Difference between revisions of "Australia"
Revision as of 02:38, 7 June 2007
Australia is the only country that has a whole continent to itself. World famous for its natural wonders and wide open spaces (beaches, deserts and "the bush" or "the Outback"), Australia is ironically one of the world's most highly urbanised countries and is well known for the cosmopolitan attractions of its globally significant cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and the Australian capital city Canberra. Australia is also a major tourist destination, and is one of the world's wealthiest countries. The country is renowned worldwide for its vast, untouched landscape and its unique culture.
The Australian mainland comprises six states and two territories. Ranked in order of population:
(common abbreviations follow in parentheses)
Australia also possesses a number of island territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans:
In addition to this, Australia also maintains some bases in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
The major cities of Australia also serve as the state capitals:
Other cities can be found under their respective state articles.
Australia is the world's smallest continent but sixth-largest country; it's slightly smaller than the 48 contiguous United States. The highly urbanised population is heavily concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. Australia is bordered on the northwest, west, and southwest by the Indian Ocean, and on the east by the South Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies to the southeast, while the Great Barrier Reef lies to the northeast. Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia are Australia's northern neighbors, separated from Australia by the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea.
Australia is mostly arid and semi-arid: the center is desert and much agricultural land is poor quality by the standards of continents with richer soil. The south east is temperate and the north tropical. Australia was massively deforested for agricultural purposes: forest areas survive in extensive national parks and some other areas. Australia is prone to severe drought and water restrictions are currently in place in some areas, however these shouldn't affect travellers as they mostly relate to watering gardens and washing cars.
A common perception of Australia is that it is always hot and sunny: wrong! Both Sydney and Melbourne can experience days or even weeks of almost continual rainfall, while Western Tasmania has a climate that closely resembles that of England, although Tasmania's capital, Hobart, is the second driest Australian capital.
The continent of Australia was apparently first settled more than 40,000 years ago with successive waves of immigration of Aboriginal peoples from south and south-east Asia. With rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, Australia became largely isolated from the rest of the world and the Aboriginal tribes developed a variety of cultures, based on a close (spiritual) relationship with the land and nature, and extended kinship. Australian aborigines maintained a hunter/gatherer culture for thousands of years in association with a primitive artistic and cultural life - including a very rich 'story-telling' tradition. While the 'modern impression' of Australian Aborigines is largely built around an image of the 'desert people' who have adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet (equivalent to the bushmen of the Kalahari), Australia provided a 'comfortable living' for the bulk of aborigines amongst the bountiful flora and fauna on the Australian coast - until the arrival of Europeans.
Although a lucrative Chinese market for shells and beche de mere had encouraged Indonesian fishermen to visit Northern Australia for centuries it was unknown to Europeans until the 1600's, when Dutch traders to Asia began to 'bump' into the Western Coast. Early Dutch impressions of this extremely harsh, dry country were unfavourable, and Australia remained for them something simply a road sign pointing north to the much richer (and lucrative) East Indies (modern Indonesia). Deliberate exploration of the Australian coast was then largely taken over by the French and the British. Consequently place names of bays, headlands and rivers around the coastline reflect a range of Dutch, French, British, and Aboriginal languages.
In 1770, the expedition of the Endeavour under command of James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on April 29, 1770. Cook continued northwards, and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on August 22, 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the British Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook's discoveries would lead to the first European settlement of Australia, he is often popularly conceived as its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by more than 160 years.
Following the exploration period, the first wave of British settlers came to Australia in 1788, starting a process of colonisation that almost entirely displaced the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land. This reduced indigenous populations drastically and marginalised them to the fringes of society.
While Australia began its modern history as a British penal colony, the vast majority of people who came to Australia after 1788 were free settlers, mainly from Britain and Ireland, but also from other European countries. Convict settlements were along the east coast, Adelaide and Perth being settled by free settlers. Many Asian and Eastern European people also came to Australia in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush that started Australia's first resource boom. Although such diverse immigration diminished greatly during the xenophobic years of the White Australia policy, Australia welcomed a successive series of immigration from Europe, the Mediterranean and later Asia to formulate a highly diverse and multicultural society by the late 20th century.
The system of separate colonies federated to form an independent country in 1901, each colony now becoming a state of Australia. The new country was able to take advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural and manufacturing industries and made a proportionally huge contribution (considering its small size of population) to the Allied war effort in World Wars I and II. Australian troops also made a valuable, if sometimes controversial, contribution to the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Australian Diggers retain a reputation as some of the hardest fighting troops along with a great social spirit.
Long-term Australian concerns include salinity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef. Government in Australia is based on a federal system (with States and a National Governments) similar to the USA, but these Governments follow a British model, with two elected houses (similar to the US House and Senate) with an unelected representative of the Queen of The United Kingdom in the (notionally powerless) executive position 'above' the parliament. A referendum to change Australia's status to a republic was narrowly defeated in 1999, largely due to a split between those seeking a directly elected President (the majority) and those who believed the President should be elected by the Government. Demand for another vote has been discouraged by the current conservative Government, but it is likely to resurface.
Most of the population is concentrated in the south-east of the country, to the east of the Great Dividing Range. This is because the inland and western areas of the country are at best semi-habitable desert, known as the Outback. The most-inhabited states are Victoria and New South Wales, but by far the largest in land area is Western Australia.
Modern culture of Australia largely reflects its British origins, Anglo Australians are very protective of their culture and country. Australia has a small multicultural minority, its citizens' families originating in seemingly all over the world, and practising almost every religion and lifestyle. Over one-fifth of Australians were born to immigrant parents, and there are approximately half a million Australians of Aboriginal descent.
The most multicultural city is the largest: Sydney, closely followed by Melbourne. Both cities are renowned for the variety and quality of global foods available in their many restaurants, and Melbourne especially has been at pains to promote itself as a centre for the arts world-wide. That said, whilst smaller "Outback" and rural settlements might still reflect a majority Anglo-Celtic monoculture (often with a small Aboriginal population), virtually every large Australian city and town reflects the immigration from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific that occurred after World War II and continued into the 1970s. The changes that that might involve can be appreciated by the fact that, in the half century after the war, Australia's population boomed from roughly 7 million to just over 20 million people.
The national holidays in Australia are:
Many states observe Labour Day, but on completely separate days. Most states have one or two additional state-wide holidays.
When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday (Easter excepted), the following Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) are declared holidays in lieu, although both the celebrations and the major retail shutdowns will occur on the day itself. Most tourist attractions are closed on public holidays. Supermarkets and other stores may open for limited hours on some public holidays and on holidays in lieu, but are almost always closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, ANZAC Day and Christmas Day.
