More Things That Make Australia Unique

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Gotta love Australia. As much as we feel completely at home in this foreign land, every once in a while something happens – somebody says something odd, or we see a strange sign – to remind us that we are still oh so far away from our home country.

Although we initially had a number of observations of the differences between Canada and Oz, more keep popping up. Here are a few.

See also:
Differences Between Canadian vs. Australian Coins
Australian Expressions of Pleasure
Australian Abbreviations

This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Vocabulary Idiosyncrasies

ketchup = tomato sauce

trails = tracks

sandwich = sanger

dinner = tea (but sometimes it’s called dinner too. And sometimes tea really is just tea and not dinner.)

jail = gaol (but it’s pronounced the same way. Wow. Go figure.)

candies = lollies

duvet/comforter = dooner

Welcome to the Shire

And I thought that Shires only existed in Lord of the Rings. But no – shires are everywhere here. Cobar Shire, for example, encompasses an area much larger than the city of Cobar – it is the equivalent of counties or districts in North America.


Ask an Australian to say the letter “h”, and you’ll get a “hhhhaych” as a reply. Smart, really. The letter “h” in words usually has a soft “ha” sound. But say the letter “h” in Canada, and you’ll just get a hard “ha”-less “aech”. This is one instance where Canadians are a little too quick to abbreviate and simplify.

Tax Included

Take your item with a $30 price tag to the counter in Canada and you’ll actually end up paying 6-15% more than $30. This lovely surprise is called sales tax. Yummy. But take your $30 item to the counter in Australia, and you pay $30. Don’t be fooled though – Australians pay about as much tax (both income tax and sales tax) as Canadians do. The difference is that the tax is included in the price tag. Although initial sticker shock is possible when you land here, it’s nice to know what things will cost when it comes time to pay.

Thanks for the invite! Do we bring tea, or steak?

When you’re invited over for tea, it could mean you’ll be having tea. But it might also mean dinner. Best to check before you show up with something inappropriate, or at the wrong time of day!

Let’s Get Social!

The advent of social clubs, especially in the smaller towns, is new to us. RSLs (retirement services leagues) are the most common, but social clubs come in many shapes and sizes. Many have gambling machines (poker, slots), bars, rooms and halls for hire, as well as a restaurant serving good meals on the cheap.

Plastic Bag? Sorry, no.

Re-usable grocery bags are more common than not here in Oz. Yay! In fact, some stores downright refuse to give you bags. If you didn’t bring your own bag, then you’re walking out with an armload. If they do give you a bag, it’s usually 100% recycled plastic. We are of course delighted with this giant step in the demise of plastic bags.

Paper, Paper, everywhere!

I read a statistic somewhere that 99% of Australians recycle. Which is a blessing, considering the amount of paper they throw at you in a day! Every business we make inquiries at, every visitor information center we enter – everybody wants to give us huge amounts of paper. Here, have a brochure. And take this flyer (which is a condensed version of the brochure). And heck – take this map too (which is also printed on both the flyer and the brochure) just in case you get lost. It’s great that plastic bags are being phased out. But now more than ever I need them to carry all the bloody paper I’ve acquired!


What exactly is “tasty cheese,” you may ask? Well, I’m not really sure. But the Australians sure love it, because it dominates most cheese shelves in the supermarket. As far as I can tell, it’s simply cheddar cheese (and not the orange coloured stuff you find in North America – its just plain uncoloured cheddar cheese). As for the taste…well…it’s pretty…um…tasty.

Where can I find the CBD?

The CBD is in the CBD silly! CBD of course, being “central business district”. Otherwise known as “downtown” to Canadians.

Druggies, Druggies, Everywhere

In many public toilets, I find disposal bins for used syringes. But judging by the general lucidity of those I encounter, it doesn’t seem like everybody is shooting up heroin in public toilets. No, maybe it has something to do with a little bit of trivia I heard: that Australia has more diabetics per capita than anywhere else in the world.

It’s an Emergency!

…so what do you dial? It’s not 911…in fact it’s a much more sensible and easy to remember number…000. Much easier to dial if your hand fell off, you’re being chased by villains, and you’ve been blinded.


This telephone chime isn’t exclusive to Australia of course, but it is different to what we’re used to in Canada. We only have one long boring “rrrrriiiiiing” to contend with.

The Most Confusing Telephone System Ever

On a sadder “ringy” tone, the phone system in Australia is not only horribly expensive, but it’s difficult to figure out. No, you don’t pay a flat fee for a land line…you pay per call, sometimes even with a connection fee and a per-minute charge on top of the monthly charge for the privilege of having the line so you can make calls and pay even more.

Want to call a mobile phone? Be prepared to pay long distance charges of up to 50cents a minute to do so (at least the mobile phone user doesn’t pay for incoming calls). But watch out if you own a mobile phone and want to make outgoing calls…I pay almost a dollar to connect, then almost another dollar per minute on top of that!

I’ll admit that all my plans are likely the most expensive pay-as-you-go types of plans, but still…it’s robbery.

So dear friends and family, please forgive me if I don’t call a lot…I can’t afford to!

