Australia: Common Stereotypes That Are So Not True. And So True

There are many stereotypes about the land of Australia. Whether you have lived in, visited or heard of Australia, chances are you’ve come across typical perceptions of Australia in the geographic sense – and come across Australians agreeing with them. And disagreeing with them as well.

Having lived in Australia for a while now, I’ve noticed some things are always predictable about this 7.692 million km2 patch of land called Down Under. At times its surrounds surprise me when I least expect it, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Stereotypes are unique to each and every country. Regional Victoria | Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.

Stereotypes are unique to each and every country. Regional Victoria | Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.

Some of the stereotypes you may know, and some you may have vaguely heard about in passing. Some of these stereotypes about this continent south of the equator also known as Oz include:

1. Everything in Australia kills you

Myriad creatures reside in literally every nook and cranny that you can think of here, creatures that just might scare or bite you. Or both. Venomous red bellied snakes hide under the hood of your car for hours in Oz. Unprovoked shark attacks are more likely to cause fatalities along the coasts of Australia. Survivalist Bear Grylls stood face to face with a saltwater crocodile in the Northern Territory on his second trip Down Under; the crocodile stole his fish but he would not fight it. Dropbears look a lot like koalas and prefer dropping down from trees overhead on those with non-Aussie accents – a myth. Amidst floods in the state of Tasmania, spiders escaped waters by spinning thick webs high up in trees, so thick that the webs looked like white walls – and if all those many spiders are harmless is anyone’s guess.

One summer’s night three years ago, I sat at my desk in my room. Cool breeze breezing through the open window to my left. I typed on my laptop, minding my own business. And felt a shadow cast over me to my left. Looked up. A spider the size of a palm was sprawled right above my head, crawling on the white wall beside the window. I froze and…

2. Australia is a small island with great beaches, great weather

Located south of the globe closer to Antarctica than most other continents, we’re arguably a one gigantic ‘forgotten’, isolated island that takes time to get here from any part of the world. There are 6 states in Australia compared to 50 states within the entire 9.857 million km2 of the States and approximately 50 countries in Europe. It takes almost 24 hours to fly to Oz from either continent. But once here, it takes around 3 to 6 months to do a ‘big lap’ caravan around Oz and stopping off at various towns along the way, traveling a minimum of approximately 15,000km.

With ozone depletion over Australia, ultraviolet radiation levels are high and melanoma is the third highest cancer here. Three summer’s ago I went to the beach on a clear sky 30’C Melbourne day with sunscreen all over. I sweated profusely right under the sun, felt my face flush, felt my exposed arms sting, sizzle and…

There’s also not forgetting the unpredictable four-seasons-in-a-day Melbourne weather that is the norm. Countless occasions I’ve walked out of work and the skies poured, my shoes soaked up puddles and the skies cleared when I walked through my door.

Australia, where grass and trees are aplenty.

Australia, where grass and trees are aplenty.

3. Australia is predominantly desert and bushland

To a large extent this stereotype holds true. A vast part of Australia consists of barren land. The nearest town from the iconic Uluru / Ayes Rock is roughly 450-desert-land-km away. 18% of this continent is made up of desert converging in the central and western areas, which constitutes part of the Australian Outback. And that was what I saw on the one and a half hour train ride all the way up to regional Victoria some weeks ago.

On the other hand, each state in Oz has a bustling city centre that are no strangers to the 9-5 grind and bumper to bumper traffic. But these cities are nowhere as dense as cities like Hong Kong and Singapore in terms of people to geographic ratio.

4. Kangaroos and koalas are everywhere

Kangaroos and koalas are considered the national animals of Australia, and these furry friends of ours find comfort in selective parts of the country. Naturally not all of us adapt to every kind of climate and surrounding. Kangaroos and koalas tend to habitat lush eucalypt woodlands and rainforests in coastal areas: Sam the koala stretched its arms out for water as the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires raged around him, and earlier this year a kangaroo in South Australia attacked a woman on a cycling track and ruptured her breast implants. Consequently, riding kangaroos and cuddling koalas is not the average Australian’s pastime.