Salaried Australians have four weeks of annual leave every year. There is no fixed time to take it, but many take the three working days between Christmas and New Year and the following week. Domestic tourism is strongest during January and the Easter school holidays.
Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Rising output in the domestic economy has been offsetting the global slump, and business and consumer confidence remains robust. The Federal government's emphasis on reform is another factor behind the economy's strength. The recent upturn in global commodity prices has helped Australia's economy grow since 2000.
While income disparities grew throughout the 80s, especially in outer suburban areas, strong employment growth and mandated minimum conditions for workers ensured that overall living standards kept growing until the 1990s.
Mainland Australia has three time zones, on account of its large geographical range:
Several Australian states observe daylight saving time during the summer season. In NSW, ACT, VIC, SA and WA, daylight savings time applies from the end of October to the end of March and in Tasmania from the beginning of October to the end of March. (In 2006 only, daylight saving begins on December 3 in WA). Queensland and the Northern Territory do not use daylight savings time. Due to the half hour difference between CST and EST, this means that during summer there are five different time zones operating in Australia: GMT+9 (WA), GMT+9.5 (NT), GMT+10 (Qld), GMT+10.5 (SA) and GMT+11 (NSW, ACT, Vic, Tas).
240V 50Hz. On paper, 230V with the introduction of AS60038-2000 in line with European countries. Outlets are of the Australian AS-3112 standard, which features two angled flat blades and a third vertical flat blade for grounding. The configuration of the electrical contacts is similar to that found in Argentina and mainland China. Lamp sockets are predominantly bayonet (B22d), though Edison screw (E27)is used for some specialised or imported fittings. European and other travellers with 230V 50Hz appliances need only a plug adapter. U.S., Canadian and travellers from other 60Hz countries need to check whether their power adapters can handle both 230V/50Hz and 110V/60Hz. If so, they only need a plug adapter. If not then step down transformer is required. Many laptops, shavers and iPod-type chargers can handle both voltages and frequencies.
Australia is completely surrounded by ocean: there is no way to travel overland to Australia. Hence, all international visitors arrive by plane or by boat. Almost all travellers will first travel to one of the state capitals, as these have all the major airports and many of the major ports.
Approximately half of all international travellers arrive first in Australia in Sydney, the largest city, via Kingsford-Smith International Airport. Assuming direct flights to Sydney from various parts of the globe, travellers can expect a 3 hour flight from New Zealand, a 7-11 hour flight from countries in Asia, a 15 hour flight from the west of the United States of America, an 18 hour flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, a 13-16 hours flight from South America, and up to a 24+ hour flight from western Europe. On account of long journey times from some destinations, many travellers opt to book a stop-over in their flight in order to minimise the impact of jet lag and flight discomfort, commonly Singapore, Dubai, Thailand or Malaysia.
After Sydney, significant numbers of travellers also arrive first in Australia in Melbourne (Tullamarine Airport), Brisbane and Perth. Much smaller numbers arrive at international airports in Cairns, Adelaide, Darwin, the Gold Coast (Coolangatta), Norfolk Island, Newcastle and Broome.
Customs and quarantine
Australia has a very strict customs requirement when it comes to animal and vegetable imports including wood, and other prohibited goods. This is because Australia is a large and isolated island, and thus far free of many diseases and insect pests found in other countries. All incoming visitors must pass a customs check for these items. No fruits, vegetables, meat or other food products are allowed in unless they are factory-made and on the approved list of imports (for example, chocolate is acceptable).
There is no penalty for declaring most goods that are prohibited from import - they'll just be confiscated and destroyed or held in quarantine - but if you attempt to bring them in without declaring them, there are extremely heavy penalties including fines (in the order of thousands of dollars) and a possible jail term. It is far safer to declare any items that only might be prohibited, if they are not then you will suffer no consequence.
The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service website  has more details.
Visas and documentation
All foreigners except New Zealanders require visas for all visits to Australia. The citizens of some countries, however, can obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which is a tourist or business visa valid for up to three month stays, at one time, up to one year in duration, online . These are often also available through travel agents at the time of booking your flight to Australia: apply for the ETA through your agent if possible, as the fee for applying directly is usually waived.
Main article: Driving in Australia
Australia drives 'on the left'. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the 'right' should exercise great caution until they get used to this. Car hire companies and local (generally friendly) police will give advice on whether your car licence is valid in Australia. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre.
Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways. In Australia, as in many large countries, "the car is king". The vast majority of Australian adults own cars and would not seriously contemplate being without one. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by good quality highways. Some parts are dual carriageway but many sections are one lane each way. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Note that Australia's low population density makes for long driving times, often with 'nothing much' in between--here are some indicative travel times:
While major sealed highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed roads anywhere in inland Australia is advised to take advice from locals, carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tires, matches, food and water (minimum 4 gallons per person per day). Some of these roads might see one car per month (or less). It is common to hire a satellite phone in case of emergency. Local police stations would prefer that you call in and say hello and give them your itinerary. It is also a good idea to advise a friend or relative of your itinerary and let them know to alert authorities if you do not contact them within a reasonable amount of time after your scheduled arrival at your destination. It is not unusual for people stranded in remote areas to wait for a week or more before being rescued (if they are lucky enough that anyone notices they are missing). Heat and dehydration at any time of year can kill you rapidly. If stranded, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Do not take this advice lightly, even Australians die out there.
Due to the extremely large distances involved, flying is a well-patronised form of travel in Australia. Fares are generally low, due to the amount of competition, and flights depart regularly. Services along the main business travel corridor ( Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane ) are run almost like a bus service, with flights leaving every 15 minutes during the day. The major domestic airlines in Australia are:
Regional areas are served by several small state-based airlines. These include:
A website that compares flight prices in Australia (and New Zealand): WebJet.com.au  (tip: search for individual flights rather than the multi-city option, which will give you the cheapest same-airline result - taking the cheapest on each trip might be cheaper).
Visitors from countries with well-developed long distance rail systems such as Europe and Japan may be surprised by the lack of high-speed, inter-city rail services in Australia. A historical lack of cooperation between the states, combined with sheer distances and a relatively small population to service, have left Australia with a national rail network that is relatively slow and used mainly for freight. As a result, travel between major cities will not only be faster by air, but often cheaper as well.
The long-distance rail services that do exist are mainly used to link regional townships with the state capital, such as Bendigo to Melbourne, or Cairns to Brisbane. In Queensland, a high speed train operates between Brisbane to Rockhampton and Brisbane to Cairns. Queensland also has passenger services to inland centres including Longreach (The Spirit of the Outback), Mount Isa (The Inlander), Charleville (The Westlander) and Forsayth (The Savannahlander). There are also inter-city train services operated by Great Southern Railways on the routes Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) however as noted above, these are not "high speed" services, so if you do not enjoy train travel as part of your holiday in its own right then this is probably not for you.
