Preparing to Visit Australia
Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia. Photo by Srikant Sahoo
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Australia is a fantastic tourist destination. With spectacular landmarks and national parks, top quality food, friendly locals, and excellent weather, Australia is a spectacular place to visit. It’s also a very comfortable destination: almost everyone speaks English, there’s a thriving tourist industry, and there’s a huge selection of things to see for all interests. But like many countries, Australia has its own idiosyncrasies. Its history is unknown to most, while Australian culture beyond Crocodile Dundee and the boomerang is similarly unfamiliar. So how best to prepare for a trip to Australia? Read on to find out!
The Story of Australia
Available on Amazon Prime, the six-part series, The Story of Australia, traces the country’s long history. Beginning with 60,000 years of indigenous culture, the show moves on to cover the first convict arrivals in 1788, the transformative gold rushes, and the six separate colonies forming Australia in 1901. It also covers the traumatic experiences of both World Wars, along with a look at Australia’s postwar development into a prosperous modern nation. It’s a great starting point for those unfamiliar with the broad strokes of Australian history.
For the Term of His Natural Life
Written in the 1870s by Marcus Clarke, For the Term of His Natural Life is a semi-fictionalised tale of a young convict arriving in Australia. The book follows Rufus Dawes, falsely convicted of murder in England, and his journey through the prison colony. Life in the early convict settlements was extremely hard (incredibly, the First Fleet of approximately 1,400 people included a grand total of one farmer), and the book is considered a seminal account of early convict life. Modern Australians are both proud and embarrassed of their convict beginnings, and understanding the convict story is essential to understanding Australia.
World Heritage Sites of Australia
Exploring a country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites is always interesting, as they reflect how various countries see themselves. Australia, is of course no different, and is home to 20 World Heritage Sites. From world famous natural monuments like Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, to modern buildings like the Sydney Opera House, there’s a great range of fascinating places here. To explore these incredible Sites, World Heritage Journey on YouTube is a great place to start.
Bill Bryson - In a Sunburned Country
British-American author Bill Bryson is one of the world’s most beloved travel writers and the author of many excellent books on travelling in Europe, the USA, Britain and beyond. In a Sunburned Country (also known as Down Under) is one of his best works. Over multiple trips, Bryson visits a surprising amount of the island continent, sharing his findings and observations with the reader as he goes. As an Australian, I can happily report that many of his observations are entirely on point!
Released in 2008, Australia is an epic movie set during the 1940s on a remote cattle station in northern Australia. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) and starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, the story combines elements of drama, romance, history, and intrigue. It showcases the incredible landscapes of northern Australia, while also reflecting on Australian attitudes toward the indigenous population as well. Although not a critically-acclaimed masterpiece, Australia is worth a watch for those thinking of heading Down Under.
The 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence is an incredible Australian movie that’s based on a true story. Until 1967, official Australian government policy was that mixed-race Aboriginal children were to be removed from their homes and placed in government care, a policy known these days as the Stolen Generation. The film follows two young Aboriginal girls as they escape their government camp and attempt to find their way home by following the titular rabbit-proof fence– a journey of 2,400 kilometres through the western deserts. Australia has a difficult relationship with its indigenous population, and Rabbit-Proof Fence is a great starting point for understanding this relationship.
Bangarra Dance Theatre
One of Australia’s premier art institutions, the Bangarra Dance Theatre, is an Indigenous Australian contemporary dance company. By fusing together elements of modern dance with traditional Aboriginal rituals and ceremonies, Bangarra has managed to create something wholly new and unique which all Australians (indigenous and non-indigenous alike) are justifiably proud of. Bangarra celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2019, launching a new exhibition and digital archive called Knowledge Ground, which showcases its history and highlights.
Home & Away
Home & Away is one of Australia’s longest-running TV shows. Set in the fictional town of Summer Bay and filmed in the Sydney suburb of Palm Beach, this soap opera is a perennial guilty pleasure of Australian television. Interestingly, it’s far more popular in the United Kingdom than Down Under. Plenty of Aussie stars got their big break on H&A, including Chris Hemsworth, Naomi Watts, Heath Ledger, Nip/Tuck star Julian McMahon, Ryan Kwanten, and many others. If you’re interested, just drop in and start watching! Getting up to speed won’t take too long.
Watch Australian Rules football
A purely Aussie invention, Australian Rules football (or AFL for short) is the country’s national football code, with teams based in every mainland state. Played during the winter months (March-September), Aussie Rules is fast, furious, frenetic, and fantastic to watch. The rules are quite technical, but the game itself is open and generally free-flowing, so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the show. A particular highlight is the Grand Final, played every September at the MCG in front of 110,000 screaming fans. It’s so important, citizens of Victoria get an official public holiday to mark the occasion!
Learn some Australian slang
Australian speech tends to be slang heavy and packed with idioms. Learning to understand Aussie slang can be a real challenge, so it’s best to start early! Words you might’ve heard on Crocodile Dundee like “strewth”, “cobber”, and “fair dinkum” aren’t in particularly common use, but catching a good language guide will help you learn your choccies from your chockers. But a word of warning! Make sure you’re super confident in your abilities before dropping some Australian slang in a pub or social setting. Telling tall stories to gullible tourists is a national pastime, and you might find yourself on the receiving end if people think you’re “taking the p-ss”!
Eat some Australian food
Australia is home to some of the world’s best produce, including fruits and vegetables, wine, beef, and lamb. And as a highly multicultural society (around 30% of Australians were born overseas), Australia’s culinary tradition focuses mainly on authentic dishes from other cultures, with everything from Afghan to Zimbabwean. But there’s a few home-grown Aussie favourites to try, including: Vegemite, a yeast based spread similar to Marmite; Damper, a soda bread made from flour, water, and salt, cooked over a fire; Anzac biscuits, made from rolled oats, flour, coconut, golden syrup, and butter. And fairy bread– every kid’s perennial favourite. Fairy bread is just plain white bread, laden with butter or margarine and topped with sprinkles or hundreds & thousands (Aussie sprinkles). Yum!
Plan your own trip to Australia
Explore these resources and you’ll see that Australia is a fascinating place. With 60,000 years of indigenous culture, a unique convict history, spectacular natural landmarks, and an intriguing modern blend of cultures, Australia really is one of a kind.