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Australia

Photo by Kim Grant

Australia

From its sophisticated cities to the rainforests and coral reefs of the tropics and the vast sprawling deserts and savannahland of the Outback, Australia has a diversity that will bewitch and sometimes bewilder you. This massive continent will never cease to surprise you, and if we can help sort out the best of what to see and experience, our job will be done.

Bindu’s team of Australian writers have lifetimes of discoveries to share, and are unstinting in their generosity in doing so. From all seven states and territories, our writers are continually working on putting together the best itineraries to help you make travelling in Australia as easy as it can be.

See Where to Go to find the destinations you want to visit…or just want to know more about. (We also have countrywide content like Melanie Ball’s Bushwalking in Australia: Everything You Need to Know, which links to ideas for bushwalking in every state.)

Where To Go

Use these links to find the destinations you want to visit…or just want to know more about.

New South Wales
Around New South Wales
Blue Mountains
Byron Bay
Hunter Valley
Lord Howe Island
South Coast
Sydney

Canberra and the ACT

Queensland
Brisbane
Cairns
Great Barrier Reef
Gold Coast
Whitsundays
Around Queensland

Northern Territory
Darwin
The Top End
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Central Australia

Outback
Central Australia

South Australia
Adelaide
Around South Australia

Tasmania
Hobart
Launceston
Around Tasmania

Victoria
Melbourne
Great Ocean Road
Around Victoria

Western Australia
Perth
Broome
Margaret River
Around Western Australia

When To Go

Australia’s vast size means the climate differs hugely, depending on where you are. The average rainfall in central Australia ranges from between just 200 to 250mm a year. Summer daytime temperatures range from around 32 to 40C. In winter, temperatures range from around 18 to 4C. Summer stretches from early November to the end of February.

The most pleasant time to travel in Australia is between April and September, when daytime temperatures are 19C–31C and it rarely rains. This is autumn, winter and the beginning of spring. Summer is a great time to visit the southern states, such as Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia (and even in winter, temperatures rarely get below freezing point).

Generally, the best months to visit Australia are September and October, when it’s often still warm enough to hit the beach in the southern states, it’s cool enough to tour Uluru and other Outback destinations, and the humidity and rains have not come to Darwin and Cairns (although it will be very hot by October).

October to March is “the Wet” in northern parts, but has the advantage of being the greenest, lushest time to visit places like the Northern Territory or far north Queensland. In October and November, a very humid and sticky period called “the build up” in the Top End and the Kimberley region of Western Australia, should be avoided if you can. In these parts, some tourist attractions close, floodwaters are common in some areas, and there is a chance of cyclones. Cyclones can also hit tropical north Queensland during summer.

Most of Queensland and northern New South Wales are subtropical. This means warm summers and cool winters. Sydney weather is temperate, with moderate temperatures and no prolonged periods of extreme hot or cold conditions. Parts of central Victoria can get snow in winter, while the Australian Alps, which run through southern central New South Wales and northeastern Victoria, have good snow cover in winter, and you’ll find ski-fields here.

High and Low Season

Seasons vary depending on what part of Australia you are travelling to. While summer is high season in cooler parts of the country, such as Sydney and Melbourne, that’s not the case in the tropical north – Darwin, Broome and Cairns, for example – where summer is rightly known as “The Wet”, with heavy rains and hot, humid temperatures.

In much of the country—Queensland from around Townsville and northward, all of the Top End and the Red Centre, and the northern half of Western Australia—the most pleasant time to travel is April through September, when daytime temperatures are 19C–31C and it rarely rains. June, July, and August are the busiest months in these parts; you’ll need to book accommodations and tours well in advance, and you will pay higher rates then, too.

On the other hand, Australia’s summer is a nice time to visit the southern states—New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia from Perth to the south, and Tasmania. Even in winter, temperatures rarely dip below freezing, and snow falls only in parts of Tasmania, in the ski fields of Victoria, and in the Snowy Mountains of southern New South Wales.

The best months to visit Australia, I think, are September and October, when it’s often still warm enough to hit the beach in the southern states, it’s cool enough to tour Uluru (Ayers Rock), the humidity and rains have not come to Cairns and the Top End (although it will be very hot by October), and the wildflowers are in full bloom in Western Australia.