5. Democracy is alive in Australia

We’re a nation that gives every Australian the right to vote in state and federal elections. If you don’t vote when the time comes, you can get fined. Yet at times Australians have had absolutely no say in their prime minister. Over the last five years Australia has had five different prime ministers: discontent among ruling parties led parliamentary members challenging for the nation’s top job through leadership spills, internal party ballots and dumping their own leader.

‘Five for five’, as quite a few Aussies like to describe our recent political arena and ‘rotating door’ leadership. Often I wonder if the world laughs at Australia and the way we roll as a country – literally anything goes.

6. Sydney is the city to visit

Time and time again, Sydney – or the state of NSW – seems to be the city popular with tourists. It claims bragging rights to the majestic Sydney Opera House. There are picturesque views from above the nearby Blue Mountains, rolling waves at Bondi Beach, whales at Coffs Harbour, and camels in the town of Port Macquarie. It’s supposedly the “happening” state.

Twice I’ve spent a couple of months in Sydney. Compared to Melbourne, I found it much more pricey in terms of rent, food and transport. The non-grid-twisting-turning city was too perplexing for my liking. When it rained almost each afternoon, it poured and I sat at home watching the rain. At the end of the day, each to their own as to where they prefer to wander. Melbourne, which has just been voted the most livable city for six years straight, will always have a special place in my heart.

The more you get to know Australia, the more you reailse that literally anything goes here.

The more you get to know Australia, the more you reailse that literally anything goes here.

* * *

Stereotypes present one-sided impressions, but they also grab our attention. Opposites attract: we either tend to be fascinated or fearful of the unfamiliar such as someone who looks completely different from us or a creature that resembles something in our worst nightmares. Opposites make us stop, stare, slow down and take them in.

Arguably this is one reason why stereotypes can be an asset when it comes to tourism and branding a country to the rest of the world. Marketing itself on stereotypes, a country can be more attractive to visit if these stereotypes strike a chord. In the case of Australia, numerous Australia tourism ads show Oz as a country where there is ample sunshine and one can roam freely – symbolic of light and personal freedom. There was nochalant swearing in the infamous ‘Where The Bloody Hell Are You?’ ad in 2000, and this campaign showed blue skies, high hills, crystal clear waters, beaches and Australians who look like they have no cares in this world. Similarly the more recent ‘There’s Nothing Like Australia’ campaign showed the same thing about Australia.

Tourism numbers in Australia have been increasing over the last decade, and so maybe such stereotypical campaigns do draw tourists to Australia. Chinese travelers have doubled over the last five years and coincidentally they cite our coastal areas as a good reason to visit. As author Rivera Sun said on finding that special connection with something that is miles apart:

“Geography and mileage mean nothing. Separate is a single word that covers all distances that aren’t together.”

Australia, the land where there is something fascinating or unexpected around every corner.

Australia, the land where there is something fascinating or unexpected around every corner.

Change is constant. Stereotypes will come and go, or hang around, or both in different moments of time. Australians, the people of Australia, also make Australia the country that it is. Many migrants have called Australia home over the last few years, yet some travelers still think only Westerners live in Australia. But that is another post for another day.

Having lived in Australia for a while now, I think it’s a fairly safe place, a place where the warm sun will shine tomorrow. I’m still standing after a couple of sunburns and fighting that spider in my room three years ago…

What do you know about the land of Australia?

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234 thoughts on “Australia: Common Stereotypes That Are So Not True. And So True

  1. Thank you for this post, friendly speaking, I don’t know much about Australia, neither about the stereotypes existing about this country. What i knew before is that it is the biggest island which is continent itself, I’ve heard about kangaroos and koalas, and I was surprised that there is a desert in Australia. I’ve heard that it’s quite hard to rent a house for living close to the seaside, and my group mate lives there cos she got married with Australian guy. I wish to visit this far away country one day and explore the stereotypes you’ve shared here by my own =)

