bushland. Snakes will generally try to put as much distance between themselves and you as possible, so if you see a snake while out walking, simply go around it or walk the other way. Walking blindly into dense bush and grassy areas is not advisable, as snakes may be hiding there. For the most part, snakes fear humans and will be long gone before you ever get the chance to see them.
Never try to pick up any snake, even if you believe it to be a non-venomous species. Most people bitten by snakes were trying to pick up the snake or kill the creature, or inadvertently step on one while out walking.
Australia has some snakes that are deadly. So treat all snakes with respect, and seek medical treatment urgently for any snake bite. Take a first-aid kit suitable for snake-bites if you are going off the beaten track. If bitten you should immobilise the wound by wrapping the affected area tightly with strips of clothing or bandages and seek immediate medical help. Do not clean the wound as venom residues can be tested to determine the anti-venom to use. If you are in an isolated area send someone else for help. The venom of some snakes (the taipan in particular) can take effect within fifteen minutes, but if the wound is immediately immobilised and you rest it is possible to delay the onset of the venom spreading by one to a few hours. Polyvalent anti-venoms are available in most hospitals that contain anti-venom for all dangerous Australian snakes.
It is common to see spiders in Australia, and most will do you no harm. Wear gloves while gardening or handling leaf litter. Check or shake out clothing, shoes, etc. that have been left outside before putting them on. Don't put your fingers under rocks or into tree holes, where spiders might be. Some spiders are commonly found inside buildings and homes, including the large and hairy Huntsman spiders, that are generally harmless, and reduce other insect pests like cockroaches. The large spider webs strung between trees occupied by garden or orb weaving spiders are more an annoyance than a danger.
However, some spiders are also very dangerous. The world's most venomous spider is the Sydney Funnel-Web spider, found in and around Sydney and eastern New South Wales - usually under rocks and leaf litter. The spider is anywhere up to 5 cm large, and is usually black. If you are in an area that is known for having Funnel-Web spiders and you are bitten by a spider that you believe could be a Funnel-Web it is important you get to hospital as quickly as possible. The Funnel-Web spends most of its time underground (it can typically live for only 30 minutes outside a humid hole) and therefore you are very unlikely to encounter one walking around.
The Red Back spider (usually easily identified by a red mark on its abdomen) is common and after a bite it is important to seek medical attention, although it is not as urgent as with a Funnel-Web. Red Backs typically hide in dark places and corners. It is highly unusual to see them indoors; however, they can hide in sheds, around outdoor tables and chairs and under rocks or other objects sitting on the ground.
First aid treatment for spider bites may vary in Australia compared to other areas of the world. Always seek medical advice after a bite has occurred. If possible, you should attempt to identify the creature that bit you. Take a photo or trap it so that the appropriate anti-venom can be administered swiftly. But don't risk getting bitten again.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, or northern Western Australiashould be aware of the risk of fatal stings from the Box Jellyfish if swimming in the ocean between October and May. They are very hard to detect and can be found in very shallow water. Stings from these jellyfish are 'excruciating' and often fatal. Vinegar applied immediately to adhering tentacles will lessen the amount of venom injected, but immediate medical assistance will be required. The danger season varies by location. In general the jellyfish are found close to shore, as they reproduce in the estuaries. They are not generally found out on the Great Barrier Reef, and many people swim on the reef without taking any precautions. Seek out reliable local information. Some locals at the beach can be cavalier to the risks.
Irukandji are another species of tiny (fingernail sized) jellyfish that inhabit the waters off Northern Australia and the surrounding Indo-Pacific islands. They are also very hard to see, and can be dangerous, although stings are rare. Unlike the box jellyfish they are found out on the reef. The initial sting can go unnoticed. There is debate as to whether they can be fatal, but they certainly can place a victim in hospital, and cause extreme pain lasting days. If you have nausea or shooting pains shortly after emerging from the water seek medical treatment.
A "stinger-suit" that is resistant to jellyfish stings costs around $100 or can be hired for around $20 a week.
