What NOT to Do When Visiting Australia

March 27, 2017

what not to do when visiting australia

Who doesn’t love a sunburnt country?

It would be near impossible to travel to a new country and get everything right.

Personally, I always leave thinking I definitely haven’t seen all there is to see (and I usually discover just what I missed shortly upon my return back home, much to my own dismay).

I’m also generally filled with certainty that I’ve committed some terrible social faux pas at some point in my trip. It’s what usually happens when you let words fly out your mouth, before you have time to process them in your head.

At least in Australia, I feel at ease. Coming from here, it’s easy to have a solid grip of accepted social etiquette and I figure I hopefully have a lifetime to squeeze in all the sights I wish to see.

This is obviously not the case for many who travel to Oz. It’s generally ridiculously far away from everywhere else in the world and for most people, a once in a lifetime sort of trip.

Related: Nobody Likes a Bogan: An Introduction to Australian Slang

So, are you looking for some guidance? Here’s what not to do when visiting Australia, as told by a born and bred Aussie.

what not to do when visiting australia

Please don’t throw your rubbish into nearby creeks.

Do not leave your rubbish lying around

Australia has traditionally been a relatively clean place, when it comes to litter and trash.

The practice of recycling has been hammered into the residents of Oz since I were a wee nipper and there are strong fines put into place for anyone caught littering. “Don’t be a tosser!” is plastered across billboards, a catch-phrase that features in government funded ads on the tellybox, as surely you’d have to be a tosser to toss your trash on any available surface.

Related: How to Travel Responsibly, Without Blowing Your Money

THAT BEING SAID, I have noticed that Australia has become somewhat dirtier in the years that I have been abroad. Or, maybe I just care more now, than I did three years ago.

Either way, please help in keeping Australia beautiful, by disposing of your rubbish in a thoughtful manner. It won’t go unappreciated. I’ll be there in spirit, silently applauding you.

what not to do when visiting australia

Iconic Sydney.

Don’t compare Sydney and Melbourne

When I first moved abroad, I used to have the following conversation with anyone I met who had been to Oz.

Them: “Where in Australia are you from?

Me: “Sydney, originally.”

Them: “Oh, okay.” Pause. “Melbourne’s a lot nicer though, don’t you think?”

Me: …

Well – no. That’s not what I think. Yes, I live in Melbourne now, a decision that I have zero regrets in making. Yes, I wander around the city with a smile on my face and yes, I’d probably be reluctant to ever live in Sydney again, unless someone wanted to give me a house in the Inner-West for free and a high-paying job to boot, so I could actually enjoy life in the city as inflation has intended.

That being said, I do love Sydney, yet not in the same way because they are very different places. It’s like comparing chalk and cheese. Or Los Angeles and New York. Edinburgh and London. Beijing to Shanghai (okay, I’ve never been to China, but I’m trying to be culturally inclusive here).

And frankly, I feel a little bit insulted when people diss my home town. It’s like thinking back on your first love – it may not have worked out then, but you’ll always have fond memories of the times you spent together.

So, if you prefer one city over the other – then great! Please keep it to yourself and certainly don’t start harping on about it to the people who have SPENT HALF OF THEIR LIVES LIVING IN THE ONE YOU LIKE SLIGHTLY LESS.

what not to do when visiting australia

Sipping on a golden latte on Darby Street, Newcastle.

Don’t leave a tip (at this point in time)

Australia doesn’t traditionally have a tipping culture. This is because our minimum wage is currently quite high – $17.70 per hour, with 25% extra loading for casual employees, which covers most hospitality staff. Throw in the generous penalty rates for morning, nighttime and weekend work and you can actually have a pretty good life on a hospo wage.

I have long discouraged visitors from overseas to leave a tip, in the fear that it will lead to similar practices of other countries, where the onus is left on the customer to make up the wage of the staff. It should be up to the business owner to pay their staff properly.

All that being said, the “Fair Work Commission” has recently announced a plan to slash penalty rates for low paid workers, a move that is backed by the current government. This could have a backward affect on Australian culture, as tips may become mandatory to ensure the survival of hospo workers. It’s wrong, but it could happen.

As it stands now, I sometimes do leave a tip of a few gold coins, if the meal and service is exceptional. At least that way you can be somewhat sure that it’s going back to the staff.

what not to do when visiting australia


Do NOT climb Uluru

There are stacks of reasons why you should visit Australia’s Red Centre – I would list my trip there as one of my all-time favourites.

If you do go, I beg of you – please, please do not climb Uluru. Not only is it dangerous, it’s considered to be extremely disrespectful to the indigenous Anangu people.

Dickheads will be dickheads, but please don’t be one of them. There are plenty of other ways to experience Uluru and all of them are very rewarding.

I recommend the three hour Base Walk around the rock – you won’t be left disappointed.

Related: 12,000 Steps Around Uluru

what not to do when visiting australia

A cockatoo in flight.

Don’t harass the local wildlife

Speaking of Uluru, my fella recently journeyed out there and came back to tell me a story about something that had happened at his hotel.

A tourist had found a Red-Backed Spider in the building – a highly venomous arachnid that is only found in Australia. The staff came out with cups and paper, in order to capture the spider and move it elsewhere, where it wouldn’t be of harm to any of their patrons (or vice versa).

The man however insisted they wait, so that he could take some photos of the spider. It was startled by the commotion around it and ran into a nearby pillar. As it is a spider whose bite can be potentially fatal, the staff had no choice but to spray the pillar with insecticide and it quite needlessly died.

Most of the “deadly” wildlife in Australia are happy to do their own thing – leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone too, to go along with their own business.

Australians are sadly just as guilty of this. I spent a few years living in the countryside, where we had chickens, whose feed attracted mice and rats, who in turn attracted brown snakes or mulgas. The bite of this snake could kill a fully grown adult male in less than an hour.

We would call up my Tae Kwon Do instructor, who was perhaps one of the coolest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life. He’d appear in his singlet top and footy shorts, his shoulder tattoo of the Superman emblem on display. After about a half hour of snake charming, he’d pin the creature down, put it in a bag and throw it over the fence of a paddock, far enough away from our farm, so it could continue its life without hurting anyone.

Others weren’t so decent. A neighbour had seen one crossing road in the middle of nowhere and had deliberately run over it. He’d then grabbed the dying creature by the tail, DRAGGED IT ALONG ON THE ROAD TO OUR PROPERTY to show it to our family like some sort of perverted trophy. My parents were pretty much like: “What the hell is wrong with you?” He shrugged and chucked it over a fence, leaving it there to die. He was a real, top-notch person, as I’m sure you can imagine.

His actions were not only barbaric, they were illegal. It is an offence to kill, injure or take snakes from the wild.

As I said – leave them along and they’ll leave you alone. They’re leaving, breathing creatures that aren’t actually there for anyone’s entertainment.

what not to do when visiting australia

It looks all nice and friendly but it’s probably plotting to kill you (Newcastle Ocean Baths).

Have a healthy respect for the force of the ocean waves

Australian rip-tides are a force to be reckoned with. If you plan on taking a dip at any major beach, you’d do best to swim between the flags. These are set up by lifeguards – professionals who know what they are doing. It will also ensure that if you do run, or swim as it were into any trouble, you’ll be within their peripheral and will be able to signal for help.

With 10,000-odd beaches, you may often find yourself at one that is completely deserted. I make sure to never wade more than knee deep in, when I find myself in this circumstance. I’m too scared of the raw power of the ocean and it’s led me to not die even once.

Australia’s oceans are so deadly that we had a Prime Minister disappear in the late 1960s, presumably drowned. He went swimming most days, so what chance do the rest of us have?

what not to do when visiting australia

Blooms in Orange, New South Wales.

Australia is HUGE. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get to places

I think this is a concept that is hard for people who aren’t from large countries to understand.

Driving from coast to coast in Oz is roughly the equivalent of driving from the West Coast of Ireland, across Europe and into Russia (whilst keeping in mind that there isn’t a road that goes straight through the centre of the country, anyway).

Don’t believe me? Go have a play on this website. I’ll see you in a few hours.


That was fun, wasn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve heard of some pretty overly ambitious itineraries for travel around Australia. My favourite so far has been some family friends from the UK who thought they’d take two weeks out of their lives to drive the entire way around Australia.

Honestly, you’d be lucky to make it from Sydney to the tip of Queensland and that’s not taking jetlag into accord.

what not to do when visiting australia

This was a stupid plan.