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  2. This is a bit funny for me to read, as I do have these same stereotypical thoughts about Australia even though I do take them for what they are: exaggerations and stories retold many times over…and it all brings a sensation of “I want to see and experience this country myself.” Sometimes I wonder if the “Australian Brand” is the best of all countries in the world. Part of it is due to what you say “Australians, the people of Australia, also make Australia the country that it is…” and most Aussies I’ve met have been fantastic and feeds the desire for me to get out and explore the place 🙂 I did very much enjoy your thoughts of Sydney vs. Melbourne, and I’ve a good friend from Perth…and with Red Rock fame, I am astounded by the diversity there as well. Wonderful post, Mabel, and you bring a great fresh perspective from Down Under with every post…and by the way, how is your spider friends doing these days 😉

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    • It is an interesting though you have there about the Australian Brand. Australia does have a knack for making this country look like paradise – a place where you can find peace wandering around nature, enjoying the simple things in life. Aussies are certainly very friendly and hospitable. Out in the country, hitchhiking is still a thing 🙂

      Perth is one of the quieter states in Australia, but it certainly is famed for those large rocks. A grand sight in photos, and I hope to see for myself some day.

      As for my spider friends, they haven’t wandered in my room since that incident. Maybe they are afraid of Mr Wobbles 🙂

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  3. My husband and I were lucky to have visited Sydney one week when the weather was perfect. Although the main purpose of our trip was for my husband to visit a cardiologist, we had a good time looking around. Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. We stayed in a cute little hotel on Bondi Beach. (Maybe the receptionist of the doctor in Vanuatu made the reservation.)

    I’m surprised to hear that Australia is only 18% desert. I thought it was more. The eastern side of Washington State used to have a very large desert until they built dams and irrigated it.

    We certainly can’t laugh at Australia’s politics, not with Donald Trump running for president. He’s been a joke of decades. I’m currently reading Yuge, a compilation of cartoons written about Trump in Doonesbury starting in the 1980s until 2015.

    I knew quite a few Australians when we lived in Port Vila. The Aussies who lived there were adventurous. The men had a reputation for being hard drinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So nice to hear that you came down to Sydney at one point. It did sound like every bit a lovely trip, and you must have brought the good weather with you. Really, Sydney’s weather is usually very wet most times of the year.

      Apart from being desert, a lot of Australian land is also bushland, which constitutes a big part of the Outback. Then there’s not forgetting endless fields of flowers and farms in the quieter parts of the country.

      True. Australians do like a good drink quite often, but that is another post for another day 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Democracy is definitely alive in Australia – there’s implied freedom of political communication and no gerrymandering with the votes (or at least on the surface). I couldn’t help with the political/legal inference there; sorry about that, Mabel. A friend who’s visited Bondi Beach said that it is not glorious as it is portrayed in the travel shows. Before doing my degree here, I didn’t have much knowledge about Australia. I mean, I knew that there was Perth and Melbourne, the avocados are awesome, and the koalas are cuddly. Anything more than that, nope. (In fact, I was more familiar with NZ back then, lol)

    The same goes as to how some people think that we live in a treehouse in Malaysia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The votes are counted and tallied up mostly by hand. So there is always margin for error.

      I actually have never visited Bondi Beach. It really does look lovely in pictures and videos…but in press photos in the summer it always looks very crowded. But, yes, the avocados really taste amazing here 🙂

      Lol. People thinking Malaysians live in treehouses. This is the first I’ve heard of :’D

      Like

  5. What a wonderful and insightful post, Mabel.
    I’ve never been to Australia, though my critique partner is from there. Still, I had no idea what ere the common beliefs and rumours related to Australia. But thanks to you, now I know so much about the place.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great post, Mabel. I’ve never been to Australia. The closest I came was a trip to Bali, Indonesia, many years ago. I was exposed to groups of Australians there though and they have a reputation for being rambunctious and fun loving (is that true or was that just what I saw with these groups because they were on vacation?). Australia is next on my son’s travel agenda. He really has the travel bug and has been to Europe twice. He is applying for a work visa and planning to stay several months. He has a friend who lives there so he’s planning to stay with him a while and get the scoop. I’ll send him this link, too! Thanks for correcting the stereotypes 🙂

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    • So close, yet so far. Who knows, maybe one day you will visit Australia, Lisa 🙂 You bring up such an interesting point there: Australians in Australia and Australians on holiday. Bali is a popular tourist destination for Australians, and many of them do like a good beer up there and let their hair down.

