The following is a guide for what not to do in Australia, written from a local’s perspective. Hope it helps you in planning your trip to the Land Down Under.
Are you unsure of the things you shouldn’t do in Australia, when visiting?
Maybe you’re confused about what you shouldn’t do in a cultural sense, such as littering, or accidentally committing social faux pas.
Or perhaps you’re worried about whether Australia is safe to visit (it is. Mostly).
If you’re travelling to Australia for the first time, you might feel a bit apprehensive.
Don’t worry. It would be near impossible to travel to a new country and get everything right first go.
I am Australian, have travelled to every state and territory and lived here for most of my life.
Still, I often get things wrong, so learn from my mistakes!
Here’s what not to do in Australia, which will help you make the most out of your trip.
What not to do in Australia: the golden rules
1. Don’t litter
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 telly. Surely you’d have to be a tosser to toss your trash on any available surface?
THAT BEING SAID, I have noticed that Australia has become somewhat dirtier in the last few years.
I don’t know if people have become lazier, or we just have more trash to contend with. Probably a mixture of both, to be honest.
Either way, please help in keeping Australia beautiful, by disposing of your rubbish in a thoughtful manner. It won’t go unappreciated. I know I’ll be there in spirit, silently applauding you.
2. 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?”
Well – no. That’s not what I think.
It’s like comparing chalk and cheese. Or Los Angeles and New York. Edinburgh and London. Beijing to Shanghai.
And frankly, I feel a little bit insulted when people diss my home town of Sydney.
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.
3. 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 in fact, the highest in the world, at $21.38 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 get by on a hospitality 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.
As it stands now, I sometimes do leave a tip of a few gold coins, if the meal and service is exceptional (it would be a particularly nice thing to do this on a weekend). At least that way you can be somewhat sure that it’s going back to the staff.
Australia trip tip: Something worth noting is the fact that very few Australian cafes and restaurants split bills, which is ridiculous because it takes like, two seconds and some very elementary maths. I can assure you, this aggravates locals just as much as visitors. So if you’re dining in a group, make sure you have cash on hand or someone who is willing to front the bill with their card and let everyone pay them back electronically. Fun backwards times!
4. Respect Indigenous cultural sites
Australia has a fascinating Indigenous culture. It’s the oldest living culture in the world.
We’re very lucky that many important sites for First Nations people are open to the public. Some of them, such as Uluru, are the most popular places to visit in Australia.
One good example of what not to do in Australia used to be climbing Uluru.
The climb was permanently closed in October 2019, but before this, many would do it, despite it being considered disrespectful to the local Anangu people – and there being plenty of other ways to enjoy Uluru.
There were signs around the rock respectfully asking people not to climb, which were often disrespectfully ignored.
Added to this, were signs around the rock respectfully asking people not to photograph certain sections during the three hour Base Walk around the rock.
This was also often ignored.
It’s a damn big rock, so there was plenty else to take photos of, trust me on this.
You may not understand Australia’s Indigenous culture, but being told not to do something and then doing it is pretty rotten.
5. Don’t harass the local wildlife
A friend who’d journeyed out to Australia’s Red Centre returned to tell me this tale.
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).
This man however, insisted they wait so that he could take some photos of the spider.
Startled by the commotion around it, it 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.
Keen to know what not to do in Australia? Quite simply, don’t be that guy with the camera.
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.
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 living, breathing creatures that aren’t actually there for anyone’s entertainment.
6. Don’t swim in unattended areas
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.
Then, if you do run, or swim as it were into any trouble, you’ll be within their periphery 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.
Then a swimming pool was named after him, certainly a weirdest facts about Australia and demonstrative of our somewhat twisted sense of humour.
Anyway. He went swimming most days, so what chance do the rest of us have?
It’s not only the waves themselves that are dangerous.
Western Australian beaches are notorious for the presence of sharks. It’s their territory, and they don’t always take kindly to it being invaded.
In the summer months, box jellyfish will flood the waters of the north.
You’re able to enter the water with special wetsuits in some circumstances, but listen to all instructions given by knowledgeable guides.
The sting of these little gelatinous creatures can be deadly.
Lastly, crocodiles are often found on beaches and other water sources (such as creeks, billabongs and rivers) of northern Australia.
I’m pretty sure getting eaten by a croc would ruin anyone’s holiday.
Once again, be very careful on unattended beaches, particularly those up north.
As an Australian, I would only ever feel safe on my own on southern beaches, and once again would not go far into the water, at all.
Hope I haven’t scared you too much! It’s okay. You’ve got this. Just make sure you read up on this guide to beach safety in Australia before you hit the waves.
7. 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.
Keep in mind that there isn’t a road that goes straight through the centre of the country, too.
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. Check out these saner road trip ideas for Australia, instead.
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.
8. 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.
9. Don’t ask questions about the absence of Fosters
Australians love their beer (and depending where you are, their craft beer), but Fosters doesn’t have the same reputation here that it has overseas.
It’s rarely drunk here and hardly anyone likes it. End of story.
Read these other tips to avoid looking like a tourist in Australia.
10. Don’t make quips about Australia’s colonial background
Australia’s modern history is bloody. Disturbing. And recent, with deaths in custody ongoing.
As many should know, Australia was already inhabited by a race when the English laid claim to the land in 1788 – Aboriginal peoples, whose language, customs and overall identity was attacked and outlawed.
The repercussions of this are still very much evident today.
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 ten pound “Poms” and Irish folk who travelled here of their own volition, in search of a better life, or presumably just a bit of sunshine every now and then.
Then there are 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).
We are a proud multicultural country with a violent recent history that’s not worth getting into from an outsider’s point of view.
11. Don’t 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.
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.
Don’t be afraid to take a holiday to Australia during winter.
The weather isn’t that bad. It’s actually nicer in some parts of the country and as it’s not peak season, prices for accommodation will drop accordingly.
Australia Trip Tip: 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). A sunburn may very well ruin your holiday.
12. 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.
Who doesn’t love getting off the beaten path?
What not to do in Australia in a nutshell
In summary, here are the main things you shouldn’t do when visiting Australia.
- Don’t litter
- Don’t swim unattended in the ocean
- Don’t underestimate the size of the country
- Don’t stay on the well-worn track
- Don’t commit a cultural faux pas
- Don’t disturb the local wildlife.
Stick to these points and you’ll be right!
Enjoy your time in the Land Down Under! There’s nowhere else like it on earth.
For more like this, read this list of Australian slang words and peruse a guide to local etiquette. And here are some of the best books about Australia, to read before you visit.
Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.