Sunday Herald Sun - Escape
Know your neighbour
A cross-border cheat sheet to our cultural differences, from bung fritz to pesky hook turns
As Australians set off on continental roadtrips this summer it’s important to remember that we’re not one nation, but a union of proudly individual states and territories. A United States of Australia, if you will, each with distinct quirks and customs. To navigate this rich and vast land it helps to carry not just a road map, but also a cultural one, to brush up on regional etiquette before crossing into parts unknown.
So here, just in time for the holidays, is a handy tip sheet to the various cultures of this wide, brown continent. (Send your suggestions to me on Instagram or email email@example.com.) Happy holidays.
The ACT is small in size but big on eccentricities. The common road marking “Lane One Form” suggests Canberrans even read differently to the rest of us. Safety messages are direct and devastating: “Drive & text, U B next” or the unforgettable “Drink & drive, die in a ditch”. Kangaroos are a common traffic hazard.
There’s a north and south rivalry either side of Lake Burley Griffin. Friendships thrive or die on whether you’re Braddon or Manuka.
There’s no beach – unless you count Batemans Bay, which becomes Canberra-sur-Mer in summer – but capital dwellers cool off in Murrumbidgee swimming holes such as Pine Island and Kambah Pool, which has a nudist section.
There’s a common misconception that Sydneysiders lack manners. This is incorrect. They have them but are sometimes too busy to use them. Hence some can seem abrupt to out-of-towners.
Sydneysiders de-stress at the beach. Greater Sydney has around 70 of them – Bondi and Manly are most famous but Shelly and Shark, Balmoral and Bilgola are arguably more stunning.
Brunch was basically invented in Sydney so it’s mandatory to partake when visiting.
Newcastle is roughly the thong line above which dress codes swing super-casual. Flip-flops become multipurpose footwear but only qualify as formal attire once you reach Tropical North Queensland.
Victorians are perennially nice, but you’ll find them extra welcoming and warm this summer. After months of lockdown they’re overjoyed to see visitors return.
The CBD’s infamous hook turn exists for the simple reason that trams rule Melbourne’s roads. Do not cross them; it never ends well.
City residents famously love a bar, preferably on a rooftop exposed to Melbourne’s fickle elements
(no one knows why this is).
The Great Ocean Road is virtually gridlocked with holidaymakers from late December until late January. Early autumn’s the ideal time to make the pilgrimage.
South Australia is blessed with beautiful beaches that locals just love driving on. During summer any flat stretch of sand transforms into a festive carpark of beach cricket and barbecues. Look both ways before going for a swim.
When motoring beyond Adelaide it’s customary to raise an index finger to oncoming drivers. Waving is uncalled for.
The local diet is a peculiar mix of bung fritz, lepinja bread and frog cakes, but the wine is decent. If attending a get-together it’s considered poor form to bring a bottle that costs less than $20. Residents in Adelaide’s north are staunch Barossa-philes; those living in the south swear by McLaren Vale. Parochialism dictates tastes in everything from beer to beaches.
There are only two seasons in the Territory – summer and wet summer. During wet summer there are far fewer tourists and flies at major attractions like Kakadu and Nitmiluk Gorge, but some roads become impassable. The dry season returns with the dragonflies around May.
Territory Day falls on July 1 and is marked by frontyard fireworks parties fuelled by booze. Patriotic Territorians continue the celebrations for weeks either side of the actual day.
Breakfast laksa from Parap Village Markets is universally regarded as the finest cure for a Darwin hangover.
There’s an intimacy in Tasmania to everything from service stations – where attendants still pump petrol – to the beach shacks built cheek-by-jowl in coastal beauty spots.
Tasmanian “culture” is a broad church that ranges from Priscilla the beer-drinking pig at Pyengana’s pub to Mona, Australia’s most sensational and sophisticated art museum.
State roads are littered with dead marsupials.
The government keeps an insurance population of native fauna on car-free Maria Island in case they run out on the main island.
The People’s Republic of Western Australia is staunchly independent of eastern Australia, hence the speed with which it shut its border last year. The state’s isolation has given rise to unique traditions such as the Sunday session, a quasi-religious ritual involving several hours of sunset worship at Indian Ocean beach bars.
The southwest coast is notoriously windy, whether cooling southerlies (the Fremantle Doctor) or hot raging easterlies that rattle windows like poltergeists. Between wind gusts, Perth dwellers enjoy going to outdoor cinemas.
Everyone rises early to exercise in the cool of dawn. Hence Perth has a vibrant morning life but little night life.
Social distancing originated in Western Australia.
Despite the presence of bird-eating spiders, Queensland has a problem with feathered creatures. Down south, it’s aggressively swooping magpies. In the rainforests up north, road signs caution about cassowaries, dinosaur birds that stand around two metres tall. Little wonder the spiders struggle to keep them in check.
A day at the races in Queensland may involve horses but could also include camels. The dress code’s more casual for outback camel fixtures.
The surest way to sound local is to shorten a place name and add an “ee”. Straddie, Goldie, Bundy, Sunny Coast – easy.
There’s no daylight saving in Queensland. It upsets the cows.