Though we haven’t actually finished in Australia yet our time on the road is at an end and so it seems appropriate for us to talk about our observations.
Between landing in Perth on 17 October and arriving in Melbourne on 22 December we spent 63 days on the road. (I’m not including our 2-week holiday in Melbourne at the end). During that time we cycled for 52 days and completed a total of 4,708km. Our average over purely cycling days was 90.5km and over the whole period was 75km, both of which are significantly more than we would normally cover, which just confirms that Australia is big, really big!
On with our main observations…
- The people have just been great and as we have already mentioned are right up there with the best that we have met during our entire trip. From cold drinks given to us at the side of the road on a hot day, to full-on use of peoples houses it’s been fantastic and we have definitely learned a lot about hospitality from the Aussies. However unlike in Asia the children haven’t come out screaming and waving at us!
- Along our journey we have read quite a lot about Aboriginal culture and their way of life. There is quite a lot information available about how they were brutally persecuted when the European settlers came in the 1800s….Harrowing stories of how hundreds were slaughtered or at the least chased off their land so that the Europeans could take it – this information is widely available so it certainly isn’t a secret. There is also a lot of reference to showing respect to the historical ‘keepers’ of the land. However, the Aboriginals that we have seen are very much living on the periphery of the European and Asian (more recent immigrants) societies. Successive governments have tried to help and from what we’ve been told they receive a large share of funds. But they have a sad, rather dejected look. They haven’t forgotten how they have been treated and I’m guessing that many won’t be happy until the immigrants have left, which just isn’t going to happen. From an outsider looking in point of view it’s very difficult to figure them out, but it’s also very sad to see.
- As far as cycling is concerned the roads have been of pretty good quality though we’ve never really ventured much off anything less than B roads. In and around nearly all of the towns and cities there is usually an extensive bike lane network, which often took us through leafy suburbs and along the coast and these have been fantastic. As an example leaving Perth (pop 2 million) and entering Melbourne (pop 4 million) were both super easy.
- The drivers are generally courteous and the feared road-trains on the highways were not as bad as anticipated. We can count on one hand the number of vehicles that got a bit too close to us!
- The weather has just been bizarre and the locals agree – it’s not normal! The massive swings in temperature and 180 degree changes in wind direction within very short periods of time have definitely affected our cycling and neither should be underestimated when peddling large distances. The Aussies talk about the weather a lot ….everything from temperature, wind direction, forecast for the coming days – they’d definitely give the English and Irish a run for their money on that score!
- Australians seem to have a ‘work to live’ attitude much more than us Europeans who are much more ‘live to work’ people and are far less likely to judge others on what they do for work. If someone wants to work in a bar (not seen as a particularly good job in the U.K.) and surf the rest of the time, if that’s what they enjoy well it’s “good for them”. We think that in the same scenario in the U.K. then many people would think that they’re not doing anything with their lives and they should get a ‘proper’ job.
Some other observations (in no particular order)…
- Not only does Australia have some weird time zones (there are four although only three are really recognised) there also appears to be a random use of daylight saving too. Some states have daylight saving and others don’t, which when added to the rather bizarre time zones makes for confusion all round!
- To add to this confusion, each state has its own laws – this, I suppose, is akin to the home nations having different laws.
- When we said we were going to Australia and that we’d be camping in the bush, people asked whether we were afraid of snakes, spiders, scorpions and anything else that might bite or sting us and the answer was yes! However, the Aussies put our minds at ease as nearly all of them said that the number of people bitten/stung was very low and that they nearly always survived. We were very cautious and made a load of noise to scare all the creepy crawlies away even when going for a pee in the bushes!
- Our creepy crawly tally – snakes = 1 (only Martina saw it), spiders (Huntsman – non-poisonous) = 1, scorpions = 0, ants = millions. No one ever mentions the biting ants!
- No one ever mentions the flies either. We have not gotten used to, not could we ever get used to the gazillions of flies and their ability to hunt us out and fly straight up our noses or in to our ears. It’s definitely not fun!
- – Camping is done on an almost industrial scale in Australia – it is really big business. The country is so big that in order to see it, or just travel from place-to-place you need either a caravan, camper van, trailer tent (see below for description) or normal tent. There is an enormous number of people on the move at any one time and they often go away for months or even years at a time. People using ‘normal’ tents are very much in the minority – we were nearly always the only ones in a tent in a campsite full of vans!
- Trailer tents aren’t something seen in the U.K. – it’s basically a marquee size tent that folds out of a trailer. There are usually numerous pull-out drawers that contain a stove, wash area and loads of storage etc.