Blue ring octopus
Found in rock pools around the coasts of Australia is the tiny Blue Ring Octopus. Usually a dull sandy-beige colour, the creature has bright blue circles on its skin if threatened. The Blue Ring Octopus is rare and shy. Avoid placing your hand under rocks or in crevaces in rock pools or near the shore as this is where they tend to hide. Most locals do the same. It has a powerful paralysing toxin which can cause death unless artificial respiration is provided. In the history of Australia there are only two confirmed deaths by Blue Ring Octopus.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or north Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal attacks by saltwater crocodiles in and adjacent to northern waters (ocean, estuarine and fresh water locations) between King Sound, Western Australia, and Rockhampton, Queensland. Saltwater crocodiles in these areas can reach 25 feet in length and can attack in water without warning. Despite what their name implies, they can be found in both salt and fresh water. On land, crocodiles usually lie motionless, but they have the ability to move with extraordinary speed in short bursts. There are relatively few attacks causing injury — most attacks are fatal. Dangerous swimming areas will usually have prominent warning signs. In these regions only swim in inland waters if you are specifically advised that they are safe. Since 1970 there has been about one crocodile attack on a human each year.
The smaller freshwater crocodile is, unlike the saltwater, timid and will avoid humans if possible. The freshwater may attack to defend itself or its eggs or if startled. They can inflict a nasty bite but due to their small jaws and teeth this will rarely cause death in humans.
The Gympie bush (Dendrocnide moroides), also known as the stinging tree, is a stinging plant, whose microscopic stinging hairs on leaves and branches can cause severe pain for up to several weeks. They are mostly found in North-east Queensland, especially in rain forest clearings. However, the Gympie bush and other closely related species (there are about five) of stinging tree can be found in south-east Queensland, and further south in eastern Australia. People bushwalking in such areas are advised not to touch the plant for any reason.
Crime rates in Australia are roughly comparable with other first world countries: few travellers will be victims of crime. You should take normal precautions against bag snatching, pick pocketing and the like. There are some areas of the large cities that are more dangerous after dark, but there generally are no areas that are dangerous to enter if you aren't a local.
Australian police are approachable and trustworthy, and you should report assaults, theft or other crime to the police as soon as possible.
There are two types of police in Australia; the state/territorial police and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Typically you will only interact with the state police, with the AFP being largely dedicated to very specific government related roles, the exception being the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) where the AFP is the main police force. The state police are responsible for enforcing local laws in their respective jurisdictions. Laws are enforced at a state level.
Under no circumstances should you offer an Australian police officer (or for that matter, any other government official such as a customs officer) a bribe or gratuity, as this is a crime and they will enforce the laws against it.
When leaving your car alone, make sure it is locked, that the windows are rolled up, and that there are no obvious targets for theft in the vehicle, as thieves will often smash windows to get at a phone, GPS or bag that is visible in the car.
Racism is a sensitive subject in Australia. A history of discrimination and state-sanctioned racism extending into the 20th century has given way to a multi-culturalism. Post-war European immigration has been joined by Asian and African immigration in the late 20th century. The law prevents discrimination on grounds of race, and it rare to find someone who will openly express aggression towards any racial group. Australia is outwardly a multicultural and racially tolerant society.
Some colloquialisms for ethnic groups may not be considered offensive by the standards of some Australians. Terms such as Yank, Pom, Paki and to a lesser extent Wog are often used between friends of different race in casual conversation in the presence of those respective nationalities. Don't use slang racial descriptors yourself if you don't want to cause offence. Don't ever refer to Aboriginal people to as "Abos" - it's a highly offensive term from Australia's poor history in dealing with it's first peoples. If you're not ready for the discussion, it may be best to avoid discussions of race altogether.
If you do (unfortunately) get involved in an argument or dispute, it's possible some will pick a racial abuse term if you are of a different race to them. If you've been called a 'skip' that is reserved as racial abuse term for white Australians - and there are many others for other races. In any event, best just to walk away and ignore. Unfortunately, some people have encountered random incidents of racial abuse. If these occur to you, you can report them to the police and expect action to be taken. Call '000'. Fortunately, violent incidents are very rare.
