Living in Australia

Australia is so big and diverse that it could never merely be the sum of its icons.

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The stunning architecture of the Sydney Opera House, the glow of Uluru (Ayers Rock) at dusk, a wave curled above a colourful reef – these are only part of the experience that unfolds once your feet touch the soil of this awesome country-continent.

Australia’s natural beauty is one of its biggest attractions. The landscape varies from endless sunbaked horizons to tropical rainforests to chilly southern beaches. Its cities blend an enthusiasm for art and food with a love of sport and the outdoors. Visitors will have to re-think their grasp of geography in this huge country. The sheer vastness gives Australia – and its diverse population – much of its character.

Many things about this faraway island are different, even the things that sound familiar. You may have visited remote places, but not the sublime isolation of the outback, with its dazzling salt pans and sandstone towers. You would have encountered wildlife, but when did you last ride a camel among desert oak trees or have your camp site visited by a Tasmanian devil? Perhaps you’ve enjoyed seafood, but here you’ll taste barramundi fish and delicious Moreton Bay bugs (a shellfish).
From rainforest trails to fascinating museums, vibrant multicultural cities to a love of sport, Australia is unique.

The People
Australia’s population in mid-2005 was 20,265,000. Population density is among the lowest in the world, with an average of 2.5 people per square kilometre – no-one’s within cooee (shouting distance) in the outback. Most people live along the eastern seaboard, with a smaller concentration on the southwestern coast. Living in one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries – 23% is foreign-born – Australians incorporate a wide variety of influences into the way they live and play.

The Places
Australia’s states and territories each have unique characteristics. Explore one at a time or, when your studies have finished, visit them all in one big loop! This would mean over 14,000km of highway, not including side trips to beaches, forests, mountains, country towns… If you’d rather not go far from where you’re studying, you’ll still find there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

The Potential
Australia offers a unique experience for students. Apart from a world-class education system, the opportunities to get involved in daily life are endless: whether you’re into the arts or sport, partying or book clubs, the great outdoors or cosy cafés, you’ll find many ways to join in and have fun. So if you want to get an education and have a life, it really is the place to be.

Australia For Free
There are plenty of activities that cost nothing or next to nothing for those on a budget. Appreciate Australia’s stunning natural beauty and native animals with walks through its pristine national parks – there are more than 500. Enjoy endless walks along endless beaches; go people watching at fantastic markets; learn about Australia’s art and heritage at excellent free galleries and museums (see the Culture section); or attend some typically Australian festivals, like the surf life-saving competitions on beaches all around the country during summer. The list of free or cheap things to do is endless, so there’s no need to let a student budget come between you and good times.

Food
Australia is one of the most dynamic places in the world to eat, thanks to international culinary influences and a dining public willing to give anything new a go. Anything another country does, Australia does too. Vietnamese, Indian, Fijian, Italian – no matter where it’s from, there are expats and locals keen to cook and eat the cuisine. Due to the country’s huge size, the climate varies a great deal from north to south. This means that at any time of the year there’s an enormous variety of produce on offer, including Australia’s justifiably famous seafood.

Food tourism and food festivals are blossoming. Melbourne, for instance, has its own month-long food-and-wine festival in March. There are harvest festivals in wine regions, and various communities hold annual events, such as Clare Valley’s (South Australia) Gourmet Weekend.

Christmas in Australia, in mid-summer, is less likely to involve a traditional European baked dinner, and more likely to be replaced by a ‘barbie’ (barbecue), full of seafood and quality steak. Various ethnic groups have their own celebrations. The Indian community brings out delicious sweets during Diwali; the Chinese annual Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) involves sumptuous banquets; and Australia’s Islamic community marks the end of Ramadan with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Typically, a restaurant meal in Australia is a relaxed affair. Any table that you’ve booked is yours for the night, unless you’re told otherwise. A competitively priced place to eat is a club or pub that offers a ‘counter meal’. Here you order at the kitchen, take a number and wait until it’s called. You then pick up the meal yourself, saving the restaurant money on staff and you on your total bill.

A great feature of the restaurant scene, which also makes eating out less expensive, is ‘BYO’ (Bring Your Own). If a restaurant says it’s BYO, you’re allowed to bring your own alcohol. If the place also sells alcohol, the BYO is usually limited to bottled wine only (no beer, no casks) and a corkage charge is often added to your bill.

Shopping
Australians like to shop, as evidenced by the huge variety of local- and international-brand shops, and the crowds that gather at every clearance sale. Big cities can satisfy most consumer appetites with everything from high-fashion boutiques to second-hand emporiums, while many smaller places tend towards speciality retail, be it home-grown produce, antiques or arts and crafts. Many Australian cities have really interesting shopping (and eating) strips in different neighbourhoods, especially in the inner suburbs. Be sure to check out places like Brunswick St, Fitzroy (Melbourne), Oxford St, Paddington (Sydney), Ann & Brunswick Sts intersection, Fortitude Valley (Brisbane) and Oxford St, Leederville (Perth).

Markets are a great place to shop, especially for a bargain, and most cities have at least one permanent bazaar, such as Hobart’s Salamanca Market. Melbourne and Sydney have a couple – try the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne or the Paddington Market in Sydney. Alternative markets on the New South Wales north coast, such as the one at Nimbin, are also worth a visit.

An Aboriginal artwork or artefact can be an excellent souvenir of Australia. By buying authentic items you are supporting Aboriginal culture and helping to ensure that traditional and contemporary expertise and designs continue to be of economic and cultural benefit for Aboriginal individuals and their communities. The best way to buy artefacts is either directly from the communities that have art-and-craft centres or from galleries and outlets that are owned, operated or supported by Aboriginal communities. Other great ideas for souvenirs include the seeds of native plants – try growing kangaroo paw back home (check your country’s quarantine rules). You could also consider a bottle of fine Australian wine, honey or delicious macadamia nuts.

Modern Australian fashion collections that are in demand include Collette Dinnigan, Ty & Melita, Morrissey, Sass & Bide, Tsubi and Akira Isogawa. For a rustic look, try wrapping yourself in a waterproof Driza-Bone coat, an Akubra hat, moleskin pants and Blundstone boots; RM Williams is a well-known bush-clothing brand. Surf-wear labels such as Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Mambo and Billabong also make good buys

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