October through March (summer) is just too hot, too humid, or too wet—or all three—to tour the Red Centre, the Top End, and anywhere in Western Australia except Perth and the southwest. The Top End, the Kimberley, and North Queensland, including Cairns, suffer an intensely hot, humid Wet season from November or December through March or April. In the Top End and Kimberley, this is preceded by an even stickier “build up” in October and November. Some attractions and tour companies close, floodwaters render others off-limits, and hotels drop their rates, often dramatically. So if you decide to travel in these areas at this time—and lots of people do—be prepared to take the heat, the inconvenience of floods, and, in tropical coastal areas, the slight chance of encountering cyclones.

From the week before Christmas until the end of January, Australian families take their long summer holidays, and during this time airline seats and accommodation in popular coastal holiday spots can be scarce. You’ll also pay top dollar at this time of year, and getting any kinds of discounts will be unlikely.

Each of our destinations has detailed information on what to expect and the best times to travel (see also Weather & Climate).

Events and Holidays

National Holidays include:

New Year’s Day (January 1)
Australia Day (January 26)
Good Friday and Easter Monday (March/April)
Anzac Day (April 25)
Christmas Day (December 25)
Boxing Day (December 26)

On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours. There are also additional holidays in each state or territory.

Time Zone

Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.

All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.

What To Pack and Wear

Don’t forget to pack all of the prescription medications you might need in clearly labeled containers, along with copies of all of your prescriptions (using the generic names of drugs). Tip: Take back-up photographs of your prescriptions, including for medications, eyeglasses, and contact lenses, as well as any letters from your doctor(s), then store the images on your smartphone or in the cloud, in case you accidentally lose the originals. 

A passport and a valid visa is required for foreign citizens (except New Zealanders).

What it Costs

Planning your travel in Australia will mean budgeting, and we hope that the information in this section will help with that. Of course, it will depend on where you going within Australia because prices do fluctuate depending on your location.

Sydney and Melbourne are relatively expensive cities, but there’s still plenty to see and do if you’re on a budget. Most of the sights and museums are free and of course there’s no price on most of the places you’ll want to see in the great outdoors. Beaches, national parks and public spaces are there for the enjoyment of all.

Regional centres are likely to be less pricey, unless you’re in the Outback, where you’re paying for the cost of freight for almost everything. But the rewards of getting into more remote areas certainly outweigh the costs.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $AU.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $71 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $201-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $301 for a double

Eat
$ => Up to $20 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $21-35 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $36 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $51 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’€™s a deal, you’€™ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’€™s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’€™t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘€˜friend’€™ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates.  It currently operates in Sydney, Canberra (from Oct 30), Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation

About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical

Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption

For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay

Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage

Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’€™s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions

Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’€™s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’€™s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’€™s covered, as many have ‘stripped down’€ coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As ‘€œshared space’€ lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes.  Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.

Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out.  In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs

If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of ‘cash out’ when paying for your goods, which€” is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia.  Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’€™t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’€™t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your
company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’€™t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’€™ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’€™t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.

Other costs:

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Got all the time in the world on your trip to Australia?  Then getting around is no problem…how you choose to do it will depend on your preferred style of travel. The options are all there: fly, take the train or the bus, or drive yourself. You can even cycle, if that slow (and often hot) mode of travel take your fancy.

Australia’s transport systems are good and the road are (mostly) in good condition…but remember that that distances are vast and sometimes you’ll be facing long hours of driving. If time is a factor – and let’s face it, for most visitors, it is – then flying is the fastest and most efficient way of getting around.

All of our destination coverage will suggest the best ways of getting around the places you visit. We’ve also got a special section on the Outback, which includes tips for driving in sometimes challenging conditions.

Getting There

By Air

Long haul flights are never fun. And of course we may be biased, but we think it’s worth it if your destination is Australia! Unless you are coming from New Zealand, it’s going to be anywhere between 15 and 20-something hours from Europe or North America, less if you break your journey in Asia or the Middle East. But there’s no getting around it, it’s a drag.

Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns are the major international gateways. Sydney is the major entry point into Australia, but you may also fly through another port first, depending where you’re coming from. Fewer international flights come in to Darwin, Perth, the Gold Coast in Queensland, and Adelaide.

By Ship
If you are coming to Australia on a cruise ship, you are likely to arrive in Sydney. Sydney Harbour is Australia’s main port for cruise ships and it is the only port in Australia with two dedicated cruise-passenger terminals—the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay (in the heart of downtown Sydney, close to all the major tourist attractions) and the White Bay Cruise Terminal, about 5km from the city centre. Melbourne and Brisbane are also major ports with increasing numbers of big ships visiting.

Getting Around

By Air

Flying is by far the best way to cover the vast distances involved in travelling in Australia, but it’s also expensive. When planning, it’s also a good idea to check your flight is a direct one, because some routes involved multiple stops! If you’re travelling to smaller towns, there may not be  a direct flight, or even a flight every day.

Australia has two major domestic airlines, Qantas (which also operated the budget carrier, Jetstar) and Virgin Australia. Between them, they service every capital city, as well as most major regional towns on the east coast. Regional Express – also called REX – serves regional New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. Low-cost carrier Tigerair flies to all capital cities from its Melbourne hub, as well as a number of other ports around the country.

By Car

The first rule of driving in Australia is to remember to drive on the left. And give way to the right. Many a road-tripping North American or European has come unstuck by failing to remember these basic rules. And seat belts are compulsory.

But there’s nothing better than a road trip, and at Bindu we’ll be sharing some great touring routes with you. Australia’s vast and changing landscape is best explored at ground level, both on and off the bitumen. If you plan long-distance driving, try get a road map that marks paved and unpaved roads.

The speed limit is 50kmph (31 mph) or 60kmph (37 mph) in cities and towns, 100kmph (62 mph) in most country areas, and sometimes 110kmph (68 mph) on freeways. In the Northern Territory, the speed limit is 130kmph (81 mph) on the Stuart, Arnhem, Barkly, and Victoria highways, while rural roads are designated 110kmph (68 mph) unless otherwise signposted. And yes, the NT has a high road death count.

Drink-driving laws are strictly enforced. The maximum permitted blood alcohol level when driving is .05%, which equals approximately two 200-milliliter (6.6-oz.) drinks in the first hour for men, one for women, and one drink per hour for both sexes after that. The police set up random breath-testing units (RBTs) in cunningly disguised and unlikely places all the time, and if caught over the limit, you will face a court appearance if you do.

By Train

The long-distance rail network in Australia links Perth to Adelaide and continues on to Melbourne and north to Sydney, Brisbane, and Cairns. There’s also a line from Adelaide to Alice Springs and Darwin. Trains generally cost more than buses.

Most long-distance trains have sleepers with big windows, air-conditioning, electric outlets, wardrobes, sinks, and fresh sheets and blankets. First-class sleepers have en-suite bathrooms, and fares often include meals. Second-class sleepers use shared shower facilities, and meals are not included. Some second-class sleepers are private cabins; on other trains you share with strangers. Single cabins are usually tiny but have their own toilet and wash basin. Smoking is banned on all Australian rail networks.

Different organisations manage Australia’s rail routes. They include the government-owned Queensland Rail, which handles rail within that state and NSW TrainLink  which manages travel within New South Wales and from Sydney to south to Melbourne and north to Brisbane. Great Southern Rail has a range of other fabulous Outback train journeys, including The Ghan, which links Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin, The Indian Pacific, which travels between Sydney and Perth, and The Overland, between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Queensland Rail operates the high-speed Spirit of Queensland  five times a week on the Brisbane-Cairns route with business-class-style seating and “railbeds”(similar to Business Class lie-flat airline beds). The trip takes around 24 hours. The Tilt Train runs between Brisbane and the coastal towns of Bundaberg and Rockhampton. All Queensland and New South Wales long-distance trains stop at most towns en route, so they’re useful for exploring the eastern states.

By Bus

Australia has one national coach operator, Greyhound Australia (no relation to Greyhound in the USA), which has an extensive route network that will take you almost everywhere. As well as point-to-point services, Greyhound Australia also offers tours at popular locations including Uluru in Central Australia, and the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.

Bus terminals are centrally located and well lit, the buses are clean and air-conditioned, with adjustable seats and videos. Buses are all nonsmoking and some have on-board toilets.