- Many of the trailer tents, caravans and some of the camper vans are rugged and designed to go off-road. Aussies aren’t afraid to go off-road into some very remote parts of the country and their equipment reflects this…
- – Things generally happen early on campsites – there are no raucous parties going on past midnight, everyone is tucked up in bed by 9pm (sometimes earlier) and many will be packed up and leaving the site by 5:30am, which luckily suited us Lifecyclers down to the ground!
- If you think that Australian beer is purely Fosters and Castlemain XXXX then think again – Aussies love a pale ale and there are literally hundreds of different ones on offer, which is great for me! They don’t even sell Fosters here from what we can tell or if they do we didn’t see it!
- – There are drive-through off-licenses here, which we thought was both bizarre and comical. Surely mixing an off-licence and cars isn’t a good idea?
- – There are dry regions throughout the country, where no alcohol is sold – this is mainly to stop problem drinking among the Aboriginal communities. And in towns near these alcohol-free regions, you have to produce ID to buy booze to prove you are not from one of these prohibited zones. There are also alcohol bans along many beaches and public areas in the bigger towns and cities all over the country.
- There is so much unusual wildlife in Australia. But there are two birds that have been our constant companions that need a mention. Firstly, the crazy magpies. They are very defensive of their nests to the point where they dive-bomb anyone that gets too close. Specifically they love a cyclist and we (me mainly) have been attacked on numerous occasions. The crows are the other bird and they are just comical, in particular their call. It sounds very human and at times we’ve thought that there are people nearby when actually it’s the crows talking to each other. We have tried mimicking them and are almost certain that they respond to us – some of the best conversations I’ve had here have been with the crows!
- Apparently when there is an election, voters will go to the voting station that is reported to have the best barbecue on the go. Just the concept of a voting station having a barby is one thing, but the fact that voters will choose where to vote based on where the best snag (see note below) can be found is just great and very Australian! And unlike U.K. and Ireland, voting’s compulsory here….and if you don’t vote you are fined!
- Whilst we were on the Nullarbor Desert there was a limited supply of water and the water we did find didn’t taste particularly good, though it did us no harm. Since leaving the desert the towns have been on mains water, but still it hasn’t tasted great, so we’ve come to the conclusion that the overall water quality out of a tap isn’t that good. Many places collect rain water, which we have drunk lots of. It’s always tasted okay and some of the best we’ve had.
- Australian men like to wear their shorts short. In Europe shorts are much longer and seeing a man wearing very short shorts is just wrong…and even worse is seeing one wear short TIGHT shorts. Yikes!
- Our favourite road sign has been the one that always appears 5km before a town or settlement. Road signs along the route count down the kilometres towards each town, but when you see the 5km sign it means you’re nearly there!
- – It is an assumption that English people all follow cricket! On lots of occasions we were told that if a test match was on that we should go to it. Or, when we were in Adelaide, that we should do the tour of the cricket ground on the assumption that we must be interested.
- Old cars and trucks are often parked in gardens or gateways, almost like garden ornaments. We saw loads of them on our journey.
- – Rodeo is popular in the more rural parts and we saw a fair few adverts for rodeos on our travels.
- – The term ‘Pastoral Land’ is used to describe agricultural land and has nothing to do with the church and what we refer to as fields are called paddocks to the Aussies.
- The land is split into states, shires and towns – and towns are often referred to as townships.
- All vehicles have Roo bars – big metal bars on the front to protect against hitting kangaroos and with the high number of dead Roos we saw on the roads they obviously do their job well. We saw a total of 280 dead Roos between Perth and Melbourne and that excluded skeletons or piles of bones, which are likely to also have been Roos. In the U.K. these Roo bars would be called ‘bull bars’, but I can’t think of a situation where there would be a danger of running into wild bulls!
- With all the wild fires raging across Australia whilst we have been here there has been a lot of talk about climate change. There has also been a lot of public criticism aimed at the current government for not doing enough to combat climate change. However we have noticed that nearly every car on the road is a massive gas-guzzling 4×4. Now, far be it for me to comment on what cars should or shouldn’t be driven here, but from an outsider’s perspective it does seem a bit hypocritical to criticise government while being the owner of one of these “not-very-environmentally-friendly road monsters”. Okay. Rant over!
- In many of the rural parts of Western and South Australia shops and businesses closed early on Saturdays and didn’t open until Monday morning, which meant we always had to be organised with food and supplies.
- The cars are very clean!
- There isn’t a huge railway system in Australia, but what there is uses three different gauges (width between the rails) from state to state. This means that trains rarely run directly between states and passengers often have to change trains where the gauge changes.
- Post boxes outside of rural homes are generally made from an old barrel, milk churn, oil drum etc, . But some people take their post boxes very seriously – this was my favourite and was made from an old gas canister…
- – Iced milk coffee is very popular with multiple shelves of it in the shops. In South Australia it outsells Coke by 3:1!