Within the capital cities, mass transit is by train or bus, and Melbourne also has a comprehensive tram network serving the inner suburbs. Sydney has an extensive rail system which includes stations within the metropolitan area. Some states also have an inter-urban train service, although it tends to be devoted to carrying people into and out of the state's capital.
Not all states have a public rail network. Tasmania, for example, discontinued passenger services more than 20 years ago and the ACT has never had one. The Northern Territory has the rail line linking Darwin to Adelaide through Alice Springs only, apart from several minor freight lines.
A nation-wide (except Tasmania) interstate bus service is provided by Greyhound Australia. There are a number of other interstate and state-wide bus services as well.
While Sydney has a fleet of extremely fun ferries that serve the population living around the harbour and boat sports are popular in many regional locations, there are very few inter-city boat services other than cruise ships. Some exceptions are the ferries between Palm Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches and the New South Wales Central Coast; and the more famous car ferry services to Devonport in Tasmania departing from Melbourne.
By tour operators
Organised tours by bus are popular, especially for young people. You can visit the famous tourist spots (e.g. Ayers Rock, Kakadu NP) without the hassle of organising the trip. A variety of accommodation from camping to 5 star hotels is available. Competition among operators is strong, so check for discounts or special offers.
Many people think hitchhiking is illegal in Australia, but it's not: it is, however, an offence to obstruct traffic by "soliciting ... a ride ... from within the roadway". If you stay on the footpath, you're legally in the clear.
The great distances between towns in the Outback (or inner desert regions) can make hitchhiking difficult, but many travelers have made the coast-to-coast trek. Hitchhiking is more popular along the coastal regions (between Melbourne and Sydney, for example). During the 1990s several travellers went missing after hitchhiking along this route and were found to have been murdered by a serial killer. The perpetrator of these crimes has now been imprisoned; however, if you choose to hitchhike, you should use great caution.
The very lightly populated outback regions in Australia can provide the unique opportunity of a ride in a road train. Waits can be long and the climate harsh but the local people very warm and inviting and supportive of any venture to move around by hitchhiking (public transport is often non-existent). It is highly advisable if venturing into these regions without your own transport to carry enough food and water with you for at least a day and carry a good sun hat and warm clothes — people do die in these areas from lack of preparation.
Owing to its unique geographical character, there is much to see in Australia that you can't see (easily / in its natural setting) anywhere else:
English is by far the dominant language spoken by Australians. It is the only language used in the school curriculum, and generally the only Australians who are not fluent English speakers are older people who immigrated as adults. Expect everyone in the tourist industries, hotels and retail industries, and almost every other Australian, to speak English.
Travellers accustomed to North American accents may have a little trouble understanding Australians, but if both you and they speak clearly you will have no lasting difficulties. Beware: "Aussies" have an unconscious habit of speaking very quickly and "slurring" words together.... Don't be afraid to ask them to repeat their words more slowly. Australian slang is a language unto itself, but it only really becomes a problem for tourists who really want to get off the beaten track and into the Outback.
As Australia has a large number of immigrants, there are a number of minority languages spoken by a sizable number of Australians including (but not limited to) Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Greek. However, since it is expensive to travel from Australia and there is no single commonly used second language, Australians commonly do not have a fluent second language unless they are part of a family who immigrated recently. It is fairly rare to find signs in a second language, except in urban areas with a high population of Asian immigrants and students, where signs and restaurant menus in Vietnamese and Chinese are a common sight; and also around Cairns in tropical Queensland where some signs (but not road signs) are written in Japanese, due to the large number of Japanese tourists.
Visitors who do not speak basic English will find travelling in Australia difficult as they will be unable to book tickets and the like easily. There are some tour companies who specialise in offering package deals for Australian tours complete with guides who speak particular languages, and non-English speaking travellers might find this easier.
Australian currency is known as the dollar, and the currency symbol is $. The dollar (called "the Australian dollar" and written AU$ or AUD when it is necessary to distinguish it from the currencies of other countries which call their currency the dollar too) is worth between 75 and 85 US cents. Its buying power in Australia is a little less than that of the US dollar in the US. No currency other than the dollar is commonly accepted for transactions in Australia; except for businesses in international terminals of airports, which may accept some of the major world currencies, i.e. US dollars, British pounds, Euros, and possibly NZ dollars.
Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. There is no real black market in currency, and no need to even seek one out in any case.
The smallest unit of currency that prices will be quoted in is the cent, which is worth $0.01. However Australia no longer has physical units of currency that allow for bills to be paid to the nearest cent. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents you pay to the nearest five cents unless you are paying by credit or debit card, in which case you will pay the exact total. Yes that does mean that when buying small quantities of very cheap items, it is possible to buy them for free, or get an extra 50ml of fuel in a tank. This tends to even out though, as half the time your total will be rounded up rather than down.
The coin denominations are: 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. The note denominations are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Australian notes are produced in plastic polymer rather than paper, and all notes can be used anywhere at any time with no restriction. The coins are rather large so you better bring a wallet with a lot of room for coins
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. You are likely to pay a surcharge for international cash withdrawals, and holders of Australian debit cards will also pay a surcharge if they use an ATM that is not operated by their own bank. Most ATMs only dispense $20 and $50 notes.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many, but not all, small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. Cards bearing the VISA or Mastercard logos are the most commonly accepted, though many other cards are as well. Travellers using cards other than VISA or Mastercard may find they are not accepted by smaller merchants.
As of 15 April 2007:
Australia's base trading hours are 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday. Australia's weekend is on Saturdays and Sundays of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. The city of Perth and some rural towns still severely restrict Sunday trading even of essentials.
Australian banks are open weekdays 9am - 4pm only, often closing at 5pm on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.
Australia has a more or less universal sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax or GST. Only basic supplies such as unprocessed foods, medical services and certain input taxed supplies by financial institutions such as banks and insurers are exempt. GST is included in the price of any item you purchase rather than added at the time of payment.
Receipts (tax invoices) will contain the GST amount, which is one eleventh of the total value of taxable supplies.
Tourist Refund Scheme
If you are planning to buy items over $300, you might be interested in the Tourist Refund Scheme, which allows you to obtain a refund of the GST paid (effectively a 9.1 % discount). Note that you must buy the goods less than 30 days before departure and take them with you when you leave Australia. You need to show the item(s) plus the receipt at the TRS desk in the departure lounge, so you should carry the items with you and also allow an extra 30 min before departure. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card.
