We’ve had a few visitors since we got here, and more on the way. Depending on their itinerary, their travel experience, and their understanding of Australia, we have offered advice either before arrival, on arrival or not at all. But as more people plan to visit us, maybe this is a good opportunity to point out some of the things Lonely Planet and Bill Bryson (everyone coming here has read From A Sunburned Country, haven’t you? If not, ask the pilot to turn the plane around right now. Sorry, not ask, but TELL…you’re not prepared) might not have made clear.
First thing you need to know: Australia is in the middle of nowhere. No matter where you have been, where you have flown, it’s not going to compare. The Canada to OZ flight is better (faster) than it was in 2005 when we first came for a visit, but it is still horrible. Imagine 16 hours in a chair, with nowhere to put your feet. And that’s from coast to coast, Vancouver to Sydney. Anywhere else on either continent (Wagga, Edmonton, etc) add several hours. At least doing it Canada to Australia, it starts at night and you will be tired and able to sleep. The trip home will be a morning departure so you’re wide awake and stuck on a plane. I don’t know what else to say…except that, at the end of it, you will be greeted by a kangaroo. That makes it all so worth it!!!!!! Well, in reality you are greeted by a beagle. But a nice one, who doesn’t have an M-16, but just wants to sniff your
Second tip: It is hot and sunny. Really fucking hot and sunny. Sorry to anyone who finds certain words offensive (or is currently in Canada, where it is fucking cold and snowy), but hot and sunny are the only words that properly describe a summer day where the ambient temperature – the one they report – is between 33 and 40 most days, and the sun makes the ground feel closer to 60. Or 70. Celsius. And that’s the cool summer days. Ever experienced 44 Celsius. Didn’t think so, unless you live in Australia. 44C, a bright sun and a bit of a breeze – imagine sitting in a convection oven for an afternoon. Welcome to Wagga. We used to whinge, really whinge, when it got up to 35 in Edmonton. Here, that’s a lovely afternoon temp. Bring it on.
And there is a big fucking hole in the ozone layer (sorry to anyone who finds the word ozone offensive, as in all you climate change deniers…this country had to add a new colour to the weather maps because of your spray bottles!) that means that gorgeous sun will kill you. Not ‘can’ kill you or ‘might’ kill you: WILL kill you. And in a way that you will wish that roo would have just pulled out her M-16 and taken you down quickly.
Until recently – so recently that we’re not sure if it has been enacted – the highest SPF sun block you could get is 30+. We used to buy 50+ in Canada, but the prevailing opinion here is that really, who cares…it isn’t that different. The amount of sun that a 30 blocks, compared to a 50, isn’t huge. The important thing is to remember the old Aussie adage of Slip Slop Slap. Slip on shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat.
More recently it has been updated: Slip Slop Slap Slide Seek, with the last two warning to slide on some sunnies (sunglasses for the rest of the world, who can say words with more than two syllables) and seek shade. It’s a brutal sun. We often have people pointing out that we (well mostly me, Dan…I’ll revert to first person again as Lisa is still shirking her duty) are getting tanned. And that’s not a compliment, just someone who has grown up in this sun noticing. And I recently had a discussion with a work colleague about cycling in this sun, and she was thinking about buying thin sun-blocking sleeves – she’s a pomi (the Aus term for Brit, I think it means Prisoner of Mother England) and wants to retain her “pasty white european look” or, in other words, not have to have a melanoma removed. So yeah, Lisa slops on a 30+ every morning, Dan not as vigilant but at least before he heads out biking he slops. We both wear sunnies most of the time. We slap (well, Dan does a lot, thinks it makes him look cool, Lisa’s still not a hat person). We don’t go out without shirts on. Or shoes, and even though it is common to see people barefoot all over Wagga, most Australians to have a tan line on their feet from their thongs. The equivalent of the Canadian ‘farmers tan’ I guess. Because regional Australia isn’t a “no shirt no shoes no service” type of place.
Which transitions perfectly into service. Tipping in restaurants (or taxis or hair salons or anywhere) isn’t normal or expected. So you might think when you go into a restaurant that that the price listed on the menu is outrageous, but if you deduct the various Canadian taxes and the gratuity (15-20%), that $16 entré (wait for the next entry for an explanation about how the country with the weirdest English actually does French right) is now down to $11 plus tax and tip. Not that bad, and it will probably be HUGE. And servers here make OK money, probably about 2x what they would in Canada on ‘award’…silly term, Canadians would call it minimum wage…and more on ‘penalty’ – extra pay for late shifts, weekends and holidays. So you get people making decent, living wages for doing their job. But, the problem – and pointing this out specifically for W & P who are coming and will be spending time in touristy areas is that some restauranteurs have been caught not passing on tips. Bondi and Manly are areas in/around Sydney that have been called out in the media for this. Since it is not normal to tip, if people – usually tourists – add a tip on the EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale…say it phonetically, eff tt poss , yes you will need to know that one…which account: savings or credit?…PIN or sign?) because it went into the restaurant’s account it often doesn’t channeled back to the server who earned it. Servers wages are a huge huge HUGE issue here right now, with restauranteurs saying that the penalty rate (sort of a combination of what Canadians think of as overtime combined with a premium for working outside of standard 7 am – 7 pm Monday to Friday work week) is keeping them from opening on holidays like Christmas, Australia Day and Easter. Because, get this…servers on a holiday after 7 pm will be making more than $40 per hour, possibly as much as $50. How that compares to a Canadian server who makes about $9 or $10 per hour, plus tips, I don’t know but the restauranteurs say many operate at a loss on a holiday because they don’t increase their prices but have to pay outrageous wages. Good point… though some say they are willing to do it out of good will – customers want a place to go, and if you aren’t open and they go somewhere else, they might not come back. The issue of penalty and other Fair Work Australia policies is going to factor heavily in the upcoming election I think.
So that’s part 1 of a basic primer on coming to Australia to visit: be prepared for a long flight, plan for heat, and have a lot of room on your credit card. Next up: driving/transportation tips, maybe some food basics, a more accurate perspective on dangerous critters, and some non-critter-related survival tips.
As an aside, for this post I was trying to find a picture that was floating around on facebook a few months ago, about how everything in Australia can kill you. I did find the picture I was looking for, but used the one with the over-armed emu instead because fewer people have probably seen it. But in my searching, I came across a discussion forum about moving to Australia and this post just fit so well after some of the shit that’s been going on here recently: