Top 10 Misconceptions Americans Have About Australia
When most Americans think about Australia, they often picture kangaroos and koalas or surfing and shrimp on the barbie. Thanks to the media, including movies and television shows, there are a number of misconceptions that Americans have about the Land Down Under. For instance, we think everyone dresses like Paul Hogan or the late Steve Irwin. We also believe that everyone spends all day at the beach and drinks a lot of Foster’s before sharing a Bloomin’ Onion with their mates. Everyone also sees koalas in their backyard, rides kangaroos to school, and since it’s always summer, Australians have surely never seen snow, right?
The truth is, all of those “facts” above are simply misconceptions that Americans have about Australia and none of them are true. In fact, when it comes down to it, life as an Australian wouldn’t be a stretch for any American, and it is certainly not this totally exotic land where you would be lost with no hope if suddenly you appeared in Sydney or Melbourne. Instead, you would find the people to be extremely friendly and welcoming, and would probably be surprised to not instantly see a kangaroo hopping down the street. In fact, you would likely see some very familiar sights, including a lot of fast food restaurants including McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.
Since all of these misconceptions seem to persist, it’s time to set the record straight. Here are the top 10 misconceptions Americans have about Australia:
10. Australians are Really Laid Back and Spend Their Days on the Beach
One of the most common ideals about Australia is that the people of Oz are extremely laid back. We have these images of these bronzed skinned, blonde Aussies with shining white smiles laying on the beach, and can’t ever imagine that these beautiful people have to ever pay bills or a mortgage. This, however, is not typical of Aussies.
The truth is, most Australians are way too busy to spend their days on the beach. In fact, a recent study found that Aussies are some of the hardest working people in the world. Furthermore, they have one of the poorest work-life balances and the longest working hours on the planet. When looking at the country itself, you would find that they are one of the largest capitalist countries in the world, and contributes about 2 percent to the world economy. These stats couldn’t exist if the people here spent their days sunbathing.
On top of this, the unemployment rate is quite low in Australia, as of the first quarter of 2016, and is comparable to the unemployment rate in the United States. If you think about things this way, you can easily see that if almost 95 percent of all working age Australians are actually working, how are they able to find time to spend time at the beach?
Though it is nice to think about Australia as a sunny, warm place where no one works and everyone lives with sand between their toes, the truth is, it is not much different than life in your own city.
9. All Australians Have a Family Tree Filled With Convicts
Another misconception we have as Americans about Australians is that everyone has at least one convict in their family tree. The reason we believe this is because we have all heard that Australia was founded by dangerous criminals that were shipped off from England, right? Well, not quite…the truth isn’t as glamorous as it might seem. Here’s the real story:
In 1787, England was reeling. It had just lost the United States in the Revolutionary War, and neighboring France had undergone its own revolution, putting a lot of pressure on Great Britain to step up or step out. This was also the start of the Industrial Revolution, and many from the countryside were making their way to the cities of England for work. These people were poor, uneducated, and Britain simply couldn’t provide enough for her people, so petty crimes, such as theft, most of the time for survival, became widespread. Many were sent to prison; so many, in fact, that there was no room for them all. So, a decision was made to start shipping the prisoners to Australia.
Most of the 165,000 convicts who were shipped to Australia were ultimately victims of the poor social conditions of England, and 80 percent of them had convictions of larceny. They were made up of all different types of people, too, including skill laborers, prisoners of war, doctors, and teachers.
Once their sentences were over, though it’s true that many of these people stayed, today, only about 22 percent of modern day Australians have any family history connected to these convicts.
8. It is Always Like Summer in Australia
Depending on where you live in the U.S., you probably long for a warm, sunny, tropical place, so Australia sounds like a dream. After all, they don’t have winter, right? Wrong…Australia certainly has a winter, and depending on where you are, just like in the U.S., it snows. There are even ski resorts in Australia!
Though it’s too warm in the northern part of Australia for snow, in the southeastern part of the country, including New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, there are plenty of ski resorts. This is especially the case in the Australian Alps, a mountain range that spans from New South Wales, through the Australian Capital Territory and into Victoria. The Snowy Mountains offer some of the best downhill skiing in the country, but there are also a number of National Parks that offer winter activities such as cross country skiing and snow tubing.
Though most of the population of Australia lives along the coast, even those in the northern part of the country, which is warmer, still see cooler temperatures in the winter. Cairns, which is one of those northern cities, can see temps fall into the 50’s Fahrenheit during the coldest, and wettest time of year. Temperatures in other cities of Australia can also get cool during the winter. For instance, Sydney can get as cold as the low 40’s Fahrenheit, and temperatures in Melbourne, which is even further south, can get down into the 30’s Fahrenheit.
7. Most of the Animals in Australia are Dangerous and Will Kill You
Most Americans also believe that their first trip to the Land Down Under will be their last, because every animal in Oz is poised and ready to strike and kill. It is true that there are a lot of poisonous animals in Australia, as well as large animals, such as pythons and crocodiles, but the odds that they would kill someone are actually quite exaggerated.
Sure, Australia is probably the only place on the globe where you would see a python swallowing a crocodile, and there is a snail in Australia that fires poison darts at its victims, there are a lot of dangerous animals in the United States, too, including cougars, bears, rattlesnakes and black widow spiders.
Realistically, when you are in Australia, the deadliest animals are bees and horses, which we have here in the United States, too. Experts, such as Steve Backshall, a naturalist, says that despite the array of scary animals in Australia, the odds that you would ever run into them are very slim. Plus, most of these dangerous, animals don’t live anywhere near the highly populated areas of Australia, most live in the outback. Yes, if you trek out into the wilderness, you might encounter some of these deadly animals, such as crocodiles, it would be quite unusual, even in those situations, where you would die. Unless, of course, you fall victim to starvation or sun poisoning, which are much more likely in the outback than getting attacked by an animal.
6. Koalas are Bears, and Everyone Cuddles With Them
One of the most iconic animals in Australia is the koala, and yes, they are extremely cute animals. Most tourists can’t wait to see the famed “koala bear,” and as soon as arriving to Australia often begin looking for them in trees or even with people, who surely cuddle with these adorable creatures. However, koalas are not bears, they are not found in all areas of Australia, and you definitely don’t want to cuddle them.
Koalas only live along the eastern coastline of Australia, where they dine on eucalyptus and sleep for up to 18 hours a day. Koala’s rarely leave the trees, and dig into the wood with their sharp claws. Koalas are not bears, either. They are marsupials, just like kangaroos, and they keep their babies in a small pouch until they are big enough to be out in the world without a high degree of danger.
It can be tough to simply come across a koala, as they are quite scattered throughout the coastal area. They were hunted in the 1920s and 1930s, and during this time the population dwindled. There were a number of reintroduction and repopulation efforts over the years, but these days, populations are smaller than they were before the hunting began. Also, koalas require a lot of space, approximately 100 trees per koala, which is problematic as the wooded areas of Australia keep shrinking.
If you do find yourself lucky enough to meet a koala, you might find that they smell like a cough drop, as a testament to all of the eucalyptus they eat, and you definitely don’t want to touch them, as 90 percent of all koalas in Australia carry chlamydia.
5. Australians Drink a Lot of Beer, Especially Foster’s
There is a reputation that Aussies have where American’s tend to picture them drunk with a can of Foster’s in their hands. However, this is far from the truth when you actually see the Australian people in action.
As of 2014, Australia ranked as 15th in the world when it comes to alcohol consumption, and the US, on average, only consumes a liter less, per person, so the drinking culture of the two countries is similar. Germany, Ireland, France and Russia all beat both Australia and the US when it comes to drinking alcohol. On top of this, alcohol consumption in Australia is at a 50-year low.
So, what do Aussies drink? It is certainly not Foster’s. Foster’s is actually rarely consumed in Australia, and compared to the other beers is unpopular. On top of this, Foster’s is not even Australian. It is made by the British brewing conglomerate, SAB Miller, and is made in Europe and shipped worldwide, including to Australia. Instead, the most popular beers in Australia include Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, XXXX Gold, Coopers Pale Ale and Crown Lager.
Australia also is a country of wine drinkers thanks to the large number of vineyards in the country. Some of the most well respected and prestigious wineries in the world are located in Australia, and Aussies take their wine very seriously. Thus, you are much more likely to find Australians sipping wines in a swanky bar or vineyard than chugging Foster’s and getting rowdy…though of course, just like in the US, that happens.
4. Australians Live in the Outback
When American’s go to the Outback we leave with a full belly of steak and baked potato, but in Australia, the Outback is a totally different thing. The outback of Australia is essentially what we would consider the wilderness, and though it is a nice and even beautiful place to visit, most people do not want to live there. In fact, about 89 percent of Australians live in the major cities, and only only about 5 percent actually call the Outback home. These people largely are miners, farmers or ranchers, along with pockets of Aboriginal communities.
In total, the Outback covers approximately 2.5 million square miles. There are highways that run across the Outback, but the towns are few and far between, so you can spend hours on the road without seeing another person or coming to another town. For many, crossing the Outback is the ultimate adventure, but some never make it out alive due to to careless actions and risk taking. Most believe that the Outback is highly dangerous, but the truth is, it’s not as dangerous as one might believe. People tend to get in trouble in the Outback due to poor choices and issues such as dehydration, sun stroke and heat exhaustion are all widespread. People also tend to find danger when driving off the main roads, which is ultimately wild land, or bush, as the Aussies call it. However, the risk of encountering dangerous animals, which, of course, is another misconception, is actually quite low.
