favorite experiences in Australia

2001.06.18 (updated : 2023.01.28)

When I was in my late twenties, I moved to Australia. It's a long way from Canada, geographically and in regard to the seasons and wildlife and also in idiom. But as far as first overseas experiences go, it was a great move: equal parts kiddie pool and being thrown in at the deep end.

Bit of a mangled metaphor there, I admit. But you can understand people immediately (well, you know what I mean; c.f. Japanese) and all the differences are manageable. Yes, you'll have to go to the post office to get a home phone [please note I wrote this in 2001] and the huntsmen spiders under your bed are big and move faster than the human eye. And yes, you can die from some toxic critter you'll never even see. But the thing is, you won't die. You'll just be reminded on a regular basis that you're a long way from home. And that lack or normalization is what tells you that you're having an adventure. Even if you are working at a bank on your vacation visa.

It's hard to sum-up my favorite experiences from my time in Australia. Take penguins. On more than one occasion, I was standing on a wharf in Kirribilli waiting for the ferry that would take me to the city (and to work), and saw penguins darting around catching fish. Penguins, on the way to work! Sydney; what an amazing city. Anyway, I lived there for sixteen months in 2000-2001, here's what I liked.

swimming with dolphins

When we were in Perth, my then-girlfriend, my long-time friend Charlie, and I went swimming with dolphins. Charlie was expecting to be thrown into a swimming pool with a dolphin, so opted out. I was expecting to be taken out into the ocean and tossed in with some dolphins, so I opted in. The ex suited up, as well.

We went to a small town called Mandurah, some 60km south of Perth, on an estuary. The estuary is a largish inland waterway where three rivers meet before entering the sea. The estuary is the permanent home to a large (100+) colony of dolphins. We met the folks from Dolphin Encounters Mandurah, and paid about $AUD 110 a piece to go out.

We were cautioned that we might not see any dolphins, and that we were being taking to the locations where they were most often found. But there was no need for caution. There must have been about twenty dolphins in the water at the first point the skipper brought us. Sara and I quickly suited up in wetsuits (we were planning on being in the water for half an hour, and even warm Aussie water that was going to chill us.

We spent the next hour and a half on and off the boat, swimming with countless adult female dolphins and their young. The adult males, apparently lived off at the other end of the estuary, or out in the open ocean. In any event, it was stunning. We were encouraged to make lots of noise (I was in my element! and to sign to the dolphins, as the noise would attract them. The guides also suggested that we swim either in a tight circle or a long line (at high speed).

This worked wonders. We quickly had the dolphins coming for a closer look. It was impossible to keep up with the dolphins, but it was a lot of fun trying. We were exhausted when it was over, of course. It was really something. I encourage everyone that can possibly get out there to try it.

Charlie remained on board and took about a thousand really superb shots of the dolphins chasing us around in the water, chasing the boat as it zipped along the estuary, and chased one another when nothing else was available.

baby dolphins are hard to photograph
baby dolphins are hard to photograph

surfing

I'm from Canada. I spent the first eight years of my life living on a farm next to a giant lake that never got warmer than about 14ºC. By the time I was 18, I'd spent more than half of my life in Calgary, on the Great Plains—where there are no leaves on the trees for eight months of the year. I never imagined that I'd ever try surfing, or that I'd have my first lesson from a New Yorker while bobbing about in a place called Avalon on Australia's east coast.

But that's how it happened, and I can't overstate what a blast it was. I managed to catch only one good wave on that slow morning, and didn't get more upright than propping myself up on my hands, but it was with good friends in a lazy place and I cherish the memory.

hugging a koala

This is probably my peak tourist moment in the country. But I don't care.

in-line skating in Melbourne

Another fine time in Melbourne. When I lived in Australia, in-line skating was illegal in Sydney, incredibly. But in Melbourne I went to skate around the Formula-1 track with a friend and lo and behold they had skates that fit me. It was the one and only time I ever found skates in my size (American size 16EE), and I regret not buying them when the fellow tried to offload the things on me. I proved to be rather good at skating, too: it was a lot like cross-country skiing.

frogmouths

I was startled on one occasion to look up while heading to the grocery store and seeing a frogmouth (which the locals pronounce frogma'ath because why not) watching me with that pissed off look. I have a pic of it somewhere. In the meantime here's a later pic I took at a zoo.

frogmouth
not the frogmouth I saw in a tree while getting groceries

My point is, I loved the birds, not just frogma'ath. There were carrawongs that fought constantly - one of them purposefully slapped me with its wing-tip as it swept low overhead. There were the cockatoos that sounded a bit like flying car alarms. There were the cheery little lorikeets, thieving and begging by our kitchen window (and sometimes in it). And genuine Egyptian ibises strutting in the park. And giant fruit bats that wait, scratch that.

