Australia – A brief introduction

Australia has a population of around 23 million people – which may seem small when you see on the map the physical size of the country.  Most of that population lives along the coast of Australia in the main capital cities – Sydney being the biggest city with a population of around 4.7 million people, followed by Melbourne with about 4.3 million, Brisbane 2.2 million, Adelaide 1.2, Perth 1.9, Hobart 217,000, Darwin in the Northern Territory 136,000, and Canberra 343,000 people.
The country is divided into 6 States and 2 Territories with the Federal Capital being Canberra in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) which is roughly midway between Sydney in the north and Melbourne in the south.
Running down the east coast of Australia is the Great Dividing Range – with the coastal plains being on the east side where most of the population live and a vast plain being to the west of the Range.
What surprises many people coming to Australia for the first time is the vast distances between places that they want to see. For example the distance from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns is 2417 kilometres, while the distance from Sydney to Alice Springs in the Centre of Australia is 2773 kilometres and Sydney to Perth 4000 kilometres or a 5 hour flight.
To get the most out of your time in Australia – it is certainly better to pre-plan where you want to go and also work with the seasons – the hottest summer months being December- January stretching into February, and the coldest winter months being June-July. Having said that, winter can be really nice in the northern states of Australia – warm but not hot, and summer can be really hot in the north –but not as hot in the southern parts – though heat waves can happen in the south too.
In the summer months some states, but not all switch to daylight saving time – to maximise the daylight hours.
Australians mostly take their big summer holiday in January (when school holidays happen too) – so this is the time when hotels, camping grounds and holiday places (mainly beaches) are at their fullest and also most expensive rates.
Currency – Decimal currency was launched in 1966 and The Australian dollar comes in note form – as $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 notes and as coins –
Gold coloured $1 coins and $2 coins, then as a silver coloured 50 cent coins (the big 12 sided one), 20 cent, smaller 10 cent and smaller again 5 cent coins. There are no 1 or 2 cent coins – and prices are rounded up to the nearest 5 cent value – eg a price of $ 3.98 or $3.99 will mean paying $4.00. A price of $3.96 or $3.97 will mean paying $3.95.
There are money changers at airports, and also banks to change money. ATM machines are also found right across the country in all major towns, shopping centres and Eftpos transactions are possible in almost all retail shops, service stations (gas stations), pubs, clubs, and other venues.
The major credit cards are also accepted in most places – preferred ones being Visa and Mastercard. Amex and Diners Club are not as widely used, and some places won’t accept them.
The best and easiest way to get cash is to use ATM machines and just withdraw the money you need at the time.
So what do you want to see? 

  • Koalas, Kangaroos, emus, wombats, possums – there are zoos and wildlife parks in all the big cities, and depending on where you are – you may or may not see them in the wild.
  • Crocodiles – Freshwater and Saltwater Crocodiles – these are only in the very top end of Australia (Northern Territory, North Queensland and top end of WA) not in the southern states, apart from in zoos.
  • Sharks – Always swim at a patrolled beach ‘between the red and yellow flags’! Shark attacks do happen, but more deaths from drowning occur – from rips and undercurrents in the surf, and people being washed off rocks.
  • Choices – there are a number of ‘major tourist attractions’ in Australia – and it is really a question of what you want to see –  These are some of the more popular choices –
  • For big city attractions – you can’t beat Sydney – with Sydney Harbour, Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Bondi Beach, Palm Beach, Kings Cross, Darling Harbour all here.
  • For cultural – fashion shopping, restaurants, trams, style – head to Melbourne
  • For amazing natural formations – head to see the Great Ocean Road out of Melbourne and to Alice Springs in the outback to see ‘Uluru and Ayer’s Rock’, see stars in the night sky and learn about Aboriginal culture. Also Blue Mountains – west of Sydney. There are also National Parks all over Australia.
  • To see Reefs and Fish – head to Cairns in North Queensland to see the Great Barrier Reef, and also to island resorts off the North and Central Queensland coast.
  • For historic towns and an amazing Art Gallery – head to Tasmania and Hobart to see the Mona Art Gallery.
  • To see the best galleries, museums and Parliament House – head to Canberra
  • For wineries – head to Adelaide and the Barossa Valley.
  • Best beaches – there are thousands of them right around the coastline – but best known would be just south of Brisbane – the ‘Gold Coast’ Beaches. The ‘Gold Coast’ is also the best place to find Theme Parks.  In WA head north to Broome.  Sydney – Bondi, Coogee, Manly, Palm Beach. Melbourne – St Kilda, Torquay, Bells Beach (Board surfing), Adelaide – Glenelg.
  • To see a modern Australian city – head to Perth and wineries in the Swan Valley.
  • To see snow and go skiing – head to the ‘Snowy Mountains’ in June, July, August  – either north from Melbourne to Mt Buller and other alpine resorts, or south from Sydney to Perisher Valley, Blue Cow, Thredbo Resorts and snow fields.