GST reclaim by non-resident enterprises
An 'enterprise' is a business, government department, not for profit or an academic institution.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) permits non-resident enterprises to reclaim the GST incurred on the consumption of services within Australia. Typically this includes accommodation, communications, meals, transport, professional fees.
The non-resident may reclaim its GST by registering with the ATO and filing claims on a quarterly or monthly basis. It is normal for the non-resident to appoint a local fiscal representative to act on their behalf in Australia.
It is rarely understood that non-resident enterprises (refer definition above) may claim GST input tax credits without making taxable supplies 'connected with Australia'. For an obligation free consultation on GST refunds visit http://www.GSTreclaim.com.
The difference between TRS and GST reclaim
The TRS is for goods taken as personal hand luggage at the time of departure. GST reclaim is for services consumed in Australia by non-resident enterprises.
Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though they are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It's also worth asking for a "best price" for high-margin goods or purchases involving several items. Note that often the person with whom you are dealing will not have the authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.
Tipping is not compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Most people think it is acceptable to pay the amount stated on the bill. When Aussies do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment, rather than a fixed percentage. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. You may feel free to tip for good service, in which case it will typically be appreciated.
Australian cuisine reflects the culture and region of Australia.
First, it should be recognised that Australian chefs are regarded around the world for their creativity and skillful mixing of Asian, Western and local dishes. One could argue that 'Asian Fusion' originated in Australia. Melbourne is a 'foodies' paradise and Sydney has many wonderful restaurants for locals and visitors alike.
There are four aspects to Australian cuisine for a visitor to look out for:
Eating vegetarian is quite common in Australia - usually for health, lifestyle and ethical reasons - and you will find that many restaurants will offer at least one or two vegetarian dishes, or will have an entire section of the menu dedicated to vegetarian dishes. Vegans may have a more difficult time finding food that is compatible with their diet, but any restaurant with a large vegetarian menu will probably be able to sensibly discuss the ingredients of various dishes. In large cities you will find a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. When travelling through the country towns and regional areas, be prepared to shop in supermarkets or to carry extra food with you, as vegetarianism is often poorly catered in such areas. Most towns, however, will have a Chinese restaurant that can provide steamed rice and vegetables.
People observing kosher or halal will be able to find specialist butchers in the capital cities, and will also find a number of restaurants with appropriate menus and cooking styles. Outside the capital cities, it will be much more difficult to find food prepared in the correct way.
There are a few peculiarly Aussie 'delicacies' - some of which have become infamous among travellers game enough to sample them! A classic example is Vegemite: a yeast-based spread made from the remains of beer brewing plus salt (lots of salt!). Many believe that, unless sampled before the age of four, it's unlikely that anybody could develop a taste for the nearly black goo. The locals, however, tend to regard taking a jar of Vegemite as essential when packing the bags for travel. A word of advice for keen experimenters - try a very thin spread of Vegemite on hot buttered toast.
Aussies sometimes refer to biscuits (what Americans call cookies) as "bikkies". One of the most famous of the local bikkies, one that has had export success, is the Tim Tam. A chocolate fudge-filled sandwich of two chocolate biscuits, all wrapped in chocolate, this decadent bikkie gave rise to the "Tim Tam Slam". This decidedly messy maneuver requires nibbling the chocolate off both ends of a Tim Tam, then using the biscuit as a straw to suck up your favourite hot beverage, more typically coffee. The hot drink melts the fudge centre and creates an experience hard to describe, but finesse is needed to suck the whole biscuit into your mouth in the microseconds between being fully saturated & dissolving into your cuppa.
Other Australian sweets include the lamington, a small sponge cake covered in a thin layer of chocolate icing (frosting) and then dipped in desiccated coconut; the pavlova, a meringue cake with a cream topping usually covered with fresh fruit - a popular alternative to traditional Christmas pudding during the holiday season and ANZAC biscuits a mix of coconut, oats, flour, sugar and Golden Syrup widely believed to have originated when anxious First World War wives and mothers baked and sent them to soldiers fighting overseas.
"Damper" is a traditional type of bread that was baked by stockmen during Colonial times whilst in the Outback. It is made with the most basic of ingredients and usually cooked over a woodfire. Do not expect to find this bread in urban bakeries - it is only commonly served to tourists on camping trips in the Outback.
The main supermarkets are:
The Australian staple drink is beer. Australia also has a very active wine industry and local consumption of wine is increasing. Drinking imported wine is a novelty; you will find that most wines for sale both in bottle shops and restaurants will be Australian wines. Young Australians are increasingly fond of mixed drinks, particularly vodka, bourbon and whiskey mixers, which are often sold pre-mixed in bottles and cans. Spirits are served in pubs, but not in all restaurants.
See also: Grape grazing in Australia
Legal and cultural aspects
The legal drinking age throughout Australia is 18 years. It is illegal both to purchase alcohol for yourself if you are under 18 years of age or to purchase alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18 years of age. The seller will get in the most trouble for doing this and therefore many alcohol vendors will require proof of age if you appear to be under 25 (sometimes under 30) in their judgement. Acceptable proof is generally government issued photo ID with both your name and date of birth on it: in particular, a drivers licence issued by any Australian state, a photographic identity card issued by any Australian state or a passport are generally accepted. Many licenced venues do not even allow under-age people on their premises. Those that do will require that the under-age person is accompanied by someone over 18.
Alcohol can be purchased for consumption on premises only in licenced venues: pubs, clubs and many restaurants. You can also purchase alcohol for private consumption in bottle shops, which are separate stores selling bottled alcohol. You typically cannot buy alcohol in supermarkets or other retail outlets, but bottle shops and major supermarkets are often found in very close proximity. Some major chain supermarkets do however offer a small selection of wines and beers that can be purchased in the store.
Alcohol consumption is banned in many other public places, particularly parks and footpaths. This is under the control of local council authorities. Otherwise, public drunkenness varies in acceptability. You will certainly find a great deal of it in close proximity to pubs and clubs at nighttime, much less during the day. Being drunk with a group of friends is far more acceptable than wandering around drunk and alone. Note that public drunkenness is a criminal offence and if picked up by the police you may spend the night sobering up in a holding cell or be charged.
Driving while affected by alcohol is both stigmatized and heavily policed (by random breath testing police patrols) in Australia, as well as being inherently dangerous. The acceptable maximum blood alcohol concentration is 0.05% in all states, often lower or not allowed for operators of heavy vehicles and young or novice drivers. This alcohol level is reached by approximately one standard drink per hour of consumption (the term 'standard' is a misnomer: most drinks sold in pubs and restaurants are substantially larger than a standard drink). In Australia every single police car can operate as a breath test station. There are also "booze buses" which are large vans set up typically on busy routes to test large numbers of drivers. Booze buses are usually deployed more heavily on long weekends, i.e. Australia day , Easter and Christmas. a summary of Australia's attitude to driving under the influence is the massively popular government slogan "if you drink, then drive, you're a bloody idiot".