understanding the Aussie

Figuring out Australians became something of a hobby while I was there, because it ain't easy. Here are some themes, from a Canadian perspective:

I enjoyed my time in Australia. I was there for 16 months and saw something of all of the states and territories except for Tasmania (which struck me as a bit Canadian, anyway). I met a lot of people, and despite sometimes hanging our with other foreigners (my only attempt at surfing was with an American friend, for instance), I enjoyed the company of The Aussie. I have many fine memories and I look back on it as a time that helped me prepare for living in Japan, which I would do on the long term not once but twice. Thank you, Australia.

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ROOT

Should have included the word Root (S) especially because of the laugh that Aussies get when they see some mad Canadian wandering around Oz proudly wearing a ROOTS shirt!

Nicole
2003.03.26 00:00:00

Thanks, Nicole. That never occurred to me. IIRC, both the Canadian and US teams went to 'Stralia with 'roots' brand clothing in 2000!

-Michael

OZ

Dear Micheal,

Thank you so much for your pages about Oz. I am Canadian and my boyfriend is Australian, we had a great laugh at your Aussie words. haha. Anyways, I am trying to go to Austrlia next year to work. You said that the IT industry was easy to get a job with. I was wondering when you went? What kind of qualifications did you need? Is it true that you can only work for 3 months at one job with the WH visa? I really appreciate your help.

Thanks,

Erin

Erin Crowe
2004.01.15 00:00:00

I hope you got my email, Erin.

In short, I think in your case (esp with the Aussie boyfriend in tow) you'll be fine turning up on a tourist visa.

-Michael

Web Site

Just wanted to say thank you for putting up your web site. I read and looked at just about everything you had on OZ, and I found it entertaining and informative. I like your writing style as well. Your site is one of the best ones I have found with regards to what Canadians can expect when they visit or work in Australia. You've done a fine job.

adrienne
2003.05.07 00:00:00

Thanks for your comments. It was my pleasure to do so.

-Michael

Probably moving to Sydney

Hey there...great page! I'm from Toronto and my husband is from Sydney and we currently reside in Las Vegas (pity us...it sucks beyond words). But we've had it and are seriously looking into up and moving to Oz in about a year or so.

So I've been surfing around looking for precisely your kind of info and advice for Canadians going to Sydney. I already knew a lot of what I read here because we visited for 6 weeks in 2000, but it's a good refresher and there were definitely things I didn't know. So thanks!

Mind you, I'm well aware of the whole "roots" thing and I, for one, find it quite amusing to wear Roots Canada gear in Australia. It's even got the extra entendre of a beaver (not that Aussies seem know of that particular sexual slang). :)

I sent your translation page to my hubby and in-laws so maybe they'll learn to decode what I'm saying!

Thanks!

-- Kimberly Chapman

http://kimberlychapman.com

Kimberly Chapman
2004.02.02 00:00:00

Thanks for your comments, Kimberly. Good luck with the move!

-Michael

Ozzies!

Sorry but as a working class Englishman, im sick of the ozzie attitude towards my fellow country men. Pommie this and pommie that...how old is that! You Canadians however are the friendliest people i have ever met..you should be proud ..unlike the Ozzies you DO have a great country...and no chip on your shoulders like the "okkas". Sooner Oz becomes a republic...the better!

Carl T
2003.10.10 00:00:00

Not sure what 'okkas' refers to, but I've found quite a bit of friction between the Aussies and Brits. I suspect the Aussie snobbery to the UK comes from their ancestors having been booted out over often trivial matters.

-Michael

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

There's a story behind that chant.

One of the SOCOG members (Sydney Olympics Committee), who was seen to be an up-himself twat, was asked in a doorstop interview outside a hotel or somesuch whether he knew of any chants or supporters songs. He replied that whatever happened, he hoped it wasn't something like "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!".

Australians will do anything to spite an elitist pratt.

Christina
2003.12.13 00:00:00

Hmmm! Great story, that.

I never saw that, while down there. All I got was the incessant chanting. I liked Australia, but that chant really gets under your skin after a while.