There are some anti-immigration and anti-multicultural groups that operate on the fringes of Australian society. As a visitor you would be unlikely to come into contact with them. If it's late at night in a pub, and you start prodding people for their racial views, then all bets are off - be prepared for anything.
It is not offensive to use Aussie (Ozzie) to describe Australian people, but it isn't a term Australians generally use to self-identify. They are more likely to apply it to things (Aussie Rules, etc.) than to themselves. When the chant of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie - Oi Oi Oi goes up at an international sporting event, some Australians will cringe, and others will join in. Often this depends on their own perceived social standing, or their state of inebriation, or both. Furthermore, in parts of Australia that are racially fractured, Aussie and Australian can both be used as divisive terms to identify racial heritage. Ensure that you use the terms Aussie and Australian inclusive of Australians of all racial heritage.
Attempts to scam tourists are not prevalent in Australia; take normal precautions such as finding out a little bit about your destination. There have been instances of criminals tampering with ATMs so that cash is trapped inside them, or so that they record card details for thieves. You should check your transaction records for odd transactions after using an ATMs and immediately contact the bank controlling the ATM if a transaction seems to be successful but the machine doesn't give you any cash. Always cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN to prevent any skimming devices which have cameras recording your PIN.
Opium, heroin, amphetamines (speed), cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana and hashish among other drugs are all illegal both to possess and to sell in all states of Australia. Trafficking offences carry a long jail term, and in serious cases can even lead to life imprisonment. Australia shares information on drug trafficking with other countries, even those with the death penalty.
Penalties for possession or sale of small amounts of marijuana are typically lower than for other drugs, and vary between states. In South Australia, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory jail terms do not apply to first time marijuana offences. Some states can issue on-the-spot fines for small amounts of marijuana whereas others always require a court appearance. Foreigners should not expect more lenient treatment than locals from Australian police for drug offences. Driving while under the influence of drugs is a serious offence, and doing so will invariably lead to arrest and prosecution, and in serious cases even a jail sentence.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to bring illicit drugs into Australia, including marijuana; this is strictly illegal and punishable with long jail terms of up to life in prison, and customs officers often employ dogs to sniff drugs out of arriving passengers' luggage.
Australia's proximity to Asia means that heroin is a far more commonly used illicit drug than cocaine or crack cocaine. In some areas of large cities you will need to be careful of discarded needles: however these will generally be found in back streets rather than in popular tourist spots.
Exposure to the sun at Australian latitudes frequently results in sunburn, and Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. Getting sunburnt can make you feel feverish and unwell and may take a few days or weeks to heal depending on the severity. It means you can't go back out into the sun until the sunburn fades, so getting sunburnt on the first day of your beach holiday can seriously reduce the fun of your trip. It can take as little as 15 minutes to burn in Australia on a fine summer's day, even in shaded outdoor areas. You should wear sunscreen (SPF 30+), clothing, and a hat to shade the sun.
Re-apply sunscreen every 2–3 hours throughout the day as it wears off quickly if you are sweating or swimming. Make sure to cover all parts of your body. UV radiation in the middle of the day can be double what it is in the early morning or later afternoon, so if possible avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day. Daily UV forecasts are issued by the Bureau of Meteorology online.
If you are heading to the beach, consider buying a sun-tent (less than $20 from discount and hardware stores). You generally can't hire beach umbrellas at Australian beaches, and they are very exposed.
Australia has high hygiene standards, with restaurants required to observe strict food preparation standards. Food poisoning rates are comparable to other first world nations.