Look, we’ve all been the victims of wild ambitions. I flew home from the UK last year after travelling around Europe for two weeks, had a day in Newcastle and then drove four hours to a town in regional New South Wales called Orange, for a friend’s wedding the next day. It actually ended up taking six hours, because I hadn’t driven properly for around a year and was scared to go over 80 on our frankly quite dangerous country roads (WHERE DOES THE ROAD TAX GO, I ASK?!).

And then I drove to Dubbo, to spend the night at the zoo. It was fun, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I arrived back home.

Related: Waking Up in the Wild at Taronga Western Plains Zoo

I’ve heard and roughly agree that it would take minimum three months to do a road trip around Australia properly. So, unless you have a lot of time and money up your sleeve, plan smart and accordingly.

Don’t joke about “putting another shrimp on the barbie” (or make any other references to Crocodile Dundee)

Crocodile Dundee was written with American audiences in mind.

A “shrimp” in Australia is a short person. We call the actual animal “prawns”. Don’t make this joke. We’ve all heard it before and have done so for the last forty years. Let that dead horse that you’re so keen to flog have its dignity, please.

Don’t ask questions about the absence of Fosters

It’s rarely drunk here and hardly anyone likes it. End of story.

what not to do when visiting australia

The mist rolls in in regional New South Wales.

Don’t make quips about Australia’s colonial background

This is far less tolerable to many Australians.

Australia’s modern history is bloody. Disturbing. And recent.

As most will know, Australia was already inhabited by a race when the English laid claim to the land in 1788 – the Aboriginal Indigenous people, whose language, customs and overall identity was mercilessly obliterated. The repercussions of this are still very much evident today.

Related: Australia Day and the Conversation We Should Be Having

Not to mention that the country has an identity that is built on immigration. Yes, there will be descendants of the first few settlers still knocking about the place. There are also people like my family – ten pound “Poms” and Irish folk who travelled here of their own violition, in search of a better life, or presumably just a bit of sunshine every now and then.

Not to mention the Chinese who arrived during the 1850s gold rush, the Italians and Greeks who moved here during the 1950s, or those who continue to flock to the shores of the “Lucky Country” to this day (often being denied entry, but that’s another sad and irritating story).

what not to do when visiting australia

Sunset in Forster-Tuncurry. It’s safe to come outside now.

Underestimate the raw power of the Australian sun

The Australian sun has an incredible bite to it, which I believe is due to the hole in the Ozone layer and sciences that I don’t quite understand, due to not being a scientist myself.

As a result, Australia has a high rate of skin cancer, with two out of three Aussies being diagnosed with it by the time they are 70. Scary stuff.

Try your darnedest to stay out of the sun at its strongest moments – between 11am-2pm. Wear protective clothing and a hat. Slap on sunscreen if necessary (a non toxic one is preferable, if you’re braving the water). Getting sunburnt may very well ruin your holiday.

what not to do when visiting australia

Looking out onto the Bass Strait from the bottom of Philip Island, Victoria.

Don’t stick to the cities or the East Coast

One of the things I love most about my country, is the diversity in its cities, towns and overall landscape.

You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you stuck to the well-worn tourist path of Melbourne-Sydney-Cairns, for sure. There are so many different and varied places you can visit in this country. And who doesn’t love getting off the beaten path?

Want some ideas? You can pinch them off me, if you like. Here’s my list of Australian travel goals for this year and also the rest of my life. For a destination that’s not too far off the beaten path, I recommend the coastal city of Newcastle. Everyone coming to Oz should try to get out to the Red Centre too (that’s where Uluru is located).

I think you’re pretty much covered now. Enjoy your time in the Land Down Under! There’s nowhere else like it on earth.

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  • Reply Rhiannon March 27, 2017 at 11:19 am

    As shrimp on the barbie is out of the question (not that I’d ever say that anyway) is it culturally appropriate for me to say G’day mate to everyone I see? As someone who obsessively watched Neighbours for at least 10 years of their life, I happen to know people do say that at least sometimes!
    I like, really really really really enjoyed reading this! An insane amount. When I was travelling with my ex last year he originally wanted to cut out Central America and go to Aus & NZ instead. For two weeks. TWO WEEKS. I vetoed that because I’d always been told that you need AT LEAST a month to see just the highlights of Australia alone, and that’s not even touching on NZ and Hobbiton (my dream destination tbh). The actual size of countries outside of Europe blows my tiny little British mind, I’ll be honest.