The big cities have thousands of restaurants, fast food places, coffee shops, bars, bistros, pubs, market stalls and most big shopping centres have ‘food courts’.
If you walk through a supermarket – or shopping centre – you are bound to see the amazing fruit and vegetables that are sold, with butcher shops selling meat by the kilo as opposed to grams.
Australia is a ‘multi-cultural’ society – so you will find all types of food in the bigger cities, the most popular restaurants are Thai Restaurants. There are lots of expensive restaurants, but also many cheaper ones too, and it is relatively easy to find Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Lebanese, French, Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian or other types of restaurants – and of course ones based around seafood, beef, pies, chicken, hamburgers, vegetarian, vegan and other food types – including fast food choices.
There are equally a large number of cafes – with coffee, cakes, muffins, breakfast menus too – so lots of choices and of course you can eat in your hotel or buy something from a supermarket or fruit shop, convenience store, kebab shop, cake shop or market place.
So, is there any unique food that’s ‘really Australian’?  The answer is ‘yes’, depending on where you are. Exotic meats such as camel, crocodile, kangaroo, buffalo – are not widely eaten but are there in ‘tourist type ‘restaurants. Mud Crabs, prawns (Shrimp), calamari, lobsters, mussels, scallops, bugs – can be found in a lot of places across Australia and of course lots of fish types.  Meat pies are popular particularly at sporting venues such as football games in the winter time. Beer and pubs maybe synonymous with Australia – and if you do find a good pub – see if they have a ‘counter meal’ or a ‘Surf’nTurf’ (mix of meat and seafood), a ‘seafood platter’ (different seafood) or bar-b-cue steak, or what is called a ‘sausage sizzle’.
Getting around 
With the big distances between the main capital cities and places like the Uluru in the outback and the Barrier Reef – most people choose to fly from one destination to the next.
You can certainly take train journeys – such as the ‘Indian Pacific’ that crosses the country from Perth to Sydney, or ‘The Ghan’ from Adelaide to Darwin, or catch the ‘Sunlander’ or ‘Tilt Train’ from Brisbane to Cairns. There are also interstate buses that run too.
In the cities there are buses, taxis, limousines, ferries (Sydney particularly), trams (Melbourne), bike hire places and of course rent a car, van or campervan options.
Driving is on the left side of the road and you need an International License to be able to rent a car.
Driving certainly enables you to go to where you want to go – and have a ‘sat nav’ in the car will greatly help get you to the right places. Depending on where you are – there will be Tourist Tours available, and sometimes this is a good option as a first step in getting to know a place and finding  out more about the city or area you are staying in, as well as meeting fellow travellers.
Just as you would in your home city or country, you always need to be careful where you go, not to put yourself at risk. Stay where there are people around. Australia is a relatively safe country and people do feel safe walking around the cities. Feel free to ask people to help you if you need help. Australians like tourists coming to Australia, and will help you if they can.
Australia’s head of Parliament is called the ‘Prime Minister’ and he or she is based in Canberra where Parliament House is located (you can visit it). The Parliament of Australia has two houses – a lower house ‘House of Representatives’ and an upper house ‘Senate’.  Each state and Territory also have a state Parliament too, and each city has local government councils too – so there are 3 levels of Government – federal, state and local.
Australia is a democracy, but it also has representatives of the Queen of England – with a Governor General, and state Governors too – a practice that dates back to the time when Australian Colonies were set up by the British.
While certainly politics and policies are news every day and night of the week – there are no riots or violence attached to it. A prime minister may lose office, but it is news only – which is a great thing when you see the turbulence and violence in many countries that happen in similar situations.
Australia attracts a lot of overseas stars – musicals, theatre shows, bands, comedians, showman, musicians, orchestras, ballet troupes – and these mainly appear in the bigger cities – so if and when you are here in Australia – check out what is happening where you are staying. There are also a lot of sporting clubs, RSL clubs, Bowling Clubs – and many of these have meals, poker machines and shows happening.
Winter time is football time and summer is cricket – and matches and games are worth going to if you are a sports fan. Horse racing is also a big attraction too – particularly the Spring and Autumn carnivals, with the highlight being ‘The Melbourne Cup’ on the first Tuesday of November each year.
For tickets and see what shows are on – check out
The INFO part of this website is full of detailed information to help you find the best things to see and do in Australia.  Head to a State – then look at the menu of contents to read more about the place you are interested in seeing.
Welcome to Australia.
We hope you have a great trip “Down Under”!
Happy travelling!
Geoff Stuart

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