In Victoria and South Australia, police officers are also empowered to randomly test drivers for the recent use of prohibited drugs. The operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of prohibited drugs is also a serious offence.
Generally speaking, if you are intending to study in Australia, you will need to be on a visa class that allows this, rather than a tourist visa. Students and academics invited to visit Australian universities will generally also need an appropriate visa, even if their visit is of a short enough period to be covered by a tourist electronic visa. For extremely short term or part time courses, check with your Australian consulate or embassy.
Australian students attend a high school program of approximately six years, and enter university (also called "uni") at seventeen or eighteen years of age. (In Australia, neither "school" nor "college" are used to refer to tertiary institutions, they are referred to only as "universities".) Australian undergraduate programs are usually three years in length. A fourth year (or sometimes even fifth year) is compulsory in some professional undergraduate programs such as engineering, law, medicine and dentistry. Other students take an optional fourth year known as honours if they want to proceed into a postgraduate research program.
Australia does not have universities whose prestige competes with Harvard or MIT in the US or Oxford or Cambridge in the UK. Its most prestigious research universities are equivalent to the next tier of universities. However, these universities are very competitive on tuition compared to other Western universities.
All tuition at university level is in English, save for courses that specifically focus on other languages. Students who have not previously earned a qualification in an English speaking program will have to take one of a number of English competency tests before being allowed to enroll.
Postgraduate studies in Australia fall into two classes: coursework and research. Coursework degrees are generally at the Masters level and are terminal: they do not proceed into a research degree. Research degrees are at the Masters and Doctoral level. No Masters degree is required to enroll in an Australian PhD program: you can enter directly after your fourth year of undergraduate and finish a PhD in 3 years.
Undergraduate admission to university is centralized at the state level. You make a single application for admission to the state admissions body stating your course preferences. The universities select students from this common applicant pool based upon their ranking and preferences. Unless you are applying for a creative arts degree, your ranking will be based solely on previous academic performance at both high school and previous university studies.
Postgraduate admission is managed by individual universities and you will need to apply separately to each institution you are considering.
All Australian universities save for Bond University are public: they are funded by the government. The full fees are very competitive compared to many Western universities, and some classes of student have substantially reduced fees: Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents and citizens of New Zealand can often study in Australia for about one-third of the notional tuition cost. Australian citizens also have the option of deferring payment and having the money taken from their income tax after graduation. Other students will generally be required to pay full tuition on enrolment each semester.
Scholarships are rarely awarded for undergraduate or postgraduate coursework degrees. A comparatively large number of scholarships are available for postgraduate research usually covering both tuition where required and living costs. These are awarded by individual universities.
Hostel, motel and hotel accommodation is readily available in most Australian cities and tourist destinations. Smaller towns usually have a selection of motel rooms available at a number of venues. Accommodation rates are broadly comparable, if perhaps slightly less expensive than their equivalents in Europe or North America. often Pubs in small towns will offer an amount of rooms available
Budget hostel-style accommodation with shared bathrooms and often with dormitories is approximately $20-$30 per person per night. Facilities usually include a fully equipped kitchen with adequate refrigeration and food storage areas which allow travellers to stay healthy and save money by cooking their own meals. All hostels also have living room areas equipped with couches, dining tables, and televisions to provide travelers with a cozy and relaxing environment. About 150 hostels are part of YHA Australia, a member of Hostelling International.
All state capitals would have at least one major hotel up to 5 stars that is comparable to many other high profile hotels around the world. The majority of Australia's hotels are located in the Central Business Districts (CBD) of the capital city. Hotel services and hospitality are often excellent such as room cleaning services, free morning newspapers, meals to your door and a high-speed internet connection up to 24mb/s (but often with a premium fee twice the cost of the local internet).
All hotels would have a restaurant (or bistro, depending on the type of hotel you are staying in) on the ground floor next to the check in desk. The restaurant or bistro would often serve food that comparable to many other up-market restaurants outside the hotel. Also on the ground floor would normally be a fully equipped bar.
Tourists choosing accommodation in Australia normally consider the itinerary before booking for a hotel in a particular area. It is best to carve out the trip before considering the hotel of choice. There are many helpful travel portals that enable people to choose the right kind of hotel based on their travel plans. One of these is Best Australian Hotels.com
Motel rooms in the cities will generally cost $50 per person per night at the very least.
Typically, motel-style accommodation will have a private room with a bed or number of beds, and a separate, private, shower and toilet. Breakfast is commonly included in the price of the room.
A number of local and international chains offer motel-style accommodation:
In very small inland towns (population 5,000 or less) there may not be either hotels or motels; instead, local pubs usually offer accommodation to travellers. Pub accommodation tends to be budget-style with shared bathrooms but private rooms.
Serviced apartments are widely available, for stays as short as one night. Amenities typically include kitchen, washer and dryer, and separate bedrooms.
Camping and caravanning
Virtually every town, no matter how small, will have a caravan park where you can pitch a tent (or usually rent a cabin room).
The camper trailer has also become very popular in Australia. It is perfect for the Australian camping lifestyle, whether it be weekends away or an extended trip into the great outdoors where no facilities exist. You will need to be self-sufficient and carry suitable spares and a good tool kit.
Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents of Australia can work in Australia without any further permits, but others will require a work visa of some kind. All visitors who do not hold Australian permanent residency or citizenship (including New Zealand citizens who aren't also Australian permanent residents or citizens) are not allowed to access Australian social security arrangements for the unemployed, and will have limited, or more usually, no access to the Australian government's healthcare payment arrangements.
Payment and taxes
Most Australian employers pay via direct deposit to Australian bank accounts. Open a bank account as soon as you arrive. Your passport will not be enough ID to open a bank account. You will need to show the bank teller 100 points of ID.
As soon as you have an address it is wise to apply for a tax file number. You can apply for it online (though, only in Australia) for free at the Australian Tax Office website, though you can generally get it quicker if you just go to their offices. The Australian financial year runs from July 1 to June 30, and tax returns for each financial year are due on October 30, four months after the accounting period concludes. Check with Australian tax agents about Australian tax liability and filing an Australian tax return.