      Happy and safe travels to your son. There is so much to see in Australia, and am guessing he will have a great time working and seeing the sights here 🙂

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  7. Finally your spin about your big homeland. 🙂
    15,000 km to circumnavigate Aussieland?? Wow. Still Syndey sounds lovely. Melbourne is quieter but still sophisticated probably. 🙂

    And the ruptured breast implants due to kangaroo attack?

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    • Yup, at least 15,000km round trip of Australia if you stick to the circumference. I’m pretty sure you could almost double that if you stop by towns and travel inwards and then back out again.

      And yes, that kangaroo did rupture a woman’s breast implants Kangaroos can certainly be muscly.

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  8. Mabel, excellent excellent post!!! I have always been fascinated by Australia and have had a deep urge to one day visit. The air travel itself would probably put me 6 feet under! Your photography is outstanding!! Love the time of day you captured each photo as it is the “golden ratio” I LOVE to shoot in as well. Your post editing is excellent as well. Loved the facts you gave about Australia. I’ve always heard that Aussies are not to quick to welcome strangers in their land. I don’t know how true this is, but that is what I’ve heard. Again thank you for this delightful description of Australia. I applaud you for the research you had to do in order to get your facts straight. 🙂 ❤

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  9. Brilliant post Mabel. Spot on. Every picture a winner but ‘Australia, where grass and trees are aplenty’ took my breath away. Sadly, I only got to travel from Melbourne to Darwin but I will be back to do the other 1/2 someday. I loved the place

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  10. As is often the case I always love hearing about this kind of stereotyping, Mabel. How many times I have heard that London is always foggy and wet and that everyone in the UK eats Shepherds Pie?. Yes, it does get foggy sometimes, but London is also one of the dryest places in the UK, and there are vegetarians in the UK so not everyone will eat Shepherd’s pie.
    If I were visiting Austraila, Melbourne would certainly be at the top of my list to visit.

    Like

    • Yes, I have always heard that London is foggy and grey, but didn’t know that it is one of the driest places. I think Melbourne and London are similar in many ways, in that Melbourne is dry too and in the winter months it really is very grey. If you do visit, Hugh, I think you will feel very much at home. We do very nice Shepherd’s Pie too, and meat pies and sausage rolls.

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  11. When I was still in the university, the thing that got stuck in my brain was that it has a less popular capital which is Canberra. I was way ahead my classmates back then when it comes to trivia. One of them was about that capital. I never had a friend who knew what Australia’s capital is. All of them thought Sydney was the capital city. History was my second favorite subject back in the day. When it comes to World History, as one of our subjects, I really see to it that I did advance reading and did a lot if not fair amount of research about the next country/topic. It was like a competition I consistently topped back in the day.

    So much of that, my knowledge of the country seemed to have expanded after I read the book “Mutant Message Down Under” by Marlo Morgan. I was also in high school that time–when history was a big deal for me. I admit, I do not really remember all the essential parts of the story but all I could remember now is how I appreciated nature more after reading. Long before I got to travel and explore beyond the four corners of my room and the school’s, I had that book that taught me about being one with nature, loving nature. I owe that from the author and that community of Aborigines in the Outback. Yes ,the story was based on fiction but the narratives about the Australian deserts and bushlands felt real at least after reading your article and based on what I had seen in the movies.

    What I now know about Australia are mostly from your blog especially about its “myriad” people. I think of Australia as one of the most interesting countries to visit because of you; your accounts of it; the Outback; the Sydney Opera House; Kangaroos; and Miranda Kerr. 🙂

    Sorry, I might have sounded too infantile Mabel but I was just honest. Those are what really come to mind when I am being asked about Australia rather saying it is both a country and continent surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans…you get the picture.

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    • “All of them thought Sydney was the capital city” This is such an excellent point to bring up! I too think many people think Sydney is the capital city of Australia for all the attractions it has and the bustling capital that it is. But no. You are very right. Australia’s capital is Canberra, one of the state that generally tends to get less attention in the tourism spotlight.

