It sort of happened by accident. The idea was sparked by someone else – my friend Phea – who had a year to play with and wanted to take a trip Down Under for some of that year.
I basically just tagged along for the ride. I never really thought I’d spend the whole year there. I never thought I’d work really damn hard towards getting a second year visa, either.
But I’ve only just left, and only for now.
And, at risk of being booed off the metaphorical stage, I wanted to write something about the whole Australia experience. I wanted to write something that might be useful to people thinking about travelling there.
A while back I wrote about how travel is sometimes pictured through a rose tinted lens. As though every country you travel to, every experience, every person is some mythical, perfect thing: all rainbows and unicorns. And since then, I’ve tried to tell it like it is. There are always good things about a country, an experience, a person. But there are bad things too.
It goes without saying that this is a vastly personal look at the country. It is a big place (unbelievably so) and no two people will have the same experience. Still, I don’t think any of the points I make are unfair, or untrue. You’ll have to see for yourself whether you agree or not – and let me know in comments!
It is just. So. Chilled.
I don’t think I fully appreciated this until I arrived, and settled in. There are so many people for whom the reality of their life is basically sun, sea, surf, rinse and repeat. That’s it. And because of the working holiday phenomenon, a lot of backpackers literally seem to arrive in a sleepy beach town, and somehow forget to leave.
Though Australia isn’t a patch on New Zealand for mountains and greenery, the great thing about Oz is its diversity. Pick a climate, pick a type of scenery, and you will be able to match them up to somewhere in one of Australia’s eight states.
Tassie has natural scenic beauty, the outback has desert, Melbourne has charming architecture, the West Coast and the Whitsundays have incredible beaches, and the national parks throughout the country cover mountains, rivers, canyons and waterfalls.
The weather… sometimes
It is nice to be able to live your life with the basic comfort that it will probably be good weather, most of the time.
Then again, it rained for a solid month in the southwest where I did my farm work, so don’t necessarily count on it always being the picture perfect
Aussies are known for being laidback, and for the most part this is totally true.
Got a problem? Getting stressed?
“No worries, mate!”
The work (and the wages)
I’ve talked about this often, but one of the main appeals of Oz is the favourable wages even for bog standard service jobs. Working in the UK on minimum wage, you might barely scrape £7 an hour. In Australia it’s at least $22, in general.
Cuddly koalas, adorable quokkas, and lots of things that bounce: Oz has more than its fair share of cute creatures. Although I have been somewhat put off kangaroos since my car had a slight disagreement with a hefty one, it is pretty cool that the country has so many animals that you don’t get anywhere else in the world.
The cities are surely one of Australia’s best assets. Frequently named among the most liveable in the world, they are diverse enough that you could happily spend a whole year hopping between them, sampling what they have to offer. Nights out, food, culture and beaches: the cities of Oz were definitely a highlight of the country for me.
I was spoiled by living in Melbourne for several months, and now I don’t think I will ever be able to enjoy bad coffee again.
And it’s not just your standard flat white – in Melbourne your coffee comes in all shapes and sizes: cold-drip, bulletproof, matcha soy, golden turmeric, and prepared in dozens of different ways. It would take you years to sample all of them.
And it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend your years.
Everything wants to kill you
Along with all of the friendly critters that roam about the country, there are plenty that are less than cuddly. Snakes, sharks, crocs, spiders, jellyfish… need I go on?
It’s well worth paying attention to the season when you’re swimming to avoid those stingers, and don’t even think about swimming in the sea in Far North Queensland unless you fancy ending up as a croc’s dinner.
The weather… the rest of the time
Oz is a very big country (I may have mentioned this once or twice), so you need to pick your location carefully. The tropical north has the monsoon, and the south has winters that very much rival those of the UK.
So just a warning – it’s not always sunny and temperate!
It has to be said that it is not a cheap country to live in. Though the wages do make up for it, it is still painful to pay $4 for an avocado. The rent can be sky-high, drinks are pricey, and the cost of eating out is at times beyond belief.
The state system
One of the biggest frustrations I experienced in Oz was the fact that all the states are at least partially autonomous – meaning there are different rules and regulations for each. This might not sound like a problem, but if you’re buying a car, or getting a qualification for work, it can be a real pain in the arse.
Maybe I’m spoilt by being from the UK, but to me it would make everyone’s life so much easier if you were easily able to buy a car in Queensland, and sell it in New South Wales, without worrying about changing license plates or finding a buyer who is going a particular direction.
Drinking is a big part of Aussie culture, and for the most part this makes life pretty enjoyable. Beers on the beach, a casual Sunday session, or heading for a happy hour after work – all these things are great fun. But then there’s the other side of things. The more extreme side.
As someone who has worked in a busy bar in Melbourne, I can vouch for the fact that a lot of Australians drink way, way too much. And the effects of this ain’t pretty.
The divide between Aboriginals and the rest of Australia, to me, is a bit disturbing. Very sadly, they are often seen as a ‘problem’ rather than a group of people.
Historically, they have been treated horrendously, and it seems like an effective resolution has not yet been found. But it is an unfortunate fact that a lot of the time, the money that is given to Aboriginal communities by the Australian government is spent on drink and drugs, creating a perpetually bad cycle.
The reality of this is that in a few places, groups of drunk Aboriginals hang around and create quite a scary atmosphere. And then, this is the presiding interaction that many people have with Aboriginal people – which is a terrible shame. And a lot of Australians seem to consider them second class citizens.
I found it very hard to understand the division, and harder still to even comprehend how the problems might ever be solved.
This is a vastly personal experience, but I found that quite a few Australians I spoke to (more evidently in the rural areas) were, well, a bit racist. It wasn’t always overt – sometimes it was implied, and often just in the language they used – but it was still very noticeable to me.
I recognise that it’s a big country with a lot of different types of people, but still. It felt to me that I came across it way more in Oz than I ever have in the UK – though admittedly maybe I just met a broader range of people there.
I literally had one guy come up to me in a pub in rural WA and tell me that the UK was going down the pan because there are ‘too many n*ggers’.
Needless to say, I didn’t quite know how to respond.
As above, I encountered not a small amount of homophobia in Oz, particularly from guys. People would just make derogatory comments about homosexuality as though they were facts.
It’s a developed country in some ways, but in others it’s stuck in the past. Although the recent yes vote for gay marriage hopefully indicates a step in the right direction!
It made me pretty uncomfortable because homophobia not something I’ve had to deal with much in my life – suggestions appreciated!
The drug issues
One thing I was totally unaware of before going to Oz, is the very real and prevalent drug issues, particularly in rural areas. Crystal meth is a massive issue, especially for remote populations, and can make certain areas very unsafe.
As a completely naive country girl who grew up in a tiny village, this was a bit difficult to get my head around. And in the UK (as far as I’m aware?), it’s not even really on the radar.
There are, I’m sure, exceptions to all the above. But hopefully this gives a pretty good overview of the place, inasmuch as it is possible to condense a country down into a few bullet points.
I honestly loved the year that I spent in Oz. Every country has its flaws.
I find it useful, even enlightening, to look at the flaws as well as the positives. Travel wouldn’t be real without understanding that.
Let me know what you think of this format – I’m thinking of expanding it to the other countries I’ve visited! And if you disagree with the points I’ve made, let me know that too!