culture & community travel

Throw Another Shrimp on the Barbie?

by Cheney — May 19, 2015

I’m inspired today by Briana’s myth-busting post, partly because I’m also from a country fond of cultural appropriation (besides adopting any national holiday that involves drinking, we also enjoy claiming people/things from New Zealand as our own – most notably Russell Crowe and lamingtons). But mostly, I feel that Australia itself is an oft-mythologised place that could do with a little international frankness. So if you’ve ever thought of visiting (do it!), here’s a little primer:

Lamington cake

A delicious lamington. Bugger off, New Zealand – it’s ours now.

Myth No.1 –  Kangaroos: Australia’s National Transport System

We have a metric tonne of these furry, bouncy, adorable traffic obstacles. Even in the capital city where I live, they’ll show up on your morning jogging trail, your twilight commute home and occasionally, when grass is scarce in the nature reserves, in your actual backyard.

But despite them being present on the roads as a hazard, we have yet to harness them for the purposes of getting from A to B. We mostly make do with cars, buses, and even though a fully-grown adult has no business on one, kick scooters.

Myth No.2 –  “Mate” is a delightful term of endearment

It’s true the word “mate” sounds friendly, but Australian vernacular is so often geared in that direction that you often need an extra layer of meaning to work out what’s really going on. Context is everything, much like the way “Bless your heart” in the South of the U.S can be a murmur of sympathy, or a cutting insult.

Common modes of usage are: for surprising situations when other words fail you (“Maaaaaate”), a description of a person you’re friendly with (“My mate up in Queensland’s got a wallaby he wants to sell you”) and a curt address from a stranger who’s extremely unhappy with you (“Look here mate, you’ve just spilled my beer”). Any time emphasis is placed on the word, it’s a good hint that the person speaking does not, in fact, consider you their mate. Tread carefully.

Myth No.3 – We’re all blonde, tanned surfers

I won’t deny we’re an extremely attractive nation of people. Modest, too. But when travelling, I’ve often had trouble convincing people of my Australian-ness. “But you’re so pale!” they exclaim. “Surely you must be British!” So it’s worth pointing out that Australians come in all shades, not just bronze. This is because we’re not all 5 minutes from a beach. Some of us live at least an hour and a half away.

There is absolutely no shade on this beach anywhere. Ugh.

There is absolutely no shade on this beach anywhere. Ugh.

Anyway, if you lived in a country positioned directly under a hole in the ozone layer, you’d probably want to wear a hat most of the time too. And sunglasses. Oh, and maybe a light kaftan, just to make sure you’ve got everything covered.



Myth No.4 – Eat Vegemite the same way you’d sneak a spoon of Nutella from the jar.

Every non-Australian person I’ve met who’s claimed to have been introduced to our nation’s favourite Vitamin-B-enriched spread and hated it, is doing it wrong. I’m not just saying this because I happen to have a soft spot for it (after all, it does put a rose in every cheek). It’s because, inevitably, the story of how they tried it either involves knocking back a fist-sized clump of it, or being tricked into tasting it with the premise that it was some variant of chocolate.

Imagine someone handing you a shot glass of what you assumed was chocolate syrup, and it turned out to be soy sauce. Not so delicious, huh? This is because soy sauce is deeply savoury, and so is Vegemite. For that reason, it is best used sparingly. My professional advice? Grab a slice of freshly toasted sourdough, spread on a very thin layer of Vegemite, then top with a generous amount of sliced or mashed ripe avocado. The Vegemite does the job of seasoning the avocado without needing extra salt or pepper, and you’ve just made yourself a very Australian snack.

Myth No.5 – Australia is crawling with things, big and small, that are just itching to kill you

Oops, sorry. This one’s not actually a myth.

It wasn’t until I grew up and had friends who lived in Europe that I realised there are countries that have forests you can walk barefoot in. I grew up in a place where going on a hike wearing shorts was taking your life into your hands. Want to swim at that beach? Nope. Full of deadly jellyfish, not to mention the riptides and blue-ringed octopus. Oh, ok – how about this nice river then? Sure, if you want to be eaten by a crocodile. Right, guess I’ll just hang around a city then. Mind the advancing hordes of redback and funnel web spiders.

My boyfriend and I were once laughed out of a beer garden in Amsterdam when we flipped out about the wasp that had just landed on our table. We had to explain to the giggling bartender we have a relationship with wasps in Australia roughly equal to “kill them before they kill you.” He didn’t get it.

My advice to you? Stay indoors, eat your Vegemite and avocado toast and enjoy all the bounteous wonder my country has to offer.

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