-Michael

victoria, melbourne

how's it g'arn

what da ya mean victorians are snobs?

if you ask most australians that have lived, or visted, both melbourne and sydney, they will probably tell ya that melbournians are heaps nicer than people from sydney.

we aint that english either, we've just got more culture than sydney (theres that rivalry ya talkin 'bout), melbourne is the the most strong representer of non-stereotypical aussie culture, and some of it is very unique like aussie hip hop(only connection to america is the words 'hip' and 'hop', here the similarites end) and other such things. we are a lot more multicultural than sydney, and that backwards racial, and sexual view that you talked about, is alot more blured in melbourne, it aint such a big deal. melbourne is often neglected in the area of tourism, 'cause we get 4 seasons in one day, and don't have beautiful sunshine all the time. but if ya thinking of coming to australia, you should check the place out (it's a very different place to sydney), might give ya an insight into the fact that not all aussies (in fact very few) are red necked, crocodile wrestling, ignorant, morons who don't know anything.

catch ya later

twitch
2003.12.18 00:00:00

Wha? Where does it say that Melbournite are snobs? I liked Melbourne, and I liked Sydney. I think if I were heading to Australia again, I'd probably choose Melbourne, but that's mostly cause I've "done" Sydney....

-Michael

ozzies

it's so good to see a webpage like this. as, for canadians, like me. i love it there in australia. friendly people(like here), beautiful places (like here), perfect weather ( not so quite like here) but, basically,we are similar.

melisa
2004.01.09 00:00:00

We are, it's true.

-Michael

Aussies too laid back

I am tripping to Canada in a couple of months. Having worked in the U.S. i noticed a huge difference in that Americans all turn up to appointments. One third of all appointments in Australia (in my business) just won't turn up. Of those that do a good number will come with no money and an excuse asking to pay at another time. I think that this is because being a socialist country we have bred the attitude of everything should be free. Whatever it can be frustrating.

Having said that Australia seems to have a much higher level of culture than America. Better coffee, food and so on and also a lot cleaner. Also Australians seem a lot better skilled at what they do than the Americans. I think this is because Aussies think on their feet where as Americans learn what they need to know inside and out but not more and not less.

What are Canadiand like for keeping appointments?

Chris

Chris Fawkes
2004.04.09 00:00:00

Have a great trip in Canada!

Canadians and appointments, what can I say. Sometimes I think Canadians need queues and appointments or they collapse in a panic.

-Michael

australia

g'day,

i am 15 and live on the beautiful northern beaches of sydney. i work at a boat hire place on pittwater. people from all over the world come to hire the run-about boats. i meet all of them and i have to say that the canadians are the most friendly of em all. When they go fishing they always return the boats clean, unlike some. They are always the most cheery and happy people. When i speek to them they are always positive and love our surf culture and how everything is so relaxed. The only thing that is strange is they have no understanding of our sense of humour.

I have been to the loss angeles, new york and Hawaii. I have met so many americans and they are the most stupid people on earth. They have no cencept of the out side world and believe america is so great and powerfull. One mum in a spa in hawaii thought that australia was a country in Europe. I could have slapped her. Canadians and aussies are similar in that they both know there is a world out there besides their own and they go out an explore it. Also the main sport in australia is rugby union, not AFL that is for sissys.

nick h
2004.06.04 00:00:00

That's a rather diffuse rant! And still so young. I'm glad the Canadians you've dealt with have treated you well. Having lived in Australia, I can empathise with the lack of understanding on the sense of humour. Humour is a national sport, I think.

-Michael

...

I find it funny that I hear Americans described as unapologetic bigots and yet never hear Americans making such statements against Australians or anyone else that seems to be the rule, rather than the exception in this forum. If "Nick" was my age and not the unwise 15 that he is, I'd clobber the son of a bitch. You people really need to check your egos, including the writer. Sorry if I appear sensitive. I just don't dig on what is essentially racism aimed at me because of where I was born, especially by those who claim to be so tolerant.

new yorker
2004.07.12 00:00:00

I wasn't really writing about Americans, "new yorker". I'm glad you have some perspective on the source of the comments that offended you. I can't apologize on that party's behalf, I'm amazed that you read any bigotry into my words.

P.S. I *hate it* when people don't leave their email address.

-Michael

about me

So how is your business going? BTW I read "The Ambassador" which you posted... I found it entertaining and well written, for the most part. Did you have anyone review your work for you, i.e. like a professional manuscript reviewer? I am thinking of sending my manuscript off to a person in Australia, just to get a unbiased opinion on plot, character development and overal writing style.

-Stephen

Stephen
Tokyo
2009.07.27 00:00:00

The new business is going quite well indeed. I'm currently learning how to make a modern web design work on IE6. 8(

Thanks for the feedback on the short story.

-Michael

rand()m quote

Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.

—Oscar Wilde