For many visitors there is a whole list of things that they don’t know, they didn’t consider or they failed to remember when they did read it. Having had a number of Europeans to stay with us I have now managed to compile a list of what you need to know before visiting Australia that is not in the guide books.
Water is a precious resource in Australia. We are one of the driest continents on the planet. We are second to only Antarctica in relation to dryness, just to put that in perspective. Antartica where only penguins live! We are also the lowest and the flattest. The water supply and sanitation in Australia is universal and of good quality. The country’s supply of freshwater is increasingly vulnerable to droughts, perhaps as a result of climate change but perhaps because of bad management. Many areas have water restrictions. Some will dictate how often and at what times you can water your lawn if at all. In Brisbane hourglass timers were delivered to every household to time showers and restrict water consumption.
What do you need to do? You will be able to access clean water for drinking. Just be mindful that a second shower everyday may not be necessary. Wear deodorant instead. Fill the sink instead of using running water when doing the washing up. Turn the tap off while you brush your teeth. Simple little things. This is how we live.
We live under the hole in the ozone layer. Aren’t we lucky? With or without the hole in the ozone layer, this is a harsh environment. If you don’t burn at home (wherever home is) you will here. If you get a lovely Mediterranean honey tan after a slight red colour each day, here, you will be on bed rest with burns all over if you are not careful. Do not use your lotion from Europe or the US. Our sun standards are very high and the equivalent SPF elsewhere may not be what we even consider a starting point. You may think Reef Oil and SPF 6 is fine in France – it is not here. You need 30+ and you need to reapply after swimming and hourly. Don’t muck around. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancers in the world. This is partly to do with our lifestyle, and partly to do with our heritage. Regardless I have friends with dark skin – you still burn. Put the cream on and try to apply it before you get to the beach as a general rule. You need it on your face every day and in this part of the world, hats and sunglasses are required. Invest in polarised lenses. Invest in a hat with a brim not just a cap.
Some statistics to drive the message home.
- 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.
- Around 2,000 Australians die from skin cancer each year.
- Skin cancers account for about 80% of all new cancers diagnosed each year in Australia.
There were over 6 million visitors to Australian beaches last year. Our lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers performed over 5,000 rescues, 26,000 first aid treatments and 440,000 preventative actions. Follow these tips to be sure of a safe beach adventure.
- Always swim between the red and yellow flags
- Ask a lifeguard or lifesaver for safety advice
- Look and take notice of the signs at the beach
- Swim with a friend – never swim or surf alone
- If you need help, stay calm and attract attention by raising your arm above your head
- Never enter the water if you have been drinking alcohol or are under the influence of drugs
If you are at a beach with no lifeguard. Australian’s as a general rule are very aware of their swimming strengths and abilities. The first part of understanding dangers is understanding your set of skills. I am a life saver and I will swim with great care at an unpatrolled beach. I have been swimming all my life and I say that, so question are you really strong enough to swim in these conditions. Check the surf before you get in. Look at the waves rolling in and assess the power in them. Look for any rips. If you don’t know what one is – you most definitely should not swim at a unpatrolled beach. Seek at beach corners for protected and sheltered areas.
Going back to the headings water and the sun. You need to stay hydrated. You need to drink water. You need to drink roughly 2 litres a day and if you are not carrying a water bottle with you at all times you will struggle to be able to do this each day. Yes, if you are carrying packs for all the family you may very well be carrying 6 litres! In most built up areas you will find bubblers (water fountains) that will allow you to refill your bottles. I am yet to go to an Australian town where you cannot drink the town supplied water. I urge you to invest in a reusable glass or stainless steel bottle. The amount of rubbish produced from a family of four buying water over ten days is as
The emergency line in Australia is 000. This is for fire, ambulance and police.
We drive on the left. Read the road rules before you get here. No you cannot drive like you are in Italy or France where you don’t obey road lines or speed limits. We behave! We park at designated spots and we face the direction the traffic is to go. We drive to the speed limit and we read road signs and parking fines. Believe me, my Italian friend did not enjoy a $500 fine for going 30kms over the speed limit! My French friend did not enjoy a $250 fine for parking in a non-stopping area. We have double points and increased fines during holiday periods. Children need to be in carseats until 7 in some states. Be aware of this before you travel.
Click here for a list a Road Users handbook
No we don’t put it on a spoon and eat it like you would Nutella or Peanut Butter. Get a white roll and some butter (margarine will not cut it) and lather the butter on the roll. I like cold hard butter and spread the butter like it is cheese. Then add liberal amounts of vegemite. Remembering it is not peanut butter nor Nutella so don’t spread it like it is. You spread it as if you were putting wasabi paste onto your meal or hot mustard on your steak. Most Australians will go to a vegemite sandwich when they have an upset stomach. The vitamin B gives you back your bounce.
BYO stands for Bring your own (alcohol). It’s a strange concept for international visitors but it’s a way of life. Many restaurants allow you to bring your own choice of wine to a restaurant. You need to check as some may charge a corkage (fee per head or per table to have this privilege at a licensed restaurant) BYO restaurants mean that the license the restaurant has doesn’t include the service of alcohol but you are allowed to consume alcohol on the premise’s with your meal should you bring it with you. If you are invited to a BBQ – the invitation will often say BYO. Translated it means the host is happy to pay for food and prepare food but you are on your own with your choice of alcoholic beverage.