    • Reply LC March 27, 2017 at 11:44 am

      No! Not at all. People do say G’Day all the time (mostly men) and call each other mate, regardless of gender. So, Neighbours isn’t lying in that regard. And yeah, good decision. Even visiting Australia alone for two weeks would be a waste of time and money. I came home for a week inbetween finishing up in Doha and moving to the UK and was jetlagged for a really ridiculously long time.
      And also, thank you for liking it. I really enjoyed writing it and the posts I like the best tend to fade into oblivion!

  • Reply Amanda March 30, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    I found this post super interesting – I never knew about the tipping culture. I honestly don’t think I’ve read that in a single blog post before! x

    • Reply LC March 30, 2017 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks Amanda! I’m glad it was beneficial. I guess it’s the norm for Aussies and we don’t think twice about it… and then everyone else just assumes it’s the same as other western countries across the world.

      • Reply Sonya April 10, 2017 at 4:28 am

        Having worked in Aussie restaurants and cafes for 20yrs i would say i only half agree. We always had a ‘tip jar’ on the counter for customers who enjoyed their meal and service. But the money would accumulate through the year and would be used to take all the staff out for dinner as a reward for Good work. So please, if you think they deserve it, leave a tip

        • Reply LC April 10, 2017 at 4:59 am

          That is my point too, Sonya. If the service is good and the money is going back to the staff (in the form of a tip jar or cold hard cash left on a plate), then tip away. In London, where I used to live, there’s an automatic 12.5% added onto every bill (and it is left up to the customer to dispute this if the service is not good) and no way of ensuring that that money actually goes to those who deserve it. I would hate to see that happen here.

  • Reply Brooklyn Murtaugh April 1, 2017 at 3:49 am

    It drives me nuts hearing people say they want to climb Uluru. Like, do your research. Not only is it dangerous, how could you go to a country and then disrespect the Aboriginals? Not cool.

    • Reply LC April 2, 2017 at 1:25 am

      It’s not cool at all and you can’t miss the fact that it’s ill-advised when you’re there, as there are signs everywhere. So yes, flagrant disrespect at its worst.

  • Reply Iva April 2, 2017 at 12:22 am

    We are looking forward to traveling there next year for the birds, and to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone (yes, sad thought) and this is very useful. We love hiking too, and it’s good to note that there are places sacred so should not be disturbed. Thank you for this.

    • Reply LC April 4, 2017 at 3:38 am

      You’ll love the birds, Iva! I am beyond sad about the reef too – I wish our government weren’t so single-mindedly obsessed with destroying it. Hoping to get back to it this year and am scared to see how much, well deader it’s looking since I last saw it in 2003.
      Hope you have a great time in Oz.

  • Reply Viviane Feeney April 2, 2017 at 1:40 am

    This is a bloody good article mate, (sounding very Australian! And I’m Aussie aha). Aussie is all laid back unless it’s about ocean & sun safety and not being a tosser!
    Also worried sick about the penalty rate cut – I hope every hospo worker still gets a fair standard of living with, at least, the high minimum wage remaining, for now!
    Cheers mateee

    • Reply LC April 3, 2017 at 5:46 am

      Cheers! Yes, it is one of those things where you think “if it ain’t broke…”. Guaranteed we won’t see wages rising any time soon.
      Sometimes I think this country really is going to the dogs.

  • Reply Jennie April 17, 2017 at 1:18 am

    This is a great article and I’m grateful you said it and my husband can read it so it’s not actually coming directly from me…which means maybe he will listen, HAHA! 😉 Great info. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Reply LC April 17, 2017 at 3:10 am

      Thanks Jennie, it was fun to write. Hope your husband agrees!

  • Reply Shandos April 18, 2017 at 8:56 am

    So true about all these points! Great for you to share this with prospective visitors.

    • Reply LC April 20, 2017 at 3:49 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply Nobody Likes a Bogan: An Introduction to Australian Slang - BirdgehlsBirdgehls April 26, 2017 at 2:06 pm

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