The tap water in urban Australia is almost always safe to drink, and it will be marked on the tap if this is not the case. The taste and hardness of the tap water will vary considerably across the country. Bottled water is also widely available. Carrying water on hot days is a good idea in urban areas, and it is a necessity if hiking or driving out of town. At sites where tap water is untreated, water sterilization tablets may be used as an alternative to boiling. If driving long distances on infrequently trafficked roads it is essential to carry drinking water. This is absolutely necessary in hotter areas and on dirt roads or tracks. It is rare that someone does not die of thirst in outback Australia in any year. It is recommended that in event of a breakdown you stay with the car for shade and to increase your chances of being found. Before long distance touring seek specific advice on calculating how much water to carry for the proposed journey and allowing for breakdowns.
Australia does not have endemic communicable diseases that will require non-standard vaccinations. Like many other countries, it will require evidence of yellow fever vaccinations on entry if you will have been in a country with a risk of infection within 6 days before your arrival in Australia.
Mosquitoes are present all year round in the tropics, and during the summer in southern areas. Screens on windows and doors are common, and repellent is readily available. Ross River Virus is spread by mosquitoes in the tropics, and can make you sick for a few weeks. There have been cases of dengue fever. Malaria is not present in Australia.
As described above, 000 is the Australian emergency services number and in any medical emergency you should call this number and ask for an ambulance and other emergency services as necessary, to attend.
Australia has first world medical standards. In particular, it is safe to receive blood transfusions in Australia, as donors are screened for HIV, hepatitis and many other blood borne illnesses.
Australia's population density is low, parts of Australia are a long way from medical facilities of any kind. Many of these areas are served by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Small towns with populations of 5,000 or more will have a small hospital capable of giving emergency treatment. Larger towns will have a base hospital capable of routine and some kinds of emergency surgery. In some cases you may need to be evacuated to one of the capital cities for specialist treatment.
Capital cities will have medical centres where you can drop in, often open on weekends or until late. In country towns you may have to make an appointment and may have no alternative other than the closest hospital after hours and weekends. You can also expect to wait a few hours if your condition isn't urgent.
- Poisons Information Hotline: 13 11 26 give free advice if any medication or poisons are taken inadvertently. They will also give advice on what treatment is necessary for things like a spider bite. However, if you think you are in any immediate danger, call '000' for an ambulance.
Medical costs and travel insurance
Australian citizens and permanent residents who live in Australia can receive health care through the taxpayer funded Medicare. Foreigners working or studying in Australia and without a reciprocal agreement are generally required to take up private health insurance as part of their visa conditions. Foreigners on a short visit will want to make sure their travel insurance is in order, as medical costs can be expensive for those not entitled to Medicare benefits. Medicare does not cover private hospitals or dental care, so you will need to obtain private health insurance to pay for these.
Travellers from Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom are entitled to free reciprocal Medicare treatment for medical problems that occur during their visit. It is advisable to familiarise yourself with the conditions of the reciprocal arrangement with your country. For example Irish people and New Zealanders are only entitled to free treatment at a hospital, whereas the other reciprocal nationalities are entitled to subsidised treatment at general practitioners as well. No reciprocal programmes cover private hospitals, and the full cost will have to be met by yourself or with travel insurance.
If you are not a citizen or permanent resident of a reciprocal agreement country then travel insurance is highly recommended. You can expect to pay around $80 to see a general practitioner, plus any additional costs for any pathology or radiology required. The charge to visit a local hospital can be much more expensive, private hospitals even more so. You can pay up to $500 even if you are not admitted, and possibly several thousand dollars if you are. Rescue and Royal Flying Doctor Services are provided free, but evacuation or ambulance services can cost many thousands of dollars from a country town to a capital city, or from an island to the mainland.
Even if you are an Australian citizen, ambulance and evacuation services are not provided free of charge. If an air-ambulance is required this can still cost thousands of dollars. Most health-insurance companies sell ambulance only cover valid Australia-wide. Ambulance membership programs may only cover you in your own state - check before travelling interstate. Domestic travel insurance does not usually cover medical or ambulance expenses. Medicare cover does not include ambulance costs (at least several hundred dollars) in the event of an emergency; only private insurance with ambulance cover will pay for this.
Snake and spider bite anti-venom is very expensive. The cost can be well over $10,000 even if you don't need a stay in hospital.