There are some people, images, animals and objects so quintessentially “Australian” that your mind cannot help but conjure them each time you hear mention of the continent. These cultural icons are forever intertwined with Australia’s place in the world’s consciousness, good or bad. Utter the word “Australia” quietly to yourself; you don’t want people to think you’re nuts, and count how many of the following images you associate with this sixth largest country in the world.
Koalas are cute and seemingly cuddly, but don’t you dare call them “bears” among the locals. Koalas are arboreal herbivorous marsupials, which is a fancy way of saying they belong to the same family as opossums. These marsupials mainly reside in eastern portions of Australia, where the eucalyptus is plentiful and they’re able to sleep a whopping 18 hours a day. Excessive poaching during the 1920s and 1930s almost lead to the extinction of this thoroughly Australian animal. The population has steadily increased since, but Koalas aren’t out of the proverbial woods yet. Deforestation has caused another dramatic decrease in the Koala population, leading to a full-blown national crisis.
The “Boxing Kangaroo” is an omnipresent national symbol of Australia. You can’t visit a popular spectator sport without being bombarded by images of this pugilist marsupial donning a slouch hat, his fists cocked and ready for a fight. Look up “kangaroo boxing” on YouTube and you’ll find several videos of hapless, potentially drunk men squaring off against these powerful animals. The outcome is no laughing matter, as the injured kangaroos are often put down after the fight.
The Animal Plant program “The Crocodile Hunter” introduced the world to a khaki-short wearing, enthusiastic Aussie shouting the word “Crikey!” while he wrestled a 12-foot alligator. The show became an instant success and catapulted Irwin, and his plight to save several threatened alligator species, into the world’s arena. This out-of-control wildlife documentary program continued for five seasons and spawned a film and two successful television spin-offs. Steve Irwin tragically lost his life on September 4, 2006 when he was fatally impaled by a stingray spine while snorkeling near the Great Barrier Reef. Steve’s good work lives on today through the “Wildlife Warriors” which tags and tracks certain species of alligators inhabiting Australia’s Wenlock River.
For many Americans, the Australian Outback was a mystical, dangerous place that few seldom dared traverse. All that changed when the 1986 blockbuster “Crocodile Dundee” blazed onto the screens across the country. Paul Hogan played the iconic “Mick,” a man that is pulled from the idyllic Australian desert and tossed into an altogether different jungle, New York City. It’s a plot as old as time itself. Girl visits the outback, becomes intrigued by bizarre crocodile whisperer and brings him back to New York City as a social and media experiment. If anything, the movie spawned an unforgettable catch phrase that almost every man in the 1980s uttered, “that’s not a knife…that’s a knife.”
The number one condiment in the United States is, believe it or not, salsa. For Aussies, it’s Vegemite. The biscuit, cracker and sandwich spread is made from delectable mixture of brewer’s yeast, wheat and a variety of spices. If that description doesn’t tempt your palette, then image an Aussie spreading Vegemite on a piece of buttered bread and adding lettuce, avocados, cheese and tomato. Although the prospect of consuming Vegemite isn’t too attractive to many Americans, the product is an excellent source of thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid and niacin.
Switch on any television show or film that is related to Australia and you’ll eventually notice a strange, airy “wah wah” noise in the background. This ethereal noise is created by the didgeridoo, a long wooden trumpet-like instrument created by the Aboriginal people over 1,500 years ago. The popular name is distinctly Irish and derived from a variety of Gaelic words meaning “trumpeter,” “puffer,” “long-necked person,” “eavesdropper”, “constant smoker” or “hummer.” Often played during Aboriginal ceremonies, the didgeridoo is a predominantly male instrument and women are mostly prohibited from blowing into its long wooden mouthpiece. The instrument quickly made its way into American and British culture as well. A 2005 British Medical Journal study actually found that playing the didgeridoo strengthens the upper airway’s muscles, reducing incidence of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. Forget the CPAP machine or weird mouthpiece: if your wife can’t stand your snoring, blow on a didgeridoo instead.
An honorable mention must be made to one of Australia’s oldest adages. The host of a barbeque must never answer a knock at the door, as this means the guest isn’t carrying a case of beer. The host should only answer a kick at the door, meaning the guest’s arms are full of liquor. When visiting Australia, if you’re invited to a barbeque, don’t bring anything less than a six-pack of beer, if you don’t want to be unceremoniously tossed on your rear.
This guest post article was written and provided by Erica Gustafson who currently resides in Australia. Erica works as a freelance digital media consultant and travels the world and writing for Expedia