When I arrived in Melbourne, Australia in September 2015, I had precious little knowledge of the country I was about to settle into and fall in love with.
The name Tony Abbott (Australian Prime Minister from 2013-2015) rang a bell from irritated Aussies I had met during my time on the road. I knew Australia was a Commonwealth country, another fun fact I had picked up along the way. I assumed each and every citizen would hold fast to their love of koala (bears) and kangaroos, and shun the thought of swimming in waters populated by endless great white sharks and man-eating crocs.
Somewhat strangely, I could sing the entire kookaburra childhood song by heart (Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree; merry, merry king of the bush is he) though not entirely aware of what the words meant. I definitely couldn’t point said bird out in a lineup. I thought Tasmania was a separate country. (That one is particularly embarrassing to admit.)I could go on and on with the misconceptions and blatantly incorrect “facts” I believed before I spent a year living in Australia.
Now, sitting at home on my mom’s computer and having spoken endlessly about all things Australia with family and friends since I arrived home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to note a few fun facts from my working holiday year in Australia.
My Top Australian Fun Facts From My Year Down Under
1. Australia is almost as large as the continental United States.
When I first arrived, I casually listed “Visit all of the states and territories” on my Australian Bucket List. HA! I had no idea how large the country was, nor how costly it was to get from one part to another. In the end, I was thrilled when I got to explore the eastern seaboard when my best friend from home, Jenny, came for the month of July.
2. Australia has six states and two territories.
Which, when you consider the previous fact, is pretty wild.
The six states include: New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (this was my home – yay, Melbourne), Queensland (home to those insane crocs and other seemingly prehistoric wildlife), South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania (you guessed it, home to the Tasmanian devil).
The two territories are Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory (or ACT, home to the capital, Canberra).
3. Kangaroo meat is sold at most supermarkets.
Strange for an outsider when growing up we saw Kanga and Roo in the Winnie the Pooh series, but in reality they are overpopulated in Australia and, therefore, are hunted like deer.
I tried kangaroo steak and kangaroo burgers within my first few weeks of being in Australia, and, to me, it tasted like venison. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I definitely didn’t expect to find it next to beef and chicken at the local super market!
4. Australia is the only country that eats both animals on their Coat of Arms.
Piggybacking off the previous fact, Australians also eat emu meat. Usually reserved for a sacred or mystical animal (think the bald eagle for the US or unicorns for Scotland), the Australian coat of arms depicts two native animals (kangaroo and emu) surrounded by the native wattle flower with the emblem of the six states, representing the Australian Federation, in the center. #NOMNOMNOM
5. The population of Australia is about 24 million people.
Just to put it in perspective, the US has about 314 million. Relating back to the size of the two countries, I remember being completely shocked at this fact! The majority of the population lives in the handful of cities along the coasts, and inland (i.e. the Outback) boasts some of the largest cattle stations, or ranches, in the world.
In the state of South Australia, the Anna Creek Station has over 6 million acres and is larger than the state of Israel. It’s so large that they use helicopters to round up the livestock. Damnnnn.
6. The deadliest animal found in Australia is the box jellyfish.
Forget great white sharks with their razor sharp teeth, the largest population of native, venomous snakes in the world, terrorizing saltwater crocodiles lurking beneath murky water, and even spiders the size of a man’s hand.
The box jellyfish cleans up in the competition for creatures you don’t want to encounter on a day in Australia.
The creature was the only one to received a 10/10 by Australian Geographic’s team listing Top 30 Most Dangerous Animals in Australia.
While visiting the Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Queensland in July with my friend Jenny, we encountered signs that put us off even dipping our toes in the water.
Days later, during our time sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, we were told it was the ‘off season’ for the jellies, but we were both stung nonetheless.
Personally, I remember the sheer panic that overwhelmed me as I realized I had been stung. What if it was the only box jellyfish that stuck around in off season?! The skippers complete indifference to my agony didn’t help calm my raw nerves.
Obviously, he was right. It was a “regular sting” (Aussie for “chill the fuck out, mate, you aren’t going to die”). Pouring white vinegar over the multiple sting marks was enough to ease the pain* and, within a day, the marks resembling little cat scratches had disappeared.
*Please note: white vinegar does nothing for the embarrassment of unnecessarily freaking the fuck out in front of the world.
7. The Daintree Rainforest in Queensland is the oldest surviving rainforest on earth.
During our July adventure, Jenny and I spent a few days in Cairns, Queensland and rented a car to explore the Daintree Rainforest. This part of the trip was undoubtedly one of my favorites because it truly felt like we were in another world.
We saw animals neither of us knew existed (cassowary what?) and walked through winding, endless paths in the forest without encountering another soul.
The beaches were practically isolated, which is magestic until you remember saltwater crocodiles lurked in the shallow waters nearby. Everywhere we turned enormous, ancient trees reached towards the heavens and the wind rustled their exposed roots and lush leaves. It was absolutely magical!
8. Australians have to vote in federal elections, or they are fined.
Although the penalty is a quick $20 fine (or $50 if you’re a repeat offender), it was an interesting point of discussion when it came up one day.
My friends and I used the example of when you are forced to clean your room versus when you elect (pun intended) to do so – which produces a better outcome?
What if someone has never cleaned their room before, doesn’t forcing them into it allow them to see what they’re missing? Does it make for a more educated voting population, or simply a more indifferent one? Or does forcing a citizen to do anything, including voting, compromise their individual rights?
There were, and are, pros and cons to both sides, but the discussion between Australians and Americans was interesting if for no other reason that realizing compulsory voting was the norm down under.
9. Australia is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world.
Coming in behind France, Italy, Spain and Chile, Australia exported $1.6 billion worth of wine in 2015 alone! During my time in Australia, I worked in the hospitality industry in Melbourne and was lucky enough to learn about (and get to taste) many Australian wines.
Before arriving, I was unaware of the various wine regions of Australia. During my time in Melbourne, I got to visit the nearby Yarra Valley with friends one afternoon, but that’s just the beginning of exploring Australian wines.
If anyone wants to do a trans-Australian wine tour, hit me up!
10. Melbournians know good food, coffee, and wine!
This was one of the driving factors behind my choosing Melbourne as my initial home in Australia. I set out two goals for myself before I arrived: learn as much as I could about the food and coffee culture (which eventually led me to learning about wine) and spend all of the money I earned in my first six months on experiencing Melbourne.
Seems extreme, but in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t skimp on exploring new cafes and taking advantage of all the culture Melbourne had to offer.
It’s a city where the world comes to you, and I didn’t want to miss a single experience!
Most of the year I was working two, sometimes three, jobs to afford the fun, but in my down time, I was going to exhibitions, tasting my way through new brunch menus, taking coffee making and milk frothing classes, reading Australian classics, taking road trips to nearby towns with specialty food shops, and drinking absurdly expensive cocktails around this incredible city. If I started again tomorrow, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I arrived with a few normal preferences around food and beverage, and left a complete snob (so much so that I’ve begun a food-centric portion of my blog, Adventures in Food). #sorrynotsorry
Overall, my year in Australia was a perfect blend of adventuring, learning and enjoying life with friends, both new and old. The only part I hated? When I had to…
To read more about my year in Australia, check out My Aussie Life. And as always, thanks for following along!