Discounts and Passes

Bus Passes

Bus passes can be great value if you’re travelling Australia’s big distances on a budget. Several kinds of bus passes are available, including short hop, hop-on-hop-off passes, and kilometre passes.  But remember that you still might have to plan ahead, as the conditions of some passes mean that you may need to book the next leg of your trip 12 or 24 hours ahead. as a During school holidays and other busy times, try to book a week or so ahead if you can.

Greyhound Australia’s Short Hop Passes let you travel between two destinations, with limited stops over 30 days, as long as you don’t backtrack. Hop-on-hop-off Passes are valid for 90 days and link most of the popular destinations. The Kilometre Pass, valid for 12 months, allows unlimited stops in any direction within the distance that you buy. Passes are available for 1,000km, and 2,500km—enough to get you from Brisbane to Cairns— and for a marathon 25,000km.

Discounted fares are available for students, backpacker cardholders, and Hostelling International/YHA members

Rail Passes

NSW TrainLink’s Discovery Pass gives you unlimited economy class trips anywhere on its network, including to Melbourne and Brisbane for up to six months. Passes are also available for 14 days, one month and three months’ travel.

The Queensland Explorer pass offers unlimited economy seat travel for one or two months across the Queensland Rail network, from Cairns in the north to the Gold Coast in the south, and to some parts of the Queensland outback, for international travellers. The Queensland Coastal Pass allows travel between Brisbane and Cairns for one or two months.

Great Southern Rail’s Rail Explorer Pass gives two or three months of unlimited travel aboard its three trains – The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Overland.

Background

Australia is different. It’s a place that will challenge and fascinate you, dazzle you with its landscape and captivate you with its diversity. People come to Australia for a short time, and stay for a lifetime. I know…I’m one of those people.

With an ancient indigenous culture – itself a study in diversity – and unique wildlife, it is a place where you will learn a lot and go home enriched by new experiences and encounters. In this section of our Australia content, we hope you’ll find much to inspire you to travel to Australia and discover it for yourself.

For those who want to delve deeper into Australia’s history and culture, there are plenty of ways to do it, either before, during or after your visit. We’ve also included a reading list and some suggested movies that might give you greater insight into the lives of Australians – past and present.

History

Evidence exists that Australia’s indigenous people have lived on this land for up to 40,000 years, possibly longer. Australia was part of Gondwanaland, a massive continent that split, also creating Africa, South America, India, Papua New Guinea, and Antarctica. Giant marsupials roamed the continent of Australia, the last of them dying out around 20,000 years ago.

The first Europeans to chart parts of the Australian continent were the Portuguese in 1536, as they searched for the great “unknown south land”, called Terra Australia Incognita. In 1606, the Dutch East India Company charged William Jansz with finding a new route to the Spice Islands, and to find New Guinea. He landed on the north coast of Queensland instead and encountered local Aborigines. Between 1616 and 1640, many more Dutch ships made contact with Australia as they hugged the west coast of what they called “New Holland,” after sailing with the westerly winds from the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1642, the Dutch East India Company sent Abel Tasman to search for and map the great south land. During two voyages, he charted the northern Australian coastline and discovered Tasmania, which he named Van Diemen’s Land in honour of Anthony Van Diemen, the governor general of the Indies.

In 1770, British explorer Captain James Cook charted the east coast of Australia in his ship the HMS Endeavour, claiming the land for Britain and naming it New South Wales. On April 29, Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay, which he named after the discovery of scores of previously unknown plants. Turning north, he passed an entrance to a harbour that offered safe anchorage and named it Port Jackson. Today we know it as Sydney Harbour. At this time, at least 300,000 Aborigines were living on the continent.

Britain saw Australia as a potential colony for its overflowing prison population, and in May 1787, the First Fleet of 11 ships left England bearing 1480 passengers and crew, including 759 convicts. None of those ships were any bigger than the ferries that ply Sydney Harbour today. The flagship, the Supply, reached Port Jackson on January 26, 1788. That day is now celebrated as Australia Day. The last 10,000 convicts were transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868, bringing the total shipped to Australia to 168,000.

Relationships between the settlers and Aborigines were initially peaceful, but conflicts over land and food led to violence. Within a few years, around 10,000 Aborigines and 1,000 Europeans had been killed in Queensland alone, while in Tasmania, a campaign to rid the island entirely of Aborigines was successful, with the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine dying in 1876.