3. If You Swim in the Ocean, You Will Get Bitten by a Shark or Stung by a Jellyfish
Many Americans also believe that Australian waters are simply teeming with sharks. This, too, is untrue. In 2015, for instance, there were 33 shark attacks in the whole of Australia, and only two of these shark attacks were fatal. In the US, however, the average shark attacks per year ranges from 30 – 40. What does this mean? You are in no more danger of getting attacked by a shark in Australia then you are in the good ole’ U.S. of A.
Wherever you are, whether you are at Bondi Beach or Myrtle Beach, you can greatly lower your chances of a shark incident by simply heeding the warnings of signs, which are always placed at beaches when sharks are sighted, and avoiding the ocean when sharks are likely to feed, such as dawn and dusk.
You should also watch out for jellyfish in Australian waters, just as you should in American waters. The two most dangerous jellyfish in Australia are the box jellyfish and irukandji jellyfish. Both jellyfish are only found in the northern parts of Australia, and just like sharks, when they are sighted, signs and flags go up, again, just like beaches in the U.S. do. You can lower your risk of getting stung by a jelly fish or bitten by a shark by about 90 percent simply by staying out of the water when they are sighted.
2. Toilets in Australia Flush Backwards
Thanks to an episode of The Simpsons in 1995, Americans now believe that all toilets in Australia flush backwards thanks to the Coriolis effect. Though the Coriolis effect is responsible for hurricanes turning in a different direction in the Southern Hemisphere, this effect is not strong enough to actually have an effect on drains or toilets.
Though you might not realize it, many toilets in the U.S. “flush backwards” too, thanks to the alignment of the water jets in the toilet. Different designs and toilet brands simply place the jets in different areas, and this is why the toilets flush backwards. The same occurs in Australia, and some toilets flush clockwise and some flush counterclockwise.
If you don’t believe this, go to your own bathroom, flush the toilet, and observe in what direction the toilet flushes. If you have more than one bathroom, try flushing those toilets too. Now, check the sinks. Odds are, you will find some drains and toilets in your home running clockwise and some counter-wise…and you probably in the United States, not Australia.
1. Captain Cook Discovered Australia
If you are like most Americans, you probably think that Christopher Columbus discovered America and Captain Cook discovered Australia, but both are falsehoods! Though Captain James Cook charted Australia and started colonizing the huge island, he did not actually discover it. In fact, the Dutch and Portuguese were there before the British, and there is even evidence that traders from Indonesia, China and India were trading with the Aboriginals thousands of years before Captain Cook was even born.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to PROBABLY find their way to Australia, but there is no direct evidence that is around today. There is evidence, however, that the Portuguese made their way to Timor, which is just 700 km from Australia, and these explorers have unidentified maps of what looks like the coastline of Australia…however, since they are unmarked, there is no definitive proof.
The Dutch were the ones who we know for sure landed on the shores of Australia. They anchored near the Pennefather River in Queensland in 1606 and Captain Willem Janszoon is credited as being the first European to step onto Australian soil. The Dutch came back to Australia in 1616, 1629 and 1642, which was also when they discovered New Zealand, Fiji and the Tonga Islands.
Captain Cook didn’t come to Australia until 1770, more than 100 years later, in the area now known as Botany Bay. He called the new land New Wales, and then changed it to New South Wales and claimed the area for Britain. He had no idea, at the time, that there was an entire continent to explore that was more than 30 times larger than Great Britain. The British returned to Australia in 1778 to colonize the land.
Thanks to Hollywood, and even in some part Australia’s own tourism board, there are widespread misconceptions about the Land Down Under. We have all heard the stories and “know” the facts, but as you can see in this list, the “facts” that we think we know are actually misconceptions.
Though it’s true that some of these misconceptions, such as getting eaten by a shark in the ocean, are technically possible, the odds of these things actually happening are simply perpetuated by grandiose ideas. As mentioned, life in Oz isn’t that much different than life in the United States. Our seasons are opposite, Aussies talk with a cool accent, but when you look at the big picture, the history of our countries are quite similar, and both our lands were once colonies of Great Britain. There are some major differences between the U.S. and Australia, such as Australia having compulsory voting and extremely strict gun laws, but for the most part, Australians would easily assimilate to life in the U.S. and Americans could easily live an Australian life…just leave the Foster’s at home and don’t ask for a Bloomin’ Onion.