– Though English is the national language here there are times when we have had to a ask what something means as there are so many different meanings and nuances to our language. The Aussies also love to abbreviate things, so here is the Aussie to Lifecycler dictionary of words that we picked up. (in no particular order)…
- Arvo – afternoon
- Servo – service station – in fact by abbreviating and putting an ‘o’ on the end of most words you’ll start to sound like a local
- Freeo – Fremantle. A suburb in Perth. (see what I mean about the ‘O’!)
- Sunnies – sunglasses/shades
- Pommie wash – a ‘pits and bits’ wash
- Aussie salute or Aussie wave – the act of swatting away flies as everyone does it on a fairly frequent basis. (see note on flies above)
- Calm the farm – calm down
- Doona – duvet or quilt
- Stinker – hot day (we heard this on a lot!)
- Tazzie – Tasmania
- Ranga – ginger person (from orangutan)
- Goon – box/bag of wine
- Snag – sausage
- Grandies – grandchildren
- Oldies – grandparents
- Relies – relatives
- Super – superannuation or pension in our world
- Facey – Facebook
- Thongs – flip-flops
- Bogan – chav (our favourite word and now firmly in our vocabulary!)
- Donga – a port-a-cabin with a bed – some campsites have them as cheap accommodation
- ScoMo – Scott Morrison, the current Prime Minister
- Pokies – slot machines
- Flamin’ Galah – stupid or silly person
- Tradies – trades person i.e. electrician, plumber, builder, etc
Comment by Will & Jenny Colquhoun
Will & Jenny Colquhoun 5 January 2020 at 5:27 am
Hi Nigel and Martina, (of should I say G’day?).
Firstly it was a pleasure for Jenny & I to host you both so early in your Straya Deadly Treadly Tour (some more Australianism’s for your Aussie Dictionary).
Enjoyed your Aussie wrap up, oh yeah that “Blue Sign of Happiness” 5 kays out of the towns, gotta luv ’em ! Such a relief after a long day on the road. While I didn’t precisely mention the swarms of flies I’m fairly certain I do recall asking if you had fly head nets and 40% DEET insect repellent. I remember not mentioning the March/Horse Flies (large blood sucking biting Flies) as I didn’t want to freak you out to much so early in your trip.
Your assessment of the Aboriginals, Traditional Owners, First Australians is quite accurate. I just want to say that after over 30 years of travelling around Australia the situation with Australia’s Aborigines has improved a lot, but I accept we have a long way to go. Racism is a lot less than in the past, progress has been made, Land Rights have been granted. What happened to the original inhabitants of this continent during Colonisation is an absolute disgrace & for the sake of a unified country we need to help the Original Aussies with what ever assistance we can, education, jobs, respect, self identity & connection to the land.
Bull/Roo Bars actually have multiple uses. Somewhere to mount spotlights, CB ariels, fishing rods. A place to hang water bags, towels or place a coffee cup while camping. Extremely useful vehicle accessory. As you know we have an old BIG diesel 4WD, but it usually sits around idle and we get around on motorbikes or bicycles when we can. So unless we’re on some Offroad 4WD Camping Trip or doing a big shop it sits in the carport. The newer large 4WD Wagons & Utes are reasonably economical for what they are and often used for towing, but I can see where you’re coming from with it appearing hypocritical to drive such large vehicles while complaining about climate change. To be fair most cars you see tackling the urban sprawl of Australian Cities are small 4 cylinder hatchbacks & SUV’s. Most vehicles out in regional areas are larger off road types. Jenny & I think some of the rigs people travel in are certainly way over the top, we think smaller is generally better.
Anyway congratulations on your epic journey so far, you’ll have to learn a whole new lingo once you land in New Zealand. The Kiwi Cuzzie Bro’s are a great bunch but they do speak funny.
Keep those wheels rolling.
Will & Jenny.
Comment by Nigel
Nigel 14 January 2020 at 6:18 am
Thanks Will for all your comments and information – we are continually learning about Australia! Hopefully we’ll be back to learn more and to meet up with you and Jenny, in the meantime keep in touch on WhatsApp!
Comment by Bairbre
Bairbre 3 January 2020 at 5:03 pm
Great sum up, interesting perspective, and might help me to understand and communicate with Simone, despite 22 years of friendship!! Surprised at animal and insect stats. Oh and, we had a trailer tent, but not too many fancy drawers, just one raised bed and we kids still slept on a ground sheet in the awning
Hope you loved your off-saddle break!
Comment by Nigel
Nigel 14 January 2020 at 6:23 am
Hi Bairbre, yes we had a lovely break thank you, but that’s made getting back in the saddle tough!