Working holidaymaker scheme
Australia has a working holidaymaker program for citizens of certain countries between 18 and 30 years of age. It allows you to stay in Australia for 12 months from the time you first enter. You may work during that time, but only for 6 months at any one employer (was 3 months until July 2006). The idea is for you to take a holiday subsidised by casual or short-term jobs. If you're interested in a working holiday, some useful skills and experience might be: office skills to be used for temp work; or hospitality skills to be used for bar or restaurant work. An alternative is seasonal work like fruit-picking, although much seasonal work will require that you work outside the major cities. From 2006, working for 3 months in seasonal work will allow you to apply for a second 12 month visa.
You can apply online for a Working holiday visa, but you must not be in Australia at the time. It takes just a few hours to process usually and it costs about 170AUD. On arriving in Australia ask for the working holiday visa to be "evidenced", so you can show your future employer. A working holiday visa restricts you to contract type jobs and it is almost a waste of time to apply for permanent jobs in the hope of sponsorship. Contract jobs generally mean employers are looking for solid experience, so make your resume reflect that. Search for jobs on Seek or for IT related roles Jobnet. It is wise to try arrange a few Interviews and prospects before you arrive in Australia in order to be in the better paid jobs.
Sponsored work visas
The easiest way to get a work visa is to find an Australian employer who will sponsor you. However, this just 'easier', not 'easy' as such. Your employer will need to demonstrate that they cannot hire your skills in Australia, and the approval will take several months. If applying in search of sponsorship, be prepared for a long wait for success. Note that getting the visa might take a couple of months from the beginning of the application process, and that you will need a medical examination by a doctor approved by the immigration officials before it can be granted (among other things, you will need a chest x-ray to show that you do not have tuberculosis). Check with your local Australian High Commission, Consulate or Embassy.
For details of work visas see The Immigration Department's website.
You can apply to immigrate as a skilled person or business person, but this process will take longer than receiving a work visa. You can also apply for permanent residency as the holder of a work or study visa, but your application will not be automatically accepted. After three years of permanent residency you are eligible for Australian citizenship.
The number 000 (called 'triple zero' or 'triple oh') can be dialled from any telephone in Australia, home or payphone, free of charge. This number will connect you with emergency operators for the police, fire brigade, and ambulance service. The first question that the operator will ask is which service you need.
If you want to contact these services but the situation is not an emergency, don't call 000 -- call your local police, fire brigade, or ambulance station.
While you can dial 000 from an increasing number of mobile phones sold in Australia, the universal emergency number on these is actually 112. All carriers provide a 112 service to all phones within their coverage area, so you may be able to call 112 from your phone even if you do not have normal phone coverage from your own provider. You can also call it from phones whose SIM cards have been removed.
The teletext (TTY) emergency service number for hearing or speech impaired people with appropriate equipment is 106.
Calls from fixed line/landline phones may be traced in order to assist the emergency services to reach you. The Australian emergency services cannot trace the origin of emergency calls from mobile phones, so be sure to calmly and clearly provide details of your location. Because of an increasing number of calls made accidentally from cellular phones left in bags or pockets, the emergency operators will disconnect your call after 30 seconds if they do not think there is anyone at the other end of the line.
Emergency numbers from other countries (for example, '911' in the USA) do not work in Australia.
Country roads with high speed limits and lined with trees host many road deaths particularly of drivers unfamiliar with travelling on the left side of the road. Kangaroos can be a fatal driving hazard. Never venture offroad in remote areas without large quantities of water and an EPIRB. If bogged, stay with your vehicle and never try to walk out. Light a small fire for attention. Stay in your vehicle in a bush fire. Most snakes and spiders are highly poisonous. Billabong (water hole) crocodiles can lie hidden, detect human intrusion quickly and are hungrier as numbers increase. Poisonous jellyfish, stingers, fish and octopus are common in northern beaches. Sharks do not prefer humans over other food but will attack by mistake or as compelled by hunger.
One of the most common causes of tourist deaths in Australia is found on its glorious beaches. Each year quite a number of tourists (and locals too it must be said) drown on the shores. Australian beaches - particularly the long strips common on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts - have extremely strong rips and pulls that most people are unable to detect or handle. Rips are generally channels of water perpendicular to the beach which take out the water which the incoming surf waves brings into shore. These apparently 'calmer' channels of water are what experienced surfers use for a fast lane out to sea. Inexperienced beach goers mistakenly use these channels or areas since they appear as calm water and look to be an easier area into which to swim in and out to shore. Problems generally arise when the novice swimmer tries to swim back into shore against the outgoing current or rip, realise they are getting nowhere so they panic and end up drowning.
If caught in a rip, stay calm to save energy and swim parallel to the beach ( not against the pull of the current ). Most rips are only a few metres wide, and once clear of the undertow, you will be able to return to shore. If you are not a strong swimmer, simply tread water and alert surf rescue to your plight by raising one hand above your head. You will probably find local swimmers or surfers will also quickly come to your aid. It is recommended that tourists unfamiliar with local beach conditions never swim alone.
It is very important that people swim between the red and yellow flags which designate patrolled areas. Despite the sunny climate beaches are not patrolled 24-hours a day or even during all sunlight hours. In most cases the local volunteer surf lifesavers or professional lifeguards are only available during certain hours, and at most beaches only on weekends. If the flags aren't up, then there's no one patrolling - and you shouldn't swim. Hard surfboards and other water craft e.g. surf skis, kayaks etc., are not permitted between the red and yellow flags. These craft must only be used outside of the blue 'surfcraft permitted' flags.
Crocodiles, sharks and the dreaded Box Jellyfish can all be found on Australia's tropical beaches, depending on the time of year and area.
With the above precautions, a wonderful relaxing time at the many beautiful beaches in Australia awaits you.
Australia is prone to various regular natural disasters, including tropical cyclones (called hurricanes in the US), annual floods and bushfires. Be aware of the times and places at which these will occur. Information on and advanced warnings of severe weather, including fire danger, is available from the Bureau of Meterology's warning page or by calling the National Telephone Weather Services Directory on 1900 926 113.
The rainy season for the south of the country is the winter and there is rarely enough rain at one time to cause flooding, while in the northern areas the 'Wet' occurs during the summer months, bringing torrential rains and frequent floods.
Australia is a very dry country with large areas of desert and a long-standing drought situation. While it is extremely unlikely that you would ever be refused assistance with water in remote areas, do not waste it and do not be surprised if you are charged for it. Generally if you offer to pay for something that logic tells you should be free, the gesture will be appreciated and turned down.
When travelling in remote areas, away from sealed roads, where the potential to become stranded for up to a week without seeing another vehicle is very real, it is vital that you carry your own water supply (4 gallons or 7 litres per person per day). Do not be misled by entries on maps such as 'well' or 'spring' or 'tank' (or any entry suggesting that there is a body of water). Nearly all are dry, and most inland lakes are dry salt pans.