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11 thoughts on “More Things That Make Australia Unique”

  1. Nora, It’s been really interesting to follow your adventures and I’m becoming really envious, particularly now you’re bringing to the fore all my memories of Australia, which I’ve been lucky enough to visit a couple of times. Being a Brit, it’s also pretty interesting to read your comparisons of two countries on which Britain has had a reasonably large cultural impact! Gaol, for example, is the original British spelling of the word – not that you see it here much, any more. And the aitch/haitch (“H”) debate – well, there’s a class issue attached in the UK. Apparently the more well-to-do say “aitch” (and so that’s seen as the ‘proper’ approach), while the lower orders (!) say “haitch” – interesting that you’re spotting a difference between countries, I wonder if the difference within countries will be replicated outside Britain? Anyway, I really enjoy reading the blog so keep it coming and let me know if you ever leave your various tropical paradises for Europe!

  2. Dialing 000 is all well and good nowadays. But back in the days of rotary-dial phones it would have taken three times as long to dial.

    You can see the same logic in other phone numbers. For example, the quickest-to-dial area codes (ones with lots of 1s, 2s, and 3s in them) are assigned to the most populous cities.

  3. @Nicho: Thank you so much for your support and comment! I had wondered how many of the differences I’ve detected had European roots. I certainly make no bones about Australia’s characteristics being entirely unique to the world – just unique to me!
    And don’t you worry – I’ll let you know when Europe is on the list…(smiles)

    @Bradipo – Well huh. Who knew that 9-1-1 actually made so much sense. How short my memory is…I forgot about rotary dial phones. Yikes!
    Thanks for this tidbit – I love it!

  4. I always found the aussie lingo a bit different. In America we call it downtown too!

    Other difference- the pharmacy is a chemist. flip flops are thongs.

    a glass of beer is a schooner.

    peppers are casicums.

    but these are all things that make australia wonderful!

  5. haha i never left a msg on anyone’s blog before in my life i think !!!! but i happened across ur blog just googling around on mountain ppl/beach ppl (or you had sea ppl i think … and btw, im def a mountain person too 🙂 [and loved ur pics!!!]).

    anyway, i enoyed that blog so had a look around, n really loved this one about oz! lol hehehe i’m from australia, so it’s interesting to hear about how other ppl see it through their eyes … i was in montreal a few years back. was for work so only short, but it was dream come true as i’ve always wanted to go canada … was awesome. hope to go back sometime soon n check out the west coast next time. maybe more of the rockies!

  6. Hi, I somehow stumbled across your blog and, as a born and bred Australian, I find it interesting to read an “outsider’s” view of where I have spent most of my life. I admire you for having the guts to up and leave your home to travel, too. I have just returned from a year in the UK and it was the best year of my life, but I couldn’t see myself leaving home indefinitely! As for some of the differences you have mentioned, and in regards to nicho’s comment, we also use both “aitch” and “haitch”. I say “aitch” but some of my friends say “haitch”. As for “schooner”, that is actually the size of the glass, and some areas serve different sizes instead. You could probably ask for a glass of beer, but you’d be asked (in NSW, at least) “schooner or middy?”. Anyway, to finish off, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us!

  7. Cheers!
    My son and I are about to leave for tropical far north QLD from Central Oregon, (USA). I have been organic gardening here for twentyfour years and am literally looking at a complete reversal of climate. We are in the high desert, arid with snowfall and almost no humidity! I have been scoring the internet to find info on gardening (shade frames to protect from insect, sun an rain- likely- and ways of cooling). Any tropical gardeners out there? I know that this life change will be a challenge but we are embracing it completely. Thanks for the opportunity to possibly converse with my new neighbors.

  8. Hey just found ur recipes and have been reading more about your travels … cool! I am going to try to chilli, peanut butter muffins and .. hell all of them! 🙂

    I read years ago that in the Australia section of the lonely planet guide that we are likely to ask you what you think about australia … and its true. It normally takes a few beers to get beyond the usual platitudes though and hear some really interesting thoughts.

    re – one of my soap box issues – We do get screwed for telecoms here in Oz 🙁 Its improving but still not good. As you said, though, you were on the worst deal – the normal plans are probably 10c a minute. I have put credit on my skype account and it costs 10x more per minute to call Aussie mobiles than US ones! I can chat to my friend in Wisconsin while she commutes to work in her car for 2.7c /min. Sigh. The Kiwis are even worse off… although you shouldn’t be spending too much time on a phone over there.

    Love your site – I just saved it and I hope you keep adding to it.

    all the best, John

  9. @John – Try the chili, especially. Oh yeah – and truly: give the pumpkin pie a chance. You’ll love it!

    I’ve come to accept both Aussie and NZ telecom prices are murder. But the way people seem to get around it is by sending text messages, which are typically quite cheap. The last time I was back in North America, the SMS culture hadn’t quite caught up to the same level.

  10. Much as many Aussies claim to be able to pick out different accents based on which state you’re from, I’ve never been able to do anything more than pick out different types of Aussies, namely, country folk, city dwellers, upper, lower and middle class, etc.

    But one curious state-to-state distinction in language between Aussies is what you call a regular-sized glass of beer. For clarification there’s always this Wikipedia page:

    And if in doubt just ask for a glass of beer and if the barman/barmaid asks for clarification point at someone else’s glass or indicate the height of the glass.

    • Hey Derek – Your beer tip reminds me of two things:
      1) I remember my partner ordering the “large” beer in Paris and getting a litre of the stuff!
      2) I also remember seeing a movie or commercial (possibly both) with a big chase scene…..where the Aussie was running for his life…..with a full glass of beer in his hand.
      Gotta love it!


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