When gold was discovered in Victoria in 1852 and in Western Australia 12 years later, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe, America, and China flooded the country in search of fortune. By 1860, more than a million non-Aboriginal people were living in Australia.

When the British came, bringing unfamiliar diseases, some coastal Aboriginal communities were wiped out by smallpox. Massacres of Aborigines also continued – largely unchecked and unpunished – until the 1920s. At this time, official government policy was to remove light-skinned Aboriginal children from their families, a policy which continued until the 1970s. Many “stolen generation” children were brought up in white foster homes or church mission stations and were never reunited with their real families. The fallout from this policy still reverberates in Australian society today.

On January 1, 1901, the six states that made up Australia proclaimed themselves to be part of one nation, the Commonwealth of Australia. The first governor general was sworn in as the representative of Britain’s Queen Victoria. The reigning British monarch is Australia’s head of state.

In 1914, Australia joined Britain in World War I. On April 25,1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops formed a beachhead on the peninsula of Gallipoli in Turkey. The Turks were ready, and eight months of fighting ended with 8,587 Australians dead and more than 19,000 wounded. Anzac Day (April 25) is commemorated each year in their memory, and in tribute to all Australian and New Zealand service personnel.

Australian troops went to battle again in World War II, a war that also came close to home. In March 1942, Japanese aircraft bombed Broome in Western Australia and Darwin in the Northern Territory. In May 1942, Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour and torpedoed a ferry before being destroyed. Later that year, Australian volunteers fought through the jungles of Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda Track against Japanese forces.

Following World War II, mass immigration to Australia from Europe boosted the population. Until 1974 there was a “White Australia Policy”. A result of conflict between European settlers and Chinese immigrants in the gold fields in the 1850s, this policy severely restricted the immigration of people of non-European ancestry.

In 1964, a group of 20 Aboriginal women and children were “discovered” living in the Great Sandy Desert, south of Broome in Western Australia. These were the last Aboriginal people to make “first contact” with Europeans.

Today, there are 517,000 Australians who claim Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, around 2.5 per cent of the population. Aboriginal life expectancy is 20 years lower than that of other Australians, with overall death rates between two and four times higher. Aborigines make up the highest percentage of the country’s prison population, and Aboriginal deaths in custody continue to make headlines.

Aboriginal people were not given the right to hold citizenship or vote in Australia until 1962, and it was only in 1992 that the High Court of Australia expunged the concept of terra nullius and acknowledged the pre-existing rights of indigenous Australians. Aboriginal people are still not recognised in the Australian Constitution.

In late 2007, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially apologised to the “stolen generations.” National Sorry Day is held on May 26 each year, when Australians of all backgrounds march in parades and hold other events around the country to honor the Stolen Generations. It is followed by National Reconciliation Week (May 27–June 3).

In 1974, the Labor government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam put an end to the White Australia policy, and waves of immigration have led to Australia becoming a diverse multi-cultural society. In 2013, almost 28 per cent of the population was born overseas. Of those, six per cent were born in the U.K., three per cent in New Zealand, with others from Europe and Asia. New waves of immigration have recently come from countries such as Iraq, Sudan and Somalia. In recent years, immigration has become a hot topic again, as asylum seekers and refugees continue to head for Australia. Governments have taken a hard line on “boat people” and many have found themselves in long term detention centres.

Australia currently has a conservative Liberal Party government in coalition with the National Party, elected in 2013 and led by Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. The Opposition is the Australian Labor Party, and the other major party represented in the Federal Parliament is the Australian Greens. The House of Representatives has 150 members, and the Senate consists of 76 senators – 12 from each state and two from each territory.

Culture

Smoking laws
Smoking is banned in most public places all over Australia, including museums, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, and airports (and on all aircraft). In Queensland you are not allowed to smoke on a patrolled beach or near children’s playgrounds; in Victoria you may find that some pubs have outdoor (or rooftop) smoking areas. Laws vary from state to state, so the safest thing is to ask before you light up.

Drinking laws
The legal drinking age in Australia is 18. Hours vary from pub to pub, but most are open daily from around 10am or noon to 10pm or midnight. Random breath tests to catch drunk (or drug-affected) drivers are common, and drunk-driving laws are strictly enforced. These can be “booze buses” set up on the roadside, or random stops by police. Getting caught “over the limit” behind the wheel will mean a court appearance, not just an on-the-spot fine. The maximum permitted blood-alcohol level is .05%. Alcohol is sold in liquor stores, in  “bottle shops” attached to every pub, and in some states in supermarkets.