Certain cities (e.g. Sydney) have water restrictions, limiting use of water in activities like washing cars and watering gardens, due to the extremely low levels of water. Wasting water could result in fines, so it is common sense to only use water for essential purposes.
Large parts of Australia, including parts of major cities like Sydney, are endangered by bushfires (wildfires) most summers. National parks and wilderness areas are especially vulnerable to fires due to the oil content of eucalyptus leaves. Although fires are occasionally lit by lightning strikes, most out-of-control fires are human lit: some deliberately and some not. As a consequence there are severe penalties for deliberately or even accidentally letting a fire get out of control. Even throwing a lit cigarette butt from your car window could result in a jail term.
In addition, each state's fire service operates a fire ban system. When a fire ban is in place all open fires are forbidden. Most parks will advertise a ban, but it is nevertheless your responsibility to check the local fire danger levels. Note that a total fire ban will even include a cigarette, though typically not in urban areas.
If you are staying in an area threatened by fire you will normally be evacuated by emergency services. Do not resist evacuation: fire fighters are instructed NOT to risk their own lives in order to save people, property or wildlife in danger.
Australia is one of the safest countries in the world. You will rarely if ever encounter crime. Crime rates in Australia are roughly comparable with other first world countries. Travellers should take normal precautions against bag snatching, pickpocketing and the like. There are some areas of the large cities that are more dangerous after dark, but there generally aren't "no-go" areas in the sense that the police refuse to patrol them or that it is dangerous to enter them if you aren't a local.
Australia's proximity to Asia means that heroin is a far more commonly used illicit drug than cocaine or crack cocaine. In some areas of large cities you will need to be careful of discarded needles: however these will generally be found in back streets rather than in popular tourist spots.
When leaving your car alone, make sure it is locked, that the windows are rolled up, and that there are no obvious targets for theft in the vehicle, as thieves will often smash windows to get at a phone or bag that is visible in the car.
There are two banking scams particularly common in Australia: fraudulent bank notices via email; and tampering with ATMs so that cash is trapped inside them, or so that they record card details for thieves. The second is most applicable to travellers, and you should check your transaction records for odd transactions after using Australian ATMs, and immediately contact the bank controlling the ATM if a transaction seems to be successful but the machine doesn't give you any cash.
Australian police are approachable and trustworthy, and you should report assaults, theft or other crime to the police as soon as possible. Under no circumstances should you offer an Australian police officer (or for that matter, any other government official such as a customs officer) a bribe or gratuity, as this is a crime and they will enforce the laws against it.
Hitch-hiking is reasonably common on major routes in Australia, but is dangerous: kidnappings and murders of (and by) hitch-hikers have happened. If you're on a route travelled by families and professionals, you will have to wait a while for a lift.
Sunny Australia has one simple message for the traveller (and for its own citizens!): "Slip, slop, slap!"  In other words, "Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat!" Over-exposure to the sun at Australian latitudes is responsible for many cases of sunburn, sunstroke and heat exhaustion every year. In the long term, premature aging and skin cancer are also a risk. Even in cooler southern areas, proximity to the hole in the ozone layer means that the risk of sunburn is much higher than in the northern hemisphere. Fair-skinned people are especially at risk, and it is advisable to use a sunscreen with a SPF of 30+.
As described above, 000 is the Australian emergency services number and in any medical emergency you should call this number and ask for an ambulance, and other emergency services as necessary, to attend.
Two other useful emergency numbers are the Alcohol & Drug Information Service (1800 422 599, toll free from any landline phone, charges apply to cellular phones), and the Poisons Information Hotline (13 11 26, local call charge from any landline phone, higher charges apply to mobile phones).
Australia's cleanliness standards are high. The tap water in Australia is almost always safe to drink -- there have been occasional alerts about high bacteria levels in some dams, but you will find these are widely publicised and that boiled water will be on offer everywhere when this happens. Restaurants are required to observe strict safety standards and food poisoning is no more common than it is in other first world nations.
Australia does not have endemic communicable diseases that will require non-standard vaccinations. Like many other countries, it will require evidence of yellow fever vaccinations on entry if you will have been in a country with a risk of infection within 6 days before your arrival in Australia.
When travelling in Australia take precautions against mosquito bites. In far northern areas there have been cases of dengue fever. Generally minimising your exposure to mosquitoes anywhere in Australia (using repellents or screens) is advisable. Heck, the bites itch anyway, and can easily become infected.
Australia has first world medical standards, and you can expect to receive treatment that is the equal of care in other industrialised countries. In particular, it is safe to receive blood transfusions in Australia, as donors are screened for HIV, hepatitis and many other blood borne illnesses.
However, since Australia's population density is low, parts of Australia are a long way from medical facilities of any kind. Towns with population 5000 or more will have a small hospital capable of giving emergency treatment in serious emergencies, and larger towns will have a base hospital capable of routine and some kinds of emergency surgery. In severe cases, particularly any kind of injury requiring microsurgery, you will need to be evacuated to one of the capital cities for treatment. Evacuation procedures are well established and normally involve being evacuated by plane or helicopter.
Australian citizens and permanent residents who live in the country can receive healthcare through the taxpayer funded Medicare system. Other travellers should hold appropriate insurance covering medical expenses, as they will be required to pay the full cost of care.
Poisonous and dangerous creatures
Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of insects, reptiles and marine life on the planet. However, with very few exceptions, the average tourist is unlikely to encounter any of these in an urban environment. Simply be aware that they exist and you'll be okay. The primary rule is "If you don't recognise it, don't touch it". The vast majority of deaths from bites and stings in Australia are due to allergic reactions to bees and wasps: there have been no fatal spider bites since 1979, and fatal snake bites occur only a couple of times a year.
Anti-venom is available for most spider and snake bites. If bitten you should immobilise the wound (by wrapping the affected area tightly with strips of clothing or bandages) and seek immediate medical help. If you are in an isolated area send someone else for help. The venom of some snakes (the taipan in particular) can take effect within fifteen minutes, but if the wound is immediately immobilised and you rest it is possible to delay the onset of poisoning by one to a few hours, depending on the creature. If possible, you should attempt to identify the creature that bit you (in the case of spiders it might be possible to trap it in a jar and take it to the hospital) so that the appropriate anti-venom can be administered swiftly.
If travelling in rural Australia it would be a good idea to carry basic first aid equipment including compression bandages and to learn what to do after a snake or spider bite.