      I studied history at school too, but back then I thought it was dry (learning about the WW1 and WW11 and Soviet history). I really wish I appreciated these lessons more like you. There is so much to be learnt from what was about a certain place – we can understand a place so much more. I actually have never heard of that book you mentioned. Have to check it out some day.

      What you know about Australia is really Australia. Ah, Miranda Kerr. To be perfectly honest I am not a huge fan of her, but you know, she is a very successful model and businesswoman and that I have to admire 😀 Thank you for supporting as always, Sony. You don’t know how much I appreciate each thoughtful, heartfelt comment from you.

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  12. This was such an insightful yet very lightly written post. That draws in the reader without feeling too heavy or boring which some other authors fail to do so. But you managed to make this interesting, funny and as I said before very insightful. Plus the pictures were so pleasing to the eye. I’m guilty of admitting that I didn’t know much about Australia except the mainstream stuff and very basic stereotypes but your article was an eye opener and very informative. I love your writing style Mabel. You nailed this post !

    Like

  13. I know very little about Australia. It wonderful to read about it via your blog since you have lived there for a while. I learned about the history from PBS, part of it was not pleasant to watch. I have heard that there are many Asians in Australia.

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    • You are correct, Amy. There are a lot of Asians living in the cities in Australia. It is great and they come from all over the world, adding to the diversity here. To be honest, I think Asian-cuisine restaurants outnumber Western food ones in the city 😀

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  14. “Stereotypes can be an asset when it comes to tourism and branding a country to the rest of the world. Marketing itself on stereotypes, a country can be more attractive to visit if these stereotypes strike a chord.”.. that is such a well penned and accurate statement… I believe that tourists feeds marketing and not viceversa… at least, that might happen many times… Otherwise, It could be difficult to explain why people visit certain countries… Nowadays social media is an important tool to fed back voices which encourage stereotypes … and if those ones are positive: clink: gain! 😉
    Thanks for this informative -argumentative post, dear Mabel… Sending love & best wishes! Aquileana 😀

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  15. Thanks for giving some insight into Australia. I hope you don’t hold it against me most of my stereotypes of Australia came from The Simpsons-

    I watched that episode at a very young age and it left an impression on me. Also, this-

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    • I LOVE these Simpson Australia references. The first one is actually…quite accurate about Australia and Australians to an extent. As for the second one, yes, spoons still do exist in Australia…

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  17. Hahahaha I love this! Being Australian (ok I know I’m multicultured but Australian is a huge part of me) living in Europe, I get people making me these statements all the time. My favourites recurring ones are:
    But Australia is just a small island. (Small???? Scratch our heads… lol lol)
    Have you ever seen a kangaroo or a koala? Do they really exist?
    Do kangaroos walk all around the cities like stray dogs might?
    Australia is soooo dangerous! I couldn’t be there! There are sharks and deadly snakes everywhere!!!
    ….
    LOL!
    And ofcourse everyone thinks the capital city is Sydney!
    xxx

    Like

    • Certainly Australia is not a small country – pretty obvious if you look at the map, lol. Well, there are stuffed kangaroos and koalas everywhere in the city in Melbourne 😀

      It is soooooo true that so many people think Sydney is the capital city of Australia! Of course not. It is Canberra. Mention Canberra to a non-Australian and chances are they will look at you dumbfounded.

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  18. Very interesting post! When I think of Australia, I think of the ever-intriguing Tasmania (an obsession since childhood), of perfect surf riddled with gorgeous and sometimes rather bitey sharks, and the great barrier reef. The Bush makes me think of a long expanse of dusty, dirt-red roads, lizards and hot, hot sun. I love learning more about the real Aussie here on your blog. Excellent post. All the best,

    smiling toad

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    • Thanks, Smiling Toad. I’ve yet to visit Tasmania, but I’ve heard of it just as you described. It has gorgeous views of the sea and also bush and leafy trees abound. But it is also the part of Australia that is the coldest, all year round. I like writing about Australia. There is so much to learn about it and thank you for the kind words and for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

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