So: you’re a new Australian visa holder (or you’re planning on becoming one). You have clearly done some research on what it’s like to work, live or study here. But one thing that may not seem as clear-cut is Australian culture. It seems as though Australia and its people have a particular stereotype (as most nations do), perpetuated particularly by Hollywood and American popular culture. (See: The Simpsons, Crocodile Dundee, and this ad featuring Paul Hogan). While some stereotypes are rooted in truth, you may be asking yourself: are drop bears real? And should you say “G’day, mate!” to everyone in the office? Well, we’re here to dispel twelve of the biggest myths about Australia, and hopefully answer your questions in the process.
Myth 1: All Indigenous Australians are the same
Indigenous Australian culture is incredibly vast and rich. Before European settlement and colonisation in 1788, there were over 500 different Indigenous nations in Australia and over 250 languages spoken by these nations. There are maps that represent just how extensive Indigenous culture is, and which Indigenous nations correspond to areas of Australia we know today.
Sadly, only around 120 languages have survived to this day, with that number diminishing as Elders pass away. In contrast, while English simply represents a means of communication, Indigenous languages store hoards of cultural information, including knowledge of medicines, songs, and a spiritual connection to the land.
Maps that roughly delineate the areas belonging to different nations help to educate those who are unfamiliar with this knowledge. You should research which Indigenous nation is the traditional owner of the land you’re living, working or studying on in Australia.
Myth 2: Our wildlife is out to get you
While it’s true that Australia is home to 21 out of the world’s top 25 most deadly snakes, it doesn’t mean you’re in mortal danger the minute you step out of the plane. Around 40% of Australia’s land mass is actually uninhabitable, and luckily for you, this is where some of these creatures live. In Australian cities where most of the human population resides, animals in general do not seek to visit – let alone the deadly ones.
If you’re planning to live, work or study in an area that is far from the city, the best thing you can do is educate yourself so that in the event of an encounter, you know what to do. This doesn’t mean an encounter will happen; rather, in the rare event that it does, you’ll know what to do.
You should know:
- How to react if you see a wild snake
- What to do if a bee stings you
- How to treat a sting from a sea creature
Myth 3: “Throw a shrimp on the barbie!”
The only time you’ll ever hear an Australian repeat this phrase is when they are ‘taking the mickey’ out of the stereotype (i.e. being sarcastic, joking about it or mocking it). We are actually more fond of prawns, not shrimp, and they can be eaten and cooked in a number of ways – from seafood salad to seafood risotto.
Myth 4: Everyone uses the word ‘sheila’
Ditto with “G’day mate”, ‘Chrissy’, and ‘cuppa’. Yes, that’s right: “G’day mate” is a rarity – although the words used separately are fairly common. While most people would understand you if you used these stereotypical words and phrases, you definitely won’t be hearing them every day.
Slang you’re much more likely to hear includes:
- “Yeah, nah.” It sounds confusing, but this means no. Swap them around and you’ve got ‘yes’.
- “I’ll shout you.” The person saying this is offering to pay for your food or drinks.
- “Crack it.” If you’re cracking it, it means you’re angry or annoyed.
Myth 5: Sydney is the capital city
While many national events are held in either Sydney or Melbourne, neither of these cities are our capital. Our capital city is Canberra – which is almost in the middle of the two famous Australian cities.
Myth 6: Our humour is malicious and uncouth
Something that might cause culture shock for new Australian visa holders is the fact that Australians constantly use humour, even in professional settings. At first encounter, Australian humour that is direct and sarcastic can seem crude or even abrasive to those who aren’t used to it.
However, you’ll quickly find that despite the ironic jokes and sarcasm, we do not intend on upsetting anyone. Self-deprecation is the most valued form of humour, and – far from malicious – the best way to make people laugh is by laughing at yourself.
Myth 7: We have barely any history
As mentioned earlier, colonisation is not the ‘beginning’ of Australian history by any means. In fact, Indigenous nations and cultures are estimated to be between 40-50,000 years old, making them some of the oldest living cultures in the world.
There is an abundance of Indigenous history to learn about. Start with the area of Australia you’re living, working or studying in. Educate yourself on some of the following questions:
- Who are the traditional owners of the land you’re on?
- What is the history of that nation (or nations)?
- What have descendants of that nation(s) produced to educate others?
- What are their languages like?
- Where are some places nearby you can visit to learn more?
Myth 8: We ride kangaroos to work
We take public transport, ride bikes or drive to work, but we definitely don’t ride kangaroos. (Though, we’re more than happy to pretend we do – almost as happy as we are to continue our April Fools’ pranks about the existence of drop bears).
In fact, many locals haven’t seen even seen kangaroos in the wild, especially those that live close to the city. While they aren’t anywhere near endangered (there’s a 2:1 ratio of kangaroos to people), if you want to see a kangaroo, you’re better off visiting a national park or viewing trail.
Myth 9: We love a good can of Foster’s
A common misconception about Australians is their supposed love for Foster’s. In fact, Foster’s is actually brewed in Britain, so ordering one at a bar, if they stock it at all, will probably intrigue the bartender.
There are many other beers enjoyed by Australians that you should try instead, from craft beer to commercially brewed beer. Some popular ones include:
- Little Creatures Pale Ale
- Coopers Pale Ale
- Carlton Draught
Myth 10: Indigenous sites are the same as any other natural site
Climbing Uluru is an activity that will officially be banned from October 2019. But just because that’s a year away, that doesn’t mean you should try to do it in the meantime. For the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people who are the traditional owners of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it is sacred land. Therefore, it is highly disrespectful to attempt the climb.
The same goes for other sacred Indigenous sites that are open for tourists and non-Indigenous people to visit. These are some things to keep in mind when you visit a historical Indigenous site:
- You should always ask for photography permission and consent, even if you aren’t taking photos or videos of people.
- Be mindful that you may have to acquire a permit to visit certain communities and reserves.
- Never remove anything from natural sites and avoid damaging them at all costs; this is disrespectful and disregards the spiritual relationship that Indigenous people have with the land. This includes things that might seem minor to you, such as removing or kicking a rock, or breaking a twig from a tree.
Myth 11: We are a little too laid-back
The emphasis on joking with your superiors at work may create an image that Australians are consequently too laid-back, or even lazy altogether. However, the job market in Australia is extremely competitive, and environments like these naturally reward those who work hardest.
To put it into perspective, there were only around 5,000 graduate job vacancies to account for around 200,000 graduates in 2015. To land the job, graduates must stand out from the crowd – and that’s often not easy, especially with the emphasis on prior work experience. However, there are resources you can access for tips and advice on standing out from those competing for the same job.
Myth 12: Australia is too expensive for students to live
If you’ve done some research, you might know that it costs around $20,000 per year on top of university/study fees for an international student to live, study and work in Australia. Besides the many scholarships on offer for those wishing to study in Australia, there are other things to note that may help to alleviate the financial stress of studying in Australia.
Here are some ways you can lessen the financial pressure:
- Think about studying in a different state. Sydney and Melbourne are highly sought after and therefore will be more expensive. You’ll find that cities like Adelaide will thus be more affordable.
- Earn a living while on your visa (in compliance with work conditions for student visa holders). The Subclass 500 Student Visa allows students to work as per these work conditions, outlined by the Department of Home Affairs.
If you are unsure how to obtain the right Australian visa, you should be in touch with an experienced registered migration agent or immigration lawyer. The team at AHWC Immigration Law (formerly Australia Here We Come) can answer all the questions you might have about your prospective Australian visa. Get in touch with a friendly migration agent today and enjoy expert professional assistance with your visa application from start to finish.