I recently read an article on what it means to be Australian. Number 41 was “If a hand is offered you shake it, if someone needs help you give it, and allowing anyone to believe whatever they like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” Click here for the full article by Xavier Toby. The last part of the statement is what I want to explain. Aussie’s love to yarn. They love to exaggerate a story to make it entertaining. There’s an expression. “Never let reality get in the way of a good story” Australians like to joke and making fun of someone, inclusive of themselves is actually their sense of humour. Australians are light hearted and jovial. Having philosophic conversations are few and far between. I have had several Europeans staying with us who have found this lack of debate over a meal very strange indeed. I am not saying Australians are stupid and lacking intelligence. There is a time and place for conversations of depth and it may take some time to be invited into one of these debates.
Vermin – the deadly and the annoying
When we speak to a traveller, Australians will often lay claim that deadly sharks, spiders and snakes are everywhere. The reality is they are not. Truth be told many Australians are as scared of them as everyone else. How do we cope?
You need to know good spiders from bad. Say what? There’s good spiders? Yep. Trust me, if you’re going to see 50 a day you will have no energy for the deadly ones if you bother with every Daddy-long-legs you see. (In actual fact Daddy-long-legs are deadly but their legs are so long they can’t actually bite you) I’ve included a list. Red-back spiders (yes… the names are highly intelligent and they took moths to decide on the appropriate name choices) and funnel webs are the ones to watch as they are possibly the one’s you will come across. Click here to get a quick overview of spiders. This list includes Huntsman spiders. They are the size of a small dinner plate and they are lovely. They keep the insects from your house. Yes, a spider can be lovely. When you realise how many bugs are here you will appreciate the odd spider.
Again – the red- belly black snake and the brown snake are worth looking for. I actually had to do a bush-wee last weekend (that’s when you are in the bush and you need to wee and there is not a toilet for kilometres) and whilst doing my wee a baby red-belly came towards me. Had it been an adult whilst my strides were down I would have been somewhat more panicked. Yes… the naming thing is relevant again. It is unlikely you will see one in city areas.
You have more chance being hit by a bus. Swim between the flags and avoid swimming at sunrise and sunset if you have to swim at all. Sharks live in the ocean. If you want to enjoy the ocean, be prepared that a shark may also be enjoying his habitat. I suggest you do what thousands, actually 6 million people visited Australian beaches last year of which 23 injuries were recorded in 2015. Click here for Taronga’s statistics. Remember just because the papers report it does not mean it has not been exaggerated or dramatised to sell papers.
Yes this lovely bugs come into houses through the drains. They fly and they crawl. If you see one, squash it. Many Australian houses may have a thong for the purposes of squashing bugs. These things are difficult to kill. They can survive a toilet flush and they can live semi- squashed. They don’t hurt. They are just simply yuk!
Ants, mosquitoes and flies.
Yes we have plenty of all of them. You need to put food away in plastic containers that seal. You need to wear *aeroguard in the evenings to avoid mozzie bites and flies are just a way of life. If you go on a picnic, pack a cover for the food. Green ants bite and their sting is quiet uncomfortable but you will not die. Mozzie’s are more of an itch and kids can get bad reactions from them. My little one gets big welts on his legs from every bite. *Soov or Vicks cream is a great relieve for both. (Disclaimer – I am not a chemist and these are most definitely old wives tale remedies, but I live here and use them all the time) Click here for more information.
Wear proper shoes. Ferragamo shoes are not correct bush walking shoes. If you are getting out of your car and walking to any lookout in Australia have the correct shoes on. We do not have paved footpaths everywhere. Expect mud and a little bit of nature. Proper shoes can save your life if a snake gets too close. Proper shoes can prevent spider bites. Proper shoes will help you get along tracks and paths without injury. Children especially should be in closed to shoes if you are wandering through the bush. This will include accessing many of our great beaches.
Doesn’t sound like I am selling the place am I? Perhaps not but sometimes it’s the danger that makes a place amazing. Imagine this. You go to the beach – one of over 10,000 and you are one of 3-4 people there. Yes.. in Sydney. It is possible. Yes, there could be blue bottles at the beach and jelly fish. I have paid thousands of dollars to go to places in the world to have miserable weather the entire time I was there. It happens. Sun doesn’t always shine and beaches aren’t always open. It won’t ruin your trip. It’s how you manage these situations (actually called life) that makes the memories. Seeing a poisonous snake is actually the story every traveller wants to return home with. It’s actually the story all your neighbours want to hear. They don’t want to hear tales of endless beaches and perfect weather, they want to be amused and laugh at your tales of escaping a deadly snake. Refer to the point about Story Telling above. Go home… the snake wasn’t a baby measuring 10cm – it was 4 metres long! See…. Now you’re getting an idea of what it is like to be an Australian. Isn’t experiencing life as a local what travel is all about?