Tipping 

Tipping is not expected in Australia, but it is always appreciated. It is usual to tip around 10 per cent or round up to the nearest A$10 in a good restaurant. Some passengers round up when paying a taxi driver, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping bellboys and porters is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, hairdressers or masseuses.

Language

English is Australia’s official language and the one that everyone speaks. However, because of the country’s multi-cultural nature, many other languages are spoken, usually among ethnic communities.  There are about 600 distinct Aboriginal languages, but you will hear them very rarely, except in areas where there are indigenous communities, such as in Central Australia.

Australia also has a rich slang, sometimes referred to as Strine. These are some of the common words you may hear that make the Australian vocabulary so distinctive (and fun!).

Arvo — Afternoon
Back o’Bourke — In the middle of nowhere
Beaut, beauty or bonzer — Great, fantastic,
Bend the Elbow — To have a drink
Bloke — Man
Buckley’s Chance — No chance at all.
Bush —Australian countryside
Cactus — Dead, not working
Cobber, Mate — Friend (often used instead of the person’s name)
Cockie — Farmer.
Cooee — A bush yell for when you are lost
Crook — Sick, or badly made.
Dag — A funny person, nerd, goof, loser.
Digger — A soldier, originally meaning an ANZAC soldier
Dinkum, fair dinkum, dinky di — Genuine, truthful, the real thing
Drongo — An unintelligent and worthless person
Dunny — The toilet, W.C., or bathroom.
Esky — Portable icebox or cooler
Fair crack of the whip — Give someone a break
Galah — A noisy parrot, used to describe someone who is noisy and nonsensical
G’day — Universal greeting, used anytime day or night, but never as a farewell.
Grog — Liquor, beer. BYOG is “bring your own grog”
Grouse — Rhymes with “house” – means outstanding, tremendous. Can be applied universally to all things social … “grouse birds(women), grouse band
Hooroo — Pronounced “who-r”… means “see ya later
Jackaroo — A male station hand
Jillaroo — A female station hand
Joey — Baby kangaroo.
Jumbuck — Sheep
Jumper — Sweater
Larrikin — A ruffian
Never-Never, Outback — The remotest parts of the bush
Ocker — Pronounced “ocka” – uncultivated Aussie, similar to Yank “redneck”
Oz — Term for Australia
Ridgy-didge — Original, genuine
Right — Okay, as in “she’ll be right, mate.”
Schooner — Large beer glass
Sheila — A woman
She’ll be right — No problem, don’t worry, mate
Shootin’ through — Leave, take off
Shout — To shout means to buy the next round (of drinks usually)
Smoko — Smoke or coffee break
Snag — A sausage
Spit The Dummy — A “dummy” is Australian for a child’s pacifier. Lose your cool
Station — large cattle or sheep property (ie a ranch)
Stone the crows — An exclamation of surprise
Strewth —general exclamation of disbelief or shock
Strine — Australian slang, from “Aus-strine”, the way Aussies say Australian
Swagman — Itinerant farm worker, tramp
True blue — Honest, straight, genuine, the real thing (“He’s a true blue Aussie”)
Tucker — Food
Ute — pickup truck
Walkabout — Aboriginal term meaning “to go on a wander”
XXXX — pronounced Four X, it’s a brand of Queensland beer
Yakka — work (“it’s hard yakka”)
Yarn – Story, or “have a yarn” (to talk to someone)
Yobbo — Uncouth, aggressive person

Recommended Reading

Australia has always had a lively literary scene and its writers have produced a wealth of classics. For an insight into Australia through the eyes of some of its finest writers (and some visitors), dip into some of these titles or look for other books by these authors.