Australia is home to six of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world. Never try to pick up any snake, even if you believe it to be a non-poisonous species, while travelling down under. Most people bitten by snakes were trying to pick up the snake, kill the creature, or inadvertently step on one whilst out walking. Snakes will generally try to put as much distance between themselves and you as possible, so if you see a snake while out walking, simply go around it or walk the other way. Walking blindly into dense bush and grassy areas is not advisable, as they are places where snakes may hide.
The world's deadliest spider is the Sydney Funnel Web spider, found in and around Sydney and eastern New South Wales. Until the late 1970s a bite from this spider could result in death, but anti-venom is now available. Their webs are easily identifiable by their funnel-like shape, hence the name, and are a good indication that funnel web spiders are present in the vicinity.
The Red Back spider (easily identified by a red mark on its abdomen), is more common but not life threatening. Both are likely to be found under rocks or leaf litter, although Funnel Webs have the unfortunate tendency to seek shelter indoors when there is a lot of rain.
Travellers in northern Queensland, Northern Territory, or northern Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal stings from the Box Jellyfish if swimming in the ocean between October and May. Box Jellyfish are very hard to detect and can be found in very shallow water. Rather than being 'painful', stings from these jellyfish are 'excruciating' and often fatal. Vinegar applied immediately to adhering tentacles will lessen the amount of venom injected, but immediate medical assistance will be required. The danger season varies by location, the best rule is to follow the advice of locals. Irukandji are another species of jellyfish that inhabit the waters off of Australia and the surrounding Indo-Pacific islands. They are also very hard to see and are quite dangerous. They can be fatal if not treated immediately, but generally leave the victim in agony for a couple of days. Vinegar is also recommended for their treatment, however, to avoid stings altogether it is best to use a wetsuit that is resistant to jellyfish stings.
Common in rock pools around the coasts of Australia is the tiny, but still deadly poisonous, Blue Ring Octopus. Usually a dull sandy-beige colour, the creature will show bright blue rings in its skin if threatened. Most often Blue Rings are found in rock pools, and commonly bites occur when children (or tourists) pick them up.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or north Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal attacks by crocodiles in and adjacent to northern waters (ocean, estuarine and fresh water locations). Crocodiles in these areas can reach 30 feet in length and can attack in water without warning. On land, crocodiles usually lie motionless, but they have the ability to move with extraordinary speed in short bursts. There are relatively few attacks resulting in injury — most attacks are fatal. Take advice from locals and only swim in inland waters if you are specifically advised that they are safe.
The Gympie bush (Dendrocnide moroides), also known as the stinging tree, is a stinging plant, whose microscopic stinging hairs on leaves and branches can cause severe pain for up to several weeks. They are mostly found in North-east Queensland, especially in rainforest clearings. However, the Gympie bush and other closely related species (there are about five) of stinging tree can be found in south-east Queensland, and further south in eastern Australia. People bushwalking in such areas are advised not to touch the plant for any reason.
Australia offers a vast multiplicity of internet access options for travellers. Internet cafés abound in most centres of population.
Wi-Fi access is increasingly available through a number of outlets and communications companies:
In addition to the "big two", most cities have private internet cafés that normally cost $4-$5 per hour. Many internet cafés have 12-20 computers sharing a single broadband connection, sometimes making the internet painstakingly slow. If posible ask if you can check the speed of a café's connection before forking out $4-$5 for an hour. Several cities have wireless access provided for free in some parts of their center. Better wireless connections are slowly becoming available through the cell phone network. Telstra and Optus have EVDO plans, and Vodaphone has 3G connections. Short term rental of the access cards is available from some outlets.
If signing up for a personal Internet connection while travelling, dial-up is the best short-term option. There are many small but reliable ISPs in the $12–$15 per month flat rate range. There are also several ISPs who have a pre-paid arrangement at about $1 per hour of use. It can be surprisingly difficult to find Australian dialup ISPs who have instant online signup, but they do exist (Beagle is one). If moving around, check that your ISP has an access number that can be reached via a local call from landlines nationwide, rather than just in the ISP's home city.
Broadband connections are available in about 80% of Australian households. ADSL is the most common, with 512kps the most common speed, but higher speeds slowly becoming available. Faster cable connections are available in a smaller number of households. A typical cost is about $20 per month for 500MB included downloads, and $40 per month for up to 10GB included usage (both uploads and downloads). Australia has high exces bandwidth costs at up to 17c per MB. Broadband connections will typically require an initial contract period of 6–12 months and incur a one-time setup fee of up to $100.
Vodafone offers cheap UMTS / 3G access in all major cities on a month by month contract (no contract). No sign up fee, only $49 per month for approx. 1GB down/upload. You need to have your own 3G/UMTS capable laptop card or you buy one from Vodafone for $299 but then it is sim-locked. They want to see your visa which has to be valid for at least another 3 months from time of sign up.
The Country Code for overseas calls to Australia is +61.
Australia uses 8-digit local phone numbers for all customers with a 2-digit STD area code.
The outgoing international dialing access code (from within Australia) is 0011 (note, "00", common elsewhere in the world, does not work in Australia).
Emergency calls (Fire/Police/Ambulance) should be phoned through to 000 (or 112 from mobiles).
Australian Area Code List:
Local calls are about A$0.25 untimed on most fixed lines and A$0.50 on all Telstra Pay Phones (timed).
Australia has nationwide mobile phone networks based on both the GSM 900/1800 and CDMA standards and in addition all four providers have now rolled out WCDMA (3G UMTS) networks in capital cities and some major regional centres. Call rates vary from carrier to carrier.
An easy way for travelers to chat to people is to buy a prepaid mobile phone. These can cost from A$50 upwards, depending on the brand, and are available around Australia in most retail outlets and post offices. They can then be topped up with recharged cards. It is also possible to buy a prepaid SIM card for a GSM 900/1800 or WCDMA phone you already own. These cost around A$30 (with $30 worth of calls included) although this varies a little depending on the network. Prepaid calls cost roughly 25-30 cents per 30 seconds, again depending on the network. The main GSM prepaid providers are Telstra, Optus, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone. 3 offers WCDMA prepaid services. Surprisingly, it can be cheaper to call the United States than it is to call within the same city in Australia using a mobile phone!
It is also worth remembering that while rural towns usually have GSM access, in other rural areas, GSM coverage is scarce. If you intend to travel in rural areas, it is best to use a CDMA or satellite phone. Those towns that do have GSM coverage are usually served only by Telstra.
Australia Post runs Australia's postal service and post offices can be found throughout Australia. Posting a standard letter or postcard costs $0.50 within Australia, $1.25 to other Asia-Pacific countries and $1.85 to the rest of the world. Parcels, express mail and other services are also available.