Fiction
My Brilliant Career (1901) by Miles Franklin
The Thorn Birds (1977) by Colleen McCullough
Walkabout (1959), by James V. Marshall
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (1997), by Doris Pilkington
True History of the Kelly Gang (2001) by Peter Carey
Breath (2008) by Tim Winton
The Trout Opera (2007) by Matthew Condon
The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014) by Richard Flanagan
A River Town, by Tom Keneally
Johnno by David Malouf
Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy

Non-fiction/History/Travel

We of the Never Never (1902), by Mrs Aeneas Gunn
The Tyranny of Distance (1966) by Geoffrey Blainey
The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding (1987) by Robert Hughes
Sydney (1992) by Jan Morris
Leviathan (1999) by John Birmingham.
Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner
In a Sunburned Country (2001) by Bill Bryson
Island Home (2015) by Tim Winton

Poetry

Australian literature has come a long way since the days when the bush poets A. B. “Banjo”Paterson and Henry Lawson penned their odes to a way of life now largely lost. The best known of these is Paterson’s epic The Man from Snowy River, which first hit the bestseller list in 1895 and was made into a film.

Movies

Australian movies have a very special and distinctive feel to them, despite the variety of their subject matter. Get yourself in the mood for your Australian sojourn by checking out some of these:

Walkabout (1971): A white girl and her brother get hopelessly lost in the Outback desert and survive with help from an Aboriginal man. Hauntingly beautiful and disturbing. Stars Jenny Agutter and Aboriginal actor David Gulpilul.

Picnic at Hanging Rock
(1974): This Peter Weir movie is about a group of schoolgirls and a teacher who go missing at an eerie rock formation north of Melbourne. It’s set at the beginning of the 20th century.

Mad Max
(1979): Mel Gibson fights to the death in the Outback, which presents the ideal setting for a post-apocalyptic world. The movie was so popular that it spawned three – yes, three – sequels: The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Fury Road (2015).

Gallipoli (1981): Australian director Peter Weir captures the stark reality of the World War I military disaster that is now part of Australian and New Zealand folklore. Stars Mel Gibson and ??

The Man from Snowy River (1982): Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson, and Sigrid Thornton star in this showcase for Australia’s mountain wilderness, where wild horses roam. Based on an epic poem by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson.

Crocodile Dundee (1986): Paul Hogan shot to fame as a crocodile-wrangling Outback hero. He wears the same hat and a few more wrinkles in Crocodile Dundee II (1988) and Crocodile Dundee in L.A. (2001). But you might want to stick with only the first one.

Shine (1991): The true (if somewhat romanticised) story of classical pianist David Helfgott, who rose to international prominence in the 1950s and 1960s before having a nervous breakdown. Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush is the adult Helfgott; Sir John Gielgud plays his piano teacher.

Strictly Ballroom (1992): Paul Mercurio plays a young man who becomes a champion ballroom dancer. It’s fun and fast-paced, with not too much dancing.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994): Classic Australian comedy about Muriel (Toni Collette), who dreams of getting married and escaping her boring life in Porpoise Spit. Fabulous characters, great catchphrases (“You’re terrible, Muriel!”), and Abba music combined to make it a major hit.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): A transsexual travels through the Outback in a big pink bus with two drag queens. They sing Abba classics and dress the part. Stars Hugo Weaving, 

The Dish (2000): Gentle comedy take on Australia’s role in the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, set around a group of characters operating the Parkes/Canberra radio telescope.

Rabbit Proof Fence (2002): This fictionalised tale addresses the real-life experience of Aboriginal “stolen children”, taken from their parents to put them in white foster families or—as is the case in this story—to train them to work as domestic servants.

Australia (2008): An aristocratic Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman), arrives in northern Australia in the 1930s. After an epic journey across the country with a cattle drover (Hugh Jackman), she is caught in the bombing of Darwin during World War II. Mixed reviews for this one – make up your own mind!

Samson and Delilah (2009): This gritty and confronting movie tells the story of two indigenous Australian teenagers living in a remote Aboriginal community who steal a car and escape their difficult lives by heading off to Alice Springs.

Animal Kingdom (2010): Jacki Weaver’s role as a crime family matriarch in this gripping drama set in Melbourne won her multiple awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Red Dog (2011): A family movie about a kelpie looking for his master in a Western Australian Outback mining town. Adapted from the novel by Louis de Bernières and based on a true story. Have your tissues handy.

Last Cab to Darwin (2015): Broken Hill taxi driver Rex finds out he has terminal cancer and drives to Darwin to take advantage of euthanasia laws (later repealed). A road trip movie that will make you laugh and cry.